When you’re a little hard up, it’s easy to get desperate. And in the current recession, a lot of photographers are approaching potential clients with the same level of finesse as nerds at a singles bar.
Listen, even if you have what someone needs, no one’s going to go home with you as soon as you say, “Hello, my name is Eugene.” They don’t know you. Ladies — and clients — want to be romanced.
Getting the Stiff Arm
A photographer buddy wrote me the other day that he was depressed over his lack of business. Being the good friend that I am, I did what all good friends do: I pried into his situation.
It turns out my friend had tried to strike up a conversation with some ad designers at the coffee shop that day. He had gotten, in his words, “the major stiff arm.”
Several of my friends are, like me, displaced photojournalists who are reinventing their careers. Some have never had to deal with generating their own business before. That’s why they sometimes act like nerds in a singles bar.
Of course my depressed friend got “the major stiff arm.” What else should he have expected? Did he think those art directors went to the coffee shop thinking, “Let’s go down to the coffee shop and hire a new photographer today”? Please.
Singles Bar Lessons
When I was younger, I used to hang out at a singles bar; it was fun. The booze flowed and the rock-and-roll music played seven nights a week. The place was loaded with women, too.
In the beginning, I was a stranger at the bar — so I ended up going home by myself at night. But just because I was a stranger, that doesn’t mean that the women in the bar didn’t notice me. They did, but they were cautious.
It took time (and some lonely nights), but ultimately I became a known commodity at my singles bar. I played pool, danced, had interesting conversations and bought drinks from time to time.
And then one day it was as if I had been sprinkled with magic dust. I had the ability to talk to every girl in the place. I was comfortable with them, and they were comfortable with me.
My photographer friend at the coffee shop reminded me of when I was the new guy at the bar. The art directors gave him the stiff arm because he was a stranger to them.
You and I both know that your talent is the reason you should be hired to shoot a project. But the fact is, people want to work with people they know and like. It makes things flow better. And it’s fun to work with your friends.
I succeeded in my singles bar days when I stopped chasing and started having fun. And that’s precisely what you should do as you attempt to build your photography clientele. Stop chasing.
Yes, go to the coffee shops and social gathering places. But be cool and casual. Don’t focus on your agenda; focus on being interesting as you meet the people who will eventually hire you.
Hand them a card, talk to them, be genuinely friendly. Let them lead the conversation, and don’t talk about the day you photographed Keith Richards unless it’s a natural part of the conversation.
When you take the prospect’s card, ask if you can call in a couple of days. Say you have a new portfolio that you’d like to share. Chances are, the prospect will agree to the call.
Of course, if you go out to the parking lot and immediately call the person on your cell phone, you’re back to being the nerd. So wait a couple of days like you said you would. If the prospect enjoyed the conversation, he or she will be glad to hear from you. A meeting a week or so later will reinforce everything, and by this time the contact will have probably checked out your Web site.
Now’s the time to share your accomplishments and win the client’s business.