Hustlers and their schemes

I got a text message this afternoon while I was out and about asking if I could photograph an event. My spidey sense immediately started to tingle because 1) who hires anybody by text message? and 2) the text originated from an area code on the other side of the country from me. My first impulse was to reply that I do products and real estate but not event photography, but okay, alright, I have a few minutes free right now, so let’s see what they have in mind. I text back, “If the event is local, possibly.”

The guy says he is hearing impaired, hence the texting (okay). He has a family reunion coming up in two weeks in my town, and he provides an apparently legit local address (okay). He wants a whole package of different sizes of prints (I am not a photo studio) and six hours of my time to photograph 30 to 40 people in attendance (sounds like a long day, but okay, doable). What is my firm price, he wants to know, and then tells me his budget is $1,000 (whoa, big money!). And oh by the way, will I take a credit card? (ding! warning bell!).

After asking him a few questions, I offered 40 to 50 finished digital files, no prints, and 6 hours of my time for $750, and I didn’t mention payment terms. His reply, in all its scrambled message order and garbled syntax, was almost instant.

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I have learned the hard way that when a client asks for any kind of favor involving money, granting it will not be to my advantage. My internal warning bell rang louder, but I played along.

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Now I could see exactly what was going on, and he was kind enough to explain it precisely for me.

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Well, there it is. I could have been out more than $2,000 in no time flat. Does anyone actually fall for this?

I wasn’t even offended that he tried to con me. I get that crap every day by phone and email; only the texting part is new this time.

scammer4

I immediately blocked his number, then Googled it. Both the number and the name he gave me have been reported for scamming. What a surprise. Next time I get a fishy text like this, I’ll go to Google first!

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New year, same old me

I’ve been living with myself long enough now to know at least one thing for sure: I suck at keeping resolutions. Especially those that involve weight loss and/or dieting and/or exercise. So let’s just dispense with the “new year, new me” nonsense forthwith because that is not happening.

new-year-new-me

However.

I do have some plans for 2015, a few modest ambitions that may redound to my greater good if executed properly. A little determination, a little luck, a lot of persistence, and possibly by this time next year I’ll be able to pat myself on the back for all I’ve accomplished.

On the professional front, my single goal for the year is to grow my existing revenue streams and develop new ones. Business Management 101, in other words. I figure I need between 6 and 10 new steady clients to keep me in the black. I know that doesn’t sound like very many, but real estate photography is kind of a big-ticket item. The key word here is steady; I need clients who can consistently give me three or four jobs a month. I have some ideas about how to find them. We’ll see how it goes.

On the personal front, I am leaning toward leaving Weight Watchers soon because it makes no sense for me to pay $42 a month and not follow their plan. I don’t have a backup plan, though, and I don’t like what I’m seeing in the mirror lately.

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On the domestic front, I gave myself a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated for Christmas and my plans mostly involve cooking: using my new KitchenAid stand mixer, developing my knife skills to the point that I can make a decent tournée, learning how to make the five “mother sauces” of classic French cuisine (Béchamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise, tomate and velouté), and perhaps figuring out how to make decent beef and chicken stock (I’m not interested in ever making veal or fish stock). I would also like to try making bread, although for some reason the whole yeast thing kind of intimidates me. I definitely plan to keep getting my CSA box every week and sharing it with my neighbors because the only thing I enjoy more than eating is feeding other people—which is really saying something, considering how much I do love to eat. 😉

If I were going to make a resolution, it might be to figure out how to balance my passion for cooking with my desire to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. I’ve heard rumors that such a thing is possible, but I remain skeptical.

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And finally, on the spiritual front, I plan to appreciate my life, exactly as it is right now, and remember that every day is a gift. As my boy dog ages into his teens and my parents pass the midpoint of their 70s, I realize that we don’t have all the time in the world ahead of us anymore. No one does, of course. This world and this life deserve my attention and my appreciation minute by minute and day by day. That’s the only way to make the passing years mean anything at all.

 

Turning the page

We here at Going Forward (meaning: me) are pleased to be finally turning the page over from 2014, leaving behind us a difficult year stuck in the doldrums, so to speak, with high hopes for fair winds and following seas to support all our efforts in the coming year.

One thing I’ve been remiss in over the past 12 months is my blogging, and I hope to be better about that. I will tell you that I’ve been having my share of struggles, large and small, but I won’t tell you all the details because, you know, the internet. My focus on surviving and resolving those struggles has taken up a lot of my time and emotional energy, leaving little left over to talk about it all here. 

I completed my certification as a nursing assistant in February, and decided not to pursue any job opportunities in that field for several reasons. I have found the knowledge I gained very helpful in assisting my parents, however, and that is the whole reason I took the course so I consider the time well spent.

My weight has been bobbing up and down all year, gradually trending upward. I pay a handsome fee to participate in Weight Watchers each month, but can’t seem to motivate myself to follow the program. Not sure what I’m going to do about that, although I think my options are, essentially, to fish or cut bait. I’ve determined that part of why I am not feeling so great right now physically is my higher weight, and that I definitely feel better when I am about 20 lbs. lighter. It’s just a matter of finding the mojo to get myself there.

My darling doggies are, as ever, the lights of my life. Rudy had a tumor on his foot this summer that required the removal of a toe, but he’s fully recovered from that now as if nothing ever happened. Reggie has maintained perfect health and excellent behavior all year, and I’m very pleased with and proud of both of them.

My parents have been holding pretty steady, with a few mishaps here and there but generally okay. I had hoped my mother would be walking on her own again by last spring, but she took a fall in her garage a few months ago that has slowed her way down and it looks like the wheelchair might be here to stay.

On the business front, I branched out from product photography into real estate photography over the summer, and got a crash course in how to light a room properly (which is much trickier than you might think). This endeavor proved profitable and allowed me to acquire a bunch of new photography equipment, including lenses and lights, that have expanded my repertoire considerably. I hope to substantially increase this service in 2015.

At home, I have invested considerable time and treasure in my cooking practice, and that has been tremendously rewarding for me emotionally. I have been creating my own recipes and riffing with confidence on others’ recipes to create dishes that delight me—and as we know, I am a huge fan of my own cooking. 😉 I spent 10 days with my folks over Christmas and cooked many meals for them that they immensely enjoyed as well, so I seem to be doing it right! I recently finished reading Michael Pollan’s book Cooked, and gifted it to my mom and my brother-in-law for Christmas. My sister and mom have read it and they both say that it has changed their lives. I had the same reaction. Highly recommended.

Like 2013, 2014 ended on an unexpected, expensive and stressful note. In 2013, it was Rudy’s mysterious illness over Christmas vacation, and the keying damage to my car while I was visiting my parents. This year, we hit a deer on our way to my parents’ house, which disabled my car with a busted radiator but fortunately did no harm to us. The accident occurred roughly midway between my house and theirs, so I had to leave my car in the nearest town for 10 days to be repaired and got to drive a brand-new rented Hyundai Santa Fe in the meantime, which was actually a rather nice consolation. When we came through to retrieve my car on our way back to our home this week, the icy roads and snowy weather were so treacherous that we had to stay overnight there. I have never seen such horrendous driving conditions in 12 years of going back and forth over that road, and have never in 30 years of driving hit a deer. I am hoping my deer-strike clock will now reset and I’ll have another 30 years of no trouble!

And so we begin another fresh year. I am really hopeful that the hard times are behind me and I am so very ready to move forward on so many fronts. Rev the engine, pop the clutch, let’s blow this popsicle stand!

Happy New Year, everyone, and best wishes to all of you for a healthy and happy 2015!

the-time-is-now-lets-do-this

Summer philanthropy

You gardeners know how it is this time of year, when everything starts producing at once and you can’t keep up with the overwhelming numbers of zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, and whatever else you planted this spring. It just makes you want to give a big basket of fresh produce to everyone you meet!

My neighbor across the street put in a nice little garden in her front yard this year and it is producing as abundantly as ever one could hope. She got her kids to help distribute the bounty this afternoon while she was processing as many cucumbers as possible into pickles.

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Small Boy Child was not very happy about manning the “Free Veggies” booth by himself in the hot sun.

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When he saw my camera, though, he put on a sweet smile for me.

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This was the entire selection of “Free Veggies” — some very nice cukes. I got a couple of them myself (and a jar of pickles, too).

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Small Boy Child’s two elder siblings made him a new sign that more accurately described the available goods.

As the day went on, the produce stand moved into the nearby shade, where all three kids energetically promoted it, and they had a handful of visitors who insisted on paying for what they got. The kids made, I believe, $3 on the day.

Good work, kids.

 

And, we’re live

That email I was expecting so that I could launch my website didn’t arrive last night, so I had to contact the company to get it sorted, but sorted it is. And, we’re live tonight–come on over and take a look!

camera    www.shawprophoto.com

Of course, I am not a web designer by training or temperament, so there are no bells or whistles to be found on this site. Besides, I like clean, uncluttered layouts. Really a lot. When I have a larger portfolio and/or either better web design skills or the funds to pay someone who does, I plan to add a multimedia image gallery. Lots to look forward to.

So, I would like to ask a favor of those of you who follow this blog, all 162 of you dear sweet souls. 🙂 If you are on Facebook and you could visit my business Facebook page and Like the page, that would help me a lot. Even if only 1 in 10 of you Like it, I’ll be stoked, so please–be the one! And I promise, I will only ask you this once.

This is quite a big day for my little business, now that we’re out there on the internet where anybody in the world can find us. When I had another small business many years ago, the only comparable day was when the new local telephone directory came out with my ad in it. But back then, that single 1″ ad in the yellow pages consistently brought in 80% of my revenue, and a 1″ classified ad in the local university’s student newspaper brought in the rest. It was a simpler time.

We (and that is the royal “we,” not the plural “we,” of course) are ready to go forward in a big way with business and with life!

I've been checking my figures, hen, and I think you've got it in you to fly! ~ Mac from "Chicken Run" (slightly fabricated)

Anxiously waiting to launch

I’m in the process of launching my first professional website, and have to wait for a confirmation message from the host server before I can upload and go live. I have been sitting here biting my nails and refreshing my inbox every 30 seconds for the past hour and it still hasn’t arrived.

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I’m a nervous wreck, I’m tired, and I just want to get this done and go to bed!

By this time tomorrow, I hope I will be able to invite all y’all to stop by the site and tell me what you think of it. If I can stay awake long enough to get it done tonight. 😉

Letting my light shine

I had a consultation with a friend and potential client the other day about a project her women’s group wanted to hire me to do. They have a stock of handmade items they would like to sell, and they wanted me to build a unique e-commerce website, take all the product pictures, and write whatever copy was needed. For this, they offered 20% of all sales revenue.

At first, I was so excited by the idea of this nice, big, cool project, and I loved the products they were selling (the details are immaterial; suffice to say, everything is of excellent quality and really beautiful).

But then I did the math. Boy, nothing kills my buzz like doing math.

Total stock to sell is about 100 items altogether. That is 100 photographs to take, crop, color-correct, optimize for web viewing, etc., which represents a time investment of as much as 25 hours just by itself at 15 minutes per image, which might be high or low; I just picked a number. Then there’s the website to build, which, judging from my recent experience trying to build my own, would be a minimum of 30 hours for me to do (I am a photographer and a writer, and only incidentally and by necessity a hobbyist web designer). I have never built an e-commerce site and wouldn’t even know where to begin with that, so that would be an unknown number of hours in addition. The products range in price from $10 to $75, with an average price is $25. So the maximum revenue this venture could generate is $2,500 if every single item sold. My 20% of that would be $500, at best. Assuming I were able to complete all the necessary work in 55 hours, that comes to about $9 an hour. Knowing me, it would take a lot more time than that. And there’s no guarantee all the stock would sell, of course.

I had to tell my friend with tremendous regret and no small amount of guilt that I could not accept the job on those terms. Just taking the photographs for as little as $2 per image (dirt cheap) would come to $200, a figure she felt already exceeded her group’s resources. She was very understanding of my position and said she would take the pictures herself and post the products on eBay.

I walked away from the conversation feeling deeply ambivalent. On the one hand, any money is better than no money–was I a fool to turn down a paying gig, no matter how small? And, her group is a charitable organization, so was I just being selfish not to donate my services to them? On the other hand, I would have been taking on a project in which the primary deliverable was a website I don’t actually know how to build (yet). Hardly fair to the client.

What it comes down to, though, is that I place a certain value on both my time and my talents. For all the time and dollars I have poured into my business ventures, I simply cannot give my services away without tremendously motivating extenuating circumstances, which I just couldn’t see in this case (a temporary website that I would have to maintain continuously as stock sold out and then shut down entirely once stock was gone would have created an ongoing time commitment for months). I want to stress that it’s not that I don’t value either the client or the product, because I do. I wanted to work with my friend and I wanted to sell those items, and I believe that if her group had the means to pay me more for the project, they would, but they don’t. And to hand over dozens or hundreds of hours of my life in return for so few dollars, I could not do.

A good friend of mine recently started her own photography business, too, specializing in family and kid portraits. She is clear-eyed and businesslike about what she offers and what she charges, and she is polite but firm about not compromising her standards or her terms for anybody. At times I am kind of taken aback by her approach, but at the same time I realize that she is working to make money, and she cannot do that by giving anything away without getting something (for example, a referral or repeat sitting) in return. She’s smart, and she knows what she’s worth.

My greatest struggle is to ask others to pay me what I believe I am worth, either as an employee or as a contractor. I have a trunk full of skills and experience and credentials, I am not an amateur (except in web design, obviously) and I am not at “entry level” in my career. I have a lot to offer as both a professional and a human being. I deserve acknowledgement and recognition of that. But the fact is, I’m learning slowly the hard way, that I have to really believe that before I will ever convince anyone else.

This little episode has revealed a lot about me, some of which I would rather not see.

self-doubt

Being an entrepreneur is a daily challenge to put oneself out to the world and ask the world to pay for one to do whatever it is one does. It’s risky on so many levels, and so frightening. I’m struggling with that fear that makes me want to shrink back, get out of the game, stay anonymous, not ask people to pay me hundreds or thousands of dollars per project to do something I love to do and am really good at (there, I said it!).

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Facing and pushing through this fear is my greatest challenge right now, what my mother calls my “growing edge.” Every day, I get up and push on.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. ~ Marianne Williamson

Amen!