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Author Topic: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"  (Read 4627 times)

DanielStone

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"Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« on: August 17, 2016, 01:06:46 PM »

Hey all,

Have any of you started your career out shooting big(as in advertising/private) jobs, basically flipping the "start at the bottom and work your way up" mentality that so many photographers seem to have?

I'm 28, and have decided enough is enough. I have to make a break and start my own shooting career now, or it'll never happen. I've been assisting(with some light duty digital teching) here in Los Angeles for almost 7 years now, and while work is semi-consistent and affords me a semi-comfortable lifestyle, I want more. Actually, I NEED "more" than what assisting gives me(not monetarily per se, but emotionally I guess you could say)... I have this voice in my brain saying "you've got more to offer", so I feel that I must heed it.

Thoughts/opinions from working/seasoned professionals would be greatly appreciated.

cheers,
Dan
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louoates

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2016, 07:41:16 PM »

Good motivation for starting your own business no matter what business you want to go into. Your first step is to very specifically describe what you want to do...and where specifically you want to be in five years. Outline monthly and yearly goals along with the specific knowledge you'll need to acquire to reach those goals. A small business always starts at the bottom no matter what field you're in. I've never seen a client who hires a startup business for a major job with no track record of performance. Well, maybe hiring their son-in-law. Your determination and rapid learning curve will get you to where you want to be. But if you are a true business builder at heart, that growth never seems fast enough.
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DanielStone

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2016, 08:31:04 PM »

Thanks Lou.

That "business plan" has where I felt I fall completely on my face. I know what I want to focus on going forward(well, end goal in terms of type of client), and that's in relation to advertising and hi-end/niche work for certain industries. I consider myself fortunate to have had some (albeit limited) experience in the majority of those fields(think large yachts, high-end automobiles and aircraft ranging from small single-engine all the way up to medium-size commercial craft) but also lots to do with people and personalities. Assisting others has allowed me to experience many types of photographic subject matter and clientele, so it's not just "let's pick this out of a hat" mentality here.

As we all know, it's easy to dream, but much harder to put said dreams into action, and actually make them a tangible reality. I have been working on my networking skills the past few years, not to be a "bullsh**er" and stroking egos, but to actually gain friendships and build professional relationships. The business end is just as important(if not more so) than the creative end. I'm not interested in eating canned soup every night for the rest of my life ;)!

Thank you for your insight on the topic.

-Dan
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paulgrundy

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #3 on: August 18, 2016, 05:11:44 AM »

Dan,

Maybe you can do this on your own but I would say you are going to need an agent who is excited by your work, believes in your potential and will get your book in front of the right people.

So how is the portfolio coming along?


Paul
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DanielStone

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #4 on: August 18, 2016, 12:08:20 PM »

Dan,

Maybe you can do this on your own but I would say you are going to need an agent who is excited by your work, believes in your potential and will get your book in front of the right people.

So how is the portfolio coming along?


Paul

Hey Paul

I've realized the absolute need to build an entirely new portfolio, from the ground up. All new, nothing recycled. I hate eating leftovers, as I always find them soggy, mushy or just plain nasty :o . Same with my photographs. While they might look nice, I know they're in the past, and I want to focus on making newer, better(technically and aesthetically) photographs for myself, and for clients who hire me.
 
What I've done in the past(nothing commercial, I'll be honest, just personal work) is not reflective of where I want to take myself from now on.
Think of it this way(this is the best simile I can equate it with):

My photographic past has been like traveling in an RV. I have crammed a lot of stuff into that big box on wheels. Too much "stuff". Heavy, slow, and expensive to maintain.
I want my future to be in an F1 car, so to speak. Nimble, light, fast and tailored to a very specific purpose: delivering winning results.

I'm not looking for an overnight result here. Knowing full well it will take time(as in years, potentially) to get to that level, I don't care. As long as I get there.
But I've decided to torch the RV and all that's in it, and move ahead with new goals in mind.

thanks for your reply,
Dan
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louoates

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #5 on: August 18, 2016, 06:27:58 PM »

I'm still not seeing you take a specific direction. If it's high end yacht/car photography you want to specialize in. I'd prefer you had a definitive statement to tell, such as "I'm going to be the best yacht/car photographer in (you name the location)". Then focus, focus, focus on the first step in getting to that goal and have the remaining steps outlined out on paper or spreadsheet. You might start with becoming a marina's official photographer, paid or otherwise, until your portfolio is the best there is. Same with any of the other areas in which you really want to star. Nothing I said above needs to be at the expense of continuing to earn a living where you are now employed. When it's time to quit that job you'll know it. But without that specific photographic area you want and the related goals and personal drive, success will be elusive.
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DanielStone

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2016, 11:53:37 PM »

Hi Lou,

Thank you for your continued insight, I am grateful for the time you took to write your thoughts/concerns down.

Please excuse my not being clearer from the start, but this is still a bit "new" to me as I've never really been in business for myself before. I'm 1000%(yes 1000) percent ready to get this party started. It's been long enough and I've been stagnant for too many years, afraid of failing. I believe I understand what you are saying about having that definitive personal statement, and I agree wholeheartedly.

Yes, the industries I want to focus on going forward would be the "wings, wheels and keels " industries. While that might seem rather broad in terms of subject matter, I have a deep (personal) interest not just in "rich mans toys"(as in yachts), but in trains, cars/trucks, earth-moving equipment, and of course airplanes(of all sizes).

So yes, my end goal is to be considered "the best" in the fields I want to pursue(although I would never, EVER refer to myself as "the best", I believe in speaking humbly, and letting my work speak for itself).

Business plan(at present): Continue assisting/doing what I've been doing so money is still coming in, but in my off days, be shooting/producing my own work, and building contacts who would be open to "trade" work: they get photographs to use for little/no cost, and I get access to shooting the type of high-end subject matter I want in my portfolio. All the time contacting agents(although I am still on the fence about "agents", as I know some charge obscene rates. Perhaps it's just the way it goes, but I feel one's work, if good enough, can practically sell itself in the end. Or am I wrong?

-Dan



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louoates

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #7 on: August 20, 2016, 12:34:45 PM »

Good start, Dan. And good luck.
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alainbriot

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #8 on: August 20, 2016, 09:45:53 PM »

For me when I started being hungry, in all the meanings of the term, was the key factor.  Sounds like you are so you should be fine.
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Alain Briot
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Endeavour

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #9 on: August 21, 2016, 02:45:35 PM »

I dont think this situation is limited to photography.

If you want to get the big jobs you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. No-one will offer it to you on a plate although it may look like others seem to land all the cool jobs.

I 'started at the top' in my industry about 10 years ago. I had a career I was bored with and wanted to change. Did I want to go back to being a junior and working my way up? hell no. I felt I had experience (ok a different sector) if only at being professional and meeting deadlines/budgets etc.

Going out on your own and being professional in a job inwardly you may feel you arent qualified for - is all a state of mind and attitude. If you are confident in your abilities and professional in your manner you will get on fine - just expect to have to work hard in-front and behind the scenes.
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Rob C

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #10 on: October 13, 2016, 10:00:20 AM »

It's relatively simple: if you want to be a photographer, don't be a jack-of-all-trades. The world's full of 'em and mostly they die with ulcers. So do what? Make the best book/portfolio you know how and hawk it about. Every day. And when the first job comes along, don't stop selling: you may not enjoy it, but if it worked for client no.1 it will for the rest.

Never do work for free. It's the worst advice you will get. If you do that, there is later no way the same 'clients' will ever see you as a person worth paying. On top of that, no worthwhile client is interested in penny-pinching like that; if he is, you don't need him. Were I a possible client, I'd feel insulted if somebody offered me free work. I'd think: what kinda jerk does this twat think I am; what sort of crap company does he think this is?

Respect yourself, and others may respect you, too.

Rob C

alainbriot

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #11 on: October 13, 2016, 01:43:30 PM »

Well said Rob.

Those who come to you because of price will leave you because of price.  If you work for free you know what will happen when you start charging money.... they'll think you became greedy !

The purpose of a business is to make money!
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Alain Briot
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Rob C

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #12 on: October 13, 2016, 02:06:21 PM »

Well said Rob.

Those who come to you because of price will leave you because of price.  If you work for free you know what will happen when you start charging money.... they'll think you became greedy !

The purpose of a business is to make money!

And even when you know that, photography ain't the easiest way!

Rob

alainbriot

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #13 on: October 13, 2016, 02:15:29 PM »

Very true.  I often say that I could make more money doing just about any other kind of business, but this is what I like doing. 
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Alain Briot
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douglevy

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #14 on: November 04, 2016, 09:05:20 PM »

Soooo, a few thoughts.

There's a big difference between personal work, and shooting for free. I never shoot for free, I do a TON of personal work. That works turns to into marketing material that turns into paying clients. My ongoing series of photos of New England Craftsmen has brought in 3 large clients in just the last six months - http://www.douglaslevy.com/index/G0000x6NgBuv9BNg/I0000Uq1H3xZO0Tg

When I do personal work - the subjects get free photos, and I get a signed model release. These are people or businesses that could never afford me, and they get zero say in the art direction of the images, and get whatever I want to give them when I'm done. They know this going in, and I'm not undercutting an industry because these are people who literally would never pay for photography.

I think you need to be constantly shooting personal work (and you seem to understand this). Build a marketing plan, maybe work with someone like Peter - www.pedroandjackie.com who can help you develop a list of targeted clients and a detailed plan about how to get there (and understand it's a 3-5 year process).

Here's a list I've curated for a local Facebook group of business resources you might find handy.

DOUG LEVY·THURSDAY, AUGUST 14, 2014
NPPA CODB Calculator - https://nppa.org/calculator (DO THIS FIRST)
And then see it in action - http://www.lincolnbarbour.com/blog/...
No you can’t pick my brain for free - http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in...
Art Streiber on a career in commercial and editorial photography  - http://www.nickonken.me/2014/07/art... - http://www.artstreiber.com/
Fotoquote - http://www.cradocfotosoftware.com/f...
Blinkbid - http://blinkbid.com/
Getty images (to compare to stock calculators) http://www.gettyimages.com/
A Photo Editor Pricing & Negotiating Series (corporate, commercial and editorial work) - http://www.aphotoeditor.com/categor...
Stacey Reeves pricing guide (weddings) http://www.stacyreeves.com/greatest...
Photoshelter pricing guides - http://blog.photoshelter.com/catego... corporate/gallery/magazine/stock/nature, help with CODB
How not to suck at negotiating - http://blog.photoshelter.com/2011/0... http://blog.photoshelter.com/2011/0...
http://whopaysphotogs.tumblr.com/ - various publications and their rates that people are getting
ASMP tutorials and forms (free) http://asmp.org/links/8#.U-0dyPldUy...
http://johnharrington.com/dc-photog...
https://asmp.org/links/32#.U-443_ld...
FStoppers guide to pricing commercial work: 4 parts - https://fstoppers.com/originals/fre... https://fstoppers.com/originals/gui... https://fstoppers.com/originals/gui... https://fstoppers.com/originals/gui...
Pricing based on value to customer: http://petapixel.com/2014/11/23/pri...
http://notesfromarepsjournal.com/20... great blog, interviews professional art buyers re, industry practices on pricing, advances, and negotiating
http://www.profoto.com/blog/instruc... Promo stuff
http://www.theclientblog.com/ on the collaborative process
The time value of money and cash flow - http://photobusinessforum.blogspot.com/...
The consequences of working for free - http://blog.photoshelter.com/2014/1...
Photographers on photography (and the state of the industry) - http://www.popfoto.net/
Promos - http://blog.wonderfulmachine.com/ta...
Books: Best Business Practices for Photographers Volumes 1&2 by John HarringtonCash is Still King - The Survival Guide for Cash Flow Management - Keith Checkley
Wedding Vendor licensing agreement - http://douglaslevy.zenfolio.com/dou...
David duChemin & Zack Arias talk $$$ - http://t.co/wT6rSKDv52
A Man to Fish - Podcast and workshops - http://www.amantofish.com/
https://fstoppers.com/education/dav... Pricing starts at 5:12 runs to 12:40
http://fourhourworkweek.com/2015/02... - great insight on starting a business, hiring, the workplace, self motivating
The Structure of the Bid - http://blog.agencyaccess.com/the-st... (free pdf) - fantastic insight into bts of winning and losing bids and explanations of industry terminology/legalese
Yodelist - Agency Access alternative I'm trying out. 15% ASMP discount - http://www.yodelist.com/
Contract terms, use and pricing for a record label - http://aphotoeditor.com/2015/04/08/...
Notes from a rep - the state of commercial photography, longevity in business and the value of experience - <a>http://notesfromarepsjournal.com/20...</a>
When a $43,000 estimate is too low - http://aphotoeditor.com/2015/05/06/...
Pricing advice from a 7-year old. He's dead on - http://www.agilephotog.com/my-7-yea...
http://www.hulu.com/watch/718938 fast forward to 20:20 left. "Can I see it?" "No, you're paying us for our creativity."
Why meeting clients at Starbucks is usually a terrible idea - https://fstoppers.com/business/5-re...
Great sales tips (but you have to get past the workout conversation first) - http://fourhourworkweek.com/2015/05...
Copyright - http://notesfromarepsjournal.com/20...
ASMP business FAQ - http://asmp.org/articles/business-a...
Should you grow your business? Great read - http://www.smallgiantsbook.com/
Photoshelter guide to breaking into commercial photography - http://www.photoshelter.com/resourc...
The Profit on CNBC. Better than Shark Tank in terms of actual business information. Really boils it down well. If I had kids this would be required watching.
"How do you make money in this business?" http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/... - "the value of the image is contextual" "Price by value."
Small Giants - great insight on leadership and creating a a business culture -http://www.smallgiantsbook.com/
8 Finance Tips from Working Pros - http://blog.photoshelter.com/2015/0...
Dissecting Terms and Conditions - http://notesfromarepsjournal.com/20...
Erik Almas on marketing - https://fstoppers.com/business/supe...
Pricing for image libraries (direct for client) - http://aphotoeditor.com/2015/09/23/...
First portfolio review? Here's some tips - http://aphotoeditor.com/2015/09/30/...
Pedro & Jackie - Portland ME based photo consultants. Get a job that you know you can do creatively but need help with estimate/production? Need help building a marketing plan? These two are AMAZING and have helped me with all that and more as much commercial business has grown. pedroandjackie.com
Buying on spec - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ess...
Incredibly detailed breakdown of Time Inc.'s terms and conditions, with commentary. http://photobusinessforum.blogspot.com/...
7 Tips for Getting Clients to Pay What You're Worth - http://www.pdnonline.com/features/7...
Video Q&A with rep Heather Elder - http://notesfromarepsjournal.com/20... free for ASMP members, $4.99 if you're not (this is really good)
Agency Access Guide to Estimating with Confidence - http://blog.agencyaccess.com/estima...
New photoshelter series, similar to the APE thread - http://blog.photoshelter.com/2016/0...
How to avoid your promo emails being marked as spam - http://blog.agencyaccess.com/the-sp...
http://blog.photoshelter.com/2016/0... business of editorial photography & fighting bad contracts (video)
Pocket Guide to E-mail Marketing - http://blog.agencyaccess.com/the-ph...
"You're sending your clients terms and conditions, right?" http://blog.photoshelter.com/2016/0...
2015 "promos of the year" - http://aphotoeditor.com/2016/01/19/...
http://www.thebusinessofbeingcreative.com/... Great read on talking to your clients
Shooting for a university that wants perpetual use forever - http://blog.photoshelter.com/2016/0...
http://blog.photoshelter.com/2016/0... - what photographers wish they’d known before going freelance
Bryan Cranston on getting jobs - https://fstoppers.com/business/brya...
How Creatives Should Negotiate: http://fourhourworkweek.com/2016/06...
A rep on marketing - https://notesfromarepsjournal.com/2...
This guy charges clients for his promos - http://blog.photoshelter.com/2016/0...
Insights on estimating from an Art Producer - https://notesfromarepsjournal.com/2...
Zack Arias e-book on pricing/business http://dedpxl.com/product/get-to-wo...
Photoshelter on e-mail marketing, social media and payments - http://blog.photoshelter.com/2016/0...
Conversations with millionaires - http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/dav...
How to price for commercial photography - http://www.thelawtog.com/how-to-pri...
On pricing and negotiating, interview with wonderful machine's craig oppenheimer - http://www.thecreativefreelancer.com/...
Strategies for raising your rates - http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/...
"To recap: Pricing by the hour is dumb. Doctors price by the procedure and M&A bankers charge a percentage of the deal. You can price your products in a way that returns the profits you want. Pricing by the hour is a great way to make less money as you get better and better (more efficient) at delivering your product."

TonyVentourisPhotography

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #15 on: November 05, 2016, 08:10:33 AM »

Best advice I can give... be comfortable negotiating, understanding other people honestly, and truly truly being interested in them.  Big gigs are fun, but it's relationships that put food on the table. 

Learn to think creatively outside of the box in what else will be needed in a shoot, not just you your camera and some pictures.  Foresee the situations a client will run into.  Show them ways to benefit.  Commercial photography is like plumbing.  Your are there at the end of the day to solve their problem.  No matter how many good pipes you've turned and pretty sinks you've installed... most clients won't care.  What they care is will you solve their leak (visual problem or need) and do it for the money they have to offer. 

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Sharon VL

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #16 on: November 05, 2016, 04:26:07 PM »

Great post, Doug!!

douglevy

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #17 on: November 06, 2016, 12:28:05 PM »

Thanks Sharon! And you're local (in just north of Boston)

Sharon VL

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #18 on: November 06, 2016, 04:16:21 PM »

Thanks Sharon! And you're local (in just north of Boston)

I love your New England Craftsman series... we went through that the other day. Beautiful work.

Phil Indeblanc

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Re: "Start at the top" vs. "Work your way up"
« Reply #19 on: November 13, 2016, 04:01:54 PM »

Hey all,
....
I'm 28, and have decided enough is enough. I have to make a break and start my own shooting career now, or it'll never happen. I've been assisting(with some light duty digital teching) here in Los Angeles for almost 7 years now, and while work is semi-consistent and affords me a semi-comfortable lifestyle, I want more. Actually, I NEED "more" ......

cheers,
Dan
Isn't this all a matter of perspective?
There would be 2 things I think of...

1. Where is your body of work, and what is it communicating?
2. You can be living in a $400 a month room in LA and consider it "semi-comfortable", or $2000 for a small studio room and feel the same.

But if you need to support a family and pay the mortgage, and the different bills and such assocciated with running a family, there are very different approaches one must take.


So without knowing these things, following all the advise can get you running circles.

DougLevy posted a lot of good stuff at many levels and needs, but without knowing your current work, and your current responsibilities, etc.

If youre single, and your not out doing all you can, your wasting some precious times.
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