In this world where your business, dreams, and just about everything are exposed to a world of strangers – one of the most common transactions occurs when you are given advice.
The advice may be unsolicited. It may be eagerly solicited. If you ask whether it is best to do A, B or C you are apt to have a three-way split. Maybe not exactly, in thirds, but it is common enough.
Or you may find that everyone tells you that A is the way to go.
Some advice will be well-reasoned. Some will just be off-the-cuff. Some advice will be based on that particular reader’s experience. Some will be based on the reader’s dreams of how things work.
The question that you need to ask yourself is: how to decide which advice to take?
One other caveat, the advice I’m talking about (obviously) is related to the creative fields.
There is no science to it – but there are a few rules that can help you, especially when dealing with unknown sources:
1) If you are trying to figure out the best way to sell photographs on the web (for example) – if you can find someone that has done this successfully – that is advice to give seriously consideration. It doesn’t mean that they are giving you the right advice for your situation – but it’s a start.
2) If the person gives advice, and knows nothing about your business – take it with a huge grain of salt – but don’t discount it either. There are business rules that cut across all retail businesses, such as the 20 / 80 rule (80 percent of your sales will come from 20 percent of your products). More or less.
3) Don’t be afraid to ignore everyone’s advice because you think you have more experience, you know better, and after all life is a series of experiments. It’s unlikely that following your own advice will put you out of business – but if those are the stakes – then you’d better be real careful following your own advice when the world tells you that you’re wrong.
But you may just be a little bit ahead of your time.
I was told by people who were so-called experts at selling art, (this was in 1998) that no one would buy photography from an individual photographer through a web site. That it was important to leverage the knowledge of a large organization of photographers (in these days you’d fill in the blank with PhotoShelter) for example as opposed to an individual site.
The truth is that Photo Shelter (I just use them as an example) will work well for certain types of personalities, and certain types of photographic businesses. But not for all types.
4. Don’t be afraid to admit you are wrong but give your idea enough time to test properly.
5a. This is the esp. tricky part. If you get advice through the web, try to get as much information and background on the advisor as possible. If you find someone who is in the same niche as you – and you are able to ask them about their finances – put crudely – how much did you make in a year with this business. That is a million dollar question and answer. And be prepared to share your own financial situation.
5b. In most cases – you’ll find that your would-be advisor is uneasy sharing that sort of financial information. So do the next best thing. Find out how many people visit their site. See what sort of rank they have in search engines. Pretend to be a customer and go through the purchase process. It may be worth your time to actually order a print. You want to see the quality, and the presentation.
6. If you can begin a “closed” group where others that share your ambitions are willing to share their advice – do it.
7. In short – advice is only as good as the business of the advisor and how closely related it is to yours.
And now I’ll give you one (of many) recent examples.
After a death in the family, I let my site go fallow for a while. I stopped doing the usual things to keep it going. I didn’t exactly drop out of search engines in two months – but I stopped pushing the business. I stopped trying new things. I let my social networking go cold. And sales dropped to near zero.
As I wrote about this experience – I received a lot of advice – and I raised many issues that I thought might explain the situation. My site had always been known as a black and white photography site as well as a New York Photography site. About a year ago I became interested (artistically) in color photography – especially in heavily post-processed (I called it Paintography) prints. I did this because I found it enjoyable and challenging. It was certainly not a business decision.
But over the months I found that it might be diluting my niche. I wasn’t sure. I had separate galleries for my color work. And there was advice – both from close friends (photographers) and blog readers who didn’t like the color work and others who thought that the color galleries should be removed.
I had similar thoughts about mixing color with b&w.
I removed the color galleries for exactly one day. That night, an art buyer that I hadn’t heard from for a year asked what had happened to the color work. They had saved a few color shots and were interested in buying a few dozen copies of each.
I quickly put the color work back, but this time I put them all into one gallery.
Within a week, there were four art buyers knocking on the door. They all bought either prints or high resolution files, and wanted to see more color.
That interest has continued, and at the same time regular customers continued to be interested in black and white prints.
So that’s what made me sit down and write out this post about advice.
I took the few minutes to write this up – while in the middle of exploring my color work. That will build up.
One other idea that passed through the blog portal was to have two separate sites. One for color. One for b&w. So now there’s the bit of advise. How to know if that’s a good idea or not.
My gut feeling – not a good idea. Will dilute my web presence. But if someone came along and showed me an example where they had put this into practice and told me something about their sales – that might be the type of advice that could convince me it was worth a try.