This past month I made a trip out to the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City, UT. I have summed up my experience and it was another step in the direction of finding out where my life is headed.
I guess you could say I am a pretty outgoing person, I can converse well and enjoy other people’s company. What I have a difficult time with is approaching people and asking for something. I’ve always grown up quite independent and wanting to always find my own way, rarely asking for a hand out. For my first OR I think I struggled quite a bit, I wasn’t even quite sure what to expect when I arrived.
My friends came prepared with business cards and digital decks of proposals and various pitches to share with companies, outlining what they would like and what they could provide for those companies. I have barely submerged my toe in these waters, but still I was curious to see what I could make out of talking to some companies and what I could offer them.
These are my Lessons from OR:
1. Know your worth. Basically, what can you offer a large outdoor company such as Patagonia, Yeti, Salomon, ect. What are these companies looking for? Well most of them are looking for content, which of course I can provide. Some are looking for exposure, which is provided though social channels. They are also looking for proof. How can you prove that you are worth working for them. So this comes back to the value you place in yourself, how do you measure your worth? Followers on Instagram? I suppose it is apart of it, having a large audience believe in what you post is a good sign that you are worth something, but it isn’t the whole picture. It was hard to wrap my head around selling myself to a company by measuring my worth. I guess the point of this lesson was that you need to be honest with yourself and trust that you can provide great work for companies that are in the market for it, and you need to sell the companies on that by believing in yourself.
2. You Don’t need to be popular on Social Media to make it. This lesson was the most important. I have been in this work of Instagram where everything is measured in numbers and followers and basically if you want to be a great photographer you need to be “instafamous”. That couldn’t be more wrong. I have been fortunate enough to meet some of the most talented people I have come across that have considerably smaller followings than these over 100k accounts. In my opinion they often have more to offer as well. When agencies are looking for content, they want real and sincere work. Work that has been genuinely shot and has a “real” feel to it. Your portfolio doesn’t have to be an Instagram profile, in fact most of the photographers for huge companies like Arctreyx and Patagonia have been unheard-of on social media. Other photographers have only been popularized on social media because they started freelance way before the app was created, such as talented Jimmy Chin. Now I suppose I always knew this, but it became clearer to me at the show while I made friends with some exceptional photographers whom I haven’t heard of on Instagram. I don’t want to sound ignorant to these photographers in any form, so please don’t take it that way. I started on Instagram, so this is just a personal feeling and lesson. I am so new to the photography world, and I guess I want people to look past social media because Social Media barely skims the surface of talent.
3. Creativity and Detail are successful attributes. Spending the week with the crew from Miir, Oru, and Kammok among others was such a refreshing burst of talent and creativity. The people I shared my week with are the most creative, talented and driven group of people that I have had the pleasure of knowing. Not only do they share all these qualities, but they have so much love and zest for life. Everyone is treated life family no matter who it is. The work becomes play and what they create is magic. When work is play you passionately spend time on it. These people excel at what they do because they love to do it. I think it is such an important factor in life to love what you do. It wasn’t just the crew I was with that inspired me, it was all the people I have followed and met that seemed to just be following their dreams. I want to always surround myself with these people.
4. Be Prepared and make Contacts. People and companies will always remember a face better than an email address. They will remember having a meeting with you rather than a casual hello. You need to make meetings with clients at least six weeks before OR. Stopping in to “schedule” you in is really not an option with large companies. As a freelance photographer you are also not really considered a priority. Many companies hit OR to network with retailers and other large companies. Be prepared. Have a Deck of what you are trying to provide the company and what terms you want to provide it with. Business Cards are a must! Follow up after OR.
5. It’s Hard work. Freelance is not easy whatsoever, the competition is high and the expectations are even higher. You have to be networking constantly, putting in hours on your computer and being turned down more often than not. Some jobs have a lot of money and time riding on them and I personally get very stressed when someone expects a lot. I like being a perfectionist and so it isn’t easy turning out my best work, which I expect nothing less from myself. I’m still not sure if it is something for me. I have way less stress in my day Job at the Daycare but maybe that means I don’t care enough? Maybe stress is a good thing telling you what you are really passionate about.
6. Keep it Fun. I never started taking photos because it was a way to make a living. I started because it was fun. I post on my blog and Instagram because I love sharing my stories and experiences with others. A lot of talk goes around about competing and what you can get out of certain companies and blah blah blah! I have always just wanted this to be fun. It is true that work is work and play is play, at least for me anyway. You learn to appreciate getting out to the mountains and travelling more when you have a day job you are obligated to. You wait for Friday to arrival with a renewal appreciation of the value of your time over the weekend. You take advantage of everything because you know the days are numbered in the mountains, and when you leave you feel refreshed and ready for the next week to recharge and start planning for the next weekend. I like this routine still. I still wouldn’t pass up jobs for photography however they have to stay fun.
I hope this is a bit of insight to my thoughts on the Outdoor Retailer Experience. Again these are personal opinions and they are ever-changing, but this is where I stand at this point.