Someone asked me the other day what the most surprising thing about serving the professional photography business has been. Truthfully, it has been that so much time and effort is spent by so many on so much that has so little to do with capturing great images. Think what would happen if a contractor spent all of her time online commiserating with others about how little framing business there is since all of these new contractors came along or if an accountant chose to offer marketing seminars for accountants instead of doing accounting? It’s funny. Do you know who teaches marketing seminars at accounting conferences? Marketing professionals. Do you know who teaches accounting seminars at marketing conferences? Accounting professionals. Doesn’t that make just a little more sense?
With those things said let’s talk about the problem - the thing that really seems to drive the established photography community batty. In a nutshell that boils down to, ‘why do all of these people who really know nothing about photography teach photography seminars?’ Why do people pay for them? (I also wonder when I hear these relative diatribes if there isn’t a little, ‘those people should be paying ME.’)
So with the preamble out of the way, let’s talk a little about seminars. This is meant both as a qualifier for attendees and a heads up for teachers (and those who wish they were teaching).
- Seminars and workshops are a buyer-beware world. There are many great teachers in this marketplace and there are many people who shouldn’t be teaching at all. As a rule, if someone tells you there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to capturing great images or that there is a sure-fire “if you follow these steps you will be happy” method they’re leading you down the garden path. If you don’t know what that phrase means you may be easy to lead there. If you take everything they say literally and apply it to your shooting or your business and you fail, it’s your fault. Not theirs.
- Before you pay someone to consult for you make sure that the person you are paying is qualified to teach. Just because they are well known or have a lot of twitter followers doesn’t mean they are an expert. Getting bad advice for free is bad enough. Paying for it is worse. If the person is going to give you business advice what are their business qualifications? If the person is going to give you marketing advice what are their marketing qualifications? Did they REALLY build a great photography business? If so, why do they have time to teach? How much of their time is spent on each thing and how is what they know relevant to your business, your shooting style, your target clients and your region?
- The hardest part of this business is keeping the fire. The only thing that drives me battier then new photographers bellyaching about how hard the business is is old photographers bellyaching about how hard the business has become. There is no easy path. This is a business, not daycare. To continue to be successful over time you must continue to grow and change. It wasn’t easy when you started and it’s not easy now. Are you going to get up and get moving? If you don’t your failure is on you. Seminars aren’t the reason it is hard and ‘lots of new photographers‘ isn’t either.
- If your photography business isn’t giving you the living you want, teaching photographers to be in business should not be the thing that does. There are a few notable exceptions but these are all people who came from teaching in the first place. There must be somebody out there teaching you all that the way to make a living in the business of photography is to spend a year or so spinning up a brand and then go on the road and teach photographers how to do it. This business model is unsustainable. If you have to ask why that’s a problem.
- Your greatness is capturing beauty through the lens. It is not speaking or teaching seminars or in anything else. I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but the best of you are mediocre speakers. If you don’t believe me then you’ve never heard someone truly great. Many of you know your subject matter well and that has value and I commend it, but you still aren’t ‘speaking’ stars. At your best you are image-capturing superstars whose work inspires less talented souls like me to wish we had the skill and vision you have. Why isn’t that, and a solid business built on that, good enough? Why do so many of you want to mess it up with ‘fame?’
Just because this business has an art as its basis doesn’t mean it isn’t a business. To be successful in business you must be great at what that business is. Anyone can get into a business, but only those with the skill to satisfy their customers can stay. Do you have that skill? The only person who can truly answer that question is you. (and your clients). And that’s something to think about.
ETA: Folks. I deleted the comment thread attached to this post. Frankly I think we all wanted it to go away. Breathe. Eyes Up. Move On.