I once lived in very real fear that nobody would ever give me a real job. Like… money in exchange for work. This sounds ludicrous, but as many of my friends were prepping for the real world with skills in accounting and other very corporate chain-of-command type positions, I soon decided that any attempt at forging my way to a no-nonsense career in the wonderful world of accounting or law or finance was at this stage, futile, and most likely my opportunity had passed me by so good luck even trying. This stage of my life also had a little bit to do with the fact that I applied for a summer job at a Buffalo Exchange and wasn’t asked in for an interview after telling them more about myself. I later admitted that it was probably more about the fact that I was going back to school in a month and they wanted a permanent employee, but it was nevertheless a little defeating.
Grasping at straws, I went to grad school to “find myself.” In the process, I found many things. Most, if not all of them were not at all “myself.” But something happened that changed my path drastically, and gave me purpose again (hooray) – I found my un-self. What my peers had given me as a point of criticism in my art work turned into a distinct benefit in a different field I had not considered. One observation kept rearing its ugly head in critiques, and that was that everything I did was too “perfect.” I don’t think the word perfect is exactly what was meant in this scenario, but what I realized is that my work was lacking that kind of effortless, blasé property that belongs to a lot of successfully executed artwork – Monet’s expressionism for example… like here’s a waterlily but like I’m not trying that hard – you kind of have to squint a little to see it like the wind is blowing your hair in your face and you have to look through it. Much like achieving the perfect messy bun (the ladies will know my struggle,) I was unable to achieve that not-even-trying look without trying way too hard. And I killed myself over this. For a time.
I still can’t do messy buns, if that gives you any frame of reference. Not even if I read a textbook. It is just a quality I do not have. Even in my rawest form of working, cutting and pasting collaged pieces with my hands, I am meticulous. But that’s ok. I realized that maybe my skills would best be applied elsewhere, and I considered that perhaps I would be the happiest person alive if I could just sit at a desk all night drawing perfectly executed shapes that separately mean absolutely nothing, but collectively take on a real-world meaning.
What I know now, at over a year spent in the industry from unpaid intern to Design Lead, is a lot more than I even knew at that moment. All I knew at that moment is that I might have a knack for something, and that maybe I had an idea of what it was. Now, I know that a lot more of what makes Art great pours itself into Design, and that the two exist parallel to one another. At the time, it felt a lot like I was running away from art by running to design. What it feels like now, is that I was running to design, asking it to be what I had been looking for, all the while bringing my experience in art along for the ride.
Knowledge is value, and boy can I tell ya I don’t feel any more powerful than when I have figured something out for myself and I’m making the dream happen, people. This past year I opened an LLC, I began accepting freelance clients that budded from organic inquiries I received as a result of self-implemented marketing strategies (all using unpaid services, which I am super proud about, because I haven’t even completely figured out SEO yet people.) It wasn’t until I started doing a little small business butt-kicking and name-taking that I kind of figured it out (with a little help from Jenna Kutcher, holla.) I am my brand. My brand is my moneymaker. People seek me out for my brand. Every time I am adding to that, I am adding to my value. It would be silly, then, for me to not invest wholeheartedly into my brand and expect clients to still come running from the hills looking for me.
Business seems to happen a few different ways. I have seen it look more like negotiation – where one party is looking for something, and will provide concessions to the other party in exchange, but everyone is playing their cards pretty close to their chest. Knowledge, when kept private, can feel pretty powerful guys. It’s like watching someone tell you fictitious story when you know the truth, but not intervening and just living with the knowledge that you know the truth. But I don’t think it is the most successful way of doing business. I think people are wise. I think most people can sniff out when they are being sold on an idea they didn’t ask for. People want to know what they are getting into (revolutionary, right?) Transparency and trust is the name of the game. In photography, my biggest priority is connecting with clients that align with what I’m doing. If we can be up front with each other about expectations, everyone winds up happy walking away with either the services rendered or the compensation for services rendered. A big part of this is knowing my worth. I would have a very hard time charging clients if I thought what I had to offer wasn’t worth diddly. And trust me, I’ve been there. Wedding packages cost a lot, guys. But it’s only because I’m pouring weeks of blood, sweat and tears into the shooting and editing of what will honestly be something you won’t want to look back on having terrible pictures of. And my hiney is on the line for that. Customer satisfaction keeps me up at night, believe me nothing feels worse than submitting something that you knew you could have done better on under different circumstances. That is why it behooves me as a business owner to ensure that I can do my job for my clients under the best possible circumstances.
Know your worth. Invest in your worth. Keep yourself accountable to maintaining your worth. And charge for your worth. No settling.