Aug. 27, 2021

What makes you a professional besides making great pictures?

What makes you a professional besides making great pictures?

💯 💯 💯 "Good professionals study their business, they research their business, they get feedback on it, they test strategies, retest strategies, and they adjust when they fail."

EP 35: One of the best questions I've been asked is "what makes a photographer a professional, besides making great pictures?"  Imagine having 1/4 the talent level you currently have.  How would you sustain your business?  Think about your answer, and you might just discover what your priorities are.  In this episode, I'll discuss why it's so important to show the same level of respect to your business as you do your art.  

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Michael Der  0:02  
You're listening to Artrepreneurs, 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. Artrepreneurs starts right now.

What is up everybody, welcome to another wonderful day here at Artrepreneurs. Continuing on with season one. And today I am going to be answering one of my favorite questions that I've ever been asked, which is "what makes a professional besides making great pictures?" Now this was brought to me by the students at Cal State University Long Beach during a presentation that I did. So I want to give them a huge shout out, give them a lot of love. Thank you for hosting me, thank you for being such engaging students. And this is such a good question. It shows that the young photographers out there are actually thinking about the big picture. And for the rest of you young creatives out there, I strongly suggest taking a page out of this book by asking this question to every professional you meet what makes a professional besides the obvious, I think it just cuts to the core of what needs to be done, the day to day the lifestyle habits that you have to ingrain. And if you ask this question to 10 different professionals, you might get 10 different answers all of them which are going to be valid. 

And so I love this question, I racked my brain on the 1000 different directions, my answer could go on this. But the most cogent one I could provide to any of you, regardless of what stage you're at in your career is to show the same level of respect to your business the same way you do your art. And I don't mean to imply that you have to be as good at business as you are at your art or your photography. Generally speaking, that's not usually going to be the case. But in my opinion, you have to show the same level of respect to your business. 

Now think about all the important relationships that you have in your life, whether it's a girlfriend, wife, husband, brother, son, Father, daughter doesn't really matter. You obviously have respect for those people. But I want you to ask yourself, how are you showing respect to them. For instance, I try to make it a point to have dinner ready for my wife when she comes home from work, she prioritizes time together versus going out with friends. And so these are just a couple small ways that we show respect to each other. It's not good enough just to have it. And that's what I want you to think about for your business. 

Good professionals study their business, they research their business, they get feedback on it, they test strategies, retest strategies, and they adjust when they fail. The first three years of freelancing I really didn't show any respect to my business, I was very lucky, I had a great client that gave me assignments without really having to work for it. And so I took that client for granted. I didn't market to new leads, I didn't practice pitches, I didn't practice negotiations, I purchased whatever I wanted, and I had no plan for any income or taxes. In the end, I just wasn't showing the respect to my business that it deserved. And when that client disappeared, my business and my life both plummeted. I was on the mountaintop and I fell all the way down to the bottom, going even further into a sinkhole below ground level. And that's when the respect came into play. As I was hitting every single rock and boulder on the way down. That's where I learned humility. And when I was sitting alone in that sinkhole pondering what to do next. That's when I learned business. That's when I implemented strategy. There's not a whole lot of learning that goes on during success. My first ascent in freelancing, I learned nothing, I was just lucky. It was only to the failure that kicked me into high gear that gave me the motivation to learn what makes a pro an actual Pro. Up until that point, I don't think I had read a book in about a decade. And after my fall, I read about 50 books that year, all of which were on business and mindset growth. And from there, I started to live on a budget I got hyper focused on killing debt, I created a plan for every dollar of income to go somewhere useful like setting aside for taxes and investments and savings. And beyond that I started marketing proactively I practiced hypothetical negotiation strategies, and I focused on clear and succinct communication with my leads, I was starting to show my business the respect it deserved, and it eventually paid off. And at that time, I had zero clients and no full time job to help me out. And yet I was still able to climb back from ground zero and kill off $30,000 worth of debt to generate the most amount of income I've ever had. In freelancing, these skills gave me the foundation to withstand a grueling 2020 that platooned a lot of my friends' creative businesses.

when a good photographer makes a photograph, she isn't just clicking a button. She's thinking of composition and exposure, depth of field lighting, body language, facial expressions and mood. She may also be thinking about journalistic ethics or client needs personal safety and the level of comfort of the person they're photographing. So there is a lot going on inside the mind of a photographer that the average person doesn't recognize, and that's totally okay. But by processing all this information by dedicating so much intellectual and artistic bandwidth to these choices, you have shown your art the highest level of respect that you can afford. After all your photography is very much a labor of love. And all I'm asking is you show your other responsibilities that you have as a professional with the same level of respect. So learn intellectual property, learn what usage rights are, implement licensing into your business, try practice negotiating every time you receive a better

contract or even learn what a bad contract looks like the list goes on and on from client development to taxation to personal finance, don't gloss over things just because you're not naturally good at them. I'm sure you weren't good at lighting before you worked at it. I'm sure you weren't good at retouching before you spent hours doing it. The same goes for business. I don't have a law degree. I don't have a background in finance or marketing. But this has been my advantage. There are 1000s upon 1000s of photographers more artistically skilled and gifted than I am quite honestly, I would have been out of the game a long time ago, had I not put my ego aside and learned my trade, study, implement course correct. It's going to take time, it's going to challenge you, it's gonna frustrate you. But folks, I believe wholeheartedly that you can do it. I was a consistent D student in high school and college. And for the most part, I felt like a lifelong underachiever. So learning new things, and executing on plans has always been a challenge for me. But the best that I can do, the best effort I can provide the most respect that I can show my business is to consistently show up and try and that's what I've done. That's me being my best. And I'm here to tell you folks in case you needed one last affirmation for whatever this is worth. Nothing beats your best. Just show up and try.

Hey, everybody, this is Michael Der thank you so much for making it all the way to the end of the episode. I hope you'll follow tag and engage with us on our Instagram account at Artrepreneurspod. We've also launched our website, It is the central hub where you can sign up for our newsletter, read our blog posts, send us voicemails, and even access discounts from our amazing affiliates. It's also the perfect spot to shout out Artrepreneurs with what would be an immensely appreciated five star rating and review. And if you're feeling extra generous, you can even make a small donation that's really going to help accelerate the growth of this podcast. But no matter what you do, folks, I just want to say thank you so much for supporting this program. There are a lot of great photography podcasts out there and I am just grateful to have gained your trust even for a moment. Take care everyone. See you next week.

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