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.
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. 🙂
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