Our posts on Personal Work this past November proved so popular and it’s such an important part of developing a successful career today, that we’ve decided to dedicate another week to it. This week, our contributors share more insights into the value of personal projects and the role personal work has played in their own careers. ~Judy Herrmann, editor
[by Colleen Wainwright]
Back in the late 1990′s, I was a full-time, working actor with an active design hobby that fed my jones for display typefaces. To anyone standing on the outside looking in, I had a great life, both professionally and creatively.
But I was dying inside. Because somehow, somewhere along the way, I’d abandoned my core competency, writing. Or maybe it had abandoned me. Whatever the reason, my ability to write anything personally meaningful had dried up and blown away, and although I didn’t realize it until later, I was bereft.
Thankfully, I discovered the internet. I went from reading websites to participating on them, setting up profiles on whatever sites would let me, and sharing comments on these new things called “weblogs”. On November 1, 2004, I finally launched my own ‘blog, using a handle and a URL that didn’t make complete sense to me yet, but that called out to me. I wrote and posted daily for years, playing with different forms, topics, and feature ideas. Really, that sums it all up: I played! With ideas!
Eventually, not directly because of my blog, but because of the muscles it forced me to exercise (writing, researching, synthesizing) and the paths it led me down (social media, presentation design, speaking), I ended up with a whole new semi-career in speaking and writing about communication, especially how to make sense of new media from a marketing perspective. I met new people, made new friends, and learned even more, especially about photography.
But from a few years further down the road, I can see that the real value was in the play, in giving free reign to my imagination, and in challenging myself to grow.
I finally have a few new projects in the works again, with varying degrees of public exposure; I even have one which I plan to do entirely secretly, just to see what that feels like. Because what is important to me is not that I become rich or famous or even that I get work from these projects, but that I allow myself to fall back in love with what made me pursue my art in the first place. Everything else comes from there.
Colleen Wainwright writes and speaks in lots of places, but she can only tell you about a few of them for now.
[by Chris Winton-Stahle]
In November 2014 I wrote a post called “The Value of Personal Work”, which laid out my personal philosophy about creating fun, relevant images that appeal to a target audience and how I plan to grow as a commercial artist by creating the work I want to attract. This article is more in depth; specifically explaining my process with two recently created personal images.
Let’s state the obvious. Creating personal work should be fun. Doing work that keeps you passionate about photography is vital. That being said, the personal work you create must be relevant to your desired market or it must connect in some way with the people in a position to hire you.
Every November, my wife, Heidi, and I create an independently produced holiday card that we consider a marketing expense for our two companies and we send them out to our clients, colleagues and friends nationwide. We start with a fun concept and we find a way to produce it within the marketing budget we have dedicated to it. Sound familiar?
This becomes great practice for real-world projects, it keeps my mind sharp and innovative. Of course, it’s not just a holiday card! I treat it as an entire marketing campaign. Investing the money, thought and time into these cards consistently has made them the one promotional piece we do each year that people remember and want to talk with us about.
I begin this little holiday card campaign with social media teasers of the behind -the-scenes production of the image that will also appear on the back of the card with a clever little blurb of copy. We carefully hand write notes in the cards and send them out to a select mailing list of clients, colleagues, friends and family.
On Christmas day, I release the actual image through my social media network with hashtags and a link to a blog article about the production of the card with behind-the-scenes photos. This builds up a lot of hype and people have started to anticipate getting these cards long before we have them ready to go out. Our goal is always to create an epic image that will appeal to people in advertising but we also want it to be fun and genuine for our friends and family too. We like to share the light-hearted, fun side of our family business duo while demonstrating our ability to conceptualize, execute, and style an image.
Another example of a personally produced series of images I’m using almost exclusively for social media marketing has started this year with a project I’m calling “Thrown from a Plane”. My direction for this series is all about having fun and getting others involved with my shoots by collaborating on composite images that we photograph in studio of our clients or colleagues falling to the ground from a great height. Of course, this is all done on a chromakey and no one is actually falling from any height at all. In the end, everyone involved has a fun image to share on their social media or in their portfolio.
I started this series as an experiment with a composite image of myself falling to the ground with my trusty Canon in hand and a fedora flying off into the wind. When I released this onto my social media network it was an instant hit. I immediately had people writing me and wanting to do it!
My first scheduled production of “Thrown from a Plane” was with an actress I work with who completely loved the idea and thought it was hilarious. We collaborated on a concept together. She suggested her character and the wardrobe of a 1920’s movie star. We developed a silly narrative from there. This one became a great piece for my portfolio and website. Since I started this series at the beginning of the year I’ve already scheduled several other shoots like this with business colleagues and clients.
Personally produced images have always been an effective form of marketing for me because they usually have an element of humor, they’re conceptually interesting and they show my ability to develop a narrative concept, produce and style a shoot and handle the Photoshop® work involved in creating complex images like this. Most of all, these images are interesting to me because they create a sense of community with a wide variety of the people I work with. They get people involved with us in a casual, light-hearted way and it becomes about showing that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we love what we do and we’re fun to work with!
Whether it’s through an epic family photo of ourselves dressed as 16th century royalty, with a leopard cub, a dove and a majestic landscape or an image of me getting tossed out of a plane with my camera in hand and no parachute, it causes our audience to stop for a moment, think about the image and hopefully smile. Speaking from experience, being a pleasant source of laughter or a smile will go a long way in building strong business relationships!
For me, creating personal work is always well worth the investment of time and money. I’m continuing to have a fun time with photography while striving to evolve my skills to create work that will be interesting to industry professionals. Personal projects have helped me to build relationships with my surrounding creative community and elevate my skills as an artist. The personal work that I create is some of the most interesting in my portfolio and if I can get my direct mail card pinned up at someone’s office or my website bookmarked in somebody’s “favorite photographers” folder, then I have succeeded twice.
Chris Winton-Stahle is an award-winning photographer and accomplished photo illustration artist who sees the camera as only half of his process in creating great imagery. Chris often pulls components from multiple images and CGI when creating his work for clients in advertising, magazines and entertainment.
[by Blake Discher]
Studies continually show that small business owners largely limit their analysis of online data to so-called “vanity metrics” such as the number of Facebook friends or likes, or the number of Twitter followers they have garnered over time. This could be because analytics provided by Google are deemed by many to be difficult to implement or difficult to interpret. This is unfortunate because this data gathering tool provides meaningful information such as: a) the number of website visitors; b) the number of pages and total time their site was visited; and most importantly, c) conversion rates.
The problem with “likes” or “followers” or other such soft metrics is that they rarely can be directly attributed to customer conversions, or sales. Google Analytics provides incredibly useful information, but if it intimidates you, there is another great tool you can put to use immediately. The simple addition of a “Call to Action” on a website can become your internal analytical mechanism. We’ve all seen these on websites at one time or another. The company offers a useful, information-packed, free publication in exchange for your email address. What is it your potential customers need or want to learn more about your business or what you can do for them?
I’ve had a good amount of success offering a free whitepaper (a fancy name for an informational document!) titled, “Five Easy Steps to Take Now to Optimize Your Website” on my search engine optimization company website. It provides qualified leads and I can easily track which inquiries eventually become clients.
Los Angeles headshot photographer Vanie Poyey offers “Wardrobe Guidelines for Your Headshot Session” on her website’s homepage. Again, qualified leads and data that enables conversion analysis.
Determine what expert information your customers might benefit from, include a Call to Action on your homepage, set up an email auto-responder to fulfill the request, and hopefully those potential clients can be “converted” into paying clients!
Free SEO tips available at www.go-seo.tips. Blake Discher is the founder of go-seo.com, a website search engine optimization company serving small businesses.