[by Barry Schwartz]
In my twenties I wanted to be a field biologist. I loved the idea of being outside, engaging with the elements, and how naturalists develop broad conclusions based on specific behaviors and occurrences. I appreciated that research never ends; that there was always more to learn, deeper to look, farther to go. I respected the particular feature of the scientific method that data could both validate and deny preconceptions. Scientists have to remain open to change because the scientific method’s job is disproving preconceptions as much as proving them. That’s how science moves forward.
Sadly, a neurotic disinclination towards algebra made passing chemistry an impossibility for me and since chemistry is a requirement for a biology degree, away went that dream. I did get to know a few highly accomplished biologists and I was fascinated at how they had to closely focus on their subject matter while simultaneously casting their attention far-and-wide to help confirm if their efforts were relevant to their research. They were on the lookout for failures as well as successes while aiming for the validation that meant their preconceptions were correct. It’s a nice feeling to be validated, whether you are a scientist or not.
I try to do the same as I prospect for clients.
Since I photograph the built environment and people, any magazine or newspaper article that mentions a designer gets my attention and creates a data point for me. Trade and shelter magazines and websites are numerous, and most provide free newsletters promoting their content which creates more data points. Out in the field, designers very conveniently like to put their names on construction sites, along with their contact information. Contractors may conveniently list designers they work with on their websites. All good data points.
Designer’s websites quickly reveal two things: if their work is any good, and if they care enough to hire professional photographers to document it. Designers who don’t meet these two criteria, are not likely to pay my rates, so they get voted off my private island. If the designer is not in my geographic area and all their work is local to them that removes them from being relevant.
If their website is old (tiny fonts, small pictures, old-style design), they are also not relevant to me. If they meet my standards and they have pictures of people in their architectural photography, that is even better. Since I also produce portraits and documentary work, and sometimes get hired specifically because I do both, this becomes the best kind of data validation.
I used to think that developing large lists of potential clients would result in more work for me. I kept telling myself that people with crummy websites were just dying to get their hands on a clever professional like me to bring their marketing to a higher level. That theory turned out to be a poor use of data for a simple reason: because it was just not true. It did however cure me of believing that larger data samples would lead to more work; an unbelievable waste of time. When you’re self-employed, time really is money, so I want to be sure I have enough free time to fall asleep on the couch in front of the TV like a normal person instead of contacting people who will never hire me.
Once I’ve sifted through my data and located a possible client I click to their website and enter their information into my database. I include: name/s, contact information, areas of specialty, along with anything special relating to my experience. If I can find out from their website the person is that hires people like me, I call them up. If not, I call the company and try to find out who the correct person is to speak with or send an email to. All the while, I am looking for a response that validates my preconception they need my services, testing my data.
If they turn out to be my kind of client, great, they remain on my list of contacts. If not, off the island they go. Then I start the process all over again, looking for data and looking for validation. There is no greater validation than getting hired, and no way to get there without good data.
Barry Schwartz is a photographer, educator, and writer in Los Angeles who believes that all known data validates his need to fall asleep on his couch. –