TEXT & IMAGES BY HELENE GLASSMANIt happens to every photographer at one point or another. You feel a sudden lack of creative vitality, as if your inspirational batteries need a jump start. It happened to me after owning—and loving—my portrait studio, Imagery Photography, for almost 20 years.
In 1999, feeling the need to reenergize, I took a trip to Italy
with some other photographers. While I can't say for sure whether
it was the change of scenery, the break in routine, or the people I
met, I do know the trip awakened my creative spirit.
Shortly after returning to California, I began photographing what I call everyday life scenes—people, animals, doors, window shutters draped with laundry—creating a story in a single image. Capturing these single images has become my way of expressing how I see the world around me. After showing these images to family and friends, soon I was getting requests for copies. Someone said, "I'll buy some cards if you make them." I did just that. My new business venture had begun. l
It helps to have supporters. Frank Long, head of graphic design at Agfa Color Lab in Gardena, California, taught me a great deal about the greeting card business. My mentor, Tim Mathiesen, Gemini marketing director, Epson America, got me started with marketing my cards.
Some of the lessons I've learned would apply to any new business venture. For instance:
1. Study your target market. I found out the public is your market. That may sound obvious, but many of my photographer friends go to conventions with their cards when they should go to giftware trade shows and stationery shows.
2. Decide whether to get a rep or license your images to a publisher. The choices are difficult, both with pros and cons. I've gotten my cards into four major stores here in Santa Barbara probably because I'd worked here so long, many of the merchants knew of me or I had people I know make the introduction for me. That's only the beginning. Follow-through is vital.
3. Get the cards out there. Be persistent. Don't become discouraged. It takes a lot of planning and legwork. If you do your homework, study your target market, get out there and meet people, you can position yourself for success. I have two card racks up in my front room that I show and sell the cards from. I've learned to incorporate the cards into my wedding consultations. And when I'm asked for a donation from my studio, I include a set of cards.
4. Enlist your family to rep for you. I have cards now in a store in South Carolina and am sending cards to relatives in Utah, who will help me there.
5. Go to trade shows as frequently as possible. The networking and workshops available are well worth the time and money.
6. Create separate websites. Keep the different business identities clear. I have one website for my studio, Imageryphoto.com, and one for the card business, HeleneGlassman.com.
7. Keep your eyes and ears open for spinoff opportunities. A new avenue I'm pursuing is designing custom cards for companies. One of my corporate clients expressed an interest in this when he was in the studio for a head shot. I designed and sold 500 cards to one local business and I'm discussing a holiday card for Thanksgiving with a local bank.
The excitement I feel working with the cards filters back into my work as a portrait and event photographer. My next step: talking with hotel and hospital gift shops.
How successful you are in your new endeavor depends to a large degree on your determination. Try thinking of yourself as a bumper car: When you push a door and it won't open, just back up—rev your engine—try another door—and charge. Make it happen.