I know what you’re thinking: here we go, another one of those vague articles about how to be successful that doesn’t actually explain anything at all, except ending with some inspirational quote like, “the world is yours, so get out there and do something!” They’re kind of inspiring, but also never really say what you’re actually supposed to do. Well, this week is my one year anniversary of being a college graduate, and so far the real world has taught me a lot more about failure than success. So I thought I’d write about what I’ve learned thus far, in hopes that other young creatives might find it helpful.
Stop Comparing Yourself. First of all, in creative careers especially, your definition of success will most likely be wildly different from someone else’s, even in the same field. As a creative, you can’t compare yourself to other people. My graphic designer and illustrator friends are amazing, but they do a totally different job than me, a photographer. You should appreciate the value of the other people in your team, but you do a highly specialized and individualized job, too, and that’s worth a lot. And just because you have less experience doesn’t mean you’re any less of a professional. That’s something I had to learn to accept. When I’m bidding jobs against other photographers who have ten or twenty years more experience than me, I have to be confident in my craft (that, or fake it ’til you make it).
Identify What You’re Trying to Achieve. As a freelancer first starting out, it can be especially difficult and confusing to determine where to even begin. Should you make connections? Advertise yourself? Do a few free jobs to get your name out there? The most important thing you need to do is figure out what you’re trying to achieve. What’s your end goal? Analyze your objectives and determine what quantifiable steps you can take to move toward them.
For me right now, as an emerging photographer, success means networking, making connections, promoting myself and getting new opportunities. Once you have that outlined, you can make an action plan. Sometimes small steps make the biggest difference. For example, to get my name out there, I made some flyers of my images and my Instagram username and posted them in areas around London that I knew models and makeup artists would see them. It took an hour of my time, and around $15 to get color prints, and I’m still getting emails from designers to shoot their lookbooks and new collections.
Say Yes, and Keep Saying Yes. Since I’ve been in London, I made a little deal with myself. I agreed that I would accept all the shoots that I’m offered, even if it’s not my specific niche of fashion portraiture. In the past few months, I have shot concerts, a designer handbag collection, street style for a fashion blogger, red carpet events, and even the London Fashion Week runway. It totally pushed me out of my comfort zone, and every single one of those shoots taught me something new.
My point is this: while new opportunities can be terrifying, they are are important, if not crucial to expanding your knowledge and skill set. Those shoots made me think outside the box and determine creative solutions that I had never dealt with before. Besides cultivating a deeper understanding of your craft, those kinds of skills will be useful in any potential future job. That’s why I think it’s highly important to say yes, even if that particular job isn’t specifically part of your end goal.
Put In the Work, and Work Hard. This one might seem obvious, but from observing my peers in the industry, I think it’s a pretty underrated and necessary step. You have to put in the work. You will have long shoot days and late nights editing. You’ll have to carry a reflector and sometimes get coffee for people, but it’s not for nothing. It’s propelling you closer to that end goal, even if you can’t see it just yet. For example, I assisted for a photographer in London on a one-day shoot, and it wasn’t a big deal, but I made sure to be as helpful and cheerful as possible on set. A few months later, he came back to London to do a cover shoot with a big magazine, and he asked me to assist again. Because of that, I met the entire creative team of that magazine and was able to make connections with them.
Every opportunity leads to another one, if you let it. You just have to be paying attention. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you aren’t putting effort into actively promoting yourself and trying to get clients and make contacts, they won’t come to you. You have to go to them. You have to be a little pushy sometimes. Make calls to agencies, send a lot of emails, and accept that you’re going to get a lot of rejection replies. They will still sting a little, but it hurts less each time. Send more.
So, while I can’t tell you that adding all the editors of Vogue on LinkedIn will be a guaranteed way for you to make new connections in the fashion industry, I can tell you from personal experience that if you try these tips, you will be pushing yourself and making tangible strides toward the success you want to achieve. And the most rewarding part is that you’ll meet some really talented and likeminded people along the way.