💯💯💯 "What makes great artists great isn't always unteachable genius. It's simply the habitual nature of being proactive."
We've all been told that hard work + talent is the formula for success, but what gets overlooked are the choices we make in our business. Make the wrong call and your business can plummet no matter how hard you've worked to get there and how much artistic skill you possess. In this episode, I'll explain what choices might be leaving your business vulnerable and the necessary actions to protect yourself.
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You're listening to entrepreneurs, a podcast that inspires photographers and visual artists to live their best creative lives. My name is Michael Der and I am a full time photographer with nearly 10 years of experience in the freelancing world. And I'm sitting down with an amazing community of visual artists to talk about process, business, and the lessons that have helped them grow. So let's get to it. Entrepreneurs starts right now.
In Super Bowl 49, the Seattle Seahawks were on the precipice of winning their second consecutive Super Bowl title. And on second end goal with the timeout in hand, all that was needed was a one yard run from their superstar running back for the Go ahead, touchdown. But instead, the Seahawks elected not to run the ball, and rather drop back to the seven yard line and pass it instead. In one of the most improbable turn of events, the New England Patriots wound up making a game sealing interception in the end zone to secure their victory as the Seahawks went home devastated and empty handed. To this day, you would be hard pressed to find a football fan, who doesn't regard that singular decision as the worst in NFL history. I bring this up because we've long been told that if you combine talent and hard work, you're going to achieve success. And while these ingredients do put you ahead of the curve, they alone do not complete the recipe. Having a good work ethic and talent by themselves cannot provide you immunity from failing at your business. There's something clearly missing from this success equation. It's not luck. It's not education is not opportunity or circumstance.
It's choice. The decisions you make in your career, have the ability to either elevate or sabotage all your talent, all your ambition and all your drive. We are all vulnerable to bad choices.
The Seahawks didn't lose because they had a lack of talent. That was one of the most talented teams I've ever seen. They didn't lose because they didn't want it bad enough, or they didn't work hard enough during the season.
They lost because of a decision. So let's identify how you as a freelancer might be making decisions that leave your business vulnerable, and openness, setbacks and failures. These concepts have nothing to do with talent or effort, and therefore In my opinion, should provide you a sense of relief, because I'm telling you, if someone told me I could prevent failure without being any more talented than I am, or having to put in any more work than I already do. I would be psyched. So keep your head up. We're gonna go identify some red flags in your business practices, and see if we can start making better decisions today. Mistake number one, you rely on one client. In my experience, most freelance creatives have one major client that accounts for the majority of their 1099 income. you've ever heard that adage, don't put all your eggs in one basket? Well, that's a warning. For the worst-case scenario, you're going to lose everything if that one basket falls, when things are going well with one client. freelancers tend to live very freely and fearlessly. But if that client falls, it is quick and often without warning, which will cause anxiety and panic. About five years ago, I was making the most of my income through one incredible client was being flown around the country to photograph events and I was being paid handsomely. But then they hit hard times, the checks stopped coming in. But the work didn't. I was still being given assignments with the understanding that checks would just be pushed back a little later than normal. And I trusted that they would write the ship. After all, they had treated me so well the first two years that I felt like it would be foolish to ruin the relationship by threatening legal action. While I waited. Two weeks went by four weeks, six weeks, I was in denial. After over three months of waiting, I had to come to terms with the harsh reality of the situation. I had to stop taking assignments and sever ties with the company that had treated me so well, just so that I could recover my finances. After all, it was I who had to front the expenses for flights, rental cars, hotels and food. So I was burning a hole in my wallet while waiting on two different types of checks, reimbursement checks and work income. The result was over $30,000 worth of consumer debt. In the blink of an eye, the damage was done. It took just a few months to find myself in a hole that took me nearly four years to climb out of. And there were so many mistakes that I made. I know this, I should have severed ties immediately to enforce minimal damage. I should have used business credit cards instead of personal credit cards so that my personal credit score would not be impacted. I should have contacted an attorney for consultation right when this started to happen. But the one that sticks out to me the most is that I could have spread the wealth. I could have diversified my client base so that that one client went down. I could still pay rent without going into copious debt. Relying on one client is dangerous and
is now the antithesis of my professional philosophy. Sure, entrepreneurship is risky. But did you know that many entrepreneurs look at full-time employment as even riskier? Why is that? Shouldn't it be the other way around? Well, it's because when you are an employee, you have one client. Entrepreneurship, on the other hand, is about creating systems that generate profit through many clients.
So don't be lulled into a false sense of security with one cash cow. Pursuing or not pursuing diversity in your client base is a decision. And that responsibility is up to you. I made poor decisions, and I had to pay the price. I'm hoping that you can do better. Mistake number two, you say yes to everything. For many of us, the advice we're given out is to start our careers saying yes to everything, to never turn our backs on a potential opportunity, never upset a potential client. And while I agree that you never know when and for whom the next great opportunity may come from, one of the marks of savvy business owners is knowing when to say no, you may be asking why say no to a job. More is more, right? Well, if you view success solely from a quantity-based lens, then yes, more is more. And when you're starting out, I do think it's a good idea to take on a variety of different jobs just to determine your passion for this line of work to discover what area photography suits you best. But as you develop your brand, as you gain conviction in your values, you may find that weeding out jobs that don't align with your standards ends up being addition by subtraction. For one, you gain more specificity in your brand, followers of yours will begin to recognize that you're an expert in something as opposed to a generalist and many things. This plays a role with clients as oftentimes, they're looking for a photographer that has a specific resume that fits their exact needs. And you may be afraid that pursuing a niche will eliminate you from other jobs. But in fact, it's often shown to be the contrary. If you have been known to have expertise in one thing, people often expect you to be good in other areas. Another reason to turn jobs away is to gain control of your time. By auditing out time killers, you gain more flexibility to focus on the actions you really want to emphasize. Now there are certain things that are really important to me. I love reading. I love personal projects. I love brand strategy. I love podcasting. And obviously, none of these activities are big moneymakers, and they definitely all take time. So turning away jobs for me afforded me the ability to manufacture more time for myself. And when combined with my decision to increase my rates, I discovered that I could work less and make more or at the very least make the same amount. For me to take on a job, it has to fit at least one of the following criteria. A it has to have a high chance of improving my portfolio. B, there has to be a high chance of creating new opportunity for paid work. And see, the pay has to respect and reflect the effort and intellectual property that's put in. Now ideally, I want all three to hit the mark, but at the very least one of these categories has to be met. And the sad part is I often see photographers taking jobs that offer none of these, they will take jobs with little to no pay no promise of future opportunities and no benefit to their portfolio. I don't care how hard you work and how talented you are. If you keep saying yes for no good reason, you will burn out from this business because you will have set your rate and reputation at zero. And you're going to quickly learn that going from zero to 1000 is no easy task. Mistake number three, you market passively instead of proactively. Passive marketing is the assumption that clients will keep coming to you because you've done good work in the past or that your portfolio alone is worthy of clients flocking to you. In reality, it almost never works that way. And if you want to say the greatest artists in the world who never had to chase a client as inspiration, go ahead. Maybe you have that rare genius too. But I'm willing to bet that the majority of even the greatest talent in the world had to hit the pavement to earn the right to be chased themselves. What makes great artists great isn't always unteachable genius. It's simply the habitual nature of being proactive. best selling author and leadership expert Robin Sharma says your habits are driving your performance, your rituals are creating your results. And so I say what if your rituals are posting to Instagram and tagging brands in the hope that they're going to reach out to you to spearhead their next campaign? How often has that worked? Great professionals understand the balance of providing value versus just promoting. They grasp the idea that the most effective way to lead customer loyalty is to identify and target the pain points their clients have, not just asking for a new assignment or gig. And sure, they had to make cold calls to they have to make pitches, they have to engage and network over long periods of time. All of that's proactive marketing. Just publishing your portfolio to the world and hoping that people are going to contact you is the definition of being passive. That's the same game as getting a nice suit and standing next to a six-figure car expecting your soulmate to come running to you. That game works for very few people.
Your efforts are far better used by initiating conversation, expressing interest and showing the value you bring over an extended period of time. Now I want to make something very clear because being proactive in some eyes could fall into the category of hard work. And I'm not here to talk about hard work. I'm here to talk about choices. And sure being productive may not come naturally to it actually might be very hard. But ultimately, at its core, proactive marketing is a decision. Passive marketing is a decision, plain and simple. So let's review. Don't rely on one client. Don't say yes to everything, and don't market passively. Now, I'm going to send you off with one final summation of this whole episode. And I hope it doesn't offend anyone. But I think it needs to be said to drive this point home. Folks, don't approach your business, like you're an employee. employees don't diversify, because they view their job as safe. I view their job as having one client,
employee say yes to everything because they don't want to rock the boat. I rock the boat when I negotiate higher rates and turn down jobs that don't offer tangible growth. And employees don't market proactively because they're not looking ahead at potential recessions. I'm marking proactively not only to raise my floor, but also the ceiling. These are choices, folks. It's no guarantee of success or failure. Either way, luck and bad luck play a role in business to as do relationships. But I hope this expands your view on how you're approaching your career. talent and hard work are prerequisites, you do have to have them both. But wisdom and making smart choices often gets overlooked. I'm trying to bring this to the forefront. And there may be many more decisions that you're making that are weakening your Ascension too. So be sure to think about what choices you've been making to this point. What are the high achievers in your field doing that you aren't? Your decision making can be your superpower. It can be what levels the playing field among people more talented and more connected than you. Don't just do things for the sake of doing things. Take a step back. Think about your brand and what your focus is. Do your clients know your focus when they see your work? Think about your time is there any way you can manufacture more of it?
And think about how you conduct your business relationships? Are you promoting passively? Or are you providing value proactively? Ultimately, I'm not concerned with what your actions end up being even if they are counter to my own. What I care about is the thought behind the actions, I want you to give yourself the permission to think about your choices in a critical and strategic light so that you can feel confident in the choices that you make.
That's going to wrap up today's episode, folks, I hope you've taken something away from this content. And if you have let me know on Instagram, what part of this episode resonated with you the most if you're not following us already, our brand new Instagram is entrepreneurs pod. So thank you for tuning in. Thank you for following us. I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day, folks. My name is Michael Der I'm out. I'll see you guys next week.