Today, I’ll share a brief story about a brief moment with big consequences.
It is precisely 2:22 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon. A Wednesday that just so happens to fall on one of the busiest weeks of my career.
I often have to explain to my non-photographer friends that being a freelance artist isn’t like working a standard nine to five. There’s no regular clock-in time. You never really clock out.
In my particular niche, commercial photography, there is also no middle ground. Either I find myself so bored as to let my mind briefly wander to the possibility that I might one day actually “finish” the Internet. Wondering if my phone or my inbox will ever buzz again.
Then, just like that, messages come in and suddenly find myself so busy that I can’t remember what week it is, nonetheless what day. Never ungrateful for the work, I still can’t help but to surmise that having a second or two to actually breathe at some point might, in fact, be beneficial to my health.
So why, in the middle of this busy patch which sees me in the middle of six major assignments, a couple of which are my biggest yet, do I find myself in my sunlit backyard, sponge in hand, dampened shoes on my feet, carefully washing my car as if I had no other care in the world?
This question is made further vexing by the fact that I truly do hate washing my car. Much to my father’s chagrin, most times the only time my car gets washed is during those rare times the Los Angeles sky opens up and offers an effort free rinse. Maybe if I have a date coming up, I might stoop to breaking out the microfiber cloth to address the seemingly permanent level of dust coating the exterior. But, truthfully, it would have to be a date with someone really special. Otherwise, I may opt to simply rely on the cover of darkness provided by the night sky to hide the less than stellar condition of my carriage.
Even when I do was my car, I can’t say that I am particularly good at it. Despite decades of experience, I have still yet to figure out how to wash my windows without creating streaks.
This is not something I’m proud of. It’s just that I’m not a “car guy.” As long as it gets me from Point A to Point B, I really don’t much care how I look getting there. For about a month following a minor accident in college, I drove around with my bumper literally duct taped on. Sure, I got a few strange looks. But, as long as I made it back and forth to the mall, I couldn’t care less.
So why now? Why, in the middle of one of the busiest weeks of my life, was I taking the time to finally get around to a task that I hate? How could I even justify taking time away from work?
Simple. This was work.
Later that day, I would be driving part of a caravan of clients and agency executives as we did a tech scout around Los Angeles for an advertising campaign. The clients and agencies were flying into town from all over the country after a couple months worth of planning. A lot of money was on the line for them and me. A lot of pressure floating above those newly shined tires.
And while the number of emails traded between all parties in the last couple months would be sufficient to fill a particularly voluminous novel, this would be the first time the client and I had actually met in person. In a manner of speaking, it was our first date. And, as they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Now to be sure, getting the business in the first place was not a result of my car detailing skills. I was hired for my previous photographic work and my performance on the creative call among other things. But part of being a professional photographer is being, well, professional. Your work needs to be of a professional standard. Your presentation, from your website to the quality of your print portfolio, needs to be of a professional standard. When you write emails, you must present yourself in a professional manner. No typos. You must use correct grammar.
It all is of one piece. You are not just a professional photographer. You are a professional. Period, end. So every detail from your retouching all the way down to the appearance of your personal vehicle needs to reflect positively on your company.
It may sound obsessive, but these little details are the ones that add up to form an overall perception. So, when the clients loaded into my Ford Escape later on that afternoon and one of the executives commented “nice car,” that little bit of time spent tending to details had just helped to further a positive narrative about me in the client’s mind.
To be sure, there’s a great deal more that goes into maintaining and building relationships with your clients. But you will serve yourself well not to forget the little things. Successful projects are more than just one or two moments of glory with your finger on the shutter button. They are about taking care at every step to put forward the message you want to convey. Even if it means that every now and then I have to put away my camera, kneel down in a puddle, and use a little elbow grease.