I recently received an email from a friend-of-a-friend whom I never met, nor knew existed prior to receiving the email, asking bluntly “how do I make money in commercial photography?”
So what’s the point? The point is…I didn’t reply.
Before you judge my non-responsive tactics, consider the following: One of the most important components of your photography business involves your networking & interaction skills within the internal framework of global photography professionals, not just the clients/buyers who will directly boost your bank account.
Obviously your interaction with paying or potential clients needs to be accommodating, courteous, honest, and respectful, but tactful communications can’t stop there. They need to extend into the professional network of photo peers, periphery business contacts and even direct competitors to some degree. Simply, you never know what might come from a seemingly ‘random’ communication with another peer or pro.
Who knows, maybe that table scrap they toss you leads to a full-blown feast of contracts and assignments for years.
Without question, I’m the type that would rather help you up than step on your head to get to the top, aligning with the philosophy that if I succeed…you succeed…we succeed…everyone succeeds.
However, sending an email to a professional you’ve never met and literally asking not only for the keys to the castle, but the keys to the kingdom (of which it’s a kingdom I cannot claim by any means), is extremely unprofessional and a bit insulting considering the years of clawing and scratching nearly all professional photographers must undergo to succeed.
Similarly, when you’re seeking advice from a peer or mentor, narrow your focus and be specific.
Had the aforementioned friend-of-a-friend emailed — “Hi, I’m a friend of so-and-so. I just moved to [city] and was wondering if you knew anyone to contact regarding portfolio submissions for commercial photography assignments. Any local agencies you’re familiar with?” — I would have tried sending this random friend-of-a-friend in the right direction.
Unfortunately for me and most of us trying to make it in this world by doing what we love, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for the clawing and scratching.
For reasons of self-preservation, sustainability and time constraints as a photo business owner, selectively choosing with whom/how you share your ‘ticket to ride’ is the only way to maintain your competitive advantages, along with your grip on daily business responsibilities.
Simply, you will need to tactfully balance the helpful information you are willing to share with the information you will need to diligently protect.
Not everyone will like you for this (and not everyone will like me for my advice), but reality is reality. As photographer’s we exist in a business world surrounded by sharks and infiltrated by guppies.
Sharing knowledge is extremely necessary, however, being aware that selectively sharing the information that allows you to avoid being eaten by sharks and helps you differentiate yourself from other guppies is more important than being liked by everyone else trying to eat your phish phood.