Handling “No” Like a Pro

Handling “No” Like a Pro

Sounds exciting, right?  Working for yourself.  Setting your own hours, rates, vacation schedule and of course all of the fantastic assignments that come along as a freelance commercial Photographer.  True, it has been an incredible ride and I can’t imagine doing anything other than this.  However, as many opportunities as this career brings, it also has it’s share of stressful and unpredictable moments.  With so many Photographers trying to make their way into the business, competing for the handful of challenging assignments requires a lot of risk, resourcefulness and of course, there is the rejection.

Over the years, I have put together hundreds of estimates and responded to as many RFP’s that require a dissertation on my skill level, shoe size, favorite color and lists of references that would make the FBI blush.  And maybe, if I am in a groove of sheer luck, I land 50% of what I bid on, but in reality, I would bet it’s more like one out of five.  The loud, resounding “No” that I hear in the virtual world which typically reads “thanks for your time but we have decided to go in another direction” or even worse, complete silence, can be overwhelming but with time and plenty of chances to practice, all of us freelancers that just keep going have learned to constructively deal with rejection by focusing on a few key ideas.

1. Be Gracious and Accomodating

Nobody likes to be the person who has to come back to us with “thanks, but no thanks.”  This certainly can’t be too pleasant of an experience especially when it’s already difficult to choose between a pool of talent that could all most likely exceed expectations.  So, be gracious and accommodating.  Respond in kindness and always let them know that if they need anything in the future, to keep you in mind.  I have had bids rejected only to get a call later that the Photographer they initially hired had dropped out and I was their next choice.  A little karmic kindness goes a long way.

2. Don’t Take it Personally 

Rejection is probably one of the most common things we have to deal with in the Photography industry but the fact that we have been turned down certainly does not mean that our work is lacking.  Probably the easiest way to take it the hardest is when we try to overanalyze.  Most of the reasons as to why our proposals are rejected have nothing to do with us and everything to do with what our clients are looking for.  It could be a budget issue or maybe the style of another Photographer resonated more with the buyer.  It could be any number of reasons as to why we were passed over and typically we never found out exactly why.  Just keep in mind, if you’re not being rejected you’re simply not putting yourself out there enough.

3. Cultivate Your Relationships with Clients

Over the past 15 years I have developed a very solid base of repeat clients who make up the majority of my business, close to 70%.  They are extremely happy with the images produced and comfortable with the rates I offer and I am certainly not the cheapest commercial Photographer in Chicago.  For the new clients, I receive maybe 30-50% of what I bid on and I’m good with that because if I were to be awarded every assignment I ever sent in a proposal for, I’m either too cheap or too charming and most likely it’s not the latter.  So, I make sure to maintain long-term relationships with my repeat clients and always over-deliver on each project, keep them in the loop about the recent assignments I have worked on and drop them a note once in awhile just to say hello.

4. Know that Everyone Gets Rejected and Keep Going

Anytime you put yourself and you’re work out there, you’ll be faced with the risk of rejection.  I can’t think of one person that I admire who hasn’t been in the same boat.  After performing at The Grand Ole Opry, Elvis was told he would be better off going back to his career in Memphis where he was a truck driver.  Albert Einstein was expelled from school.  Socrates was considered an “immoral corrupter of youth” which brought with it his death sentence.  And let’s not forget the first Queen, pre-Beyonce, Oprah Winfrey.  Even she got the boot.  Unable to keep it together as a news reporter when presenting human interest stories, she was eventually fired.

Take a moment, take many moments if needed, breath, and move on because that rejection just brings us closer to where we need to be.

One of my favorite editorial Photographers, Joe McNally who works with top brands such as Nikon and Epson, shared his insightful and encouraging advice:

This is a long and winding road, filled with far more valleys than peaks. One of the greatest talents one can have in this business has nothing to do with visual acumen at the lens. It is about the ability to sustain, to weather the storms, to shoot poorly and still survive a job, to fight out of inevitable creative slumps, to live with all manner of risk that lots of folks would find uncomfortable, to make uncertainty your friend, and to thrive despite sudden curves and happenstance. I guess what I’m describing is tenacity. To love doing this so much that you’ll go through 1000 “no’s” just to hear the one ‘yes.’”