by Skip Cohen
I'm still going strong on topics for this series! Every time I think I'm out of ideas, somebody asks a question in a Facebook forum, and it sparks a new post.
Remember, I started this series to plant ideas on things every photographer should be thinking about to build a stronger business. Most of you are right-brain creative types, and you hate thinking about the operational side of the business. Sadly, the things you often ignore are also the things you need to raise the bar from macaroni and cheese every day to taking the family out for a steak dinner!
Today's post is number sixty-one in the series, and it's a topic, so many of you need to think about - let's help you with your addiction for new gear!
Great gear is always a benefit, but without the skill set, a good camera will NOT make you an impressive artist! But while I'm going to talk about your need for more equipment - I'm more interested in giving you ideas on how to get what you need without screwing up your cash flow!
Stop the Madness!
Stop being a gear hound!
If you've followed me for even the shortest amount of time, then you know I always call it like it is. When it comes to gear, a great camera won't make you a great photographer any more than buying a Porsche makes you a race car driver! That means your skill set has to have priority over everything else. If you don't have the skill set, then you're not going to meet the mindset of each client. Any moron can get their first customer - the challenge is getting them to come back and to insist their friends check you out as well!
Okay - let's get to the point - ideas to help you get the equipment you need to build a stronger business!
Get to know your camera dealer! From cameras to lenses to lighting, the camera dealers are at the hub for all the manufacturers of the products they carry. This is all about "Relationship Building 101," and somebody at your local camera shop needs to be in your network!
Rent it first! Joe Buissink told a great story about a tilt/shift lens he thought he needed to make his work look different in his early days. Well, he bought it, and it tied up his cash. He barely used it, and eventually sold it for a loss.
Most of you know the essential gear you've got to have, but you get gear fever and go out and buy. That might be fine for the necessary equipment, but often you're tying up your cash flow and purchasing the more exotic equipment before you've really used it. Most of the retailers have a rental program, and often you can apply the rental cost to the purchase later on.
Shop for rebates! Don't buy anything these days without at least checking for seasonal rebates and promotions. If you don't immediately see a rebate or promotional program on whatever you're about to buy, start by checking with the manufacturer. Also, pay attention to professional services where a manufacturer might be offering additional discounts to its registered users.
Check out convention specials! A lot of exhibitors offer trade show specials, making it an ideal time to buy gear. Identify your needs before you hit a convention. I know it's tough, but do your best to stay out of the impulse purchase mode and stay focused on what you need - not want!
Consider used gear! From career direction changes to turning over gear because of new technology there's a lot of previously owned equipment available. It's worth keeping your eye out for some great deals. But, know what you're buying and who you're buying it from! You've also got some great used gear at the dealer level which often comes with a short term service warranty.
Lease it! On high ticket items, you don't need to always OWN it. Leasing can be incredibly affordable, give you the same tax benefits and allow you to "utilize someone else's assets without depleting yours!" That was the tagline for a leasing program we offered at Hasselblad over twenty years ago! Before you go to any convention, check your credit line for a commercial lease, so you hit the trade show floor knowing what you've got for financing if you need it.
Bring in a partner...or two! On some of the more expensive gear, consider sharing the cost with another photographer! For example, let's assume you want a large format printer. Why not buy it with another photographer or two and all of you share the use. I've written a lot about partnerships, and they apply to everything from gear to studio and office space. Share the cost and reduce the pain!
Know your reps! One of the biggest reasons to attend any convention is to build your network. For every piece of gear you own, you should also have met and talked with the rep at the manufacturer or vendor.
Going back to my Hasselblad days, it wasn't unusual for a photographer to need help on a project or want to try out a specific camera or lens. Each sales managers had a complete sample kit and would often assist photographers in the field. They were especially helpful in those moments where Murphy's Law took over, and somebody had an emergency over a weekend shoot, for example.
Having reliable gear is a necessity, but stay focused on building your skill set first and keep the expense on equipment to smart decisions.
Years ago Vincent Laforet spoke at Skip's Summer School. He talked about his early days and how often he didn't have the gear he needed. He asked the audience, "Do you know what you do when you don't have a long enough lens?" He answered almost immediately, "You move in closer!"
I know that's simplistic and it doesn't always work that way, but Vincent's point was simply it's your skills that will make you great not your gear!
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.