Business Skills for Freelance Photographers – Part One

In this two part webinar series event, visual story editor Marc Prüst sets out the basics for starting and running a freelance photography practice. You can see part two here.

While photographers want to pursue their passion, the market for photography is challenging and building a sustainable practice requires certain business skills.

Marc shows what the market looks like for different photographic practices, how to analyse and approach various players within the market, and how to enter the market successfully. Marc presents the basics of branding and marketing and show how individual photographers can deploy these techniques to support their creative practice.



David: So great, Marc, I will hand over to you, and everyone in the audience, as I said, if you’ve got questions as you go along, put them in the Q&A box. I’ll bring them in at the end or along the way, if that’s appropriate and so, this is part one of Mark’s webinar on basic business skills for freelance photographers.


Marc: Thank you very much, David. And thank you all for registering for this for this webinar and it’s great to see you from all over the world. And I see some familiar names from previous courses of people that I’ve met so it’s really nice to see you guys here but let’s start with the webinar. Allow me just quickly to share my screen and see if that all goes well. Give me one second, please. And you should be seeing my screen, my presentation screen right now because indeed, we’re in the VII Insider program on business skills for freelance photographers. Part One, and next week is part two, this will be the program for these two days. So today, I’m going to quickly talk about photography as a visual language because for me, that’s kind of the basis from how I look at the medium, at the technique, but also how to apply that. We’re going to look at why people actually pay for photography and I’ll be talking a little bit about business about branding and marketing skills. Then next week, in part two, I want to go further into the market, what the market actually looks like for photography and various kinds of photography, how you can actually apply your brand in your business, and the role of personal projects, which I think is actually increasing within especially the more documentary side of photography but that’ll be for next week. A little bit about me, so you have a little bit of context of what I do and where I’m from. Indeed, I’m based in Amsterdam, I’m from the Netherlands. These are some of the organizations I’ve worked with as a curator as an artistic director. Right now, I call myself a visual story editor, which means that I create edits for books and exhibitions, and I help photographers to develop their stories and their projects. As David already mentioned, we’ve cooperated before and we are cooperating again now on another project, I did research on business models for documentary photographers and we published a small book with the Forhanna Foundation. I don’t know if you can see me in the video, but I’m holding up the book right now. This is the physical copy, you can download a PDF of the book, including a manual on how to create, a short manual, small manual, step by step guide on how to develop photography projects. If you scan the QR code that you see here, you’ll be taken to a website where you can, you know, just leave your email address, and you’ll be able to download the book obviously that’s for free as well. Photography as a visual language that for me, as I said, that’s really the basis of how I look at photography. For me, photography is much more, it’s actually not much more than a technique. Of course, the technique is very important, and it’s crucial but I have never worked as a photographer, I actually don’t know how to take pictures very well. It’s not what I do. I graduated in political science on a project of North Korean foreign policy and my first job was indeed at World Press Photo. So, I’ve never worked as a photographer, I’m not interested in cameras or lenses or the technique behind creating images. What I’m interested in is the image that you, let’s say you put on the table, the result of your work, and how you can interpret that photograph and how that photograph can help to tell a story, to communicate the circumstances of the reality that once took place in front of the camera. And how you can, how the individual image works as a way to communicate but also maybe more so even how a series of photographs can help you to create and build a narrative, or story. Now, this webinar is not much about storytelling or editing, all those kinds of things so, I’m going to leave that aside. But still, I think it’s really important to focus on photography as a means of communication. It’s a way to transfer information from a creator, in this case, you to a receiver, which is obviously your audience.


Marc: And this is a very funny picture that you see here. It’s the Shannon-Weaver model of communication, it’s a basically a fairly standard way to look at what communication actually is. What it hopes to show is that basically, you as a photographer, you’re on the left side of this picture and you send something, your message through the, let’s call it the newspaper thing, that’s in the middle. And it’s received through that format by the audience, right? You transfer information through a medium that newspaper. Wow it’s a newspaper, but in your case, it’s a photograph, it’s a series of photographs, it’s a book, it’s an exhibition, it’s an online, multimedia production, it can be anything, right? But through the photographs that you create, you transfer information. Now, what’s interesting here is that when you look at the little figure on the left, it’s smiling and the figure on the right is also smiling, which indicates that whatever the first person is saying, is actually understood as such by the audience. And that implies that whatever language the sender is using is probably properly understood by the receiver and that means that it’s a conscious decision. In fact, by the sender to use a certain language, in order to be understood by the receiver. Now we get I can play a game, I can start talking Dutch or French or a little bit of Japanese, I lived in Japan, to make that point, but I think it’s very, fairly clear that we all, that here in this platform, we all decide that English is our language of communication. Well, I’m not a native speaker. For me, Dutch, it’s much easier to speak, being from Holland but I take a conscious effort to speak in a language that is not my own, to make sure that my audience, everybody who’s hearing this webinar can actually understand. Now there’s another element of communication and that’s feedback, right? That’s that arrow that you see, going back from the initial receiver back to the initial center. Now, as we all know, feedback is extremely important, because it allows you to verify whether whatever you’ve sent, whatever you send, as information is properly understood already. Maybe it will need to be more explicit, need to change, you need to make it you know, give more explanation. Now right now, for me, that’s also quite a challenge because as you will imagine, I only see my own stream, I actually don’t know how my information is being received. What your level of English is, what your understanding of photography is, I don’t really know who you are. I mean, luckily, there’s some kind of feedback because it’s the Q&A box, there’s the chat function, you can actually, let me know through David, you know, whether things are clear. And in photography, it’s actually often the case, you create images and you publish them somewhere in the book, or maybe an exhibition or you send them to your client, but how they are used, how they are seen and understood by the audience is actually not, you don’t have a grasp on that, because that crucial element of feedback is missing. So, even before we go into the whole idea of business and how to create a business, I think it’s really important to understand two things. One, is that photography, in order to be able to make business, it helps extremely to look at it as a visual language, as a way to transfer information, implying that you need to know what it is you want to say, and how you’re going to say it in order for your audience to be understood. It’s also important to realize that feedback can be extremely helpful to better your communication, right? But in order to get feedback, you need to as a sender, you need to be actively involved, you need to go out and look for that feedback, either through portfolio reviews or meeting with friends or talking to clients or whatever way you do it but in order to get that feedback to really understand the way you communicate, and how your communication is received, you have to organize that feedback. Well, those are just a few opening remarks.


Marc: Which kind of comes all together in this slide. If photography is a language, it’s a medium, it has to communicate, it has to transfer the information but it also needs an audience, if there’s no audience, there is no communication. And that’s very, you know, in photography, too, I mean, it’s great if you love taking pictures, but if there’s nobody on the other side, who was actually interested in those pictures, or if nobody is actually able to see those pictures, because you cannot identify the right platform, there’s actually no good reason to keep continuing to take those photographs. But just as in any kind of medium, in any kind of communication, photography needs a good and proper presentation, it needs to look good, right? And, it’s the difference, when you go to a lecture and somebody just keeps talking like this for five hours on end, you are all going to fall asleep. So, even if I make the comparison to this webinar, I need my audience but I also have to make sure that is, let’s say, a proper presentation in order to keep my audience engaged, and it can help me deliver my message.


Marc: Okay, I hope that all that is clear. I don’t want to go too much into this. As indeed this is not about photography, as a visual language, this is very much about business and how you can actually create a viable business. So, if you have more questions on this, we might be able to do another webinar on that in the in the future. Photography, as a business. These are some of the things that I want to be addressing in today’s webinar, your business idea, how you can move from a business idea to your proposition, or what I think is really important to call a product, and then we’ll look at the market, your competition, and how you can set yourself apart through your USP or unique selling point. You can forget that term if you want, and branding, and look at your clients through marketing. So, your business idea, your business idea, that’s basically where you start. Even if you already have a business, even if you’re already active as a working photographer, I think it really makes sense to take a bit of a step back, right? Maybe see this as an assignment for yourself to describe your business in general terms. What is it that you actually will be doing? And, where are your clients? Who do you want to be your clients, right? And try to imagine what your photography might do for your clients. We’ll get into this a little bit later but in a way, most clients, most people who pay for photography, don’t actually need photographs. They’re not looking for pictures. That sounds a bit strange, but look at it from this way. In fact, most clients have a problem and they’ve identified the solution to that problem by means of getting photographs. I hope that makes sense. Let me give you a very simple example. Let’s imagine a couple, a couple is getting married and they are obviously amongst many other things, they want to have a wedding photographer, they want somebody to document their most beautiful day, supposedly most beautiful day. But they don’t actually need pictures. What a couple who gets married wants is a memory of their day, they want to be able to look back at the event, next year, next week, two years from now, 20 years from now, to look back at that special event and kind of remember how great it was? Well, in fact, photographs are amazing carriers of memory. So they have a problem, mainly that their day is only going to last a day and that they want to keep a memory and in order to get that memory to keep that memory they assign a photographer to deliver them pictures. But if a wedding photographer is smart enough not to sell the pictures, but to say, “Hey, I’m going to give you the best memory of your day, you will be able to live on in the next, you know the rest of your lives.” Can you see that hat’s actually a better selling argument? Anyway, and there’s different ways to look at it a different way to discuss it but I think it’s interesting to imagine that that most clients are not interesting pictures, but what the pictures can do for them. We’ll get into that in more detail later on in the webinar.


Marc: Anyways, your business idea, is it reportage photography? Is it long-term or short-term? Is it abroad? Are you working from home? Personal stories? Are you working in sports? Also, try to think up categories of clients, right? Who are your clients? Who do you want to work for? Is that print media? Is it NGOs? Is it big companies? Or, is it the consumer market? They are all kinds of different categories of markets try to kind of grasp and get an idea of who that could be. Right? So, and I think it’s really important to write these things down, I always carry a notebook. Okay, maybe I’m a bit old fashioned but for me, it’s really important to put things on paper. That way, they just become more concrete, and they force you to actually make decisions and to start making some choices. Well, you can’t do this, within the 10 minutes that I’ve, you know, been talking about this slide but it’s really important to kind of keep in mind, Okay, so what’s my business idea? And how can I get a grip on that? Once you’ve got that covered, once you have this general idea of what your business will be like, you move on to the next step. And you refine your business idea into a proposition and this brings your business idea more into focus, to describe your actual product that people will be paying for, right? And having a product can be very helpful, because it helps you to set a price to your product, right? You can actually identify how much people will have to pay you in order to get what you deliver and the product doesn’t have to be an object. Of course, it can also be a service, but to define it in terms of product, try and define what it is that you’re selling, it can be very helpful. Also, because when you have a product and you’re able to make, to standardize it in a way, it allows you, it helps you to calculate your prices, how much will people pay? Well, I don’t want to go too much into pricing strategies and all that because it’s a whole different ballgame. I’m not an expert on pricing strategies but just as a quick tool, I think it can be very helpful to start by calculating your expenses, look at your expense sheet from your bank, or your bank statement or whatever and just check what goes out every month. And, you know, it can be quite a depressing exercise but it allows you to understand how much money you actually need in order to make a living. And if you know that, if you know how much you need to make living, can you cut that up in a day fee? Can you, can you see how many days you need to work in order to make that kind of money that you need as your basic expenses. And maybe you can even cut that further down into an hourly fee. But if you know how much time you will have to spend on your basic product, on average, as a general indication, you will be able to actually calculate the number of hours or the number of days it’s going to cost you to work on that product, you add the costs that you need to make maybe for travel for, post production, maybe you have to buy stuff. And that is actually the minimum price that you have to sell something for in order to make a living.


Marc: Okay, when you look at proposition, and I understand this all sounds a little bit vague still, and I’m going to, especially next week, I think it will help a lot to make things more concrete and clearer. But a little bit more about proposition, what looks like your main source of income does not actually have to be your real main source of income. For example, think of restaurants, right a restaurant, especially here in Europe, I imagine it’s like that in most places in the world. A person who opens up a restaurant loves food and loves the interaction with the different types of ingredients and how that reflects on the moods of the visitors and they tried to create an atmosphere and all that. But most restaurants actually don’t make a lot of money selling food. They make a lot of money selling drinks. For example, in France, the land of wine, I mean if you buy a glass of wine in a restaurant, it’s the same price as the whole bottle, right? One glass, everybody knows this, right? It’s not a surprise. But so people, the restaurant owner, actually makes money selling drinks, even though his passion is creating the foods, but you can’t sell the wine if you don’t sell the food alongside it. So, the proposition is actually I’m going to make great food and sell really expensive wine, so people, so I still make a profit, right? And it can look in photography, it can be a similar thing. For example, you create photo books, and you try to sell those but the way to make money, is that you are known for your photo books, but you just give workshops in order to make the money. The photo books don’t actually make you money, they just give you, people know you about them, they give you know, they make you famous, let’s say, and the money comes in through the workshops. It’s just a way to look at things, right? But it’s really important to look at your proposition and be very clear, right? Why do people want to buy this? Right? What is it that I’m selling? And why is it important for my customers? Why should they be interested? But to make that a little bit clearer, we’ll go into the next slides. It’s important when you start defining your proposition when you know your business idea, and when if you’ve been able to narrow it down to your proposition, to look at your competition? Who else is active in your market? And how do you set yourself apart?


Marc: Can you think, or can you figure out why your competitors are successful? What makes them better place? What makes their products viable? Why do customers go to them? And is there a way to replicate it? Right? And in order to, in any market, not in any but in most markets of photography, the market is very tight, right? There’s not a lot of demand and there’s a lot of people trying to vie for the small amounts of jobs around. Which means you have to set yourself apart from your competition, you have to be different, right? And that’s where, as I said before, your elative your USP, your unique selling point, comes up. Your relevance, your, maybe, your unfair advantage. These are all kinds of different ways to basically say the same, how are you different from your competitors, right? And I think it’s very important to try and put into words, at least for yourself, it’s not something that you’re going to put in your website. But why are you the perfect person to do this kind of project? This kind of offer, right? Is  there something in your background that allows you to be different from all the others? Like, in my case, I’ve been active in photography for a long time but I’ve never been a photographer, I don’t actually know how to take pictures but still I give photography workshops, right? So in a way, it’s like judo. So I use my weak spots, to turn it into a strong spot. Which means because I’m not a photographer, I’m not, I don’t know about technique. I don’t know about cameras, I don’t know about the interaction with a subject and I don’t know how to set up a shoot. And I don’t know how flashes work, and all those kind of things, they’re really important. Don’t get me wrong, they’re extremely important but there’s so many people already giving those kinds of workshops. I’m not even getting into that. What I do is everything that’s based once you have the photograph, once you have the project, how can you then move forward? How can you make that into a book? How can you make that into an exhibition? How can you actually use that to build your audience and create a viable business model? And I think it really makes sense for all of you to look at it from a similar point of view, what makes you different from your competitors? You got to realize, though, that in order to identify your competitors, you already have to know what your proposition is, what is your business light? Because it might well be that a lot of people you think are your competitors are in fact, not your competitors at all. Right? If you’re vying for a very specific kind of photography market, if you want to work in quick news stories, running from one story to the next, creating single images that are, you know, can be used for immediate publication. You’re in a completely different market than photographers who want to work long term and get into really, you know, deep issues and focus on one subject matter for a long time. They’re both photographers, they might both be called press photographers or, documentary photographers, but in fact, their markets are completely different. So, I think it makes a lot of sense to really try and understand what it is that you want to do. What is it that you do and based on that, identify where you are different from your competitors. And then, of course, what it is you have to do has to be relevant, has to be important for your customers, right? And generally, there’s one good way of looking at it. People buy stuff, people pay stuff, pay for a product, pay for a service, if it’s urgent and relevant for them. And if it’s not urgent, or if it’s not relevant, they won’t actually, you know, take the step of paying money. Again, a weird example, if you’re trying to sell ice cream on the North Pole, it’s not very urgent, it’s not very relevant, because it’s, it’s already cold, you want to, you know, sell hot chocolate, right? You don’t want to be selling sand in the Sahara, you’re better off selling cold water, right? Because the people there, if you can find people, well there’s obviously a lot of people in the Sahara, they don’t need sand, there’s plenty of that around. But what they do want is cold water. For them, It’s urgent and relevant.


Marc: Whatever product or project or idea that you have, if you’ve identified who your clients are, who you want to approach, you have to kind of think from their perspective, I’ll get back to that in a bit, and find some and identify why is it important for them at that point. And if you are able to make that connection, you actually are able to create your business. I hope that makes sense.


Marc: Branding is also a way of setting yourself apart from your competition, right? What is branding? And again, I use a lot of terms that you don’t often hear in photography, branding, and marketing and product, and all those kinds of things. I just like putting a name to these kind of things, because I think it’s important to name what we’re talking about but also, you got to realize these are merely tools to an end, the goal is not to be like a huge brand name or whatever. But it does help to understand these concepts so you can apply them for your own business. Anyways, what is branding, right products have a price, services have a quality, but brands have a personality, brands have a story that people can identify with. A brand is alive and has experiences. It communicates with its users. Apple, right? Apple and Microsoft, they both make computers, but we kind of immediately feel the difference between their brands and what they stand for, right? Nike, you know, sports shoes, or Adidas, same kind of thing. They’re both sports shoes, they do exactly the same thing but they’re still different, like Nike is a bit more on edge, is a bit more provocative and Adidas is a bit more calm. And if I may say, you know, it’s not as on edge, as Nike is, even though, you know, if you buy an Adidas shirt or a Nike shirt, it’s still a sports shirt, the thing itself doesn’t change. But the brand has a different feel to it and part of it is like this dislike for BMW, part of branding is this idea that you don’t actually sell the product. But what you sell is what it does for its users because BMW doesn’t sell cars. They sell a driving experience, right? And I don’t know much about cars, and I’m not, you know, very interested in cars but if you look at Audi and Mercedes and BMW, they’re all, for me, they’re all really expensive German luxury cars, right? I mean, I don’t actually see the difference. But they are different, because BMW sells a driving experience and Audi sells technological advancement and Mercedes sells luxury. You know, it’s not, they don’t actually sell cars, they sell what the car should do for the user for the buyer, right? And, again, it’s what I said before, in the case of the wedding photographer, it’s not about selling pictures, the couple is not interested in pictures, the couple is interested in getting the memory, right? Anyway, I think that’s clear. I hope that’s clear. If you define yourself, a photographer, as a brand, I think three things are really important. I’ve listed them here. A brand has to be authentic and honest, right? In a way, to say it differently, you can’t make this up, right? You can’t just pretend to be somebody else, because it’s a brand and it’s good for your business. No, you really have to look at yourself and what makes you, you. But it also has to be different because the brand, the point of a brand, is to set yourself apart from your competition, right? So that your clients or your audience actually sees the difference between you and the other photographer and the other supplier of the same or similar product.


Marc: And if you define yourself as a brand, it’s really important to keep it focused, right? It has to be clear, you can’t be saying multiple things or the same thing in different ways, you have to say the same thing over and over again, people have to recognize you for who you are. So, it has to be real, it has to be kind of different but it also has to be very, very focused. I think those are really important elements when you define yourself as a brand. Now, how do you define yourself as a brand is, is actually, it’s not that difficult. Again, you can’t really do it during the course of this webinar but I would strongly advise you, I hope you take notes, or maybe you can write it on your on your cell phone or whatever. But list your three brand values. Try to identify what defines you in a professional sense, because and I know I realize that when you do this, you’re kind of limiting yourself because we’re all complex personalities, we’re all very, more multi-layered, we have different aspects to our personality. And to pick three brand values is like this simplification of what you actually are and what you represent but I think it’s still really important to identify three terms. And I didn’t make this up to fit pretty much basic standard branding theory but these three words really help you to, that it’s still kind of open, right? It’s still multi-layered, but it’s still, it allows you to be focused, and hopefully it allows you to be recognizable. But first and foremost, that’s why it was on the first point in the in the previous life, it has to be authentic, you have to be honest, you can’t make this up, right? Okay, if I just go for myself, I would call myself focused, analytical, and methodical. Methodical? I don’t know if that’s an English word, in Dutch, it works. I think that defines me in a professional sense, right? And when I work, those are the three key words that I try to keep in mind when I do the things that I do. In this presentation but also in when I make an exhibition, or work with the photographer on the book, or when they come here for an edit. I mean, these are, this is how I work. I have a method that I follow, I try to be very analytical to be very clear, okay, these are the steps we have to take. And I’m focused, I’m committed, and I don’t get, you know, there’s no other things happening on this site that grabbed my attention. Again, when you do this, when we you working on your brand values, you have to look at your competition, you have to know how to set yourself apart, right? So if you’re a photojournalist, and you put curious, international and committed, which are great values. I’m like, yeah, but you’re a photojournalist. I mean, if you’re not curious, and you’re not international, you’re not committed. I mean, I’m not going to hire you anyway, right? So, it doesn’t really, and all photojournalists I know would fit that description. You can’t be all the same, right? But allowing yourself to be different from the others, because remember, non-conventional people, they might have a harder time being accepted by society. But we remember non-conventional people and non-conventional people are different. They have values that are, you know, that we might admire, but they set themselves apart from the crowd, right? Lady Gaga, which is an amazing example, Billy Eilish, they are unconventional, different from your average person in rock music and rock music is still a pretty, you know, it’s a place of extravagance. But these people set themselves apart, they have values that we recognize and they stand for it but they’re also focused. I think it’s authentic, they’re not pretending to be anything else that they’re not. It might develop over the course of the year. So of course, you know, you can come back to this and kind of alter your brand values. I think it’s really important to identify what makes you, you, in a way.


Marc: The brand in practice. Okay, we’re talking about photography, I’m showing you two paintings. The one on the left is by Jackson Pollock, an American painter, and the one on the right is by Piet Mondrian and these two, or similar paintings to these were ones used in a small test in the United States at a university. And, and there was a question. So if, imagine that these two paintings represent companies, right? For which company would you like to work, the Jackson Pollock company or the Mondrian company on the right? You will have your own choice. We don’t have a way to I don’t have any interaction. But I’ve done this exercise in many places and generally, it’s like 50/50, maybe a few more people want to work for the Pollock but that’s about it. There was a second question to that small test. Imagine these two paintings represent airline companies. Now, who would you fly? Well, if you just remember your first choice, I’m pretty sure most of you, if not all, would fly for the Mondrian airline. And it’s funny because these are two completely nonfigurative paintings, right? But we still recognize and I’ve done this in many places all over the world and it works. This is how visual communication kind of works, we will understand that the Pollock is like wild and out of order and chaotic and maybe a bit more fun. And that the Mondrian painting is a bit more formal than the strict and maybe a bit safer when you talk about airlines, but it just goes to show that communication is really important and that personal and warm, looks just very different from analytical and focused. So, the brand can actually help you in your own communication, if you are very clear in who it is and what you want to represent, in the work that you create, but also in your communication, in your website and in your social media, your newsletters, and your exhibitions, etc. The way you communicate, if you can bring that, if you can link that, relate that to your own brand values, even your communication becomes more focused. And if you talk to a designer, and you say, well, a good designer is not going to ask you, do you like red? Or, do you like blue as the basic color in your website? But if you come up with these brand values, they will be able to give the visual explanation and the visual expression of those brand values. And I think the Pollock and Mondrian paintings kind of are very good illustration of how that works. So again, take those steps in writing it down, give yourself some time, maybe between now and next week to come up with some words and revisit them every now and then so you can keep them up to date for yourself.


Marc: Okay, so we’ve looked at, very quickly, at your business idea, your proposition, your competition, how you can set yourself apart from that competition, what made you, you, what is your relevance, your unique selling point? What is your branding, what are your brand values and how you can build your brand on your communication based on your brand values. Let’s now also look at those people that actually, let’s say matter, maybe even the most, your audience and your customers. So you can, you know, that’s marketing, marketing is about audience and customers, there are only a few players in the market and it’s really important to identify who they are and how you can reach them. A bit more about that and how you can go through different parties to reach your audience next week, when we talk about the market and I will list some different market players and some of the platforms that are involved in that.


Marc: So, what is marketing? The whole marketing thing is actually quite simple. In a way, it’s about identifying the customer, satisfying the customer, and keeping the customer. It’s really not more than that and that way you know your customer can turn into a fan. Let’s look at these different steps, right? Identifying the customers. Know your story, know what it is that it is you’re about, what it is it that you represent. Decide upon your intentions and that sounds kind of strange, maybe but if you just want to take pictures, no one’s gonna pay you to just take pictures. You got to kind of identify, what it is, why are you in this business for? Right? And what is it worth for you to be in this business? Right? And that’s what this is about also in identifying the customers, why are you approaching somebody in the market? Is it because you want to get money? Is it because you want to get exposure? Is it because you want to have a book? Because you just feel that the story you’re attending is really important for you and for other people. It’s really important to be very, very clear why you do the things that you do, right? Because it will help you also in communication, again, to be clear, it’s kind of like an open door. But I still think it’s really important to be very specific, and again to write it down. So, why am, what do I want from these people? And are they able to deliver what I asked from them? Right? If, for instance, if I look at the market, in the Netherlands, if you’re a photographer and you want to work for a newspaper. Well, it’s possible, but they will never hire you because as a staff photographer, because we don’t have staff photographers in the Netherlands, you will have to, you know, so your intention has to match with the possibility within your market. And those are things that you can just research, right? And if you can’t identify any customers based on your proposition, what you have to do is go back to your proposition and your business idea. This is not, it’s not a right to be a photographer, I mean, this is a market like any other, which means that you’ll have to see the opportunity and see the possibility and have to do that research. And if there is no clients, if there’s nobody’s willing to pay for the work that you want to do, well, you’ll have to go back to the work you want to do and maybe change that or change the way you tried to get it out there. And again, we’ll be discussing that also, next week, and the second part in different ways how you can bring out your stories, but it’s really important that you are very clear and realistic in who you’re approaching, and what it is you expect from them. It also says here, categorize your existing clients, very quickly, for those of you who are already working as photographers, and I’m sure there’s quite a few of you out there, you’ve got those clients, right, they just keep you on a leash, they promise you the thing and then they call you the day before you have to do the shoot and then they offer you only your half of your day fee, but you decided to do it anyway, because you didn’t have anything else planned. And then they take like ages to pay your invoice and there’s always a hassle, leave those clients, don’t work for them. Just tell them I’m not gonna do it, this is my fee, I want my confirmation a week in advance, if you’d no confirmation, I’m not gonna do the job. It’s hard to say no to money but those C clients as you can call them, you’re better off without them. Focus on your A clients, you know, take yourself seriously. And know that you bring something to the table, that you have value, that you have added value. Also for the client, they have a problem, you’re coming in to solve their problem, which means that, you know, they have to take you seriously as well.


Marc: You also have to satisfy the customer. Once you have a customer, you have to keep them, right?  You have to make sure that they’re actually happy with your work, which means client is king. By definition, always, the client isn’t always right but client is always king. And it really helps to learn to think from their perspective. If you put yourself in their shoes, what would they want, not only in terms of product, but also in terms of the communication around it, right? And maybe in the lead up to the shoot or the assignment or whatever it is that you’re doing. But also, afterwards, maybe they want feedback, maybe they want to hear how things went afterwards. And clients never want a photograph, rarely want a photograph, they need what the image does for them. You know, they want a better image, they want more turnover, they want a memory, they want to fill their pages, they want happy people working for them. They want to have something beautiful in their entry hole in of their office. Whatever it is, they think that the photograph is a solution to a problem that they have. Often though, and I think that’s important to realize, the client doesn’t actually really understand what their problem is. They’ve identified that there is something wrong and that they will probably need a picture but they haven’t really, they’re not extremely clear on what it is that their problem is. And that’s where your added value comes in as a photographer, as a specialist in Visual Communication and you can actually, not tell them what you know, what they should want, but considering that they are king or queen. To consider, you know, if you put yourself in their position and think from their perspective, you can have added value in identifying what actually is their problem and how you can offer a solution. Because indeed, they need solutions, not problems. I think that goes without saying, I don’t have to say anything about that. It’s also important to note here, that clients are rarely looking for quality and creativity. What clients generally want is reliability and personality, I think. In a way, client quality is rarely the defining quality in a competition of photography. It doesn’t mean that the photographs that you deliver shouldn’t be good, of course, they have to be good but most clients, and I’m talking, kind of generalizing here, but a lot of people work in assigning photography, or buying photography, don’t actually understand photography. They don’t actually know what makes a good image, we, you know, in our bubble, of, you know, the VII Insider community, and people working with photography, we understand good photography, we understand what makes a great image and sets it apart from the merely good image. But most people don’t know, they don’t actually understand. So for them, you’re a photographer, and you’re all of the same quality, you’re all good enough, because, hey, you’re a photographers, right?


Marc: So, they hire you not based on merely the fact that you bring good photographs, but based on the service that you bring, on the brand values that you represent, on all those other things, that you’re reliable. They ask for something else, which is not merely the quality of the photographs, and I often say, you know, quality is irrelevant. And it’s not, of course, it’s very relevant but you have to imagine that for most people, quality is assumed. If my car breaks down, and I bring it to the car repair shop, what do I want? I want reliability, I’m going to assume they know how to fix it, that’s their job. That’s what I’m paying them for. So, I go to this particular car fixing place, because they’re nice people and, and they are honest, and they are clear, and they always give me a call, and they tell me, “you got to do this Marc, well, we can leave that for another six months.” I like that. So those are the kinds I go to, I can go to the other store, and probably just as good. I don’t know whether, I can’t judge, I don’t know anything about cars and that goes the same for a lot of people buying photography. So, I think it’s really important to realize that quality is not the defining element here that a lot of other things are. Anyway, then obviously, you know, your customer can turn into your fan. Keep the customer, surprise them, exceed expectations, right? And, there’s a lot of examples I can give, one that I often give is that again, of the wedding photographer, you know, it’s due to shoot and you make the album, you bring them the album, the gig is done. And then, you know, in your bag, you have one small packet, you say, “Well, you know, these are the pictures that we agreed upon and they’re really beautiful and I’m really happy to work with you. But you know, there’s just one picture that was my personal favorite. So I took the liberty and I printed it and I put it in a nice frame. And I’d like to offer it to you as a token of my appreciation, because I actually really loved working with you.” And that’s like, they get a gift. And it’s like, Oh, that’s so nice. And obviously, if they’re married, you won’t be doing their next marriage, hopefully.


Marc: But most wedding photographers get their next kick out of recommendations from previous weddings that they did. So, if you make a great impression on that person by giving them something extra, by exceeding their expectations, they’re just more likely to recommend your services later on. And you know, and of course, it can be genuine and it should be genuine but if you’re smart about it, you’ve already, you know, making that print and buying the frame, that didn’t cost all that money, but it’s the effort that counts. It’s also important to involve them with your work. If you’re working on a shoot, if you’re working on anything, you know, stay in touch, send them a WhatsApp message or an email during the shoot. There’s nothing it’s really strange to give somebody an assignment and they just disappear and you never hear from them again until they’re done with the work. It’s really nice to kind of stay in touch and mostly, what I think is crucial is to build a relationship with your customers. And building a relationship takes a long time and it takes effort and it takes an investment and it means you have to stay in touch which means that your communication again, your newsletter, your social media, maybe your books and your exhibitions, they have to be up to date, because people want to know what you’re working on and you have to actively involve them, right? And if your communication is building your brand values, and your brand values are consistent and authentic and honest and that also comes back in the work and who you are, and how you, you know, hold yourself visa vie those clients, it kind of all comes together, people will recognize you and also remember you based on the work, you know, and the communication that you do, that you keep them up to date. And that doesn’t mean that you have to send them daily emails, because that’s called spam. But why not have two or three weekly or a monthly newsletter, just giving an update? Why don’t you just, you know, give them a call when you’re in the neighborhood, drop by for coffee or a tea, involve them in your work, build a relationship with them. And as most of us will know, once you take a relationship for granted, it’s about to end. So it’s really a matter of long-term and building that relationship. That implies that you already have a relationship, they already have plans. If you’re starting out, it was obviously really, really difficult. You know, where do those people come from? How do you do that? It sounds easy. When you have a bunch of clients to keep a relationship with them going, how do you start it? That is a challenge. I mean, there’s no other way of putting it but there are obviously ways. Maybe you had a graduation exhibition, and there were people, you know, there who showed an interest in your work, and you exchanged cards, which means you have a great opportunity, send them an email, stay in touch, again, build that relationship. Portfolio reviews are generally great ways to build communities to build networks but you have to stay in touch portfolio review, you know, those festivals, those 20 minute meetings around the table, taking place online a lot right now, as well. So people who can’t travel or, you know, find it harder to travel you can take them and they can participate in those. But it’s a great, and you know, at best, it’s the start of a relationship. If there is a connection, you can build it from there and it’s really important to, again, you know, are they the right people? Are they able to deliver? Does it fit within what it is that you represent, what it is that you want to do, build that relationship, but building a relationship takes a lot of time, and takes a lot of effort. And then indeed, customers can become fans.


This is the last slide for now. So next session, we’ll be looking at the market, right? Because it doesn’t only consist of clients, the market is actually much bigger than that and we’re going to be looking at the different segments and how you can approach the different segments in the market in order to reach your clients and eventually your audience. We’re going to look at applying your brand, you know, we we’ve touched upon it a little bit today but I’ll want to expand a little bit on that. And then I think the biggest part of what I want to discuss next week, is personal projects and how you can make them financially viable. And that’s partly based on the book that you can download but not only that, but because I actually think that, especially in more documentary, or nonfiction photography, what I think is really important is personal projects, and how you can use personal projects to build an audience, get, you know, maybe not famous, but that people start knowing you and recognizing you for what you do and who you are. And that all also allows you to actually build more client relationships, and expand your network and expand your client base and make your business more viable. So, that’s the session for today. I hope this made sense. And if not, I’m sure David will be able to, I see some things in the Q&A. So I’m sure David will bring me some questions. Shall I stop the screenshare?


David: Yeah, that sounds good. That’s really good. Marc, thank you for thank you very much for that. Yeah, we have a couple of questions. And also just to let people know, a couple of people have been asking about the links to download, through the blurred background, Tell Your Story. I will email all the registrants, everyone who’s registered for today, the links on how to get out if you missed it on the QR code and so on, so don’t worry about that. Watch out for an email. Tomorrow, we’ll get that out. So that you can download that because that’s a really interesting publication. I can highly recommend that. Yeah, so we’ve got a couple of questions. And I’m going to start with one, which is you know, one of those dreadful questions where some people say, or you invoke other people, so slightly devil’s advocate question, but it’s it is hard. And I’m sure you’ve heard it many times in photography, it’s like, talking about branding and marketing and product is slightly dirty, slightly commercial? And how does that work with creativity? If you if you came into photography to be a creative person, and that’s what you’re most interested in and then suddenly, you have to start learning these skills, these commercial skills and so on. Are these opposites or are they together? What what’s your view?


Marc: I don’t think they’re opposites. I think they’re complimentary. Of course, creativity is really important but for me, the marketing skills allow your creativity to bloom, in fact, and it’s really about, why are you in this business? What is it that you want to achieve with the work? And it’s a bit of a strange comparison, and I’m going to make it anyway. And people who know me, or have heard me making this before, but it’s a bit the same with music, I love playing the guitar, and I love singing. Now, I’m not actually any good, mind you, but I really love doing it, right? And I have absolute freedom to play whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want because I do not have an audience. Once an audience comes into play, you have a responsibility towards that audience, and if I go see, Lady Gaga, Billy Eilish, or if I look at my own network, U2, Pearl Jam, those kind of events, I pay a lot of money and take a lot of effort to go and see them. Hopefully, it will be possible again, after the pandemic, but I kind of expect them to deliver something to me, and I don’t believe, I just don’t believe that Bono, U2 singer, always wants to perform, that he never has a headache or a fight, or you know, you know, that The Edge and him were not, you know, that they disagreed and whatever. But at the end of the day, they have to be on stage, and they have to be professional and they have to allow their creativity to capture me. Which means if I don’t want to play my guitar, I don’t, because I don’t have an audience. And if you’re a professional photographer, you have an audience, and you have a responsibility towards that audience but it also means that whatever it is that you’re saying, you can also kind of choose your audience or identify who it is you want to focus on and speak their language. So, I think the marketing should allow you to identify who are the people that are most interested or most open to what it is you’re saying and how you’re seeing and the language that you’re using and open to your creativity, let’s say. And then it can only be a tool to become more creative, because you have an audience and I think in the interaction between audience and creator via music, via photography, be it, any kind of like, that’s where the real magic happens.


David: Right. Sounds good. So we had a question from Raphael early on, and he was I mean, I think this would depend on obviously, different documentary photographers, but he was asking about documentary work and whether you would like to suggest some brand values for documentary photographers?


Marc: I think the ones that I mentioned, like curious, international, committed, they are obvious brand values, right? But they don’t really set yourself apart, but I know when I worked at my agency, we had one photographer, and he was he was the problem solver. And whatever, however difficult the assignment was, and I mean, no matter where it was, whether it was in Syria, or chess boxing in Siberia, we would call him because he, you know, whatever the difficulty, we could always send him and he would always figure out the solution. He may not have been the best photographer, technically but he was a problem solver and he loved doing it. I mean, he was like, “Oh, yeah, I can go to Syria.” Or there were other photographers who were much more, they were technically better or they were extremely committed to personal relationships. And no matter how difficult the person was, you could always send that other photographers because they would come back with an intimate portrait. In the way that they, you know, we had one photographer and she was terrible with lights. She didn’t understand flash or whatever, but she would always come back with this extremely personal intimate portrait and honestly, that was what she loved doing the most. So what works depends on who you are, and what you want to represent. And you can’t fake this, right? I mean, for instance, I don’t work with children, because I’m not a very warm person. And that doesn’t mean that I’m not a nice guy but with children, you have to be warm, and you have to be very, you know, what’s the term, David? You know, you have empathetic. I’m just not that guy. You know, empathy is a great value, it’s really important. It’s just not really me, you know. So, in terms of giving workshops, empathy can be a great tool, but it’s just not who I am. It’s not what I do. So I struggle very much, because I think any value works, that is a good value. But it really has to come from you and it has to fit with the market that you work on. If you’re very empathic, and you want to work with hardcore drug criminals, maybe that’s not the right match, you know, but it has to come from yourself. That’s the best answer I can give.


David: Yeah, so this is a question. Another question about documentary photography and this is one also that I think is repeated a number of times, from Aki, who points out quite correctly, documentary photography doesn’t pay as it used to in the past. Although, I would have a little caveat there and say that the past was not quite as golden as a lot of people in the present think it was, it was always quite difficult for documentary in the past to but yes, there were times where there were large editorial budgets for some, but it was not actually the norm, I think for everyone,


Marc: There very few photographers who indeed got paid really well. And yeah, the big bulk were struggling.


David: Yeah, and then the question is, they ask that, this is forcing many photographers to do other gigs that pay, how do you convey to your client that you would like to do work, that you’re serious, and you’d like to commit to doing documentary work?


Marc: That’s a really difficult one but generally, I think it’s, especially when you’re starting out, or when you have to accept basically all the everything that comes in. I did the same when I started out as a freelance, I did everything. However, I was very picky in the projects that I was, let’s say proud of. And those were the projects that ended up on my website, on my social media, and in my newsletters, and I still do projects, they’re nice, they’re interesting, and they pay well, so great, I do them, I’m never going to say no. But they’re not the projects, I advertise because I don’t want to be known for those kind of projects, I want to be known for working for with the museums, or the books that I love, working on, or doing these kind of workshops with VII. And those are the projects that I’m proud of, that I want to continue doing, that I want to keep expanding on. So, those are the projects that.. So on my website, I have like this special chapter, you know, where I highlights the projects that I’m proud of and of course, I’ve done many more projects and books and smaller exhibitions, but they’re not really interesting. And I don’t want to be, you know, get stuck in that. So for a photographer, if you, you don’t want to be a wedding photographer, but somebody asks you to do wedding, well, great, do it, send the invoice, get the money, but don’t start, you know, advertising that you do weddings. Also, at some point, you’ll have to say no because if you don’t say no, that will be the only work that’s going to come in and that’s why I think it’s really, really important to choose, you know, deciding your business idea, deciding your proposition and focus your communication on that and allow yourself at some point to say no, in order to give yourself space and room to focus on those things you really want to work on. There are no guarantees. I mean, you can follow this workshop, but there are no guarantees. It doesn’t work that way, of course, but there are ways that you can make this work and to say that, you know, everything used to be better in the past. You know, I dare you to be ready for the future because it’s a much more daring position than wanting to go back to the past. And one other thing, I think print media is having a really hard time. Photojournalism isn’t, photojournalism isn’t thriving. There’s so many platforms, there’s so many things happening. But yeah, it’s no longer the magazines that pay for the production but well that’s part of what we’ll also look at next week.


David: Yeah, yeah, I think for Aki, I would add two additional points. One is that well, one example I give is to remember that some of the greatest names in documentary photography did commercial work and, you know, balanced other things for their projects. Salgado shot Volvo commercials in the early 1980s, to earn enough money to, as he was starting out in his photography. Gene Smith, and other very famous people constantly did commercial work. Magnum started, you know, with its biggest contract was for Ladies Home Journal, you know, in the late 1940s, 1950s. It wasn’t actually its war photography, but paid for that. So the idea that you have to do other gigs to pay for what you want to do is actually pretty much the way it’s been for the majority, I think. So again, don’t romanticize the past too much, if you understand that past and the present, not quite so different, still a challenge but I also think that coming out of what you’ve said, Marc is that, a photographer can’t say to a client, that’s an interesting task, you’re doing, but actually, I want to do this kind of work, unless you’ve built the relationship with the client. And I think your point about building the relationship so that if they trust you, then you’re able to say, yes, that’s interesting but I think that your, I can solve your problem with more of a documentary style here, and you can fit it into some other work that you’re doing. So, I think the points you made about building a relationship can lead to answer some of these questions in a way that without that relationship, simply demanding to do one thing or another would not be possible. Couple more questions, from Steve, he’s an outdoor photographer and a workshop leader and feels that after 10 years working on his business, it’s a little bit stagnant. What part of your approach do you think is best for him to revisit his brand, his values, the way he communicates? Or, everything?


Marc: I mean, everything. (Laughs) Sorry, Steve. No, I mean, it really depends on what is stagnant, right? Is it because there are other competitors coming in and taking the jobs away from you? Because the you’ve kind of, the market is satisfied? You know, at some point, everybody has an iPhone, and nobody, you know, you can’t sell iPhones anymore. What is it? Which means you need to upgrade? That’s why there’s a new iPhone, every what, year, two years. You know, do you need to upgrade your product? Is it really about the product? Or, is it about the way people see you? Do they see you as the guy who’s been doing it for 10 years isn’t really interesting anymore? Or, I mean, I think that that’s really crucial to find out and in that sense, I would strongly recommend you to use the relationship you have with your clients to try and find that out. How are you seen? Right? How is it that you’re regarded? And why do people now go to the other guy or girl in the business? Or, why they no longer come back? What has changed in the course of the years? Or, is it really, are you no longer that motivated to create the work that you used to create? All questions that I obviously cannot have an answer for you but I think it’s really important to get into the conversation, to get the feedback that I was talking about in the early part of the session and communication. Now get that feedback. What is it that, you know, what is no longer working for you in this case? And how can you adjust? You need to upgrade your product, you need to revisit your branding, and thus your communication. It’s, and that’s the thing, it’s going to be authentic and honest. It’s not just, you know, oh, I pull this switch and everything is great again. You really have to look at yourself and how that works for you. And has that changed, or are you on autopilot? Because then the creativity is probably not flowing anymore. But again, I don’t know, because I’ve only had this one question, but that would be my advice.


David: Yeah. So, we have a question for from Isam, (not sure of this spelling) And I think it’s, we’re going to, I’m going to mention it but we’re going to park this question for next week, because I think Marc’s section on personal projects might start to answer this next week and we don’t need to anticipate that too much but their question was, where do we start in terms of submitting work as documentary photographers who focus on long term projects in order to get a budget to continue? Other than grants and related things? So yeah, very good question.


Marc: Yeah, we’ll definitely talk about that. It’s really about building an audience and reaching out to that audience that basically is the bottom line. But if I haven’t answered it for you, next week, I will, you know, try and make another question again, and we can go into more detail.


David: Come back, if need be. And I think we have time for one more question, which is this one from Casey and the segue to building an audience relates to this question. They asked, with the billions of photos posted on Instagram, fake engagement with likes, how critical is social media for a business model? Is it possible to go forward without using social media, do you think?


Marc: Oh, absolutely. But it’s difficult. I mean, I prefer using email instead of my pen and letter writing and communication, it doesn’t mean that it’s crucial. It’s a tool, but you have to look at it as a tool, I think it’s a way to stay in touch, it’s a way to communicate. But I know, several very successful photographers who don’t use social media at all, but they communicate in other ways. And I think the difference that is relevant when you talk about social media is the difference between audience and customers. Do you need a big audience in order to reach out to your customers? Because if your customers are people that you can reach out directly by email, by calling, by visiting them, then you don’t need social media, probably. But if you want to build, you know, you need a bigger audience because you need to reach more customers, then social media can be a great tool in order to do that. But I think it’s really that distinction that you need to focus on and understand. Why do you use social media? I mean, if you look at some of the, let’s say, Instagram influencers, that their customers are not interested in the influencer, their customers are interested in the audience of the influencer. Does that still make sense? So Kim Kardashian has a huge audience, because all those million followers, so if she says, you know, Parker pens are cool. Everybody say, oh, Parker pens are cool, and everybody will buy Parker pens, right? So the customer is Parker, but they’re not interested in Kim Kardashian, they’re interested in the people that Kim Kardashian can reach, right? And I think it’s kind of that way of thinking about it, that can really help you see how relevant it is for your market and your community and your customers. But I think it’s social media is just a great way, and a very easy way to stay in touch with the people that you want to reach. Let’s say, in the good old days, in the golden age of magazines, as a photographer, you are not actually communicating to your audience, you’re actually giving the building blocks of stories to a photo editor and the photo editor, would build a story using your work and involving a writer, involving a designer and then a marketing department and blah, blah, blah, and there’s a whole magazine people. And the magazine would be communicating to their audience and you would actually just be supplying the content to allow the magazine to communicate to their audience. Right now, with social media, it allows you as a creator, to actually communicate directly with your audience. In the way with the language and with the message that you choose. That’s, I think, just the plus, I think that’s really great. But it doesn’t mean that you have to. It has it’s a choice, obviously and it’s not crucial but I think it’s just an amazing tool that we have at our disposal today.


David: Yeah. Great. Well, I think that brings us to our time, where it’s a good time to wrap up. And we’ll be picking up a number of these things next week. So just three points for everyone for housekeeping. One is we do record these events, and then put them online later. We tried to do that within a week. This one we will try and get up before next week. So, I had a couple of questions about could people get Marc’s slides and have a look at those and so on. Well, they will be in the recording, obviously. So we will have that online on the VII Insider site as soon as possible. As I said before, I will email links to everyone who is here today about how to download Tell Your Story if they missed out on the QR code. And finally, importantly, you do need to sign up for next week. We can’t port from this week to next week. It’s technically on zoom, a separate event but part two next week, please go through the VII Insider website to register for that. Register for free as always, but make sure you register for next week you won’t, you because you attended this week, it’s not automatically that you will get the link for next week. You need to sign up for that. So please do that. I’ll remind you in the email about that. But thank you very, very much Marc. That was fantastic. And lots of great comments of appreciation for people. You’ve got people really thinking and reflecting and next week, we’ll have more and we’ll get into some more practical details as well. So we look forward to that.


Marc: Thank you very much and hope to see you next week then.


David: Great. Bye bye.


Marc: Thanks. Bye bye.

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