When starting out in photography, the number one obstacle I encountered was finding opportunities to learn from mentors. Research is pretty clear that the fastest way to shortcut the 10,000-hour rule, that is, the rule made famous in Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers," which says it takes approximately 10,000 hours to become a master of your craft, is to use a mentor in your field, shortcutting by learning from their mistakes. My problem, which is likely yours as well, is that educators didn't come to my town. El Paso, Texas, with its 700,000 population, didn't seem very attractive to the teacher circuit. So, how do you change that?
Turning to Social Media
The Internet has made those we admire more accessible than ever before. Between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and good old fashion emails, we have the ability to "talk" with nearly anyone. What you should realize is that these famous photographers get hundreds, if not thousands, of instant messages and emails a day. When reaching out, you need to separate yourself from the throng. First and foremost, despite how it might feel after a year or more of following their every move on social media, you do not know them. In your salutations, be professional. Start with Mr. or Ms.; from the beginning, show you mean business. After all that is what this is. Too many people contact larger photographers, starting the conversation with "Hey dude, admire your work."
No Risk, No Reward
No risk, no reward is nearly a rule in business; of course, there are exceptions, but only a few get truly lucky. What I am referring to is putting your money on the line to make things happen. Some photography educators offer one-on-one workshops online. Buying one of these sessions allows you some "face-to-face talk time," while also starting to learn the foundation of their work. Taking a one-on-one also shows that you are not just another "fan" trying to get an education for free. Pitching the idea of a live workshop during these sessions has been invaluable to me.
When thinking about your pitch, work logistics out before hand. Never approach with "it would be awesome if you came to my city." Again, you would be lost in the throng of others making similar requests. Your application will stand out when you say, "I have a space that fits approximately 30 people. I would be happy to get things started for you here in (name of your town)." Do not say you have a space if you do not. It doesn't matter if your best friend owns a studio; they have the space, you do not.
Personally, I have taken two approaches to bringing educators to my city. The first: ask them about their day rate, offer to pay it for the number of days the workshop will take place. Offer to pay for the flight, hotel stay, food, all the cost associated with coming. This method means no risk for whomever you are asking to come in. Financially, they know ahead of time exactly what they are getting paid. Based on the figures you collect on how much all this will cost, you now know what you need to charge others to come to the workshop. This method puts all the risk on you. If you misjudged your market, you are still on the hook to cover these fees yourself. Any additional money you make can be used to offset the cost of the next workshop. The second method: just offer the space in which the workshop will be held. Tell whoever you are contacting how many participants they can expect. This process puts all the risk on the class instructor. Be super honest in your assessment. Burn a few people and word gets around quickly. Remember these photographers see each other often at events.
Be A Host
At this point, you should have their attention. If the person you are messaging has devoted this much time in virtual conversation, they are interested or at least entertaining the idea of coming. Be prepared to do everything you possibility can to make the trip memorable for them. Many of the photographers who instruct know one another. Do not go cheap, but do work smart. I have approached local hotels, explained who was coming and what it meant for our community. In nearly every case, the managers gave me the friends and employee discount on rooms. Host a welcoming party/mixer the night before the workshop. Ask another local business to host it (money saved). Don't take them to fast food restaurants, go out. Use the opportunity to get more face time; you are investing in your education every moment you are together. If you took method one from above, all this should be factored into your expenses. Above all, remember that for the first out-of-town guest you bring in might be called upon as a reference for you in your pursuit of other workshop educators.
Tap Into Your Market
Tapping into your market is something every photographer should do regardless of trying to have workshops or not. Most photographic communities view each other as competition and seem to approach one another with more disdain than friendship, the worst thing for your market as a whole. If your community doesn't have a Facebook group for photographers, create one. Help organize group shoots and group activities. Many in our community get together monthly for coffee. If you are bringing in photographers to teach, remember that other photographers are going to be your customer base: you need to know who they are and how much support you can expect. The stronger the community, the more people will come, and the more successful your workshop will be.
With a little bit of work and the right social skills, bringing educators to the smaller markets around the country is not hard. The largest mistake I have seen people make is expecting someone who already has little time to make all the effort to come to a small market. If your desire is to bring educators to you and your community, treat it like a business you are personally invested in. We have sold out every workshop we have hosted in our city. Doing your homework will not only increase your chances of getting people to you, but likely guarantee your success.