Friday, February 18, 2011

Shifting our thinking or Business is personal

This post is more intended towards fellow photographers than towards clients.

I work two jobs. I run Habein Studio and I work at a grocery store. I stock shelves, essentially. When it comes down to it, both jobs are in a service industry.

No matter what I'm in the midst of doing at the grocery store, stocking a shelf, rotating product, cleaning something up, if a customer comes up to me and asks for assistance in any way it is my job to stop what I'm doing and help them. Often times our natural reaction is to resent the interruption. I see it in my coworkers, I see it in myself. We don't want to be prevented from smoothly completing the one task at hand. But when I look at it from a different perspective, I realize that the only reason I am cleaning something, stocking that shelf, or rotating that product is in assistance to the customer. Stopping that action to assist in a different way is only one more facet of the same task.

We think about taking pride in our work when we do a concrete task. We make sure an aisle in the store looks good and we step back and take pride in the work that we have done. We often fail to do this when it comes to our interactions with customers. It's all the same job. Perhaps it's the lack of physicality in the result that allows us to take the quality of our work less personally.

That's why I hate it whenever I hear someone say "It's not personal, it's business." We all know, in our heart of hearts, that's a complete lie. All business is personal. We take every business interaction personally. We often define ourselves by what we do for a living. I think of myself as a photographer. Sara thinks of herself as a writer. We build personalities up around our business.

I think that's a good thing. I think when I'm stocking a shelf and stop to help a customer I should take it personally. I should take pride in my interactions. The same holds true with my interactions as a photographer.

It's not about being professional and courteous towards clients. That sort of thing should go without saying. It goes beyond that. It's about shifting our thinking.

I'm sure we've all seen this:

and this:

and this:

...or some variation of that online.

The fact of the matter is we look at this the wrong way. We present such hostility towards the world at large because we believe they truly "don't understand the things that are required for great work." We seem to believe that in the modern photography word, it is us against them. We do our work in spite of the editors and clients of the world. The fact of the matter is that I do my work because of the editors and clients of the world. I don't work in spite of them, I work with them. This is something we need to remember.


We become hostile and offended as an industry because an editor wants a shoot done (gasp!) cheaply. Of course they do. Their job is to make sure their magazine/paper/client/etc. gets the quality of work they need for the lowest price they can. Our job is to make sure we can make the most money possible while upholding our creative integrity.

If we step back, we realize that both of us are simply trying to do a job. This is the nature of negotiation. The moment we begin to think that our clients aren't intelligent enough to understand the nature of business, or they are out to "get us" in some way is the day we fail to do our job as photographers. We fail to uphold the service portion of working in a service industry.


Business is personal. Let's hold onto that idea. Let's make business personal and personable. Hostility gets us nowhere. And creating within and feeding into the hostile environment that one currently swims through in so many online venues is a losing game. It's a losing game for our sanity, and it's a losing game for our profession.

Perhaps there is no ground upon which you can meet a particular client. Perhaps their cost/quality ratio is not where your income/quality ration is. That's fine. We don't have to shoot every job on the planet. In those situations, we simply say "I don't think I'm the right photographer for you. I wish you the best of luck in finding that right person for the job." If the client's ratio is so far off the market ratio that they can not find the right person, they will have to rethink their process. Likewise, if our ratio as photographers is so far off the market rate that we can't find work, then we need to rethink our process.

our chef

The market isn't heading downhill. The market is expanding. Just like any creative market in a new global digital economy the photography market now has low-end jobs, mid-range jobs, and high-end jobs where in years past it only had the mid and high-end work. These less expensive clients and their less expensive photographer counterparts are not taking our business, they're business that wasn't there in the past. And if a client who used to be a mid-range client goes the route of low-end work, one of two things will happen. Either that client will be happy with the lower end work (and all of the inconsistencies there-in) or that client will decide that cheaper doesn't always equal better. Sometimes clients discover that it's not simply added cost, it's added value.

mermaid thanks for the tips

Add value for your clients. I add value for mine by making sure that business is always personal in the right way.

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