“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.
Two can be as bad as one.
It’s the loneliest number since the number one.”
I believe there is a lot to be learned from this song. The core message being, don’t go through your life without any social interaction. I am not taking about your Facebook fans or your Instagram followers, but of the actual social connections you make among the people you interact with on a daily and weekly basis. As humans we all crave connections and contact with others. Sad as it may seem, we photographers, in general, are introverts. For the most part, we love to hide behind the camera – one eye looking through the viewfinder and the other closed to the outside world. It can certainly get very lonely and depressing.
We all know and understand the value of friends and co-workers. However, often times we tend to only gravitate towards like-minded people or those in the same profession. I am not undervaluing the importance of having friends in the industry. Personally, I have a select group of fellow photographers whose opinion I really value, appreciate, and am honored to call my friends. Some are local to me while others are through an online community – we not only talk shop but also talk about our families, our kids, and even send holiday cards to each other . But I find it mentally stimulating when I interact with people from many other professions – either related to my genre of photography (weddings and family portraits) or of a completely different field. Trust me, they all are invaluable in your growth as an artist and as a professional.
Here are some tips on how to form your own sphere of influencers and well-wishers for your own personal and professional growth. Some of these tips may seems very technical or business-school like, but are actually very simple to follow and implement for your photography business.
#1 Conduct a social network analysis
As per Wikipedia, Social Network Analysis is the study of network theory in a social analysis. Quite simply, network theory is the study of connectivity among different entities. In a social scenario, it is the mapping of “Who do you know?” also known as, “Who are your friends?” and “Who are your friends’ friends?”. Social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn actually have the underlining structure built already. When you friend someone, you can immediately see if you have any common friends or business acquaintances. Use your social media accounts as a starting point and map out who you know, and who those people know. Go as deep and wide as you can without getting confused or lost!
#2 Narrow down your sphere of influencers
Once you have documented your social network analysis, narrowing your sphere of influencers is fairly easy to do. Look to your key friends, well-wishers and family as a starting point. Are there some people who are more invested in you than others? Distinguish those in some way. Are there people who are in the same field as you? What about completely different areas of expertise?
As a photographer, I love colors. A tip that works for me is to color coordinate the different groups. Warm colors like red/orange are people who are in my immediate circle (my core circle of trust). Cool colors like blue/green are people who are important but not as much as my sphere of direct influencers. Neutral colors like brown/peach are acquaintances. Also find a way to distinguish between local connections and online connections. Another tip is to keep your photography and business goals in mind while analyzing your network. This could help you focus on connections and contacts that could help you achieve your specific goals.
#3 Invest in meaningful engagement
Now that you have completed the technical part, take the time to engage on an emotional level. Connect with people with genuine intent. Take time to get to know the people you want to connect with. Find commonalities – either common interests, or common friends. Ask your friends to provide an introduction.
I cannot tell you the amount of times I have gotten a random friend request from someone – with or without mutual friends. If I don’t know you at all, chances are I am not going to respond. However if you send me an email, introduce yourself and let me know a bit about you and what exactly you want from the reach out, I am more likely to send a response back. Give me a reason to want to connect with you.
#4 Work out a mutually beneficial arrangement
Among the connections you make, some will be social, while others will be purely business and professional. That’s perfectly okay. You cannot be friends with the whole world, but you can certainly be cordial and pleasant with everyone you meet. When you are interacting with a vendor or a business peer, keep it professional and ensure that it is a mutually beneficial agreement. If you are reaching out to a small clothing boutique to do a styled shoot, ensure that you provide them with images from the shoot that they can use to promote their work. If you are asking acquaintances to model for you, provide them with images that they can use however they see fit. My personal rule is to provide watermark-free images, but to ask for image credit when they post the images online.
#5 Give more than you receive
This one ties in with #4. Don’t forget to thank people for their time and effort – either for promoting you or for helping you in some way. Just because the job is done, does not mean you forget about them and move on. Keep in touch and keep the connection strong. You never know when you may need to reach out to them again. Make sure that your cheerleaders remain your advocates for a long time.
I know what you are thinking. Shouldn’t something like friendships and relationships come from the heart? Does it really need to be plotted and mapped like a cross-country road trip? There really are a lot of benefits to doing just that. We all know that time is limited, and often time is more valuable than money itself. So, why not use that time wisely? When you are strapped for time, engage in relationships that bring the most value. I am not equating value with money or business. Value is a very personal choice and decision, and can mean whatever you choose to matter most to you – true connections, selfless relationships and/or business transactions.
How do you build your team of cheerleaders? Please share in the comments below.