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BY TIM CHRISTIE
Since beginning my solo freelance photography business 30 years ago, I learned that more time spent in the office meant more sales. Yet, that is the antithesis of why I got into photography. So I had to figure out how to spend time afield and still survive financially. Here are some tricks to minimize lost sales when on extended road trips: Stay connected to your clients, use technology to your advantage, and have a fully functional website.
Last year, an Alaskan photo trip took me out of my office for more than a month. Fortunately, the trip had little impact on my photo sales. Pre-trip planning for the extended absence was critical. I keep a calendar that tracks what times of the year my major clients typically look for images, along with a record of what they’ve purchased in the past. Two months before departing on my trip, I phoned each of my major clients. I told them what was happening and asked them if they might forecast their needs for upcoming issues or projects. Long-standing relationships with each client facilitated the request; most happily obliged. In the ensuing weeks I prepared submissions for each client based on their projected needs. Two clients prepared detailed lists, simplifying my work. Others gave me some general ideas, but enough to prepare solid photo packages.
Once on the road I tried to attend to any client needs. Finding cell coverage was easier than finding Internet access while traveling to and in Alaska. A smartphone with Internet browsing capability proved handy for frequently checking emails. After receiving an image request, I sought out a reliable Internet connection, which often proved challenging. Once found (commonly at restaurants or commercial campgrounds), I spent the time needed to process the request. When traveling I carry a two-terabyte hard drive containing all of my digital photo files. Using a cloud storage service, such as YouSendIt (www.yousendit.com), one can upload high-resolution files or folders to a client’s computer. This eliminates the extra time and cost associated with having to burn images to media and then mail them.
My major clients knew that I’d be off the grid sometimes for up to a week at a time, so they took care to ensure their requests didn’t require immediate attention. On the trip I received several requests from new clients, some of whom seemed miffed that I was not immediately responsive to their emails even though I’d posted an email reply message that I was on the road. One sent eight emails in two days, finally asking, “Where in the Hell are you?” Truly those eight messages are a testament to what digital technology has done to the levels of people’s expectations of instant gratification.
Having someone pick up office phone messages, or having the capacity to pick up messages on the road is equally critical. Some clients avoid emails, instead preferring a phone call. Not responding to a client’s missives for a month strains their faith in your work ethic.
My website serves several purposes while I’m on trips. First, it allows clients to search and select images when they need them. Instead of general requests for “a big whitetail buck,” clients now send requests for specific photos chosen from my website.
Secondly, it allows me to create a password-protected private Web gallery. Knowing that a client might be looking for some images like those I’ve just shot, I email them a password and tell them what’s in the gallery. Three photos taken on the trip were sold before I got home — something never possible in the “era of film.”
When I’m on a photo shoot it’s a given that there’s a potential to lose sales. But my sanity and the need to add new and fresh images to my stock files require that I regularly go afield to photograph. The digital world and all its technology allows one to pull off some amazing tricks. It’s just a matter of staying connected; and with some planning and technology, it’s easier than ever.♦
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the April 2011 online edition of Outdoors Unlimited. For more business tips, visit www.owaa.org/ou.
Tim Christie, a fulltime freelance writer and nature photographer residing in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, has photographed throughout North America. He has been a member of OWAA since 1985. You can view or purchase his images by visiting his website www.timchristiephoto.com.