18 Nov 2013 Jack of All Trades, Master of Some (Podcast 396)
I touched on this in another Podcast episode a few months ago, but today I wanted to take a little more time to reflect on how I’m finding it necessary to be a bit of a Jack of All Trades! Of course, to succeed, we need to master (or at least strive to master) some areas of our work, but more and more I’m feeling like we need a very wide range of skills to succeed today. This topic also feeds nicely into a discussion on the sustainability of doing work that you love, so let’s jump into this.
It’s been a bit of a crazy six months for me. My Iceland tour turned out to be a wonderful photography break in the middle of a very technical period that kept me way too busy, and fighting for time to work on other things that are more important, but all relied on me completing the ground work I was doing, so it’s been a bit of a viscous circle.
At the start of the summer I made a conscious decision to update my Web site, and bring all of the various domains I’ve created over the years into one place. I’m not quite there yet, but most of the ground work is now done, and it’s just a case of making time now to do the final changes in the coming weeks.
Invest Time to Save Time
There are a few reasons for the changes, but the biggest reasons are that I needed to reduce the time necessary to maintain my sites, and I also needed to implement a solid eCommerce back-end in my main site. Not having this was one of the reasons I had multiple sites, so both issues needed to be solved before I could move forward.
It’s ironic that I’ve spent a so much time each week for the last six months doing web site related work, so that I don’t have to spend so much time doing web related work, but sometimes we have to invest time initially to save more time later. I’ll go into a little detail on what I’ve been doing because I know some of you are interested in this stuff, and then we’ll move on to my general thinking about all of this.
Generally, I quite enjoy working with Web related technologies, and so over the years, have not found it difficult to invest time in setting up various Web sites for various reasons. The problem with doing this though, is that they all need to be maintained. A lot of the stuff I pieced together had to be heavily customized to meet my requirements, and this means that whenever an update for a base component came out, I had to spend multiple days migrating all of my customizations over to the new version. Sometimes I’d fall behind, and I’d just finish this work and another update would be released, and I’d have to do it all again!
The more sites you build of course, the worse this problem becomes. Trying to overcome this, a few years ago I started using WordPress and themes that I bought to create the Web sites, because WordPress is well maintained, and with the aid of the community of developers that create various plugins for it, WordPress can be customized quite a lot without the need to jump into the code.
One of the most frustrating things that I found with WordPress is that some of the coolest themes were not created to conform to WordPress standards, and I ended up jumping back in and having to customize the hell out of them to achieve what I wanted. I tried to avoid this when I bought the current theme called Rhapsody, which I switched to just before I left for Namibia in May.
The creators of the theme seemed pretty professional and have a great line-up of themes, but a component of the theme broke with the release of WordPress 3.6, and I’ve been waiting for an update for more than three months now. I actually figured out that the incompatibility was with a plugin that they bundled with the theme, so I bought a new copy of that plugin from the original developers and so I was able to update WordPress anyway, but it’s annoying that ignitethemes can’t get their acts together and release timely updates.
Of course, this leads to two issues that I’d like to quickly mention before we move on, but firstly, as you see, you can end up relying on third parties that are often not fully invested in their products, which can be frustrating, so looking for a professional theme that is well supported is an important step that I thought I’d cracked, but it turns out I haven’t.
The other part of this is that as you customize a WordPress based Web site, you can come across all kinds of incompatibilities and third party issues that most of the people developing WordPress plugins or extension have no control over. This is another reason that I’ve had so many problems this summer.
WooCommerce is the Bees Knees (Mostly!)
I decided to go with an eCommerce back-end called WooCommerce, developed by a largish company called WooThemes, that seem to do a reasonable job of their support and they’re pretty professional which makes a nice change. WooCommerce itself is basically free, and is very powerful straight out of the box, but WooThemes charge for their themes and various plugins for WooCommerce.
To enable me to take payment in multiple currencies I needed another third party plugin called WPML which stands for WordPress Multi-Lingual. Setting all of this up took over a month, but I got it all working and then setup a store with some fine art prints for sale, and that all works nice and smoothly now.
What I hadn’t anticipated is that WPML really slows the Web site down, so I had to also setup a new caching plugin and tie that into a cloud based CDN or Content Delivery Network, which took another week or so as I ran into more problems. Then, just as I thought I’d got it all working, WPML released an update that broke part of my Japanese Yen payment workflow, right as we were receiving a lot of payments for my 2014 Winter Wonderland tours!
Once again, I was painfully reminded painfully of the importance of compatibility between plugins, and despite promising to work on the draft of my third Craft &Vision ebook, I had spend an extra three weeks working with WooCommerce, WPML and even PayPal to fix a critical issue. After a lot of back and forth with all three companies we now know what needs to be fixed, and I knew enough about the problem to implement a workaround to keep things moving until the fix materializes.
Ever the Craftsman
Although there was a lot of stress towards the end of getting all of this implemented, I do feel pretty satisfied that I was able to handle all of these issues, and get to the point that I’d been working hard to get to. I enjoy being able to turn my hand to various jobs. I have always enjoyed making things, both physically and digitally now as well.
I think this is partly why I enjoy making my own gallery wraps, although this is after all pretty much laid out for us. But just the act of printing out the canvas, then laminating it, then selecting the bars, putting it all together, and now also stapling the canvas to the back of the stretcher bars. I just find this sort of thing fulfilling.
This of course is one of the main reasons that I enjoy printing so much too. I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy it when I wake up to find a print order has come in, and spend the first part of my day creating that print, then trimming it down to size, as I sometimes print on roll paper larger than the actual size of the print required. When I hold up that finished print it just feels so good, especially when I think that it’s going to be sent off to someone somewhere in the world who will get it framed and give it a home on their wall. This is quite a humbling yet exciting experience.
Thinking about it, the fact that I often print smaller sheet sized prints on larger roll paper led to the the creation of my Photoshop Fine Art Border Scripts that I not only enjoyed making, but having made them available to buy with my new WooCommerce back-end, have now become another source of income. Hopefully you can see the pattern evolving here.
I came across a problem and had fun creating something to overcome that problem. I enjoy the Web work, so I now have a powerful and flexible eCommerce back-end on my Web site, so I’m able to sell pretty much anything I want without much additional work. The scripts have sold pretty well, thanks of course to some of you, and that helps to keep the roof over my head so that I can continue to do what I love doing.
This is similar to what I’ve mentioned before about my main business model now. I enjoy doing the photography tours and workshops, and working to help people get amazing images in beautiful locations, so I’m gradually building out my tour program. On the tours I get to shoot my own images which I can sell as stock images as well as fine art prints. I also get to illustrate my own ebooks and magazine articles with the prints, and use these images to illustrate blog posts etc.
People then read my articles or blog and see the images and some are inspired enough to join me on one of my tours and workshops. It’s all starting to bind together very nicely in self-perpetuating business cycles.
Do What You Love and Never “Work” Again
That really brings me back to a point that David duChemin and I discussed in our last chat in episode 362 of this Podcast, when we talked about what David had said in one of his books, that there is a difference between a job and our work. Most of us use the phrase “going to work” to mean that we are going to a certain place to do our “job”, and yet a job is really something that we do to earn money to live.
We use the word “work” on the other to mean our photography, or doing some other activity that often brings us satisfaction and pleasure. The difficulty of course, as with any art, is in getting people to pay you for your work. Some, if not many artists, work their entire lives without finding a way to make a living from it, and yet we sometimes call the result their “life’s work”. If we can figure out how to do what we love to do and find satisfying, and get people to pay for it, in whatever size increments, we can realize the artists’ dream of living a life doing what you love.
And that kind of brings me back to the point, in that there have been a few times during this summer where I’ve come across issue that have taken week’s to surmount, and for the first time since I gave up my old job to become a full time photographer, I actually felt stressed. I have a tendency to get little bald patches in the little beard that I grow on my chin when I’m stressed, and for the first time in three years, I found two patches when I trimmed it recently, which was kind of a surprise, but kind of wasn’t really. It had been a rough month or so.
Now though, finally, the issues that I was fighting are behind me for now. I can proceed with the writing of my next Craft & Vision ebook, and launch a new micro-sales product that I’ve been planning for a while soon too. It’s all good stuff, and I’m having fun. Even the troubles I had with the system seem pretty insignificant now that it’s behind me, and I’m looking forward to plugging away at my task list again, advancing step by step.
I guess I should also mention once again, that I still feel very fortunate to have been able to calve out this life for myself that I’m still working hard to make easy, but nevertheless finding very satisfying. From the start I made a conscious decision to not do jobs that I don’t want to do, and not do jobs that I want to do for less money or alternative compensation than I want to do them for.
Ignoring both of these fundamental strategies will lead to dissatisfaction and the work often becomes unsustainable. Basically, if you do stuff you don’t want to do just for the money, you can find it difficult to put your heart and soul into the work, and if you don’t put your heart and soul into the work, it becomes a job. I know I didn’t leave my old day job just to do another job, so I think it’s worth putting some guidelines in place to stop it becoming one.
An important thing to bear in mind here though, as I’ve said before, is that you of course have to do work that pays the bills and turning away job after job without some other form of income is a recipe for disaster too. I was able to build up enough various revenue streams that I am making a living now. My tours, my Craft & Vision ebooks and magazine articles, my prints and other digital products now, and stock image sales are all adding up to keep a room over our heads.
It’s because of this that I’m afforded the luxury of turning work down that doesn’t totally mesh with my strategy. If I had not been able to develop at least part of this business before I left my old day job, I’d have been doing more work that I don’t like as I build my business, but this is exactly what I recommend others do. You have to do something to live, and if that means doing a job that you aren’t fully invested in while you build the business that you would love to do, then there’s no shame in that.
Billions of people around the world do jobs they don’t want to do every day. There are obviously a very, very small percentage of people that actually get to do what they love and make a living at it. As I say, I still have a lot of hard work to go before I will be comfortable and I’d be a liar if I said that there aren’t still time when I get anxious because something doesn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but at the end of the day, I’m confident that I’ll succeed. And I think this confidence is what you need to give you the courage to turn down the jobs that would pay you something, but not enough to make your chosen life and work sustainable.
What does all of this have to do with Photography?
So, what does all of this have to do with photography? Well, I’m going to add the Going Pro tag to this episode, because I think it has everything to do with setting up a business in photography. To come back to the title, I really believe that to succeed in business these days you have to be a Jack of all Trades, and be the master of some. The areas of mastery are the core competencies; the backbone of your business. Without excelling in these areas you aren’t going to succeed anyway.
But you have to be able to turn your hand to other areas or have the capital to be able to hire someone to do this work for you. I for example hire a tax accountant. He costs me $300 a month, and I pay much more at year end etc on top of that. Why? Because I don’t have a clue how to do that stuff myself. Sure, I’ve learned a lot about accounting and running a business in Japan over the last three years, but I never intended to try to do this myself. Not only because it would be too difficult, but because I don’t want to handle this.
I’m also fortunate that I have such a technical background, and can handle the sort of work I’ve spent a lot of time doing this summer myself. That can be a bane as well as a boon of course. It saves me the money required to hire someone to do it for me, but it takes up time that could have been used in other ways. This hasn’t been a huge problem this year, but as I develop more tours it will become one.
Get Help / Outsource When it Makes Sense
This is partly the reason I attacked the issue this year, but there will come a time over the next few years where I will need to start and hire people more regularly. I don’t think I’m looking at hiring full time very soon, other than my wife who is already on the books, but there will be more long term relationships with people like Michael Rammell who’s kindly helped with the old Podcast episode posting for example. As I continue to grow the business out I’ll definitely need help with tasks that regularly take up my time, and free me to work on other things that only I can do.
I think running a business has become as creative an exercise as being a photographer these days, and I’m having a ball working on mine, and hope that you find it interesting or useful to be kept in the loop like this from time to time.
PHOTOGRAPH Issue 5 Now Available!
Before we finish, I did want to mention that the Craft & Vision magazine PHOTOGRAPH, Issue 5 was released earlier this week and it is beautiful! There are amazing portfolios to look at and a wealth of knowledge from some of the best photographers on the planet in the various articles. I’m humbled to be a part of that, and actually have two columns in year two, so you get a double dose of Martin if you should pick up a copy. You can see some screenshots and more details before you buy on my blog at http://mbp.ac/cvp5 and I’ll put a link in the show notes if that’s easier for you.
Thanks very much for listening today. Remember that you can find me on Google+, Twitter and Facebook etc. and links to everything that I’m up to are at martinbaileyphotography.com, so do drop by and take a look. I’ll be back next week, with another episode, but in the meantime, you take care, and have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.
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