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Breaking into a creative field

Breaking into a creative pipeline is really difficult. That’s why most people jump into internships & entry-level jobs to build their network and portfolio. If you’re someone who can’t be bothered to do that, then you’re exactly like me and this article is written for you. Here we go;

Everyone has the same issue; How do you break into photography, cinematography, styling and even creative production? Unless you’ve found a shortcut it’s most likely you will have to deal with these issues at some point in the first 2 years of being in business.

Issue #1 (Breaking in): Agencies and brands have standing relationships with older photographers that they’re super happy with so why should they give you a shot? They have nothing to win and everything to loose.

Issue #2 (Growth Curve): In their ideal scenario, your clients will be very happy to keep you exactly where they found you. Very few people truly want your styling to evolve to the point where they can’t afford you 🙂 so don’t expect them to.

Issue #3 (Retention): Client loyalty isn’t something you can count on. As a cinematographer, either your work is cutting edge, or it is a commodity. And overpaying a DOP who creates commodity-work  is something sharp creative producers do not do.

A.K.A. The difficult things you’re going to need to do, until you build enough incoming demand for your work;

Solution to Issue #1 (How do you break in?): You’re broke and brand new with no portfolio and almost no experience in producing the things you’d like to. At this point it’s literally a number’s game. You have to spin your wheels on 154 meetings / pitches, and show up with optimism for discussion #155. Eventually, you’ll get through enough people, and your portfolio will start to build so there will be more repeat business and less cold calling required to pay for your lifestyle. Side note: Sometimes you can quicken the process or improve your odds of converting a client if you show up with “Spec work”. The problem is, spec work typically looks quite shabby unless you recruit seriously good talent. And then you’re stuck in a conundrum, because the talent you enlist (if they’re any good) are always busy and short on patience (as this is most likely a non-paying job). So rather than waste their time and yours, my perspective is to only enlist talent when you’ve had at least one paying job with them. At this point they have seen some paper, and are grateful to you for having bought it their way. This is when they are most receptive and you have some leverage in asking for their support. Illustrative example: You’re a photographer, getting small jobs as of now. Rather than doing a test shoot and reaching out to a retoucher you’ve never worked with, it’s better to bundle your service as photography and retouch on the next job, giving that retouch bit to the person you want to eventually collaborate with, even if it means taking a haircut on your own earning as a photographer. With a better quality output now in your portfolio, you have also earned the right to ask your retoucher for some help on the next test shoot. Exhilarating stuff, I know.

Solution to Issue #2 (Being in charge of your own Growth Curve): Your best innovator is you. Your business development skills, your EQ for deciding which relationships to invest in and which ones to slowly let go off, and your nose for which projects to take on and which ones to price yourself out of. Pro tip: Never say “No”, instead get good at pricing yourself out of a discussion. Eventually they’ll either stop calling or start spending more.

Solution to Issue #3 (retaining more clients): This is the easiest of the 3, in my opinion, but you only get to action it much later in the game. So here we are; The number one way to retain your clients is to make them the hero of every story. Everyone has a boss, and most of the people you touch probably even have super bosses. If you consciously deliver work at a better than expected quality then you are creating an opportunity for them to seem like a superstar to their boss, and hopefully even their super bosses. Instantly you become their trusted partner, and not just a means to an end “vendor”. Suddenly you are part of their support system and this is when they will fight tooth and nail to get you the job.

Special mention: One of your biggest assets in business development are the freelancers you hire to work on projects you get. Done right, each of these people can generate leads, and bring you in on projects they get. It’ll take time to build up enough of a portfolio so they can effectively pitch you to clients, but once you do, and they actually start, then incentivise them big time $$$.