I am a doer. I pride myself on getting things accomplished. Doing things rather than talking about them. I even keep a strict log to make sure that I make the absolute most out of every 24 hour period. Productivity is my spirit animal. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t that a bit excessive? The answer is more than likely yes. And I don’t open that way as a means of boasting. Like many, my greatest strength is often my greatest weakness. My obsessiveness over getting things done has driven me to compile a diverse list of accomplishments (and failures). But, in a profession where the best course of action can require patience, obsessing over productivity can often drive you plum crazy.
The journey of a freelancer has ebbs and flows. Unlike a traditional day job, there is no such thing as a “regular day.” Every day is different. Every job is different. And as much effort as we put in, many times, the opportunities seem to arise out of the blue. Spoiler alert: they don’t.
Our opportunities are the results of our actions. Whether directly or indirectly, the effort we put into our craft and into our business is what eventually ends up bringing us good fortune. It is only the ebb and flow that gives the illusion that chances arrive out of nowhere. So one of the biggest lessons I had to learn when beginning my career was that big moments do not equate to productivity. They are part of it, for sure. What’s more productive that earning thousands of dollars while creating a work of art?
But just as productive as crossing the bridge is the time you spend building it. I heard the perfect analogy for this last week when attending a lecture/networking event for small businesses. Ironically, the only reason I was at the event was because I had spent the day with a rather light to-do list and was feeling terribly unproductive. I heard about the event last minute, and decided that it was my best opportunity that day to make a positive impact on my business. It wasn’t specifically related to photography, but it was a chance to get out and meet other business leaders (aka potential clients) so I put on my best pair of shoes and headed out the door.
One of the speakers that night was an entrepreneur building a magazine focused on female business leaders. She described her job as consisting of two parts. One, planting dots. The other, connecting those dots. As I thought more about her words, I realized how much they apply to growing a photography business as well. Yes, we tend to focus on the points at which the dots connect. The jobs we book. The shoots we complete. The tear sheets we collect. The awards we obtain. But, the vast majority of our time will be spent placing those seemingly unconnected dots in the first place; Making contact with an art producer for a general meeting not related to a specific assignment, doing a test shoot with a new makeup artist or model with no payoff aside from a bolstered portfolio and an extension of your creative Rolodex, sending out a promo piece to an art director you’ve never met half way across the country and not knowing whether he opened it, or put it directly into the trash.
These actions may all seem random and unrelated at first. But you are placing dots for the future. Eventually, that art director will open your promo and be adequately impressed to look into your work. That art producer you met, who didn’t have an assignment for you at the time, did enjoy your meeting enough to remember your name and share it with a few more people in the industry. One of whom just happens to know the art director. Based on the recommendation, the art director invites you in for a creative call, at which you find yourself fully prepared to respond. After all, you’ve spent the previous 10 years placing dots by learning your craft, building relationships with a creative team, and putting into place all the necessary production resources to be able to knock the job out of the park. Through your vast network of models and production talent you can even offer the art director added value by connecting a few dots for them. Then, even once you’ve connected the dots and booked the job, you then go to set, have a great shoot, and place dozens of additional dots as all the various members of client's team and crew get to see you in full bloom and start to consider you for another assignment down the road.
All of those preliminary efforts may not have seemed productive at first, but they were ultimately invaluable. You can’t build a bridge without first pouring the foundation. Without building the bridge in the first place, it’s impossible to traverse from one level to the next. To reap the harvest you must first plant the seeds. And the big moments come as a result of the seemingly small efforts that you put in every day.
So, next time you find yourself feeling unproductive because your dots didn’t connect that day or that week, remember that connecting dots is only half the battle. Keep yourself busy placing dots. Have patience. Build your bridge. And then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, you’ll be asked to walk across.