Last year while passing through Bangkok I stumbled upon a dinner party at a dear friend’s apartment. Well, I didn’t really stumble, more like I walked past one while I was staying with them. I was exhausted after a 5-day shoot throughout Thailand. The only thing on my mind was getting some rest. I decided to freshen up and join the party. Choosing to drink wine all night over sleep rarely results in anything positive but this was one of those rare times.
A couple about my age was also staying at my friend’s place. Enter Jamie and Pika, both graphic designers based in NYC. They were in Thailand for a little bit of business and some traveling. I was in the middle of rebranding all my photography material. I wasn’t happy with the direction things were headed and basically wasted money on materials I couldn’t use.
I bothered Jamie all night with questions about design. I asked him if I was being difficult or crazy about wanting to be more involved in the process, he reassured me I wasn’t. I know when I work I like to be left alone so perhaps I should leave the designer alone. But I wasn’t happy with the results and I had a lot of ideas that I needed help implementing. He talked about his process with clients and I was fascinated with his passion and his collaborate approach. He was my doppelganger regarding his passion for his work, except way more humble. He was way out of my league, doing work for major brands in the US such as Coca-Cola and Target. The dude was really easy to talk to and couldn’t have been more humble about his work. Enough of the bromance, you get the point.
The challenge for me was I have 3 photography brands: commercial, editorial, and weddings (4th brand Mott Motion coming soon). I need to promote all 3 separately but at the same time I need fluidity so each brand can piggy back off each other. Having 3 separate websites wasn’t enough. In my 20’s, documentary and editorial work was my focus and the other work was great when it landed in my lap, but I didn’t go after it. This isn’t to say I don’t still love documentary work. I just needed to expand.
Now in my 30’s I wanted to be a business owner, not just a freelancer. I wanted to be seen as a brand not just an individual. While this isn’t so important for editorial work, it made sense for my wedding and commercial business.
After some emails back and forth with Jamie and Pika they agreed to work with me. Our first Skype meeting had me ecstatic. They didn’t just yap, they listened and asked fantastic questions. They had me thinking about things I never thought about before. I started thinking like a small business owner and not just like a freelancer. I started thinking about Mott Visuals, not Justin Mott. They were so different in their approach compared to the template style questions I received in past Q & A’s with designers. They really wanted to understand my style of photography, my approach, my product, everything. I had never really had to explain my work and the process of explain to them helped me understand myself better, therapeutic introspection in a way. Shit they know more about me as a photographer than my family does.
I was so fired up after our meeting and my mind was racing. I’ve worked with them for about a year now and while creative collaborations can be a nightmare my experience with them was the opposite. We built ideas off of each other’s ideas and no egos were present. The other key thing was their patience. They never made me feel rushed or pushed into anything. They always made sure that I was completely happy with a result, even if it meant more work for them. Some of you might think that is a billing thing but I assure you with them it wasn’t. We faced numerous challenges along the way so instead of going on and on and giving away all my secrets I thought I would just list a few of the problems and what they came up with.
The first challenge I had was that I had 3 different business cards. What was I suppose to do when I met someone, size them up to see which business would suit them.
SOLUTION: Mott Visuals was to become my parent company. Mott Visuals would include Mott Editorial, Mott Weddings, and Mott Commercials. The website http://www.mottvisuals.com became a landing page for all 3 websites. Problem solved.
I needed a logo that could cross over all three brands, slightly different for each but fluid.
I’m more expensive and I feel I offer a more unique product than most in Vietnam. I’m not being cocky but the pricing for photography is all over the spectrum in my region. We also have a lot of part time professionals based here. I needed people to know the difference right away.
I bought a gold Rolex. Just kidding, Jamie and Pika came up with an ingenious way to stand out. All of my print materials would have a die cut in the O in my name. In addition to great card stock the die cut O makes people remember my card. It sounds funny but it actually makes my card interactive, people twirl it, crack jocks about the hole, etc. The die cut is now on all my print branding materials and I love it.
They have done so much more than what I’ve listed and we have some cool ideas in the making, but that’s all the trade secrets I want to give out at this time. Vietnam is a copycat society so just in case there is another photographer out there with an O in his/her name I’m going to stop right there.
This sounds like a tribute to Jamie and Pika and it is in many ways. They are so awesome to deal with and they’ve changed my way of thinking about my business. They work with me every step along the way from my pdf’s, newsletters, brochures, and even recently they designed my booth for a wedding expo. This is also a tribute to the value of hiring a good graphic designer.
Seek someone that takes as much pride in his or her work as you do. Find someone that you can collaborate with and who understands your business and who you are as a photographer. Don’t just consider designers that cater towards photographers or else you might get more of a template style. Don’t just email, talk in person or on Skype, it’s way more productive and personal.
I’m not saying it’s going to be cheap but a good designer is worth the expense. A lot of other photographers will tell you just to go out and shoot but that’s only part of being a business. No joking, my wedding and commercial business has doubled since working with Jamie and Pika and while I’d like to think I’ve doubled as a photographer the reality is they played a huge part in my expansion. I’m no longer a freelancer; I hand out my card with confidence as a small business owner.
Unless you work in my region give them a call.
Check out Jamie’s work here: http://www.jamiestearns.com/