I ran across an incredible quote a little while back that got me thinking about a number of photographers I’ve met over the years.
“Out there in some garage is an entrepreneur who’s forging a bullet with your company’s name on it.” Gary Hamel.
While there are moments where you can relax a little, the economy, technology and social media have created some of the strongest business competition in history. New photographers, new techniques, new gear, software and apps are showing up every day. You can’t stay on top of everything, but you can stay focused on your skill set, the quality of your images and customer service.
Years ago one of the associations had a "Retailer of the Year" award they presented at the annual PMA show. We used to laugh, because in one five year stretch there were three or four winners who claimed bankruptcy within a year or two following the award. While the problems they had were all different and didn't just happen overnight, to the public it looked like they just kicked back to enjoy the glory and stopped focusing on building a stronger business. In some cases that really was what happened - as if the recognition of the award was going to turn things around, all on its own.
You've seen the same thing happen on the artist side of our industry. So often a photographer wins an award, gets the recognition and then simply slows down. They start to believe their own press releases! They’re resting on their reputation and while it’s fine to kick back a little and relax, you can’t do it for too long.
This also seems to happen a lot with photographers who hit the road on tour. Their program is terrific in the beginning, maybe even for a year or two, but they’re no longer shooting or running a business. They wake up one day and their message has no relevance. They’ve lost touch with the reality of the industry and running a business as a photographer.
My old buddy Dean Collins recognized this early on, producing some of the finest educational programs our industry has ever seen. He’d hit the circuit for two years and then completely back off and and get back to shooting, and focus on his business. A year or two later, with all new material, new clients and experiences to share, he’d re-invent himself and come back with a whole new series.
The Bottom Line
There's absolutely nothing wrong with competing for the various awards in our industry, especially print competition, which I've written a lot about. Just don't let that become your ultimate point of focus. To grow as an artist you have to keep learning and experimenting to develop your own creativity. As a business owner you do the same, but while wearing your marketing/branding hat.
Pay attention to your skill set and your business first and don’t let your ego run the business. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, but recognize as an artist you never really stop learning or creating. With each new change in technology the bar gets raised on your true potential.