I recently received two insightful audience questions around the topic of taking the next step in career or life. These questions have many layers, so it’s always helpful to hear someone’s specific situation we can explore. Let’s dive in.
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How do I grow my current client base and improve my pricing?
“Hey, Chase. My name is Brian Vogel. I’m a professional commercial photographer out of Houston. I’m right about mid-level and I’m trying to advance. I’m looking for help on trying to figure out ways to grow my current client base. Things such as mailers or whatever might be better. And I’m also trying to figure out better ways to understand my pricing scheme, my cost of doing business versus the market cost and things like that. So any information would help. Thanks a lot.”
Brian, thanks a lot for the question. Should you do mailers, e-mail newsletters, attend networking or industry events? Yes is basically the answer to everything. And I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed. To paraphrase my friend Glennon Doyle, “You have to try things and find out what works for you.” So here are a few things I would prioritize:
Focus on Craft
Are you focused on improving your craft and do you feel like you can close the “creative gap?”
The pursuit of craft is never-ending. Even if you feel you’ve mastered it, there’s always the next step. And that makes sense, right? Growth comes from evolving our ideas and exploring new avenues. If you want to advance your career, advance your craft by producing a large volume of work. If you’re not getting hired for the level of work you’re hoping for, don’t underestimate the power of the personal project.
Calculate your expenses and desired income
Triangulate your costs with what you want to earn. What are you spending on your personal needs- food, utilities, gas, rent? What is the cost of your camera gear and how often do you need to upgrade your kit? The decisions most critical to a business require sound knowledge of all your expenses. Add up your costs on a monthly basis and come to a threshold (with a little wiggle room (10% or more) for unexpected expenses. CreativeLive has a great infographic on that process here.
Once you understand your expenses, it’s time to consider your rates. And the key here is intention. Don’t just automatically put yourself as the $200/hour designer or the $5,000 wedding photographer. If you’re an artist you should be charging what you can get someone to pay you. Once you get one or two or three people to pay you that that becomes your rate. And then if you stay busy, raise your rates. It’s that simple.
Start with the End in Mind
When it comes to starting a new chapter or taking the next step, start with the end mind. Be very specific about what you want and then hunt that thing. “I want to be in these 10 magazines.”, “I want to shoot for these five clients.”, etc.
Deconstruct who’s getting hired by those people. They have names. They’re humans. They are on Instagram. When I was an up and coming photographer, I would spend hours in front of the magazine racks deconstructing the photographers I admired, writing down their names, the athletes featured, and flipping to the mastheads to find the photo editors (see my video below). Of course, today you can find much of this information online. How can you get yourself in front of them, meaningfully, not spammy or weird way, but with purpose?
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I have everything I need to work on my dream, but I’m paralyzed. How do I overcome this?
“Hi, Chase. My name is Jeff. I’m almost 40, and ever since I was a kid I’ve really been interested in film. I’ve developed my working career completely removed from that. I’m in software. Day to day, I’m not fulfilled in my job, but I’m making a decent amount of money. I have all the gear that I would need to be doing film, shooting, directing it, getting my ideas out there, but I’m paralyzed. And I don’t know what is paralyzing me from making that step. If it’s fear, I’m afraid that I have this idea. And because I’m a one man show when I try to shoot it, the cinematography is going to be off. The editing’s going to be off. The script’s going to be bad. Something is stopping me and it kills me week in and week out. I am wondering if you have any ideas to send my way to overcome this obstacle.”
Jeff, thanks for the question. This is a common problem a lot of people have. They end up doing everything EXCEPT the thing they “want” to do. All the gathering and prepping is really just procrastination. Understand this is a syndrome. Should we name this syndrome? It’s fear of failure. Fear of success. Avoidance. Maybe you only love the IDEA of film. To do it, you need to love the process.
My advice is two-fold.
Start Small and Finish
First, start small. You don’t need to make a film. Make a short video with no budget. Try 60 seconds of something, anything. Make the goal to shoot 5 shots, edit it together, and then post. You’ll not only start to develop your skills, but you’ll also start to build creative momentum. Early on, the goal isn’t to make something good. It’s to finish. Your success isn’t how many likes you get, it’s actually posting it. It’s not whether your art is hung in a gallery, it’s signing your name to the painting. Start small. Finish. Repeat. The results will take care of themselves.
You Must Do the Verb to be the Noun
This might sound harsh, but until you’ve made a film, stop saying that you love making films. I’m a super big fan of positive visualization, but it should be a thing to just make something. Creators create. If you’re afraid of making something good, try making something bad. Make the best worst thing you’ve ever made. At least you’re creating and you can laugh about it later.
Here’s my last thought: check out Mel Robbins’ 5 second rule. It’s a simple framework to turn inaction into action. Whether this framework works, giving yourself small projects, or Anne Lamott’s shitty first draft, these are all just techniques to starting. Each step you take starts to break-down the cycle fear and self-doubt. Forward momentum makes for progress.
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