Many young photographers, and quite a few more experienced ones, assume that if they sign with a rep all their prayers will be answered. They’ll no longer need to worry about where their next job will come from. They’ll enjoy steady interesting work at a good rate. They won’t have to be preoccupied with marketing, which is so costly and time-consuming. And the rep will help manage the business-side of being a photographer so they can just on creating great pictures.
There are many misconceptions about what a photographer can expect from their relationship with a rep. This is mostly true of photographers who aspire to have reps, but can also be true of those who have reps but are not satisfied with the relationship.
Below are the some of the most popular myths about having a rep:
Having rep means you don’t have to market yourself
Don’t expect a rep to do all your marketing for you. In most cases, you not only have to perform most of the basic marketing tasks (such as creating a Web site & print portfolio, advertising, networking, etc.) but you’ll typically need to finance these activities yourself. Often a rep can make advertising more affordable by offering shared ad space with the other photographers they represent but you’ll need to pay your share. The rep can also provide guidance on the most effective marketing techniques. The most important marketing role they perform is using their market knowledge and relationships to find out about jobs up for bid, and getting your work in front of the decision makers at the right time and in the right context.
A rep will take care of all the “business stuff”
A rep will not run your business for you. The photographer is usually responsible for creating bids, tracking expenses and submitting bills for each job. More importantly, the rep will not help you with the fundamentals of running your business, such as managing money, staff, facilities, time and productivity. If you want to shed some of these tasks to give you more time to shoot, then hire a very, very good office manager.
Reps will help you develop a marketable style
A rep can keep you informed about trends and styles and act as a sounding board for evaluating your work as you grow as an artist. But long before you even approach a rep about representing you it’s critical to have already “found your voice” and developed a distinctive style. Most reps can’t afford to nurture a budding but raw talent. They want photographers who they can sell to clients right away.
A great portfolio is enough to convince a rep to sign you
Having a great portfolio and Web site is necessary in order to attract the interest of a rep. But they want to see more than just great work well presented. They want to know that you can manage complex assignment, that you know how to talk to clients in a professional manner and that you have enough business knowledge and experience to have reasonable expectations about what the rep should be doing, and not doing. And they want to know that you have the financial resources to fund marketing efforts.
Once you have a rep you’ll always have steady work
If you’re reading this then you don’t need to be told that professional photography is a highly competitive field. There are many more photographers than there is work. This is especially true when you are after lucrative commercial jobs or high-profile editorial and documentary work. A good rep is a crucial weapon that almost always gives you a huge competitive advantage. However having a rep is no guarantee of business success, or even steady work. Photography is very sensitive to market conditions and the general state of the economy. Also, particular styles come and go, sometimes making it difficult for a rep to get jobs for a particular photography due either to their style or subject matter specialty.
A good rep should keep you busier than you would be without them. But a constant stream of work? It happens sometimes but even with the best rep there is no guarantee.
Reps perform a crucial but limited role in the grand scheme of a photographers business, art and life. The good ones have spent years developing deep and lasting relationships with potential clients. They know how to find opportunities, present portfolios and “spin” the pitch to suit the client’s needs. They often provide marketing guidance and occasionally, tools and programs. They’ll let you know how your latest work was perceived by other potential clients and give you their own feedback on your work as it evolves. But even with all of that, there are still substantial marketing and business activities that the photographer (or someone other than the rep) much take care of.
Getting a rep can be a catalyst that takes your career to a new level, but it’s important to have realistic expectations about your responsibilities as a business person and artist.
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