Photographers, like any other business people, have one asset that surpasses all others: our reputation. Yes, we have our gear, we have our skills, and we have our sparkling personalities. But, ultimately, reputation trumps everything else.
This came to mind recently because of a phone call I received. A local bagel/sandwich shop keeps a bulletin board for business cards. I, of course, posted a few of mine next to the plumbers’ and realtors’ cards. I generally get little return for this sort of advertising, but it doesn’t cost much to leave a few cards around. One person who found my card there called me, not to use my photographic services, but rather to pitch me on a Multi-Level Marketing business.
The caller, Mrs. X, started asking me whether I did party photography. I told her that I certainly do parties; I thought inquiries into price and availability would be the next questions. Instead, Mrs. X began asking about what other type of photography I do. I told her about my wedding and portrait work, as well as my personal nature and wildlife photography. Mrs. X didn’t seem to be getting to the direct questions that I’ve come to expect from a potential customer, so I asked if she had an event in mind.
That’s when the conversation took a turn that would affect my reputation. Mrs. X told me that she and her husband were starting a business venture, and were looking for three or four key partners to join them. They wanted to meet with me for an hour or so at my convenience to discuss the proposition. She wouldn’t, however, tell me about the nature of the business over the phone. This sounded just like the phone calls I used to receive in late 80s and early 90s when friends wanted to pitch Amway to me. I have nothing against Amway as a company, but my friends all wanted to build their down-stream networks, and didn’t have any interest in the hard work of selling soap. Needless to say, none of my friends made money, or stayed with Amway.
I gathered from Mrs. X’s cryptic comments that she wanted me to use party or wedding guests as potential customers for her business, even though she wouldn’t directly come out and tell me that it was a Multi-Level Marketing operation. It would devastate my photography business if I were to sell Amway, or any other MLM product, during a photography job. My clients pay me to take, and deliver, images, not to spend time during their events selling soap to their friends. When working an event, I have two interrelated jobs: create images, and interact with my subjects. Better interaction begets better images. Selling an MLM while taking photos would create tension with my subjects, and would detrimentally affect the number and quality of the images I could capture.
This holds true for any professional. Just imagine sitting in your lawyer’s office, discussing changes to your will. If she tried to sell you on the dog-washing business she did on weekends, you’d quickly gather up your documents, and promptly sign up for an online legal service instead.
Our various business lines must complement – not compete – with each other in order to preserve our reputations. That’s why so many photographers have interrelated businesses, such as doing photography classes or trips along with capturing images. I fully understand that many photographers do, however, hold down day jobs unrelated to their image work. But, we generally keep those compartmentalized; we do our day job, and then when we do our photography, we commit fully to that work. Let’s make sure that we always sell ourselves, not soap.