30 Nov, 2011 | Posted by: st

Can You Afford

to Make Mistakes

--in your photo marketing?

When I was in my junior year of art school at Maryland Institute, I needed money to buy Christmas presents for my family. I saw an ad from the U.S. Postal Service in the Baltimore SUN that said they needed persons with trucks to handle delivery of packages during the two-week Christmas rush.

I didn’t own a truck but I called U-Haul in the Yellow Pages and they said, “Sure , we’ll rent you a truck.”

I did the arithmetic and weighed what the Postal Service would pay me against truck rental and truck license fees and gas costs, and I figured I could do more than break even.

Everything would have gone well that snowy Christmas season back in Baltimore except for one thing.

The start of it was when I realized the rental truck would be sitting idle at nighttime. I spotted another ad in the newspaper: “Wholesale Christmas Trees for Sale.” I found out that a distributor was selling them down at the railroad yard straight out of the boxcar.

The wholesale Christmas trees were selling at a price that I could mark up 75%. This was a deal I couldn’t refuse. The truck could serve to haul the trees to sidewalk spots where I could sell them.

I hired my brother, Lynn, who was going to Peabody Music School in Baltimore, and two other fellows from art school, to sell the Christmas trees on street corners in the suburbs.

They would get a 50% commission on every tree they sold. I could use the truck to haul trees to my three corner outposts, and then to pick up my workers and their remaining trees each night. In the morning, I would hire me and my truck out to the U.S. Postal Service.

My business plan sounded good on paper. My workers were eager to earn some extra Christmas money and didn’t mind braving the cold winter winds, standing on a street corner, bundled up, ringing the brass bells I’d found in a thrift shop.
In the meantime I arranged to work ‘til 3pm each day for the Postal Service delivering packages in the ghetto section of downtown Baltimore.

This was a big, big truck and it was big enough to handle all the Christmas trees I needed for my three corner posts. After 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I drove down to the railway yard but the foreman told me the tree people were only there at night. That night I went to the dimly lit railway loading dock and found the wholesaler, who was a friendly guy, so friendly that he directed three of his men to quickly put the trees in my truck. I paid him in cash.
The next afternoon at 3pm, I drove out to my first outpost to deliver a group of trees. I opened the back door of the truck. The trees were horrible-looking – some were losing branches and looked like they’d been attacked by a blight, some were turning brown all over. Lynn, my brother, said, “You expect me to sell these?”

Life’s Little Lessons

Well, you can imagine the rest of the story. I made signs that said 50% off, or “Buy one, get one FREE...”

My brother stuck it out, but after two days, the art school students quit, not because of frostbite but because of embarrassment to be connected to my feeble trees.
I filled in for them, but by Christmas Eve, Lynn and I had sold only a third of the truck load.
I wish I could say family and friends got Christmas presents that year.

We’re taught that failing is not considered failing if when you fall down you get up and start again.

My Dad reminded me, "Every Master, has a Disater."

To take this into our realm of stock photography, it pretty much applies.

Because you’re dealing with an emotional product, your photography –it’s more than disappointing to have a buyer reject your photo submission. I’ve had it, you’ve had it. I asked a fellow stock photographer, a veteran in the field, “What did you do when you were first starting out and got rejected?”

He said, “You'll never get to second base if you keep your foot on first. You have to dismiss the idea that your photography is your newborn, your baby. You have to look at it almost like a commodity. If you can make it through that lesson, then the field is clear for you to move forward.”

I got a business lesson in my entrepreneurial experience with the Christmas trees, I think you'll agree. What mistake did I make? Could it have been avoided?
Maybe, but as with your photo marketing, some insights can’t be learned from a book or a newsletter. You have to go through the process.

Yes, there’s an emotional aspect to selling your photos, but there’s the other side of the table to consider, too. The photobuyers.

They are also emotionally charged. Many are highly creative. Many are wannabe photographers. And most of them have stressful job-meeting deadlines, and rejection themselves from publishers or advertising clients.
Take this test. Are you willing to learn the process of selling your photos, with all its opportunities for rejection, so much that wild horses couldn’t pull you away from your calling?

Then, if you are, you’re ready to survive in this field. There’s proof that you can survive. Many photographers do. You see their bylines, their published work, you see their work at exhibits and conferences. They’ve all had their tough first lessons.

And the rest of the Christmas tree story? In my next year, my senior year, my experience had shown me the path. I learned to buy Christmas trees in daylight. I learned to choose workers who couldn’t afford not to earn extra money at Christmas time. I learned it's nice to have a loyal brother, like, Lynn. And I learned the meeting of the ol’ phrase, caveat emptor.
And, yes, my senior year, everyone did get Christmas presents!

As an editorial stock photographer you are going to find much more enjoyment when you are photographing subject matter that you like to take. Learn more about how to sell those pictures at PhotoSource International and the PhotoSourceBANK, Pine Lake Farm, 1910 35th Road, Osceola, WI 54020 USA. Rohn Engh is director of and publisher of PhotoStockNotes. E-mail: info[at]photosource[dot]com Fax: 1 715 248 3800; www.photosource.com



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