Competitor: One who seeks and endeavors to obtain what another seeks; or one who claims what another claims; a rival; an opponent.
Colleague: A partner or associate in the same office, employment or commission. a fellow worker or member of a profession, etc.
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It can be easy, in this very small world of wedding & portrait photography— where people tend to know one another, and work is familiar, and the number of potential clients and number of available photographers seems to make finding solid work near impossible— it can be easy to become cynical, to feel the need to fight hard for work, and in doing so, fight hard against all of the other photographers out there. There’s the ever-present temptation to fear that the photographer over there in the corner showing off her sample albums to a client, that somehow her presence in my usual coffee shop will rob me of my ability to pay my rent next month. There’s the temptation to pull back from photographer/friend relationships, to stop networking and meeting new people, to scorn and slander the “newbies,” and out of a sense of self-preservation, to put others down in an effort to find stability.
Self-employment is difficult. The photography industry has unique challenges and roadblocks to overcome. But I think it can be done well, without intense competition or putting others down. A few things that I’ve found helpful to keep in mind:
1. Collaboration is more powerful than flying solo. Two’s company, three’s a crowd. And when it comes to having a safety net, the more the merrier. If I view other photographers as competition, as a threat to my livelihood, then cut off a very powerful support system. Self-employment doesn’t offer much in terms of a safety net, but having other people to support me in my job (and who actually get it), that’s not something to quickly dismiss. It’s so helpful to have people to bounce ideas off of, to ask questions to, to use as a source for equipment recommendations, etc.
2. Haters gonna hate, but don’t join in. Any time we pull a group of people together to talk about something important to us, especially something as innovative as the photography industry, there will usually be someone in the group who longs for “the good ol’ days,” who dislikes change, and who resents all the newcomers who approach things without the mental restrictions of “been there, done that, always done the same way.” Sometimes these more experienced folks are right in what they say. But if it comes to trash-talking, I think it’s best to not join in, even if what they say seems to be right. And don’t listen to it, either… it only serves to taint your outlook on life and work.
3. Genuine care for people is the best form of marketing. “Genuine” being the operative word. I don’t mean that you should try to conjure up some sort of “care for others” to try to get more business. You can’t conjure up or fake genuineness. I mean that being genuine, intentionally caring for and investing in other people (clients and colleagues) will go farther than any magazine ad, any Facebook page, any form of viral marketing. I can post an album on facebook with gorgeous pictures, and people will think, “oh, she’s a good photographer,” and quickly forget me. Or I can take an interest in my clients and colleagues, invest in their lives, and do what I can to make their lives better than it was before I met them. Genuine care makes an indelible mark on the mind and heart.
4. I remind myself that I’m not ultimately responsible for my well-being and stability. Philippians 4:19 says that God supplies every need. Matthew 6:25-34 says to not be anxious about anything, for God knows all of my needs. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 says not to set my hope on the “uncertainty of riches, but on God.” The Bible clearly teaches that God is the one who chooses to give, and God is the one who chooses to withhold. Since I know that He is a kind, caring, trustworthy God, I find great comfort in setting aside worry and trust Him to bring clients as He sees fit. And if I really believe that God is the one who gives and withholds, that means that it’s HIS responsibility to bring me clients, and my responsibility to love people as He has loved me.
5. Because of #4, I keep Phil. 2:3-4 as my mantra. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
6. Competitors fight against each other. Colleagues play on the same team. I find that if I view other photographers as competition, it becomes a “Sarah vs. The World” fight to just make it through each day. But if they’re colleagues, other photographers become teammates, fighting with me for the same goal. DRASTIC DIFFERENCE!!! I’d much rather work with people toward a common goal than fight against everyone else to achieve my own goal. Sure, my personal goal is going to look a little different than everyone else’s goal, but that’s okay. I’m still there to support them, and I know they’re there to support me.
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