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26 July 2013

The Busy Client

Photo booth ready for customers.
My photo booth was set up in the middle of the merchant area, ready for clients to have their portraits done and printed on site.

In spite of the summer sunshine and heat, I had effectively created a cool cave in the middle of the field.

Alas, business was slow--as in nonexistent. A conflict with another larger event kept many of the event participants away. Few had the funds or interest in getting a portrait done, despite favorable comments about the sample pictures. Even other merchants noted the lack in their sales.

Busker entertains the "crowd"
So I wandered the site, taking personal photos. I enjoyed the ambiance. I checked out the wares of the other merchants. I even bought a few.

Main Pavilion lit up for evening activities
Interesting scissors masquerading as a dagger
Nobody was interested in getting a portrait.

We had a big awarding ceremony on the last night. The local chapter executive (our "Baron") just recently stepped up to the High Seat. Robert, the Baron, never had a portrait done in his finery.


I set up an appointment with Baron Robert for just after the ceremony.

I knew Robert could get distracted, so I came up with a plan to make sure he came to the booth:

Right after the ceremony, I borrowed the Baron's High Seat and lugged it with the help of a friend (It's made of oak and quite heavy.) to the booth and set it up. I made no secret that I did this. Sure enough, Baron Robert strolls in looking for his Seat. He admitted that my kidnapping the Seat was a sure way to make sure he made it to the shoot.

Baron Robert the Stout
We had a good shoot with three very good portraits.

Afterwards, I helped Baron Robert disassemble the Seat and pack it up for transport. It seemed only fair.

Sometimes a little subterfuge can be a good thing.

25 June 2013

The Marks of a Professional

Moonlight over DeForest fog

Ever have the contractor or vendor that is consistently late for meetings or deadlines? Or the client that doesn't know what she wants from your service? How about the designer that delivers the copy master as an unlabeled (not even writing!) bare disk?

Why would you put up with such behavior? Many of us do, because we feel it would be more inconvenient to go to another provider, or in spite of way the work was delivered, it's still very good work. The clueless client may pay you very well (you hope) for the time you take to walk them through deciding what they want and need from you.

Does their value to you make their behavior right? No. Quite simply, you condone and even encourage these things by merely accepting them. On the other hand, some of these things have contractual or real life consequences. A missed deadline for you means you can't get your product into production on time. You don't get paid. Your reputation suffers. In the creative world, a good reputation is golden and gets you jobs. 

Labelled discs are bad enough about straying, an unlabelled one? *shudder* I have hundreds of discs in my work area. Most of them are blank and unburned. I NEVER complete a disc burn without marking it with at least it's title. My clients get discs with full labels on them that include my name and contact information. In fact, all my delivered work has this information. How can business repeat if your client can't find you again?

How not to be a problem vendor

It's real simple. Care about your client. Give a rip about their time and deadlines. 
  • Be on time for meetings, deadlines and work days. 
  • Be ready to do the job: Is your research done? Are your questions ready? Is your notepad (paper or electronic) handy? Do you have your pencil/stylus? Are the batteries charged? Do you have all your equipment ready to set up and use? Are the proofs printed/on the screen?
  • Actively listen to your client. Make sure you understand what they tell you. This way you can usually anticipate their needs, and often offer a novel solution to their situation.
    Setting up for portraits
  • Stay focused on the job while you are there. Wasting the client's time is wasting your time, too. There are other, often little, things you can accomplish as soon as you are done working on your client's project. Don't cheat yourself of that time by wasting it during a job. (I understand if your client or someone assisting you has to complete a task between when you set up and when you do your thing. You might be idle, but often that time is necessary to complete the project.)
  • When you deliver, make sure your product is ready to go away from you. Is it in the form your client can use? Is it packaged to protect the contents? Can your client find you from your packaging or enclosures? Is it attractive?
When you care about your client, you are building a (hopefully) profitable long-term relationship. These relationships tend to be the main source of income in the creative world.

Problem People

Before it gets too far, have the courtesy to ask them (nicely) to meet your expectations. It's just good people skills and good business.
  • "By the way, my client was upset because of the delayed meeting. Please be ready for the next one. It's so and so time at such and such place. Do you need directions?"
  • "It's really hard to estimate the license fee when we don't know how the pictures will be used." or "How big are the walls you want to put these on? That will determine the size of the prints I will deliver. Do you want me to go over there and measure?"
  • "Hey, that brochure layout was great! I'm glad I got it loaded right away, because the disc slipped off the table and got scratched. I have this great source for the sleeves I use. Do you want to try them?"
 Sometimes you just have to fire the people that cause you too much grief. That includes clients as well.
  • "I'm sorry. I can't afford to work with you anymore."
Professionalism is a choice. It says you care enough about your business and clients to make the effort. That effort is expected and sometimes rewarded.

Both images are under the copyright of W. Clinton Hotaling.

11 February 2013


Clint and Arch - Self Portrait
One of the biggest beefs I have with customers is that they don't do the most basic homework when they come to me to get something they want. It's astounding how often they don't even know WHAT they want. I've found I'm very good at helping them figure out what they are after, and then helping them get it or doing what they need to do.

This also applies to showing up to work or the project conference with no idea who your client/customer is or what they do. When working with the public retail, this comes with the territory. However, when I got a call from a client or photographer to work with them, I make an effort to at least find what kind of work they do and how it looks so I can start planning on how I can help them achieve their goals. This has paid off so far, so I'm going to keep at it.

Basic preparedness includes, for instance, dressing for the weather. At the project that resulted in this self-portrait, I'm dressed in layers, with gloves that allowed me to work the controls on my camera. I specifically wore clothes with the idea that snow will get into crevasses if allowed. Hence the overlapping layers. My camera pouch is set up to quickly access the accessories I need, yet it doesn't scream, "Camera Bag!"

Simply preparing properly pays off in increased comfort, less frustration and hopefully, happier customers.

01 February 2013

I did it!

Clint and his phone and computer.
I made the leap and created a website for my photography.

It's been an experience, but now I have a better way for potential clients to see how I see and get an idea how I think.

The site is "Mutt 'n' Vair Photography". You can reach it by going to:

Comments are welcome. Honesty is encouraged, but please keep it civil. Thanks.

10 January 2013

Thoughts on the new year and knee

It'll be a spectacular scar! 
As most of my friends, family and Facebook fans know, I had my left knee replaced just before Thanksgiving. I tried putting it off by losing weight (I lost 70 pounds, and so far kept 50 from coming back.), physical therapy, braces on my legs, injections with various substances, changing shoes...the whole gamut my physician asked me to try before succumbing to the inevitable: My knees were in sad shape and needed serious repair.

My surgeon and I figure that if we do the worst side, the other--less bad--side can limp along a few years before it needed to be done as well. So far, I agree with that decision.

As it turned out. I am well ahead of the curve for recovery from this kind of surgery. My day job expects me to show up on time as the end of the month approaches. And my wife thought I'd be bored out of my skull by now! Hah!

Blizzard Drake and my holiday lights.
Suddenly, a whole bunch of projects I was hoping to do while recovering become shoe-horned in the last weeks of my convalescence. There were a bunch of little projects that are mostly taken care of (The last of these is the removal of the outside Christmas lights, but that always waits for a January thaw. Otherwise, I'd be fighting to remove rather delicate wires from ice-encasement.), and a milestone in my photography work has been accomplished: I had a portfolio review. (Thank you, Andy Manis!)

I needed this review so I can refine the photos that I will eventually post on a web site. I have a host provider picked out and their prices are reasonable. I just need to show my vision for those who would want to hire me to capture imagery. Cross fingers that I can get this done before the end of the month. It is a reasonable goal.

Another project is this blog post. Enough said.

My third project involves scanning a bunch of slides my brother-in-law has into digital format. I'll have to clean the dust as I go, because they were housed briefly in northern Arizona. The grit gets everywhere there. I haven't even looked a the scope of that project yet, but I will soon after I post this.

Last, but not least, is the organization of dances and music for dance ball to be held by my history club in May. It may seem a long way off, but the need to familiarize and practice some 20 new arrangements makes the intervening months all too short. Fortunately, I don't have to choreograph the dances, just select them and get the sheet music to the musicians. For this project, I am already late, but not too late to avoid the ire of my fellow players.

One thing that has changed over the course of the last couple months is my set of priorities. Part of that is temporal: Seasonal items, like school projects and home decorations for the Holidays. A big priority was and is recovery from my surgery. That includes daily exercise and weight lifting activities. I have close to 30 routines--just remembering to do them all is an exercise!

Now, the priorities shift to where I want to grow as a photographer, hence the portfolio review and preparation for a website. Part of what I also need to do is just get ready for the day-to-day grind of my day job, a new semester of school and getting a business presence so my customers can find me.

I also have to cook for myself this winter. My wife got a generous allowance from our HMO to take part in a boot-camp workout and dietary food program over the next three months. She goes in before work five days a week for an intense hour of weights and exercises. For two months, they provide all her meals, and the last month she gets home-sourced food on the weekends--she still gets their food on weekdays. It's been fun so far to match the suppers they give her with what we have on hand, so she doesn't feel like I'm eating radically different food than what she's getting. It's been reminding me to keep on my eating plan as well.

It's not that I can't cook--my parents made sure I knew how--I'm just a lazy cook. I'd much rather have ready-to-eat goodies out of the refrigerator than spend hours preparing something spectacular, at least most of the time. I have to remind myself that if I want bread I have to slice it! My wife did freeze ahead a bunch of entrees for use when I went back to work. I'm supposed to eat them for my lunches while I'm convalescing, too. I do. It is a little hard when faced with a dozen tubs of pea soup to keep picking from that pile. I just have to keep on, then.

Crystal Still Life at Poynette Antique Market
The biggest priorities are my lovely bride and our families. My brother has new digs that he'll need help moving to, and our other siblings and their children are so interesting that electronic scorecards are needed to keep track of them all. Life really is a lot of fun (especially with my family) when you look at it as an adventure to experience, rather than drudgery to endure.