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An early farewell to 2010

If I had known I was going to end up posing for a self-portrait against this wall, I probably would have worn a hoody or something more ghetto looking to fit the scene better. But sometimes you just happen upon a place where you are inspired to do something and you just go with what you got. I haven’t done a SP for awhile now, but there was awesomeness in this wall and the graffiti and for some inexplicable reason, I knew I had to stand in front of it.

That’s kind of how the year has gone for me in general. Going with my gut, finding shots on the fly during a busy storm chasing season and winging it when it comes to my portrait business. I’m not a planner…I tend to hate planning, I don’t write down goals and rarely strategize. I have visions in my head of things I want, but nothing down on paper. But that needs to change.

I’m on vacation from my “real job” until January 4th and during that time I will likely not be posting much on the blog (if at all) and will be instead focus on three things: Spending time with my girls, catching up on movies and TV and planning my 2011 strategy for the photog business. I may get so bored and so excited about an image that I’ll have to post it, but otherwise, I’m on vacation from the blog as well *grin*

There is no doubt that 2010 was an incredible year. In many ways it was Year One, despite having started some of the portrait work back in late 2009. So much happened. My mission to storm chase all over Arizona and then publish a book ended up coming true (okay, I guess I do have SOME goals). I was counting on doing more photoshoots for people and that really boomed the last few months. I’ve been a part of a gallery, a few farmer’s markets, got into Shutterbug magazine and have sold over 25 prints in the last 12 months. And one of those prints endedup in a performing arts show in Canada! I’m so very proud of that.

But likely my favorite part of the last year are the relationships I’ve formed along the way. Of course I love the people, the families, the kids, the horses, the new parents, the new babies, the newly engaged, the-about-to-be-married…all the clients that have had me take photos for them. I’m beyond appreciative of all of that. I thank you for your trust. I thank you for telling your friends about me. And I hope to see you again next year.

The largest impact on me personally this year has been the bonds I’ve formed with my fellow warriors behind the shutter. My buddy Dee at work and all our conversations, Rick who taught me how to use an off-camera flash correctly and Brian M, one of the very best guys I know who is a constant help, inspiration and friend (I seriously owe you a few beers man). And to all my Twitter peeps like Heath, Dave, Oscar, Phil, Pat, Jim, Bob, Jacob, Jacques, Jay, Chris (F and L), Scott (Wood, Wyden and Frederick), Steve, Doug, Viveca, Jon, James, Mark, Stefanie, Jesse, Justin, Tobias, Tim and others. I know that since I mentioned a bunch of names that I’ll miss someone, but I appreciate you all.

Some photographers keep all their secrets to themselves and don’t want to help others. Not these guys. They share in the struggle and would rather help those facing the same problems then to just sit and watch a guy drown himself without tossing out a life line. A few even bought prints from me and a few more bought copies of my book. Thank you guys for your unbelievable generosity.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Facebook, because I have a ton of supporters on there, too many to name. Needless to say, I love all the comments and all the kind words from you guys…some of the things you guys tell me about my work is incredibly humbling and confidence boosting. Again, thank you.

And of course, never last, never least, Jina. You are, as always, the reason I ever succeed at anything. You know this. I know this. Thank you.

So what is coming in 2011? I’m not sure yet, that’s what the break is mostly going to determine. I do know that I will be changing up my portrait photography business model to a more standard format. I’ve used the last year as practice and I’m ready to go to the next level. I will be taking a 4-5 day trip to the midwest this spring for some stormchasing, so expect something awesome to come from that. Depending on how busy the portrait business gets, I will be doing more stormchasing in Arizona during the summer months and will probably do another book.

My other big goal is to start teaching people about HDR photography. I always have photographers asking how to do it and that they’d be interested in a workshop. So I’m going to make it happen…hopefully in a few months we’ll get together a first attempt at one and see how it goes. I’m super excited about it, nothing is more fun that teaching what you love to people who want to learn.

If you are interested in those workshops, let me know. Also, if you’d like to see something else from me, please ask!

Mostly I want to keep doing what I’m doing. While I’m going to plan strategy and goals moving forward, I think my best strength is to stick to being me. I think most of us struggle with confidence and the desire to always be “as good at this other guy”…when in reality, we need to trust in our own vision and our own ideas. It’s good to aim high, but don’t sell yourself short. People are going to be drawn to you because of YOU, not necessarily because of what your photos look like (although having good images can’t hurt, right? *grin*).

Speaking of a lack of planning or strategy, this blog post wasn’t even an idea until last night, so here I’ve gone on rambling for an eternity. I’m going to skip the Happy Holidays mumbo-jumbo and just wish you all a Merry Christmas like the good Lord intended. And a Happy New Year. I’m sure I’ll still be all over Twitter and Facebook, looking at other photogs work and interacting, but I’m honestly looking forward to a little bit of a recharge and some relaxation. And relaxing to me is getting up at 6:30am in stormy weather and driving around downtown Phoenix.

Also rewatching the entire Firefly series on Blu-Ray (thanks Jina!) and catching up on the Event, Chuck, Dexter and Boardwalk Empire.

A few of us will be out shooting over the break, so if you are interested in an early morning downtown Phoenix photowalk, let me know!

How I make Twitter/Facebook work for me

(Before you read too much, this post is mainly about Twitter, but I’ll throw a few things in there about Facebook towards the end)

Whenever I mention Twitter to people, most of them don’t get it. And honestly, I understand their confusion. Let’s say you are an average person, you join Twitter because it’s all the rage, but you really have no friends on there, you have no goal for what you are going to do with Twitter and you end up never going back after the first week. Sure, you followed @The_Real_Shaq, @JimmyFallon and the greatest of all, @ConanOBrien, but what is that going to do for you?

There is one thing I like about Twitter that has nothing to do with networking, building relationships or growing your business: News. If you have zero idea what Twitter is about, but love being up to date on what’s going on, Twitter is pretty much the fastest way to get your news these days. I could use it for nothing but that and be happy.

Enough about that, let’s talk about the subject at hand: Making Twitter work for YOU.

Getting Started

Three things to help you get going on Twitter.

Consistent Image

One of the things I learned later on in my Twitter/Social Media/Photography life was to maintain a consistent appearance across all the platforms you use. This comes mainly in the form of the avatar you use on these sites…like Twitter, Flickr, Red Bubble, Gravatar, WordPress, etc. Choose an avatar you want, preferably of yourself so people will recognize you, and then make sure you use it everywhere. The only exception would be Facebook, where it’s definitely more of a friends/family type of environment.

It’s almost like a mini-brand identifying you across multiple locations.

Identity

Another important first step is your Twitter name. If you are a photographer, your name is likely to be the most important means of recognition. The more known you become for your photography, the more popular your name may become and the more people will search for it online. If your Twitter name is “IloveFotos”…well, people wont find you too easily. And you definitely wont look as professional.

So the bottom line: If you can, use your name. Mine is: Twitter.com/MikeOlbinski.

Software

There are a ton of Twitter applications out there, but the one I use is Tweetdeck. You can have multiple columns that display the lists you have setup in Twitter (we’ll talk more about lists a little later). This way you filter the people you are following by however you want to group them and avoid missing important tweets. Plus it updates automatically, pops up little alerts and makes the use of Twitter soooo much easier and a lot of fun.

Laying the Groundwork

I don’t want to get too much into the basics of how Twitter works, because there are plenty of tutorials out there about that. But essentially….you follow other people, read what they have to say, interact with them and send out your own updates. When you want to use Twitter for business and marketing purposes, it’s not a bad idea to plan ahead on how you want to organize the people you follow.

Creating Lists

One of the newest and greatest additions to Twitter are their Lists. Before lists were a native tool to Twitter, your timeline was a jumbled mess of everyone you followed. Not a great way to filter the people you really care about.

With lists, you organize people you follow into groups. Some people go into great detail with this…I keep mine a little more simple:

1. Friends and Family

2. Photography

3. News and Other

I think they are pretty self-explanatory. Almost all of my close friends are on Twitter and a few family members, so putting them into their own list keeps me from missing important things that happen. The third group for me is almost like that annoying ticker at the bottom of CNN. It’s a constant update on world, sports and weather. Like I said above, I tend to know more about what’s going on “right now” than if I didn’t have Twitter.

The third one, obviously, is the real subject of this blog post. Those people that are key to your business, to networking and to the development of your craft…you throw into this group. Sure, I’m writing about photography here, but this should work for anything you do…provided your field has an active Twitter presence.

Get Down to Work

Now it’s time to make it all work for you. Please note, this isn’t the only way to put Twitter into action, it’s just how I did it!

I do a lot of HDR photography so I started looking for some of the more popular Twitter folk who do what I do. That’s the key here:

Step 1. Find people to follow who share your interests (photography, knitting, scrapbooking, etc).

You also want to look for people who use Twitter the same way I want you to: Interaction.

It’s amazing to me how many people get on Twitter, send out tons of updates, expect people to click on links or read they stuff, but never reciprocate. They just don’t get it. Unless you are a celebrity or someone insanely popular and can get away with that, it just wont work in the long run. The magic of Twitter to me is the ability to have a direct interaction with someone else:

Step 2. Find people who like to interact on Twitter

This next part is the meat of what we’re talking about in this article. Now that you’ve found some people who share your interests and love to interact, it’s time for you to meet them, talk to them, help them and build relationships.

As I said above, I found some solid Twitter folk that do HDR photography. I started following them. I read their blog posts, commented on their blogs, re-tweeted their tweets and slowly built relationships. And this is something that you need to WANT to do. I think people will know if you are being fake and just using them. I genuinely love to see other people’s HDR/Photography work and learn from them, get to know them and even meet them in some instances.

What happens next is pretty cool. Suddenly you’ve built a friendship with these other people and they start promoting YOUR work (obviously, if you suck, they may not, but that’s another story), reading your blog posts and even putting links to your website on their blogroll. This can lead to all kinds of things, but mainly your network will grow. From their Follow Fridays or Re-Tweets, you will find even more and more photogs out there that you want to follow. And new people will start to follow YOU based on your work being promoted by your network of photogs.

And above all, you should have fun with this part. You will build real friendships with some of these people and the interaction between you may move outside of the realm of photography. It could also lead to meet-ups with them in your town or if you happen to be visiting their neck of the woods. A photographer I found through Twitter wants to meet up later this month when he’s in town. Cool right?

Step 3. Build relationships and have fun!

There are lots of other, smaller ways to grow your photography business outside of just other photogs. Websites, like Photoshelter, have a Twitter account… MPix Photo Printing, HDR Spotting, etc. You need to look for Twitter accounts everywhere you find yourself.

I’ll share one example of what happened for me in this area. We love this local, non-chain restaurant called Joe’s Farm Grill. Part of the charm of this place besides it being just awesome, is that they use Twitter to help build relationships with their patrons and to promote themselves. They also INTERACT with their customers on Twitter. It’s amazing. We’ve gotten to know the managers and owners at this place because they know us through Twitter.

But the other day I posted a picture of a Ford GT that I took while at Joe’s. So the Tweet that I sent out to with the link to my blog post with the photo, also referenced @JoesFarmGrill. Well of course, they loved it and Re-Tweeted it. From that little Tweet from Joe’s, I snagged a few more followers. A couple were photogs, a couple were just fans of Joes who liked my photography.

One of those followers booked me for a photoshoot with his two kids.

Boom. Twitter pays off.

Step 4. Find those Twitter accounts for businesses that you frequently use

What about Facebook?

The simple way that I use Facebook is to link my Twitter status updates directly to Facebook so I only have to update it in one place. I filter out certain things, like Re-Tweets, Follow Fridays, etc, that I know people on Facebook don’t care about, but use it mainly to link to my photography. Linking them helps eliminate a lot of busy work. I also have a fan page on Facebook for my business, but I haven’t seen it do a whole lot for me yet and am still figuring it out.

The key here is your friends and family can be a great support system. I’ve sold prints to friends and done photoshoots for friends. This has led to referral business for me. It’s a great place to start. Now you definitely don’t want to inundate your friends with so much crap they just ignore you…but those that like your work will continue to follow you and tell their friends about you.

I also become friends with the photographers I meet on Twitter, Flickr, JPG Magazine, Red Bubble, etc.

Step 5. Link Twitter to Facebook to help promote your work

Those are five steps that I think will definitely get you going on Twitter. There may be more and better ones, but this is what has worked best for me so far. Things change and things evolve, so who knows what my Twitter world will look like in six months?

The End Result

After a few months of doing the work I outline above, you’ll be rocking. Be real with people, be genuine and this can work. Now, this doesn’t mean you are suddenly going to be rich and making bank. For me, it’s been far from it. My business is growing, my name may be getting out there a little more than it was before and the dollars are more than they were six months ago, but I have a long ways to go (notice I said dollars, not hundreds of dollars :p).

This is just the foundations for great things. If your work is awesome and people like it, your presence on Twitter will grow. People will start asking YOU questions and following YOU more than the other way around. You will become more of an authority on things and people will want to read what you have to say.

I mean, this blog post is kind of proof of that. I am not an authority on many things yet when it comes to photography, but I DO know what Twitter and my network of photog friends has done for me. And I find myself at a point where I feel I can pass this information on to those who are suddenly asking ME how I’ve gotten to this point.

I hope this helps some of you with getting started or even to the next level in your Twitter experience. If you have any of your own ideas, tips or tricks, please post them in the comments below!

If you want some recommendations on good photogs to follow right off the bat, visit my photography list and get started!