Reflections from a Career Built Around Social Media
We have covered a lot of things in this class. I mentioned at the very beginning that we were going to cover close to 10 to 12 hours of content, and over 38 different topics. And we've gotten close, we're near the very end of our time together here. And there's a few different things that I wanted to kind of bring up and I wanted to express to you that we hadn't had a chance to kind of go over just yet. And some of this comes back to kind of my own experiences, right? We referenced a lot of time talking about other photographers and what they've done and I interjected, obviously, my thoughts, and my opinions, and my experience throughout this course in creating the content itself. But I wanted to talk a little bit about my journey before we jump into these last couple segments. So I started my first photography company in 2006, Colby Brown Photography, and essentially I got into photography purely because I had a love of travel. I didn't have necessarily love of photography, I felt tha...
t photography was going to be a median that allowed me to travel the world. Now, I mentioned before when we talked about Facebook kind of starting itself out in 2005, so by 2006 when I made the choice to sit there and say, "Hey, I don't want an eight-to-five job. I want to travel around the world." Social media really wasn't a part of my world, it wasn't a reality for people to be able to leverage social media to build their following at the time. And so what happened is that I initially bought...once I decided I wanted to become a photographer I purchased my camera gear and I taught myself photography. So the only class I've ever taken in photography in terms of an official class, not necessarily a workshop but a class, was when I was in seventh grade. And it was a black and white film class, and I remember working in the darkroom and whatnot, but to be honest I was much more interested in girls and football at the time so I didn't pay much attention. So by the time it came to actually diving into the idea of becoming a photographer, I had to teach myself everything. So I bought a camera, I bought some books, and I essentially went through a lot of experimenting, guessing and checking, and kind of studying my work until I got to a point after a few months where I felt comfortable with where I was at as a photographer. And what I did is I decided that I wanted to travel to Southeast Asia and that was kind of my starting point. So I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok and it was on the flight over to...flying over to Thailand that the woman sitting next to me was a rock climber that lived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. And she was going to get married in Thailand after going over there for many years to climb on the limestone cliffs down in southern Thailand. And she'd fallen in love with a local Thai and she was going to get married and her friend was a photographer that had to back out the last second. So a couple months after picking up my first camera I convinced this woman to hire me to shoot her traditional Buddhist wedding in the middle of a rural village in southern Thailand. And that was the launching point of my career, that was the launching point where I realized that I could have the confidence to potentially pull this off, where I started to really enjoy photography as a passion, and where I felt that I was going to be able to pursue my goal of essentially continue to travel around the world. Have the experiences I was looking for, and I might just be fortunate to be able to make photography a financial endeavor. And what happened in terms of my turning point for my career, as Drew had mentioned a few times, was essentially the idea that I came back. After traveling around Asia for a few years I came back to the United States to kind of rest and relax. And waiting for me back home was a pamphlet for National Geographic Student Expeditions. And after traveling for so long and developing a little bit of a portfolio and having some confidence I looked at what they were offering and I said, "Hey, a lot of these instructors... I have more experience traveling around by now. I have more...I might not be as good a photographer, but I kind of have something to offer." So I reached out, this is, again, before social media, I made phone calls and I emailed people to figure out who I need to talk to and eventually I got a video interview. And a video interview led to another interview and then before I know it they were offering me a job to lead some of their expeditions. Initially it was in Balice and that changed eventually to Ecuador. And I mention all of this because it was that point that was a pivotal moment in my career that spurred everything else that happened to get to where I am today. It didn't necessarily have to do...obviously, it didn't have to do with social media because it wasn't around, but it was a moment that I was willing to put myself out there to try to do something that I felt I could potentially do. But I was willing to try, I was willing to fail in order to try to succeed. And that moment that job that I took with National Geographic that lasted for a handful of months was a wonderful experience. Now, it didn't pay very well, National Geographic very rarely does, but that job opened up exponential number of more doors for me. And so when I talk about the idea that social media has really shaped my career, it has, but I had to put forth the legwork beforehand to get to a point where social media was then going to be able to take that momentum that I had and exponentially grow it to create the brands that I have today. And so it's interesting to look back and reflect on the last 11 years of running Colby Brown Photography. And the type of work that I do and the type of benefits that I've been able to accumulate over that time because of social media, because of the branding and the style of the work that I do. And a lot of it came down to the lessons that I learned and the mistakes that I made. I want to talk about a couple of those things. We're going to skip through that first. So challenges, what are the challenges that I currently still face? Because I think a lot of people look, they look at the numbers, they look at, you know, the jobs that I do, they look at the travel, they look at the same thing for a lot of photographers that we showed today. That we looked in our case studies. And I say, "Hey, that's, you know, A, that's impossible, I can never do that." They sit there and say that, "Oh, everything they do is gold and magic like, you know, they can't do any wrong, like how do they get there? It's not something that you can attain to." All of us, again, have started at some point, we all started at zero. Zero followers, zero engagement at some point in time. And all of us still struggle with challenges to try to figure out how we can achieve our goals. Now, our goals might be different than yours, they might be the same, I don't know. But we all face similar challenges. And so for me, one of my biggest challenges as we've talked about a couple times is time management. Time, as I mentioned, is my biggest value, it's my biggest asset. At this stage in my career the content that I create is no longer the most significant thing that I have to offer. It is time. So when it comes to the valuation of what I do when I create marketing campaigns, or I run workshops, or I do classes like we're teaching here at CreativeLive, the financial expectation that I have is based on the equivalent of the time that I am spending away from the people that I love, which is my family. And so time management in terms of mitigated growth, to continue to grow my business from year to year is a struggle, a daily struggle. If you guys, again, look at my posts, and I mentioned this before, if you look at my posts over the last couple weeks, they are not nearly as prevalent, or not nearly as engaged because I was creating this course. Now, one would think that a guy that's creating a course based on social media would be able to pull things together and be able to post on all the social platforms, and three times a day here, and eight times a day here, and doing all this stuff. But I ran out of time. So I'm constantly still struggling with that idea of looking at the goals that I have, like when we went through in an earlier session and we went through and talked about my own social media strategy. What do I want for the next 12 months? And I struggle with trying to figure out how I want to accomplish, how I'm going to accomplish those goals knowing that the time, any time I take away from doing a project or doing something else is taking away...is an opportunity cost. Everything has a cost, so it's taking away from the value or the time that I can create something else that at least for me right now generally has some sort of financial aspect to it. So like most of you who have other jobs or you're building a business, you're trying to figure out what's happening, you kind of struggle with the notion of just how much of a time-suck social media can be, I feel you. And I am you, we're all there, all of the people that are on social media are trying to figure out the best way to use our time. To maximize our time and a lot of the tools and techniques that we talked about throughout this class are things that I use myself and that I still struggle with at times, and I'm still learning just as you guys are. I'm still trying to figure out new ways to break through algorithms, new ways to create content and create value out of every single thing that I do. But the time that we have in a given day, 24 hours as I've said a couple times, is never enough and it never will be enough. And so learning how to become more efficient in your use of time is one of the main tenets of what I was trying to get to with this class. The idea that figuring out what you want to do, what are your goals? Where do you need to be? How you should post, you know, what kind of personality you want to have? How engaged you want to be? All these things kind of come back to that idea of time management, and if you can't find a way to be efficient with your use of time, you're only going to get more and more frustrated. So if you find out, if you feel that you're getting frustrated with what you're doing, or it's not working, or you're feeling just stressed out all the time, pull back. I promise you, choices that you're making from a business or creative standpoint, if you're frustrated, are not going to be good ones. You can't force creativity and I'm a big proponent of the idea that business has creative aspects to it. So if you're trying to force success generally you will not find it. That doesn't mean you can't strive for it, but if you try to force it, it's just not going to happen. Also want to talk about content consistency. Again, we mentioned the idea that I shoot a lot of different things and within that mindset there is a sacrifice given to it because you can't reach every single target market audience on every single network, and we talked about one of the questions that was asked. So for me the idea, or the goal, or the desire to photograph all the things that I find beautiful in this world and share them with my followers, knowing that when I share images of auroras over waterfalls, or beautiful lit ancient cities, they're going to go viral and they're going to go big even though I still love shooting wildlife photography. And I feel there's some connection, those things are going to drop a little bit, I don't mind that process. I still have to figure out a way to kind of continue to grow my audience and change, or adapt, or evolve my target market audience for my followers so that all the things that I like to do reaches high levels of engagement. And that's something that I have to work on, I have to work on creating more ads that target people that enjoy the wildlife work that I do. Or certain aspects of the humanitarian efforts that I do. I can't tell you how disheartening it can be at times to be 100% honest that when I sit there and I post out stuff of these beautiful places around the world, everyone loves it. I post out information from some of my humanitarian efforts for places that truly need help and advocacy and whatnot, engagement drops significantly. I wish more people cared, but to be fair, I just don't have the right followers, I haven't worked to spend the time to develop the right algorithms for my followers more accurately. So it's unfair to judge your followers or think that your work is not good enough if you haven't taken the time to create the followers or the social media platforms that you wish to have. A lot of this can be cultivated, it takes time, but it can be cultivated. So don't blame yourself or blame your followers, understand that the system or the game that you're working just isn't working just yet, or hasn't been working as you've been doing it. So you need to change something else. And the other thing I would mention is something that kind of brought up more so when I was talking to Jose Villa, the wedding photographer from California who uses Instagram and has been very, very successful at it. Is the idea that networking can drastically increase your business, the idea that, you know, a rising tide raises all boats. It's a common mantra that's been said out there, and I use this photo, this is one of the workshops that I teach mostly for people kind of working together, and the idea of engagement. And to be fair, I do a lot of networking and I love those connections, but talking to Jose and seeing what he's been able to do reminded me of just how much more I could do. I would love to have much better of a situation where after I was done working on projects I had everything set up so that I knew a few weeks later I was going to send a handwritten note to my clients and say, "It was a pleasure working with you." Or to the companies that sponsor me and send stuff back to there instead of constantly expecting this kind of one-way street backwards. So learning or relearning the understanding, the significance of how networking can continue to help grow my business to different levels, different revenue streams, continue to grow the stuff that I'm doing that I truly love to do was a wonderful revelation to kind of come back and look and see the success of a lot of the people that we looked at today. And that you guys have been dissecting and we've been kind of studying. To me, I love that, I love seeing the success of others, I love seeing creative people make creative choices and do good things in business and be rewarded for it across the board. To me, people are not competition, other photographers are not competition, there are enough fish in the sea for all of us out there. And I've said this once and I'll say this again, there is more money to be made in the photo industry today than ever before. And the difference is that it's in different revenue streams, so that creativity in business is what has spurred the opportunities for people like myself, and Chris Burkard, and Jose Villa, and a handful of other people that we've talked about to be as successful as we have. And regardless if you're in this class, you know, watching because you want to make a big business and make money or not, or if you're just looking for inspiration, or if you're just looking to learn more about photography, it doesn't matter. All the principles are the same, all the core concepts are the same. So for me, to recap really quickly, time management, still need to work on, networking, still need to work on a little bit. There's a lot of things that I still struggle with even though I found quite a bit of success, and so I wanted to let you guys know, I wanted to have an honest moment and sit there and say, "There are things that I could absolutely do better, and there are things that I want to do better, and there are things that I will do better." But all of us are working through a journey of our own when it comes to developing a social media presence that works for us. And so, as I've said before, don't feel that what you have or the lessons that you've learned don't have value just because you might not have as large of a following, or just because you might have not built the large of a business. All of us can learn from each other and all of us in the photo industry are here to help each other. The minute you start looking at everyone else as this negative competition is the moment that you start losing friends in the industry, you start losing those connection points. And people are going to notice. So if you're wedding photographer in a small town, don't look at everyone else, you know, jealousy factor of they're finding success and you're not. You can't operate that way, it is not sustainable. Think of more positive ways to go about it. So keys to my success, let's talk about that for a second. The success that I have found in the photo industry that is correlated to social media has been tied to a couple different things. Can't remember if I listed three or four so I won't mention. The first thing I'm going to talk about is the idea that I love thinking 10 steps ahead. Most photographers, most entrepreneurs, most individuals are constantly thinking about now, they're just worried about what's happening now. It's constantly a short-term vision that generally doesn't lead to very much long-term growth. So the idea to think 10 steps ahead from both a social media standpoint as well as a business standpoint has allowed me to outthink, to outsmart, or at least to outstrategize a lot of other people that are in the same position as me, vying for the same type of jobs or the same type of work, or want to be in my position. I've been able to look at a lot of what's happening in the photo industry and I've been fortunate to be at least mostly right on a handful of those choices, and how I put emphasis on things like social media, how I value the idea of images that I'm putting out there. How I've been able to turn things like follower numbers, or engagements, or views that by themselves have no intrinsic value to me as a company, as a brand, as an individual, and turn them into monetized financial profits. So my ability to think about what's happening in the marketplace and say, "Hey, everyone else is doing this, maybe I should be looking over here." If everyone else is doing this by the time you get over there most of the benefit of whatever this is has been taken up, has been sucked up. So if you're not first or if you're not within that first wave of whatever trend is happening, a lot of the times you're already too far behind. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that for like something like Instagram you're not going to go and get on board and sign up for it, but just know that you have to be vigilant in trying to think about what you want to do and think about how you want to get there and don't just focus on the idea of the short-term game. If you can think 10 steps ahead of where you want to go, you're going to have a much better idea about projecting where things might become. And for me, that has helped me find a lot of success in predicting market trends and seeing where client opportunities are because I was willing to look for places where people weren't already doing it. And that's helped me exponentially. So a true love of business, we talked about this and I think you guys can probably see here I have a very unusual passion when it comes for business and social media. I've truly enjoyed being up here for what now is going to be about 12 hours worth of content, talking about this stuff because I really do care, I really am passionate about it. The idea that anything that you do, whether it's from a photography standpoint, from a social media standpoint, from a business standpoint, if you don't love it you're not going to put your heart into it. If you don't put your heart into it, people are going to notice and it's going to be exponentially more difficult to find success. Whatever success might mean to you because it's different for all of us. My level of success might be financial, maybe it's something else, maybe it's time for my family, maybe it's simply the lifestyle that I want to live. For you it might be allowing you to quit your job, or to pursue your passion for photography, or to make a little bit of extra money just to offset your travel costs, or pick up camera gear. Whatever that level of success is, it's up to you to help figure out how to define it, but you need to be passionate about what you do. All the photographers that we showed today, all the people that have found success using things such as social media to be successful photographers, which, again, is defined by themselves, all are passionate about what they do. Be passionate, show that to your followers, show that to what you're doing, put that energy and that excitement into all aspects of what you're trying to achieve. And again, you will be rewarded for it. And something else, another tenet of my success I feel is the idea of controlling my own destiny. I think that...well, that comes to two places. One, stepping back to the idea of looking at market trends was the idea that the industry has changed a lot in the last 10 years, and social media has changed a lot. And the idea that revenue streams have shifted for some people was a surprise. Again, I think I mentioned this before, a lot of photographers or people that shot stock photography, they were making six-figure incomes all of a sudden, you know, "overnight" lost that revenue stream and what happens is a lot of people put all their eggs in a single basket. A single basket that they had no control over, so the reason that I recommend that you diversify your social media following is the same reason why I recommend that people diversify their financial revenue streams. If you are not dependent on any one single thing, you have the ability to be agile, to be mobile, and to help yourself evolve with market trends, with changes and shifts. Who knows what's going to happen tomorrow? Maybe Instagram is going to change the way they operate and whatever you're doing is focused on Instagram purely, what are you going to do? I know some social media photographers that make quite a big living essentially creating marketing campaigns because they have large followings on social media that are solely dependent on a single platform. They have no strategy in place to look for a future where that doesn't exist, that's not sustainable long-term. And so again, regardless of why you're here, regardless of if you're trying to do things for business or not, the idea of not putting all your eggs in one basket is pretty important. And the second thing that I would recommend to everyone, probably a little bit more so towards the business-minded people, is, try to control more of your own destiny in terms of those products and services you offer. It was a wake-up call for me when I first started my first photography company to sit there and look at things and say, "Hey, I'm going from having, you know, a boss that I don't like to working for myself and it's going to be great." And you go from having one boss a year to maybe having 50 bosses a year. Depending on how much you have to work, depending on how many clients you have, and that never sat right with me. And so from the very beginning, my goal was always to be where I am now, which is where I control much more of that destiny. I create products and services that I have control over both how I create and how much money I generate. Which is different than the times where I have to reach out there or when I was purely going after like marketing campaigns, and I had to find a client that was willing to pay me X number of dollars in order to make that happen. So controlling more of your destiny, whatever that may be for you guys out there. Wedding photographers, portrait photographers, street photographers, wildlife photographers, event photographers. Try to figure out ways that you can have a little bit more of a hand in controlling your direction or your destiny in terms of what success level you're trying to reach. Highly recommended. You're going to be thankful for it, it might be hard, it might be challenging, but in the end, it pays off. And I, like you, are like many photographers out there, I had to spend a first number of my years working in a bar to make extra money because I wasn't finding success right away. I had to work to get to where I am today just like you guys do. Don't let that dissuade you, just know that when it comes to entrepreneurship, when it comes to trying to take photography to another level that this is something that you have to pay attention to. You have to realize that if you're going to have 50 bosses and you weren't happy with one boss, maybe entrepreneurship isn't for you or maybe you need to think more creatively about how you can offer things that your clients are going to take, that they're interested in, that isn't going to take away that control from your life. Because if you thought having one boss was hard, having 50 horrible bosses is exponentially worse.