What to do When Your Back is Against the Wall
A friend of mine lost his job unexpectedly. It was his sole income. He emailed me and simply asked, “What do I do?”. I knew this was one of those moments when your back is against the wall.
Knowing that this email was bold for him to send and a stressful one I’m sure, I immediately replied and said, “Let’s get coffee tomorrow, my treat.”
At coffee the next day, this is what I told him;
But before we go into that, let’s back up a little bit and give some context:
This friend of mine is a solid photographer and content creator, but he hadn’t really taken his website, his social media, or sharing his work seriously. Only his past clients and very close friends knew what he did outside of his full-time gig.
The things he shared online, although unique topic wise, weren’t curated or updated at a rhythm that people expected.
It was like a coffee shop that was randomly open for business. One week it’s Thursday, another week they’re closed, and the week after, they’re open on a Monday.
Most of what he shared publicly from his work on Instagram was random, and he posted only occasionally. It was like a business that was open irregularly with no communication about when you could go there,
This sounds silly but he wasn’t even using hashtags on Instagram, all of you can do. You can LITERALLY go to anyone’s post and copy off their hashtags. (I wouldn’t advise that since their strategy may not work for you, but it’s a start!)
Many of us know what it’s like when your back is against the wall and it can be tough and depressing.
There’s a temptation to sell everything, even your soul. but I wouldn’t sell things first. Selling your things is giving up. Some folks offer “mini-sessions,” discounts, or deals. There’s nothing wrong with these, but they need to be intentional and planned out for maximum profitability, building your referral network, or simply practicing. These sessions should never be offered out of fear or scarcity.
When you offer sessions in scarcity, you’re prone to make bad decisions.
It’s so tough to see the forest instead of just the trees. I’ve taken photo gigs just to fill my gas tank and pay my phone bill, and I get it. But this is so short-term minded.
If you haven’t run or worked out for a long time or at a consistent level, how can you expect to immediately run a marathon when you’re backed into a corner?
Okay, I think you get the beginning of my point so it’s time to give you some advice you can use and most importantly, can implement today!
What to Do when you are in Financial Scarcity and When Your Back is Against the Wall
For these examples, pretend that you know your business will stop or fail in 6 months if you keep doing what you are doing now. I know this may be a stretch, but just pretend that you know it’s going to fail.
This advice is what I’ve done when my back has been against the wall. I want to give you some practical steps you should take when you’re suddenly in that place.
Now before I get into these, realize I think you should be doing a portion of these anyway, all the time. Just like working out, it’s not a quick fix, but something you should be working on, even just a little bit, very often… but we’ll get to that.
This is what I would do:
Sounds simple right? But here’s the truth — people with money are attracted to businesses and people who are already doing what they want to hire them for. Whatever you’re good at and could do for free needs to be something people will want to hire you for.
What does that look like practically?
First off, all of this is free! You have an abundance of time and not as much money as you need, thus your time isn’t worth much, but that’s okay.
Here are the steps to recovering when your back is agains the wall:
Make — It’s time to create when your back is against the wall!
Use your friends, family, past coworkers, or strangers on the street. You need to make some new stuff!
Contact them and offer shoots for what you specialize in. If it’s engagements/couples, plan full shoots and sessions where you have full control and can make it awesome! Even on dates or with weather that isn’t great, still go out there and photograph.
Be sure to publicly request what you’re looking for and be specific.
Instead of “Anyone know any restaurants?” say, “I’m looking for any restaurant managers in the H St Northeast Area.”
Show (Get seen)
This friend who lost his job wasn’t even using hashtags. He was asking what to do when your back is against the wall, but you have to put in the work to get more work.
I know they’re played out and cliche from folks who don’t understand, but the idea is to be found. Especially on Instagram. If I was going to go all-in on one spot? It’d be Instagram.
Use location tags to connect with and find potential clients — even going back and updating it from time to time.
And whatever you’re doing, be sure to engage, engage, engage!
Contact — The good ol’ cold call (or DM!)
Make a list of 10, 50, or 100 people or brands around you that may need content.
Now, the trick here is to find folks who aren’t huge, but maybe are a little past the just starting stage You want to find people who know people and offer to do the work for FREE. There are a few things to keep in mind.
Be sure to set proper expectations. Maybe you’ll only deliver 30 photos or a 1-minute highlight video, but have the idea of what you will deliver and make this clear in your pitch.
All you’re asking for is a tag on Instagram/social media if they use the photos and/or a social media shoutout (even if they don’t use the work!) You can also use work you’ve MADE and SHARED to show them in the email. Again, just the Instagram bio or your best work!!
A lot of these people will say no, but that’s okay. We’re not going to focus on the no people, but on the YES people. When your back is against the wall, you need to get through the no’s to get a yes!
When you reach out to them, think about who you’ve worked for in the past or who is similar to a past client.
For example, if I wanted to shoot more corporate events I would search Linkedin for Event Coordinators and planners, find their contact info and send them my work that is applicable to them. Am I going to send them wedding stuff? No, I’m going to send them work that they can quickly & easily access that makes them want to work with me.
Sounds silly right? We’ll do an episode on Momentum later, but how many days in the gym is better — 1 or 100?
It’s not a trick question! You need to keep this up until you have a positive cash flow.
Show & Share When Your Back is Against the Wall
So you’re making all this awesome work now, right? Hopefully, it’s work where you’ve had full control, been able to make what you’re best at, and try some new things in the process.
What now? Share it!
You need eyes and attention on this work, everywhere. You’re not spamming people, you’re sharing!
One of the best places to share your own work? Your own website!
I’ve posted a ton on using SEO and managing your own website. It’s easy and free to have your own space online if you don’t already have one. This is your home base where your own everything that happens there.
Social networks evolve and cater to certain themes and trends that you may not be working in. You can always share to those, but be sure to have a home base that people, as well as Google, know where to find you!
For Instagram, try tagging accounts that may like the work, using hashtags in the first comment, and location tagging hot locations.
Don’t forget — When you do this on Instagram, don’t just “post and ghost”, or “swoop and poop”. ENGAGE. Go on the location you used or dive into a few of the hashtags you used, and start commenting and interacting with content you like. Be genuine. The more you do this, the more you’ll be rewarded.
If you’re on Twitter, share often! One single tweet gets lost. Why not use photos & link back to your Instagram or website?
Like with Instagram, find people, organizations, and brands you like, show them your work and don’t be too awkward. You’re trying to show people how you can add value to them.
You might feel like work can get lost on Facebook, but with proper tagging, sharing with your local network every day will help draw eyes to your work.
You can also create an album on your personal Facebook and add a photo every day or two. In the notes, talk about the project a bit and always link back to your site and social media channels.
And finally, there’s LinkedIn. When most creatives hear LinkedIn, they start to hear the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher — blah, blah, blah — but it can honestly be a great resource!
The key for this is to share work that small businesses, companies, or brands need — things like headshot or portrait work, highlight videos, or event recaps.
Make sure your profile is up to date with the services you offer, and connect with people! Find event coordinators, venue owners, or salespeople — the folks who make the decisions in the place you’d like to work and shoot at — and send them your work!
You have new work and a reputation, so now you’ve got the momentum to keep pushing!
And be sure to have easy ways for people to contact you!
Create a contact form on your website, respond to messages on social media, and post your email in many places.
Again, you can’t get romantic about how you make your money at this point. You need eyes and dollars!
All of the above? Keep doing it. Even if you become a millionaire. If you hustle through these at some level, even systemizing things, if your work is good, then good things will keep happening to you.
Now, a final thought for when your back is against the wall:
You can always have your island, your spot, your place, even if you don’t want to go full-time freelance. If you have a tangible skill or side hustle, this is your time to shine and build what you have. That way, when s%$t hits the proverbial fan, the fall won’t be as detrimental to your income, accounts, way of life and self-esteem as it is when your full-time 9-5 job is your main thing.
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