2014 has been a year of unprecedented change and growth in my life.
It has been a year of struggle and accomplishment, trial and error, sickness and health, mistakes and learning, and most importantly healthy relationships formed and toxic ones left behind.
Network, network, network!
My New Year’s resolution for 2014 was to get off my butt and network like crazy. Sure, I was already a member of the Chamber of Commerce, BNI, several photography-related organizations, and some other professional organizations but I wasn’t really taking advantage of any of them. At the end of 2013 I resolved to make the most of my memberships and network like the mortgage depends on it (which it does).
I became increasingly active and well-known in the Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce. So much so that I was asked to join the board of directors for the 2014-2015 fiscal year and to represent the Young Executives group at networking functions. I also changed BNI groups from one that was wasn’t a good demographic for my business to one that paid for itself several times over in the first few months alone. Lastly, I joined a local networking group, Team Network, and have become a staple member of the Silver Spring chapter and other group functions.
If someone told me one year ago that I would go from the person who is terrified of networking events and meeting new people to someone who actively seeks out opportunities to do so, I would have thought they were crazy. Even now, my wife sometimes looks at me and asks “who are you?” when I suggest going to a function together that I would have previously avoided like the plague.
From sickness to health
Starting off the year, my Rheumatoid Arthritis was so bad that I could hardly work two days in a row without spending the entire third day in bed. Needless to say that is a problem for a photographer to have, especially an event photographer who spends long hours and multiple days chasing after brides, bar mitzvah boys, corporate figures, and conference speakers.
My doctors and I seemed to try every drug and treatment imaginable, from cancer drugs to anti-depressants, and dietary changes. Finally we got the okay from my insurance company to to put me on Enbrel, which has literally changed my life. Within three months I was feeling much better and now, almost eight months later, I almost feel normal again. In fact, I’m already trying to scheme a way to build enough endurance to take a solo bicycle trip across country in the next couple years. I’m convinced that my body will be able to handle it with the right training, so the biggest obstacle is going to be figuring out how to fund such an adventure.
The Value of an Education
I have had plenty of classroom and workshop photography education over the years. I was taught film photography and darkroom techniques in high school, I took several photography, lighting, design, and color theory classes as electives in college, and I have attended countless workshops over the years. Despite all that, in 2013 I decided to enroll in the Washington School of Photography’s Professional Certification Program which I completed in 2014. I enrolled for two main reasons, to build new relationships in the photography community, and to fill in some gaps in my knowledge. The program served both purposes very well and, although the education wasn’t as deep as I had hoped, I gained tons of experience, made some great connections, and got lots of free studio time in the process. As an added bonus, I also earned myself a position at the school where I now teach Introduction to DSLR Photography, Introduction to Flash Photography, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and Smart Phone Photography.
In addition to earning the certificate from the Washington School of Photography I also earned the title of Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) from the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) association. That CPP designation is known and respected industry-wide and is something that I worked incredibly hard on for the last few years.
Building My Brand
One of my biggest challenges in business was that I spent so much time working for other agencies that I neglected to build my own client base, brand, and body of work. The entertainment agency I was working with exposed me to weddings, bar mitzvahs, and corporate events on a scale that I never imagined I would be working on. The plus side was that I gained an incredible amount of experience very quickly, but there were down sides as well. For one, I was forced into their style of photography and given very little leeway to develop my own style. The other problem was that I was contractually unable to photograph my own wedding and bar/bat mitzvah jobs while I was working with them and was even forbidden from using photos that I took while with them in my own personal portfolio. While working under them I was photographing six-figure events, but unfortunately that was doing nothing for my own personal brand.
After leaving the agency I knew I was essentially starting over from scratch. Luckily a great real estate marketing company found me and was in dire need of someone who could photograph multi-million dollar properties with no ramp-up or training time. For several months I worked with them, photographing three to five properties per day. I was free from the entertainment agency, was making a living wage, and could use the photographs I made with them for my own portfolio, but at the same time I was working so many hours that I hardly had time to market myself or take on my own work.
Finally, I bit the bullet and decided that the only way I was going to be able to have a sustainable career in photography was to hunt down and kill my own meals. I poured my efforts into marketing and reached well beyond my comfort zone. I am happy to say that I ended the year with my company in the black and the ability to pay myself a reasonable salary.
Honestly, I can’t wait for 2015. I’m so psyched to hit the ground running and already have a new (small) list of resolutions that I wholeheartedly intend to keep!