This is a picture of my cat, Brie, on my – excuse me, on HER – office chair. Because nothing sets up a discussion of professionalism like a cat on a chair.
Ok, so you know I’ve got my reservations about the word “professional” when it’s set up against the word amateur. But the word “professionalism” where it applies to a high standard of excellence, that I can get on board with. In fact I’m constantly amazed at the lack of professionalism in creative industries. And I know I’m not the only one. I had an editor at a major photography magazine recently bemoan the fact that the photographers she works with can’t get things in on time. I’ve had other editors express total shock when I’ve replied to emails within an hour or two. Still others yet are amazed that I’ve replied to an image request on time and with well-delivered, clearly marked files that were to spec.
Frederick Van Johnson recently asked me why I feel like vocational photography is hard. One of the reasons I gave is that the point where craft and commerce meet is not an easy one to balance. I don’t even recall if I put it this way in VisionMongers or not, but if I didn’t, I should have. So in case I missed it, a recap: being a successful working photographer means far more than making photographs. I’ve barely shot a frame since the end of September – almost two months ago. We have times when it’s more important to stock the shelves, and this is one of those times for me. And then January will come and I’ll be shooting almost everyday for a couple months. But in the in-between times it’s not photography, it’s business. Consider these, among a great many other things, as a place to begin with a self-audit. Do you:
You reply to clients on time every time? If you’re too busy to do that, you’re too busy. If you wait 24 hours to reply to an email you’ve waited too long. If you only answer the “important” ones within 24 hours then you’ve made progress but are making assumptions about which ones are important. I’ve had many a client come from “unimportant” emails. They are all important. This is top of my list because I’m struggling with this now that the books are out. I lose track of the odd bit of fan mail, but even those are important. Don’t neglect your audience, whomever they are.
You meet client needs to the letter, then give them more? Files on time, well delivered, to spec.
You never, ever depart from the core of your brand? Know who you are, what you stand for, and never deviate.
Your outgoing emails, invoices, and every piece of collateral, is well-designed, consistent with each other and with the visual conventions of your brand, not just a logo?
You begin every day assuming your service or product can always be better and you take every opportunity to make it so?
You approach your market with the aim to serve them not exploit them?
That’s a short list. Be the best photographer you can be, and getting better. But you also need to be the best business-person you can be. Don’t like it? That’s one of the benefits of not bringing your craft to the world of commerce.
I’m not even sure who I’m talking to out there. If it’s you, it’s not too late. I do know why I’m telling you this – because it doesn’t take much for me to wow clients. And while that’s good for me, it bodes very badly for those among us who are setting the standard of mediocrity so low. I mean, c’mon, it’s hard enough to do this and keep your head above water, I know it is. I get emails all the time about these challenges. Don’t mulitply it with customer service that makes you look ragged around the edges and drives customers to someone else – who might be “less talented” but is more inclined to serve the customers you don’t have time to serve well.
Here’s one more that my manager made me change for this very reason: my invoicing. He literally forced me to sign up for Freshbooks and it’s changed the way I do invoicing. It’s amazing, and it’s very professional in the way it looks, and makes your business look. It’s also easier for your clients. Take one small step today, and everyday. Today, consider cleaning up your invoicing. Next week clean out your inbox – by replying to them or deleting them and starting fresh, but an inbox with 1000 emails, that’s only going to intimidate you and you’ll never, EVER, empty it. Clear it, create some rules to keep it ordered and end every day with it clear. Then standardize your letterheads and all outgoing email signatures – do one thing every day that begins with the assumption that your service needs work. A complete overhaul is intimidating, few of us have time for it, but one action-item a day gets the job done. Set the time aside. Raise the bar.
Last call on the BIG FAT BUSINESS CARD GIVEAWAY THING. I draw a name this evening sometime, so now’s your last time to get in on it.