Contacting a Professional

When starting out in a new career field, a smart thing to do is to contact other professionals working in said field to ask for advice. It is a common practise and happens all of the time. However, a lot of people seem to be missing the point when they reach out to these professionals. By no means do I see myself as anything other than the average full-time portrait + wedding photographer based in Toronto, but I do have to say that I get contacted by people asking for business advice a lot. While I try to answer most, I must admit that I am often appalled by their approach and therefore the message quickly rolls to the bottom of my to-do list.

Initial Contact
You are judged by your first contact with someone. Just like we judge books by their covers (you know you do!) and people by their Facebook profile photo (you know you do!), you are judged by your initial contact with a professional. If you send them a message that begins with a simple “Hey!” and not even the recipient’s name, that is a fail. If I do not know you, I need to know you and acting as though we are friends from the get-go will not work. I already have lots of awesome people in my life. You need to convince me that you are also an awesome person that I want to get to know and eventually help. With this wild internet-obsessed world I think that proper etiquette is often lost. I also believe that Facebook messages are not the way to make initial contact. To me, it is the lazy way. Go to the professional’s website and send a proper email. Facebook messages often get lost with all those Farmville invites. 🙂

Flattery
Flatter the professional that you are contacting. If you’re contacting a photographer, actually look at their work and mention a specific shoot or image that you loved. Go even further by saying why you loved it. Everyone loves to be complimented and as long as said compliment is genuine, it will get you bonus points. I am likely to be interested in you if you have shown interest in me. I am always amazed and flattered when I meet new people who have actually looked beyond the first page on my blog. To me that shows initiative.

What are you looking for?
Let the professional you are contacting know what you are looking for. Do you have a specific question or were you hoping to sit down and spend an hour with them? Remember, working professionals, especially those running their own businesses, are busy people. If you are asking for some of their time to help you out, you need to be respectful of that. Our time is so valuable. Offer to buy them a coffee or lunch. Go to them. Do what is convenient for them. But please do not expect that they give you their entire business plan. I often get emails from individuals asking a million questions about my business. My typical response is that if I have never met you, I do not divulge information via email. I instead invite them to come into the studio and spend an hour with me when they can ask me anything. I think that this is an acceptable offer but I am amazed at how many people are put off by it and never take me up on my offer. I have been running my business for eight years, after going to school for photography for four years, there is no way that I can or will tell you everything that I learned over that time simply via an email. 🙂

Don’t feel ignored.
Sometimes a professional is simply too busy to respond. Maybe you sent the message on the wrong day (please never contact one on Mondays, or Friday afternoons or weekends – those are our busy times or our off times). If you have not heard a response after a couple of weeks, it never hurts to follow-up. I am often thankful for the reminder. I do not think that the intention is to ever ignore an inquiry, it is just that most professionals are swamped with actual work and sometimes it is hard to break away from that.

A simple thank you.
Just like the initial contact, a proper thank you is always required. If a professional actually accepts you in and offers you help and advice, please please please thank them for it. Be appreciative of the time they spent with you and of the way that they have helped you. You never know what you can get out of this contact. Maybe they will hire you in the future or maybe they will recommend you for a job in the future. You never know. A thank you shows that you are a good person and it will help to build the relationship with the professional. Those two words can go a long way, trust me.

From last week: So you want to be a photographer….
Up next week: Resources for Learning & Networking

0 Replies to “Contacting a Professional”

  1. Great post Jessica! I try and coach my Client’s on these exact same principles when they are seeking to connect with industry professionals to complete informational interviews about their potential career options. Can I share your post with them as a way of hearing it from the actual industry professional versus just the ‘Employment Counsellor’? 🙂

    1. Definitely, Ashleigh! I am glad to help out.

  2. Excellent post! The thing that bugs me most about these inquiries? The completely generic ones. The ones where you know they’ve sent the exact same thing to fifty other people in the field (and don’t let me catch you CCing us in said requests!).

    Professionalism, flattery and being exact are the ways to go … you are so right.

    Now I’m off to wipe my brow. Thankfully I met your requests six years ago 😉

  3. Hi Jessica, I’m glad I have you bookmarked as a favourite site to read.
    I think this was a very well written blog post. I agree that quick blog comments, off-the-cuff email responses, txt lingo (LOL), Facebook messages, and any other modern method of interaction have removed professional communication skills from many people’s day-to-day behaviour. Perhaps as lives have gotten busier, parenting and work life has relaxed too much. Maybe colleges and universities should require students to take ethics and etiquette classes.
    I would like to suggest that everyone spends a few more minutes writing their first ‘letter’ and PROOFING it before they send it.

    I certainly hope all of your future inquiries heed this advice and refer to your ‘professionalism guide’ prior to all of their future initial connections.

    Enjoy your day.
    Mihkel

  4. Excellent post. Graduates from the various f/t photography courses should read this, too. I get the feeling this is isn’t being taught to them, and I wonder why.

    Dean

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