Photography career planning: the long and winding road

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. ~Lewis Carroll

Yes, it’s good to have a focused and well-thought-out career plan. It’s far better than not knowing where you want to go. However, a career plan to “become rich and famous” isn’t quite specific enough 😉

But even if you know exactly what you want (e.g. become a commercial and editorial food photographer), it’s a mistake to think that knowing where you want to go is the only road to success. Thinking that success is completely under your control (“I just have to do x, y, & z and success will happen”) can lead to major disappointment when things don’t go as planned. The map is not the territory.

It’s also an illusion that none of it is under your control (i.e.”It’s just luck; you have to be in the right place at the right time. I’ll just go with the flow.”).

In fact, it’s both…and it’s always been both.

Ask any top photographer who’s both self-reflective and honest,and you’ll hear that his or her success was made of both luck and hard work.

Good luck happens when preparedness meets opportunity. ~Author unknown

Continuing education.For the preparedness piece, no matter what point you are in your career (just entering the market; mid-career professional; or seasoned pro who just hit a fork in the road), engaging in continuing education is essential–both to improve your imaging skills and to keep current with industry changes. Apprenticing will expose you to different–and possibly better–work flow systems. Learning sales and marketing skills will definitely help support your career success.

Two big marketing trends that are getting almost incessant online buzz, are video and mobile. Both require continuing education– especially when it comes to understanding how the integration of video into a mobile can support your sales and marketing strategy.

[I could write reams on both of those subjects; in the future will point you to some educational resources I think are worth your time. Here’s one resource for those who’ve built their careers in print but see a fork in the career planning road and are now contemplating adding video to their image services mix.http://bit.ly/photogvideoguide ]

Bigger picture planning: Until the day comes when your preparation meets up with a great opportunity, there’s another important element of successful career planning to consider. Life planning.

I’ve noticed that those who’ve enjoyed long and successful careers, place a lot of importance on work/life balance. A photographer often learns too late that by going full-tilt in only one direction (i.e., focusing only on career) they are at risk of ending up burned-out and alone.

To find a balance that works for you, consider planning your photography career by working backwards. Pretend for a moment that on your last day alive, you have both the time plus the mental and emotional clarity, to reflect back on your entire life.

What events in your photo career made you feel the most proud and most fulfilled? Was it fame? Fortune? The respect of your peers? Self-respect? The income to support a family? Did you have a career path that supported your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and allowed you time to connect with friends, family, and community?
If the latter is part of your vision, then, as Steven Covey says in his perennial best-seller “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” you need to make sure that “you put the big rocks in first.”  That means that in every daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly calendar–in addition to scheduling activities that directly relate to your work–you also put into your schedule those non-work activities that support your whole life.

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. ~John Lennon

Creativity: Do you bother to protect your most valuable business asset?

What it is your most valuable business asset?
Hint: Its not your camera gear. Nor your computer hardware and software- or even your image archive or your portfolio.

It’s your creativity. It’s what sets you apart from every other photographer; it’s the distinguishing value that is added to any great image you create. Without it, you could be replaced by a machine.
Ironically, this extremely valuable asset can’t be covered against loss by an insurance policy.It’s up to you-and only you-to take precautions that you don’t lose your creativity.

Are you spending even half the amount of time and effort that you take to protect your other business assets from loss?
You probably back-up your images on multiple drives on a regular basis. Your gear is probably protected by good security systems when it’s not actually with you. Your office probably has fire, flood and theft  coverage. You want to protect your business, so you’re prudent. And you’re responsible.Why is it so important it is to keep your creativity safe? Without it you probably don’t have much to offer any client since creativity is an essential for problem-solving. Clients hire you because they have a problem they need solved; usually ones they don’t have the creativity to execute as well as you.

So what are you doing to PROTECT your creativity? Do you know what keeps it vital and alive?

What was your mental state when you had your last great idea for a portfolio piece?
Wasn’t it when you were relaxed, open, and receptive? I suspect you’ll also say it was when you “weren’t even trying”… it just “came to you.”

Do you know under what conditions your creativity is at risk?
Are you aware of how negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, and worry significantly diminish the flow of intuition? Intuition is what most often guides you in what is necessary to take a shot from good to great.

In the current sea of negative emotions swirling in the photo business, are you pro-active enough to wear a “mental life-preserver”?
That is, do you have an effective strategy to keep your intuition afloat? Can it be saved it from drowning in the swells of fear and anxiety?

Here are some time-honored, extremely well-researched, and very effective strategies to protect your most valuable business asset
: Meditate. Spend time in nature. Pray. Jog. Swim. Politely refuse to spend time on the pity pot with those who continually spread evidence about how horrible things are. Be grateful for what you DO have. And finally, volunteer to help those who have less than you.