Anyone who’s a freelancer is probably all too familiar with the deadening silence coming from your telephone during the month of December. Or maybe it’s just me? Between the extended weekends following Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Years, there’s not a lot of time where any new business actually gets done in the twelfth month of the year. One thing that’s easy to do is to sit around waiting for phone to ring, growing increasingly depressed as the month drags on and your bank account goes down. Another is to whore yourself out (so to speak) for a quick buck so you at least feel like you’re working. This year’s unusual rainy season has made the first option the easy one this slow season. The second is a bad idea for numerous reasons, including that you’d be undercutting your industry and your time could be better spent. I’ve tried both approaches and neither does much good. A worthwhile alternative is to use your head and try to make the most of your so called “free” time. With that in mind, I decided to put together a “Top Ten” list of useful ways to help your business and yourself when things get slow around the holidays. Other than enjoy yourself and the time you get to spend with friends and family that is! I also realize December’s almost over, but rather than wait until next year I thought I’d put this out there while it’s fresh in my mind. Something to put away for next year perhaps. So, in no particular order, here are the…
Top Ten (or Twelve) Things To Do When Your Photography (or Other Creative) Business is Slow
1. Read and/or watch movies – Books, magazines and films are great places to find inspiration and activate your imagination. We just checked out Daren Aronofsky’s Black Swan the other day. He’s someone I enjoy for both his storytelling and cinematography. I’m also reading The Complete Joy of Home Brewing and rereading The Catcher in the Rye, which I picked up on vacation early this month. Perhaps the latter in honor of J.D. Salinger’s passing earlier this year. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it! Highly recommended, just don’t start collecting copies. I’ve heard that’s a bad sign.
2. Street photography – Get out and shoot! Even if it’s raining! Forget trying to find a subject ahead of time. Just grab your gear and go shoot what you see.
3. Update website or design and print a book – Go through your images from the last several months and see what you can bring into your portfolio (and, while you’re at it, take out!). Or print a portfolio book or a book focusing on a recent project. Blurb books have become particularly popular or print your own and put it in a Pina Zangaro or Lost Luggage binding. Both are more expensive, but look great as long as your prints are good. Blurb and others often have proprietary design software you can download for free. I prefer to use Aperture, which allows you to work from within your archive and can output in formats acceptable to most printers. In preparation for a trip to New York next month I’m printing one on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl and binding it in a frost style Pina Zangaro jacket. Looking good so far!
Keep reading after the jump!
4. Set up personal project shoots – If you already have ideas you’ve been sitting on, now’s the time to either shoot them or at least recruit subjects so you can hit the ground running in January.
5. Balance Books – I’m constantly putting this off, though my accountant says I’m not as bad as others. Not gonna lie, doing your bookkeeping sucks. But now’s as good a time as any. Better, actually, as you can catch and hopefully resolve any problems before the end of the tax year, which could save you a lot of time come tax season. Like homework, the hardest part about this for me is actually sitting down and doing it. Once started, I guess it’s not that bad. For something that fundamentally sucks eggs, that is.
6. Work on SEO – Do something (like writing a really wordy blog post related to your industry) to improve your Search Engine Optimization and hopefully drive more traffic to your website or blog. Updating your site, creating new content, getting other sites to link to yours and going through old posts to see what can be improved are great ways to improve your SEO and one of the cheapest ways to bring in new traffic and, hopefully, new clients.
7. Exercise outdoors – I try to work this into my regular schedule, but there are times when I put it off for awhile. I’ve always found that going out for a run is a great way to get your mind off things, which in turn often leads to daydreaming, which leads to new (hopefully good) ideas. If nothing else it just feels good to get out and get some fresh air and can stave off feelings of depression. It just dawned on me that not everyone lives in Southern California or Florida and running in mid-December might not be quite as easy as it is here. Still though, as long as there’s not ice on the road or temperatures so cold that your face’ll fall off, a winter’s run can be quite nice. So dress accordingly and get out there!
8. Spend an afternoon perusing photo books at a book store – This would have been an especially good thing to do here in LA this past week, as it’s been raining for the past 6 days! Barnes & Noble and Border’s both have decent selections of photo books by some very accomplished photographers in various genres. Local bookstores (if they still exist) – such as Arcana Books in Santa Monica, which specializes in books on art, design, architecture and photography – can be even better, though they might not have a coffee shop. Either way, photo books are one of my favorite ways to get inspiration and favorite things to collect. My most recent addition is Sam Abell’s The Life of a Photograph, which he signed when I met him after a presentation he put on with the ASMP earlier this month. A most cherished addition to my collection, as he’s one of my all time favorites.
(Here’s an iPhone photo I took while joining him, the other ASMP board members and the great folks from Julia Dean Workshops at Finn McCool’s in Santa Monica!)
9. Send out a creative holiday greeting – I’m bad about this, but maybe I’ll give it a try this year (I didn’t). Sending out a creative card that uses your own photographs is a great way to keep in touch with friends, families and clients. A friend of mine just sent out a great one featuring a studio shot he recently did of his son doing a jump kick in the air, around which he photoshopped in a Christmas tree and a Merry Christmas message. Simple, but memorable. Another I recall was by a coworker at the St. Petersburg Times, that showed himself and his girlfriend in the clutches of King Kong donning a Santa hat. Memory might be a little fuzzy on that one, but it was something like that. His cards were always a hit around the office.
10. Organize office or workspace – I tend to get organized and unorganized in waves. I typically start out with things in order. Then, over a few weeks, my surroundings slowly devolve into a space more resembling a pig pen than an office. At some point I just can’t take it anymore and spend a whole afternoon frantically putting everything back in order, thus starting the cycle over again. What with Christmas shopping and the onslaught of holidays this time of year I find myself nearing the tipping point yet again. Getting everything in order now though will be a great way to kick off the new year.
11. Go to the post office – If you’re just looking to kill time, go to the post office! The Venice post office is notoriously slow and with the holidays here and no apparent attempt to increase, if only temporarily, the already cut staff, the lines are absolutely snaking. Whether you’ve got presents to send or just need stamps for your holiday cards you can easily kill an hour or two waiting in line. While you’re there you can play fun games like trying to guess which frazzled person carrying boxes up to their eyeballs is going to blow first. Assuming it’s not you. That would be cheating.
12. Cook – Cooking a meal you don’t normally have time for is a great way to spend a day. Between finding a recipe, going out to the grocery store jam packed with holiday shoppers, cooking, eating and doing dishes you’ve pretty much spent your whole day. And your Whole Paycheck, if that’s where you like to shop. But cooking’s fun and eating is better, so why not? OR, brew beer! Erinn and I spent all of yesterday doing just that. It’s a great hobby that fits perfectly with my other hobby, drinking beer. Also a great time killer, though I won’t give it a spot on the Top 10 or 12 list. Trying to provide only productive tips here.
So there you have it. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section. Bring on 2011!