From now on everything is different – Creating steps toward your new direction

Brunch IMG_2504It was a sunny Fall morning in Montreal. Entering the equally sunny resto for our monthly brunch we greeted each other with friendly eyes and in typical Quebec fashion, the double cheek kiss. Today I want to hear about how Alex Tran went from being a biologist studying electric fish in Panama to photographing the range of human personalities with his portraits and wedding business. It’s what we all wonder, how to dive-in to photography full time.

The café lattés, the elegant eggs and fruits that graced our plates only enhanced the experience, the candid and real conversations that took place. Coming to the monthly brunches offers the chance to have a tête-a-tête, a one-on-one up close and personal with a person who is an example of how to create your own success. Many times many people say that in creative fields, and especially photography, today, it is difficult to earn a living. I would say that may be true if you are assuming the conditions exist as they did 20 years ago. Times have changed. From now on everything is different.

Each of us has our own creative journey.  Today you may still be working at that JOB while squeezing in your passions around your busy life, wondering when and how to shed the corporate shackles to do what you were meant to do.

It starts with one action, a one degree change today. You cannot change your destination overnight but you can change your direction overnight.  This one small degree of movement or action if harnessed and focused can lead to dreams realized.

Here are some of those small degrees of action that you can take today to move you toward your destination. As small as it may seem, each step you take changes your direction. Make it one that truly fulfills you.

Alex’s list for making a move:

1. Listen to Podcasts:

 I just love the medium of podcasts because I multi-task like crazy. I learned basic SEO, client interactions and customer service, basic business practices. Check out:

2. Find your system to Get Things Done:

All those ideas, administrative tasks, maintenance tasks, unfinished projects, new projects, marketing, networking, prospecting, producing work and so-on, it’s no wonder it feels like we can never get anything done. I progressed by having a clear direction and system. I like  the “Getting Things Done” philosophy.  What I found works for me is:

  • Get Things Done system starts from bottom up in organizing your tasks.
  • Keeping track of all client inquiries (date, type of assignment, etc.)
  • Getting to zero in my email inbox every day.

3. Start now – Things I wish I started Earlier:

  • Ask for client testimonials. It’s a win-win. If it’s a good testimonial, it’ll help in attracting more clients. If it’s neutral or if they refuse to write you one, this is your opportunity to ask why, which serves as important feedback for you to improve upon. Here’s a link that shows how you can ask for great testimonials.
  • My Blog. I did start it early, but I was running across different platforms and only settled with WordPress a few years ago. Between two otherwise equal websites, Google will rank you higher if you’ve been around longer, if you post frequently and just recently (April 2015) if your site is mobile friendly. So start now even if you feel you’re not good at it.
  • Keep in touch with past clients. After assignments, I’d mentally “check them off”, be happy it’s done and move on. Keep in touch! Ask them how they’re doing. Ask about their projects. You never know when they’ll be having a conversation with someone who mentions they need a photographer. If you maintain a friendly relationship with them after the shoot they’ll be much more likely to refer you to others. This leads me to my next point.
  • Thank everyone who referred you. This might sound obvious, but thank everyone who mentions that you’re a photographer to someone else, regardless of whether it leads to a job or not. Word-of-mouth referrals are super important in photography, and if you show real appreciation to those who made the effort of mentioning you to someone else, they will be more likely to do it in the future.
  • Ask people where they found you. Be specific about it, “I found you on Facebook” wouldn’t be enough for me. I’d want to know whether it was because I tagged a friend, or whether it was because they saw a specific blog post. Don’t just ask clients that book you, ask people who say no as well. You might find interesting patterns, like “People who contact me from my Instagram page are much less likely to book me than people who contact me after finding me on Google”.

4. Now it’s your turn:

Finally, I want to leave you with something actionable. I hate finishing a CreativeLive video, or reading a book, or reading a blog post, being super inspired, but not knowing what to do next.

Pick a date in your calendar right now in the next month or two. That’s the deadline that you have to replace your worst 5 photos in your portfolio. Do what you need to do to replace them with 5 better ones. Contact people/organizations you’ve been wanting to photograph, learn a new technique, read a book about posing. Write it in your calendar and stick to the date!

Thanks Alex for your inspiring ideas and actionable steps. It will set us on a new direction.

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We Are Starving For Boredom – and why you need it to get Creative

As the summer vacations draw to a close and the Fall’s back-to-work, back-to-school, mentality gains hold over all of us, I wonder how many people are approaching it refreshed, renewed and full of ideas. Isn’t that what summer vacation is all about? A bit of time off to relax, to re-create and juice up our batteries.

For those that work the daily grind, maybe you couldn’t take a summer break because they laid-off half your team and you’re stuck working the extra load. Maybe your break didn’t really feel restful because you wanted to catch up on all those things in your life you meant to do weeks or months ago, which you now realize were much more work that you thought and it ate up all your free time for fun or enjoyment. You just feel cheated out of Me-time.

Ahhh, enjoyment, pleasures and life fully lived. Are we even aware of what this state of joy feels like? So much of our free time, and the time in between one thing to another, or even, at the same time while we are doing something else; we check emails, texts, tweets, posts, links, videos, news, weather, jokes……..yatta yatta yatta.

What is with the world that they must constantly check in with their networks social or otherwise? Similar to the empty calories of fast food which is starving the population of nutrition and delicious taste, so is our compulsion to avoid a moment of nothingness. It’s starving our creativity and creative flow.

Go ahead and try it. Try one day, one hour of not touching your phone while you go about your day; waiting at the bus stop, at the ATM machine, for your laté. Like a smoker, you may out of habit feel the need to touch the portal’s smooth surface.

But wait. Resist. And in the absence you will feel something. You will actually feel something emanating from within yourself.

You may look around in your surroundings. You will be observing the people, the place, the weather. You may notice things that you never would have seen. And in this seeing you start to think, take mental notes, cross-reference to other times or feelings. You become aware of yourself and what you want to do.

In this space, this do-nothing space, you start the process of creativity.

Found this digging through the archives. Blurr...Why resist boredom and fill it with texts, facebook and the like? What we equate with boredom is really stillness, that moment where we can hear ourselves.

Interestingly, Public Radio’s WNYC sponsored a “Bored and Brilliant” campaign earlier this year. They created a podcast and series of exercises to help people get off their phones and confront boredom. The challenge was accepted by thousands of people who wanted to go phone-free, disconnect, observe, and embrace boredom. What did they find? Not so surprising stuff — by filling up all the empty moments in our lives, we’ve been keeping ourselves from experiencing downtime.

Does that explain the exhaustion, the stress illnesses, and general lack of joy and happiness in our world?! Does that explain the sheep mentality, trending topics and the illusory belief that we are engaging in meaningful conversations?

Are we so afraid of a moment of stillness? A moment that we so desperately need in order to nurture and grow the creative sparks that flash for a brief moment, not likely to return.

That creativity you seek for your next great project, for your ongoing practice or for climbing that corporate ladder is there within you. It is there in the momentary stillness that you let yourself feel, get stirred-up by it and allow it’s light to shine outward.

Recognize how you may be starving yourself of boredom. And once you roll around in boredom for a time, you will be ready to jump in to the next fun project full of zeal and renewed energy.

By depriving yourself of a bit of boredom, you run the risk of constantly being on the treadmill, in the social sphere, work sphere and every other aspect of your life. It’s O.K to be bored, do nothing for a short time – in fact creativity is born from it.

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