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Many of my BizTalk posts are geared towards those starting out in their careers, but this one is for folks in what I call the “Teenage Years”; The 3-6 year doldrums. I have witnessed and lived through this career phase and it seems to be a break point. It can either be an amazing time of growth and career transformation, or it can be easy to get stuck in a rut. I’ve been fortunate to have worked on very good projects throughout my career, but this phase almost took me out. I remember feeling SO stuck and SO lost and SO in need of some help and direction. Help came in unlikely places and “luck” manifested after some very hard work. Fortunately, I was able to go in the upwards/transformative direction ultimately signing with my first agent around this time. Are you feeling a little lost, alone and abandoned? Here are some tips to keep ya going and hopefully rise on up!

Focus
I put this first because this guides all the other suggestions to follow. You cannot get anywhere if you do not know where you are trying to go. When you are first starting out it makes sense to try everything and get as many experiences as you can so you can see what this industry is really like and what you really like to do. After a while, however, it is really in your best interest to start honing in on what it is SPECIFICALLY that you want to accomplish in your career and start doing it. Getting into the Union and becoming a Department Head of Makeup for feature films requires a completely different path from working Runway and becoming a lead artist for Runway shows. This is not to say that you can never do different things, but it is to say that you cannot do everything all at once. AND it is also to say that if you decide that you do want to completely change streams, that may require starting over again from scratch. Therefore it is beneficial to take some time to plan out what you want to do, where you want to go, and how you plan to get there.

Test Up Not Down(tm)
This is a phrase I coined a long time ago on a wayback makeup message board (which my phrase was wrongly attributed to the founder of that board and a bunch of other wrong folks. NOPE.
This is a Tania D. Russell original).

Basically what I’m saying is that EVERY TIME you test, you should be striving for better than what you’ve had before. And if you are not shooting with Tier 1 magazines all the time and turning your book over that way, you should be testing regularly. A lot of why people’s portfolios never move is because they’re basically doing the same thing over and over. And if you’re working in photography – or if you want to work in photography – if your portfolio doesn’t evolve, neither will your career. Period. ALSO check the folks you’re shooting with. If they are not evolving, it may be time to find some new people to work with.

Know a When to Fold ‘Em
There comes a point when you need to let certain types of jobs go because they are – quite frankly – beneath your station. Continuing to do them will not only not get you anywhere, but they may actually drag your value and cache down. I know out of Freelancers Fear, I personally kept doing headshots and model tests for far beyond their expiration date. Yes it was a little bit of money, but it wasn’t much else (not adding to my portfolio, not adding to my clients/resume, often not great working conditions, etc.) After a while you need to ask yourself,

If you’re doing such great other projects, why are you doing this little job?

Because trust me, other people are wondering the same thing.

Network, Network, Network!
And I do not mean Social Media. I know when I was in the doldrums, I spent too much time online on places such as the message board I just mentioned, the original incarnation of Model Mayhem, etc. Going to these places made me feel as though I was doing something when actually they served as a distraction from the real work I needed to be doing; meeting people in real life. I see it happening now on Facebook and the like. Social Media is great and it can be a great tool HOWEVER it is just a tool. Life still happens in real life, not all Virtual all the time. What broke me out of my rut was arranging meetings with any and everyone who would agree to meet me and look at my book. Eventually word of mouth kicked in, I started getting referrals for little gigs here and there, I met photographers, and the ball started rolling again.

Promote, Promote, Promote!
Unless your name is Pat McGrath (or Tom Pecheaux, Dick Page, Charlotte Tilbury, and the like), you cannot take it for granted that folks remember who you are. Once folks start working, it’s easy to get out of the habit of doing your promotions, particularly if you have a few regular clients who keep you busy. DO NOT FALL INTO THE TRAP. Keep your promotions up! Change can happen at any time and it may not be a change you want or like. The commercial production company you work with may merge with another company or close up shop entirely. The photographer you shoot with all the time may move. The staff who used to hire you regularly at the e-comm company were all laid off and the new folks do not know you and have their own crew they work with. And so on, and so on. All three of those scenarios have happened to me at least once. The onus is on you (or you in partnership with your agent if you are represented) to keep your name in circulation so that you do not have massive work droughts.

Keep Assisting
I would have loved to have had more of an opportunity to assist in my career, and in fact I’d still be open to it. I am slayed by the number of young artists – including a lot of my former students – who start working a little and think they’re above assisting now. Oh my young Padwan! What you do not know is a lot. Amongst the many reasons I can think of; There are certain types of jobs/clients that you will *never* get access to without assisting, since the marketplace is so glutted with “makeup artists” a lot of agencies will want to know who you’ve assisted, and these are still artists who’ve been in the biz longer than you and who have experienced and know more than you. Period. Humble yourself and you may learn something that can help take you to the next level.


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