OT: Manage Your Funnels

Editor's note: We are stepping outside of the box today.

As photographers, we are more likely to be hired as creatives than to hire a creative. But recently I was involved in choosing a print designer, a video production house and an illustrator.

Seeing the different paths that lead us to each of these people was a little like having an out-of-body experience. It was a cool look into the other side of the equation, and one that left me with a better understanding of marketing my own services as a photographer.

Three funnels you should not discount, inside.

Will Tweet for Food

When I was in search of a designer for my Lighting in Layers DVDs, I had one main quality in mind. I wanted someone who had a great sense of design and typography. But one thing I did not need was for him or her to be local.

And speaking of him or her, I had a feeling it would be a "her." Strobist's readership is depressingly male. So this call was sort of like trusting my wife or daughter to pick on the tie I wear (on the rare occasion when that happens.)

I thought about asking my local friends and colleagues. But I worried that I would end up with a few, all local choices -- and maybe with an embedded obligation just for putting the word out. So I asked around on Twitter instead.

Granted, I am atypically lucky in the reach of my Twitter crowd. And I try to use that as much as possible. But we tend to cluster somewhat by profession on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, and that can increase the efficiency of such a search.

Within pretty short order, I had a good list of people to check out -- with no obligation attached. There were several great choices. But in the end I chose to work with Naina Redhu, from Gurgaon, India.

Again, this stuff all gets moved around via email and FTP. So no need for local. Besides, I felt someone from another sphere might bring a different visual ethic to the project.

My hunch bore fruit. Naina was a joy to work with, and I love what she did with the design and typography on the packaging and discs. But what about the time zone difference?

That actually worked out in our favor. The beauty of working with Naina in India was that I could hand off my raw info and (numerous -- sorry, Naina) iteration requests as I went to sleep. They would be in the inbox when I woke up. Oddly, it seemed more instant than working with a designer in the same room.

The endorsement: If you have design needs as a photographer (and you probably will, or should) I cannot recommend Naina enough. You can reach her here.

Takeaway: BE SOCIAL. For many creatives, your physical location does not matter nearly as a much as your virtual networks do. Everyone who follows you on Twitter or Facebook is not only a potential client, but also a potential referral to all of the people who follow them, too.

Say for the sake of argument that 100 people follow you on Twitter and Facebook. In truth, the average number is probably larger. But assuming each of your followers has 100 of their own, that is a network of 10,000 people who have first-level, friend-of-a-friend status.

That's what makes social media networking so powerful. Use it.

Man About Town

For the video project itself, I had a few things in mind. I wanted to stay local for travel/expense control, not to mention logistics. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Bill Millios on the first DVDs, but these were going to be a different animal -- shot in HD, more complex setups, more post production involved, etc. So this would require a full-blown production house.

There are several to choose from in the Baltimore/Washington corridor. God knows the gubmint in DC and all of the related advocacy groups need informational videos, like, nonstop.

But there was one house that stood out -- Pixel Workshop. They are a boutique production company (like many others, I suppose) but they also do something many of the others don't. Dave and Ilana, the people behind Pixel, are very engaged in the community with various social and charitable activities. They are tied into many local nonprofits, too. That's not exactly where the big bucks are, but it's the right thing to do.

They also publish a local media gateway and do podcasts, vodcasts, etc. Ilana competes in triathlons -- raising money for local orgs. Dave is as likely as not to be the emcee at any community function. They take the time and effort to be tied to the local community in many solid ways.

This kind of community integration is laudable from a civic perspective. But it also gets the word out about their capabilities in a consistent and organic way.

And even if you do not yet know them, you kinda already do. Their personality gets injected into all of these projects without conscious thought. So potential clients know to expect a healthy dose of irreverence and subversive humor in the mix. Needless to say, this was a great fit for our project.

Takeway: Take the initiative and adopt some local projects or organizations. Be of value to your local community even when you are not getting paid.

For more reasons than I can get into here, this is very powerful marketing that does not look or feel like marketing when it is happening. Plus, it is the right thing to do, which also counts. Dave wrote about our video project from his perspective, too. Check it out..

Credit Check

When Joe and I were planning the visuals for The Flash Bus tour, we had lots of options. Photography-wise, we had a couple of people in-house that might have been able to pull it off. (Joe, Drew… okay, three if you count me…) Plus, we also knew a couple of people in the industry.

Early thoughts were a head-to-head looking WWF feel: Manual vs. TTL: The Bout to Knock The Other Guy Out! Lots of high-pass in post!! Extra sharpening, too!!!

In short, one very highly evolved and sophisticated visual presentation, to be sure. Heh.

But the more we thought about it, the more we looked to go out of genre. Photography would be expected, so why not head-fake a little and go for an illustration?

Plus, have you seen us lately? Photos can be so … literal.

Choosing Sam Spratt to do our illustration was a slam-dunk, no-brainer. Sam has been hitting the ball out of the park lately for Gizmodo, who handles their own relationship with Sam in typically atypical fashion. Not only does Sam get a credit line for his work, but they also did an article on the fact that Sam is doing cool work for them.

This kind of cross-pollination is very meta, very web -- and very Nick Denton. And it has served him very well. This kind of goldfish bowl, inside-baseball, 360-degree view of his own product makes even bigger, more well-informed fans -- myself included.

Featuring Sam in a post is win-win for both Sam and Gizmodo. It is unique content for Gizmodo. (We got Sam Spratt. Now our tech stories are Even Better. Deal with it.) But it is also great for Sam, whose work you should definitely check out here.

Also, there's a great article on Sam in Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab. (Worth the read.)

This kind of credit and exposure is how we were able to find Sam so easily, and it is something we are most definitely paying forward. Sam will have a big credit -- including his URL -- on the sides of the bus.

This kind of thing is unheard of for a commercial job. But we think it is the right thing to do. And we expect many of our readers would want the ability to dig further and learn more about someone who could fire off an illustration like that. Especially with such tragically limited source material.

Oh, and by the way, Sam is sickeningly young. As in, 22. (But you're still senor to JoeyL, Sam…)

Takeaway: Negotiate rich exposure on your published work whenever possible. Credits are good, but linked credit lines are better. Think about rich content from your projects -- BTS stories and videos, pics, etc.

Your clients may just be looking for that kind of material -- and put you in the A-stack for providing it. Which is an added benefit to the already cool exposure component for you.

So, three different visual projects, three different paths. Of notable absence: Source books, promo material, mailing lists, blindly cruising websites, etc.

If your promotion looks more like the latter and less like the former (above) maybe you rethink your strategy to include some of the client funnels which are not only very powerful, but also ... free.


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Blogger Thanks for stopping by! said...

Nice read at 530am! thanks david for posting that up! Keep up the awesome job. This is where I first learned of off camera lighting and I've never commented on anything! Thanks for the edumacation.


March 24, 2011 5:53 AM  
Blogger Takki said...

"Strobist's readership is depressingly male."
Just wondering why. Is it because it's mostly men blogging here? Hello - any other photog women out there ?

March 24, 2011 6:51 AM  
Blogger matt said...

Great post!
Very interesting to read about these 'funnels' from a client perspective.

March 24, 2011 10:02 AM  
Blogger Cailin said...

David, thanks so much for posting this.
Many times when we work on projects we only apply what we know how to do, in this case photography, and the rest is half-done. As an amateur I wouldn't even have known that I needed the people that you brought into the project. This was an eyeopener into other disciplines that I know very little about.

Great post!

March 24, 2011 10:50 AM  
Blogger Brycia said...

Hi David! I enjoy your blog - and I am female... 'course McNally is the first one to sell me on playing with flash - what can I say? He has more hair. Anyway, just wanted to let you know there is one more female out here who also marvels at how small the internet has made the world and looks forward to learning more about those bright little flashing things. Look forward to seeing you and Joe on 4/5 in DC!

March 24, 2011 10:55 AM  
Blogger scott said...

thanks for sharing how you put it all together. I would only comment that when possible stay within USA for jobs when possible--we need them!! Also i went to your LA show with joe. very nice.


March 24, 2011 11:07 AM  
Blogger Obi-Wan said...

Thanks, DH. I suddenly don't feel like such a pushover for taking on all the pro bono photo work I've been doing for local charities, and I'm feeling worse about passing on one job that (at the time) I felt I was too busy to handle. Even if the advertising they give me doesn't pan out, they're good people and I'm glad to be able to help them.

Still grumbling about not having a TFB stop near me...

March 24, 2011 12:43 PM  
Blogger Richard G said...

Hi David,

I saw the social networking thing work first hand this week. I stopped to shoot some quick photos of a band I randomly happened across on the way home from the Flash Bus event. I posted the pics on Facebook and sent the link to the band. They liked the photos and want to use one on their album. I didn't have any purpose when I took the photos, other than the fact that taking photos is what I do, but by sharing them it has opened up a whole new network of potential future clients.

Thanks again for doing the Flash Bus Tour, it was great to pick your brain in Phoenix. I was bummed I wasn't able to find the bus again at the end of the day. I still need to get a sticker for the Rustybus ;)

Here is the Rustybus and the Flashbus together: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=50553&l=1bf09a95c7&id=108679655820858

March 24, 2011 1:06 PM  
Blogger Mouldy said...

I just got my DVD's today and will start watching tonight. They certainly look very professional so the design aspect has worked. I like the idea of including reduced size videos for mobile devices as well. It will save me the trouble of ripping and converting them.

March 24, 2011 1:08 PM  
Blogger Mountain Hideaway said...

David: I found this post so interesting that I've bookmarked it. Here's why. I'm not a pro photographer, but I DO own and run a small business. Trying to understand how to use the web in a business context is a bit like an exercise in quantum mechanics-- just as you think you've focused on one idea, it shape-shifts into something else, or disappears altogether.

Getting the kind of boots-on-the-ground report like this post is illuminating, not so much for the specific vendors called out, but for the process. How to work the system or, more accurately, how to remain flexible and open to where the system might take you. It's a great idea-generation tool.

Thanks for the post!

March 24, 2011 1:19 PM  
Blogger laramib said...

'm disappointed that you chose to outsource your design business to India. I have great respect for you as a former journalist, photographer and instructor but there are wonderful designers starving for work in this country. Photographers in this country are suffering the results if a recession that will not rebound until unemployment figures begin to drop. Outsourcing jobs will not help.


Bob Laramie

March 24, 2011 2:51 PM  
Blogger Lars Petter Ugland said...

Hi David, got my Lighting in Layers DVD yesterday, signed by you, looks great so fare. Wish I was going to the flash bus tour, but Norway is a bit far away. Best regards.

March 24, 2011 2:55 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Um, it's *all* men blogging here. Except for the occasional guest poster, Strobist is a one-man band.

@Scott, @laramib-

People need jobs everywhere -- not just in the USA. Designers are digital now; location is not an issue. And I chose Naina to be my designer without regard to her location.

To have "reserved" this job for an American would been as inappropriate as it would have been protectionist. For one thing (among many) Strobist is an international site -- it has readers from every country in the world. In fact, 2/3 of the creative team above was American. That is an *overrepresentation* of Americans based on the site's readership.

I did not choose Naina based on location or based on any kind of a "low bid" outsource advantage. (In fact, we did not even work out a price until we were further into the project.) I chose her because she was very talented, easy to work with and was present in the marketplace where I was searching -- Twitter.

If you were not one of the people who responded to my tweet looking for a designer, ironically, you were not local enough to me -- digitally speaking -- to be considered.

The video production house had a strong, logistical advantage due to geography. The designer and the illustrator work without regard to geography. And, absent pre-existing personal relationships, that geographic advantage will only continue to lessen.


March 24, 2011 4:10 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

I just got my DVD today and popped in the first one. The quality of David's teaching and the video production were outstanding. Over the top great. Very nicely done.

March 24, 2011 7:04 PM  
Blogger Project 27 said...

As one of your female readers, I must say I find articles like this so much more refreshing than the women bloggers I follow...don't get me wrong, both have their advantages ;) but I enjoy reading meaty articles like this one that offer straight-forward advice, rather than the emotional, fluff pieces most women would write about the same subject... But maybe that's because women are just naturally better at the networking aspect of this business lol!

March 24, 2011 8:14 PM  
OpenID Mark said...

"So this call was sort of like trusting my wife or daughter to pick on the tie I wear (on the rare occasion when that happens.)"

Even for those rare occasions, I still don't think that ties go well with cargo pants. :)

March 24, 2011 10:43 PM  
Blogger J9Photog said...


I really appreciated this Blog, as it was great to hear more about your "funnel" analogy, which I so enjoyed hearing you speak of at the Denver Flash Bus Tour this week. This article really expanded on the things you spoke of that day.

For me, your discussion at the Denver FBT about the funnel, use of social networking, paying it forward, etc. was such an unexpected serendipitous added bonus, beyond the amazing lighting training I knew I'd come there to receive.

And what an amazing lighting training it was! I learned such a wealth of techniques from both you & Joe. I will never see light the same way again, ever....

But I hadn't counted on just how much your talk on this idea of the funnel would speak to exactly what I needed to hear. It so affirmed my own instincts about why I've been blogging, tweeting, paying it forward, giving stuff away, posting links, & giving credit to everyone (like you guys) from whom I have learned so much.

The fact that you noticed me in a crowd of 400 people in Denver, and actually said hi to me meant the world to me, and it affirmed my beliefs in the power of social networking.

Both you & Joe are such down-to-earth approachable guys who truly shared on-on-one with folks like me while you were there. That was also an unexpected pleasure & it told me that my instincts are good that "I'm around GOOD PEOPLE here..."

It was one of the peak days of my photographic experiences thus far in my life.

Thanks again for such a great day, and for expounding more about your funnel in this article.

Janine Fugere
"As Seen by Janine"
Louisville, CO

March 24, 2011 11:29 PM  
Blogger Ted said...

I love these behind the scenes insights. Really brings the whole business into perspective. Thanks!

March 25, 2011 8:58 AM  
Blogger Frances said...

As always -- Thank You David! You and Joe amazed me with your TFB presentation yesterday in Dallas! I have to commend you, Joe, the sponsors and your crew for a great, insightful and fun filled day of learning about flash! I know being out on the road away from your home and your families is tough -- but -- oh pleassseeeeee can you do a TFB 2012???? A girl can dream -- can't she? Thanks again!

March 25, 2011 11:37 AM  
Blogger bratty pants said...

The male readership thing was mentioned during the Flashbus Seminar in Dallas, as I'm sure it has been talked about before. As a techie female, I love your site but I do see a lot of female photographers shying away from off camera lighting and opting to shoot natural light instead.

Me? I love hanging out with the boys.

March 25, 2011 12:06 PM  
Blogger Alan Lapp said...

David -- as a professional illustrator (and art director), I appreciate deeply that a high-profile client (OK, so you're not CocaCola or IBM) has chosen to make your primary image an illustration.

Oh, and Sam Spratt? Disgustingly, envy-inducingly talented.

March 25, 2011 12:32 PM  
Blogger As Seen by Janine said...

P.S. Ya probably already noticed, but I am most assuredly one of your growing list of female readers, who LOVES the technical stuff. I also think the right tie could look pretty cool with cargo shorts. (Notice I didn't say pants.) So I say, if they make you wear a tie, yeah, let your wife or daughter pick it out, but keep the shorts! :-D Janine

March 25, 2011 4:12 PM  
Blogger DaeJon said...

Great post. Dana could be a depressingly male name but I am a female!!

March 27, 2011 4:36 PM  

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