Wednesday, August 08, 2007

You're Selling Hondas Now?

This is the President's Message for the Autumn, 2007 issue of "Exposure," ASMP-NJ's quarterly magazine.

Every year, just about the end of April, ASMP national headquarters sends me a list of all of our members who, for one reason or another, haven’t renewed their membership. As chapter president it falls to me to inquire as to why a member hasn’t paid his/her dues. The responses are as varied as our membership is diverse, but there seems to be a common thread running through all of the conversations: clients want more for less, they don’t want to pay for digital capture and/or post-production fees, quality assignment work seems to be evaporating, I’m unable to earn a decent living, I have to do something else.

One of our former ASMP New Jersey members told me: “I was the first in our area to go digital. I made a huge investment in retooling my studio for digital photography and I just can’t support it any longer. I had to sell a lot of my stuff and close down my studio. I’ll still shoot the odd assignment but, basically, I’m selling Hondas now full-time.”

Richard Green, another local photographer, wrote on APAnet about his recent experiences in the marketplace, saying that work has slowed to a trickle and that, though he’s not in danger of going out of business, he’s had to temporarily take a part-time job to keep his income at a certain level. In the meantime, while his wife has been supportive she’s also been trying to help him by suggesting he respond to classified employment ads that she’s selected for him. Rich wrote, seeking input based on one of the ads, “since I have no experience with this company, I assume that this job is for a beginner (regardless of what it says), is low-paid and over-worked. I'm hoping that someone will be able to confirm my beliefs so that when I tell my wife, ‘it's not a good job,’ I'll have something to back it up.”

The APAnet forum is a great resource (so’s ASMPproAdvice!) and several of the regular contributors replied with commiseration and specific suggestions (and, FYI, I’ve been a part-timer at various points in my career as well... and I didn’t like it!).

Speaking from personal experience, for my ex-wife security meant a regular job with a steady paycheck and benefits, and there’s nothing wrong with that... if that’s what you consider to be security. While I would’ve liked to oblige her on any number of occasions, I’ve found that the chances of waltzing into a major corporation seeking employment as an executive without prior experience in a similar position is a very, very difficult prospect. Especially when there are a whole slew of experienced competitors who have been downsized when their jobs were outsourced to Bangalore or Manilla or simply ceased to exist the last time Brazilian economy tanked.

So, how do we create and maintain sustainable photography businesses and avoid looking elsewhere for security?

Brad Allen of Columbia, SC, has this helpful suggestion: “I see a direct correlation between the amount of work I get and the amount of effort I put into getting that work. Many people do a lot of marketing and when they get busy (they) slack off. I am trying to stay constant with marketing all the time. Word of mouth is great, but I don’t want to (peg) my hopes (on) that alone. Some of the efforts I’ve made are fairly inexpensive and have worked well for me. Try to stay optimistic and positive (that can be really hard sometimes)."

Leslie Burns-Dell'Acqua, the well-known creative consultant and coach, had some specific advice for Rich that a lot of us can benefit from. She acknowledges the difficulty of his situation and says, “the first thing you need to do is to separate your work life from your personal life. Your wife absolutely means the very best, but she is not helping your business and nor
should she. Work is work, home life is home life, and separating them will help your mental health and your business. My husband has no idea how much I bill annually, for example, or what my business expenses are.

“I suggest that you very respectfully and lovingly ask her to stop trying to help. Tell her how much you appreciate it and how you know she means very well, but tell her how it makes you feel and ask her to stay out of it. Reassure her, and be clear.

“Often spouses think they can help fix things by finding job ads, etc., when really the only support the other person wants is someone to nod and say "yup, that must suck," when they hear one's troubles. An ‘I'm sure things will get better, I have faith in you,’ can go infinitely farther than a, ‘why don't you check out these jobs,’ but, more often than not, a spouse will do the latter and not the former.

“She's afraid and she doesn't want to watch you struggle - a hard combination for her, I'm sure (I've been there, by the way). It sounds like she loves you, and that is, of course, the best part of it.

“As for what to do, you’re right, staff jobs are disappearing. Brad's suggestions of taking this time to market aggressively and to start working a marketing plan consistently are great ideas. You may have to work some part-time/temp gig while things get moving, but if your work is good enough (it is) and you target the right clients for you, there is assignment work out there to be had. You can do it.”

There are a lot of pros on-line these days and they’re more than willing to help with good and timely advice. My favorite on-line forums include the aforementioned APAnet and ASMPproAdvice. These are found at and are free programs of their respective parents and open to all. Here in New Jersey we have the ASMPNJ forum (also on Yahoo), but this is available as a benefit only to ASMP New Jersey Chapter members. You can also always count on me at

Needless to say, membership in ASMP has its benefits, the most important being that once you’ve joined you instantly acquire 5500 photographers as friends, people to whom you can turn for help and advice.

Remember: membership doesn’t cost, it pays!


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