Stop Worrying About Your Business Cards

In case you’re still more worried about your business cards and your website than your photography, Leila Courey, Art Buyer at Leo Burnett will set you straight:

I don’t mind if photographers want to bling out their promos for extra attention as long as the quality of the work goes along with it. What I don’t dig, is photographers spending what looks like a ton of money on business cards, expensive promos or portfolios meanwhile they really need to spend more time crafting their work.

When an artist is more established, or has been off the radar for a while, I can understand wanting to brand/re brand themselves to let it be known that they’re still available for assignment but even still, this won’t sway me. It’s all about the work.

Now that we’re clear on that, get out from behind the computer and go shoot something. [click the 'continue reading' link below]

[Via the awesome Heather Morton Art Buyer. Collage above was a rebranding study by Michael Clinard.

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64 Responses to Stop Worrying About Your Business Cards

  1. John Faherty December 2, 2009 at 8:21 am #

    Great read and good advice! Thanks Chase!

  2. OliverPoburski December 2, 2009 at 8:25 am #

    Amen.

  3. Riz Crescini December 2, 2009 at 8:26 am #

    Thanks for this important reminder!

  4. John Hildebrand Photography December 2, 2009 at 8:28 am #

    so true if your work is great than all the other stuff in a bonus. just spend the money on your shoots

  5. Cipaz December 2, 2009 at 8:29 am #

    This goes against what many says.
    Some says you should work on the photographer rather than on the photography. Other says they spend 80% of their time promoting their photography rather than shooting. Other says the value is not in the commodity which photography is, but in the way you run the business.
    Do we really think we are economically succesfull photographer just because our photography is better than others?
    Just my 2c.
    And sorry for bad english :-D
    max

  6. Stephan Mantler December 2, 2009 at 8:31 am #

    Yeah, my sentiments are what JS said exactly. People seem to worry about all sorts of stuff these days, EXCEPT improving their photog skills. Business cards, web presentation, having the latest and greates toys, the labels on their equipment, etc.

    None of that makes a better photographer. Only shooting does (and looking at others' work for inspiration, to a degree).

    By the way, Chase it seems that your blog entries appear in your twitter feed twice, via TweetDeck and via twitterfeed. Is that intentional?

  7. Wolfgang December 2, 2009 at 8:32 am #

    love your posts chase, just another one that says few, but tells a lot!

  8. aepoc December 2, 2009 at 8:33 am #

    Very true JS. I tend to like to make my own actions, that way it's sort of my style. Shooting is SO important, and I'll be the first to admit that I'm stuck behind my computer editing a lot of the time (shooting hockey means you take lots of shots to get very few goodies). I really need to start shooting more.

  9. francesco December 2, 2009 at 8:34 am #

    Chase, I second that advice, just came back from shooting for myself and for the fun of it. :-)

    However, right after that comment by Leila Courey on "stop worrying about your business cards", Heather quotes Michael Clinard's on his own "journey" into branding (and it's a very interesting read indeed), and finishes her post with:

    "[...] developing your vision and producing good work is of ultimate importance, I am a believer that good branding and the way you approach a project can tell me a lot about what my working experience is going to be like with you [...] "

    It'd be very interesting to learn more about your own take on this topic. (if you already posted something about it, I apologize, I'm kind of new around here :-) )

  10. Emon December 2, 2009 at 8:36 am #

    She's right. It makes no sense to spend a ton of money on business cards. Spending a little time to design one is, yes, necessary.

    I've found business cards to be a great way for someone else to recommend you – offline. In that case, the card has to make someone want to check out your work.

    In essence, spending a ton of money on cards and promos, niet!

    Spending some time designing a simple business card that stands out, da!

    All the above, agreeing with the good peeps, is null and void if the work sucks. Then your promo and cards are just a giant shovel being handed out to help you dig yourself in.

  11. Aaron December 2, 2009 at 8:39 am #

    I've been putting off my business cards for so long and after reading this makes me wonder when I will actually go through with it.

  12. Jürgen Banda-Hansmann December 2, 2009 at 8:48 am #

    I believe, as in many instances it is a question of balance. If I am more concerned about the look and feel of my business card or portfolio or Web site, something would be clearly wrong in the way I approach my business.

    Having said that, I made the experience that a professional presentation of myself as photographer with proper business cards and a Web site that displays my attitude to my work go in hand in hand in getting business.

    I spend a fair amount of time in my business in developing my craft and knowledge of photography, but also develop myself in the business aspects of it, where presentation plays a role.

  13. matthew l yons December 2, 2009 at 8:50 am #

    Nice post. I love some of the creative business cards I see these days. I won't, however, cast off the need for putting some thought into the look and feel of your card. Sometimes, particularly in the creative field, it's the first impression you're able to make with someone.

    I do feel, however, that too many people now seemed to be more focused (obsessive) on getting online and creating a good marketing. Meanwhile, they lack a body of work commensurate with the flash of their cards or websites.

    I am guilty of this at times, and have recently decided to take a step back. I'm showing less of my work on my site, and am committed to further developing my skills. I want my website and business cards to reflect the photographer I am, not the photographer I want to be.

  14. Jason Collin Photography December 2, 2009 at 8:53 am #

    Business cards are a concern of mine as my current business card (of which I still have like 500 of) does not have my new logo (designed a few months ago) nor does it have a portrait photograph on it. My main paid photography work is in portraits. I designed the cards first when I lived in Japan so one of my photos of Mt. Fuji is on it.

    No doubt my card looks distinct in the U.S., but just worry it doesn't scream portraits!

    I feel too a person's photography skills do not necessarily directly relate to their ability to earn as a photographer. Sometimes it almost seems like the quality of the work is an afterthought, and the marketing and promoting is all the customer sees. That is, the customer that has not seen other work to compare it to does not know the photographer is all marketing, not about producing the best possible images their money could buy.

    Hmm, not eloquent, but do you guys know what I mean?

  15. Danny Sherman December 2, 2009 at 8:54 am #

    Thanks for passing this along Chase! Definitely what I need to be doing… less Photoshop work and more shooting!!!

  16. Ryan December 2, 2009 at 9:07 am #

    For business cards just go to Moo. Pick 50 of your best shots (or whichever best represent the work you're trying to get). Customize the text and you're done. Print quality & stock is awesome, delivery is super quick & price is right. I get a ton of comments on my cards whenever I hand them out…

    Great post Chase… thx

  17. slappy77 December 2, 2009 at 9:07 am #

    Photography is like any other business, everything needs to be done well to work well. Branding, business cards, websites, advertising and networking get your name out to those who go lloking for someone like you. To get customers your work / product needs to be good. To get return customers your work / product needs to be good and above all, your service needs to be absolutely top class. Shoddy service = bad rep = quick death of your career.

  18. Sebastien Benoit December 2, 2009 at 9:08 am #

    But I actually like working on business cards :\ haha. Am I supposed like photography?

    I agree with where Chase is going with that, but if it feels good, do it.

  19. Jen December 2, 2009 at 9:09 am #

    Good advice! Though, on the other hand, I've got jobs before solely because people thought my business cards were "cute" (MOO cards).

  20. Otto Rascon December 2, 2009 at 9:12 am #

    Thanks for this posting Chase. It really is all about the work in a sense. Having great marketing material is for sure a good thing. But if the work you are trying to market isn't any good then that marketing is just like smoke and mirrors. Thanks for sharing and starting some dialogue. Rock on!

  21. Mitch Moquin December 2, 2009 at 9:29 am #

    I think too much was left unsaid here. I'm getting more business cards done right now. I think my quality of work is pretty well above the standard but I still have vast room for improvement. However the thing is I'm stuck in a small market where I've ACTUALLY established myselph as a shooter. But still no business. I see this whole thing as more of a reminder maybe to not forget what the true importance of our job is. I guess it would've just been nice to get a little more help on branding and the like instead of being told that's not what I need. I need to be seen. What do you guys think?

  22. Rockhopper December 2, 2009 at 9:39 am #

    its just a blooming piece of paper with your name on and contact details. Nuff said,

    I have got a job with a post it note, my biggest client.

    you are hired as a photographer not a graphic designer.

  23. girlshawn December 2, 2009 at 9:42 am #

    I personally subscribe to the same school of thought.

    My business cards came from a free place and it was awesome, no thinking, just add in the information and leave the rest to them.

    Now I spend all day thinking about setting up creative shots.

  24. Gringom December 2, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    As some rap artist said "Don't pay attention to the brand of the pencil, make sure it is sharp"

  25. David December 2, 2009 at 10:20 am #

    Well said. As long as you have something clean and professional, let your work speak for it self.

  26. Ryan Brenizer December 2, 2009 at 10:35 am #

    My business cards suck. I've had other photographers laugh at them. But I have more clients than I can possibly handle.

  27. Juha Ylitalo December 2, 2009 at 10:59 am #

    50 business cards and/or 100 minicards from MOO gives you nice way to experiment how many you really need on weekly/monthly/yearly basis.
    I still have some MiniCards left from my first batch, because my contacts usually send business cards over e-mail and/or mobile phones (then again my dayjob is in IT instead of photography) instead of traditional business cards.

  28. Anonymous December 2, 2009 at 11:57 am #

    total crap. sorry for the anon, but this is bad advice and I feel that criticizing it will garner unfriendly attention from the more zealous posters.
    When i sat down and looked at who's getting work near me, i found their photo skill desperately lacking, and the marketing skill far ahead of mine. After analysis I've concluded that I've shot enough. I know my tools and I know my craft. I need to convince other people that I know it, and that doesn't happen with self-printed cards, or cheapos that make me look like a low-rent CPA.
    The card is the life. it's the FIRST impression and it needs to convince people that there's going to be something worthwhile if they type in your URL. Yes, absolutely make sure there's some great work there, but if you can't get someone to come see you, it doesn't matter how good your work is.

  29. Michael Adkins December 2, 2009 at 12:11 pm #

    Time is always your enemy know it well, use it well. If you have time give it back to the photographic community by sharing like Chase does. We learn so much from him I would hate to see him post any less. But hay, blogs and web sites really do not pay the bills. Take care and good shooting. Photography is a lot about heros. So Chase, who do you follow?

  30. Graham December 2, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

    Branding consistent with your vision is very important when you are trying to sell your work to designers and ADs. But always keep in mind 'vision before visibility'.

    However if you've got the dough to shoot lots and print gilded tri-fold promos mailed in hand knitted envelopes then go for it.

  31. Anonymous December 2, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

    I have to agree with the dissenters on this one. Chase, you of all people must understand the importance of marketing yourself. I recall various marketing materials you've mentioned in the past (coasters come to mind immediately.) To the poster who commented 'my cards are crap but i've got more clients than i know what to do with' – this is obviously NOT because of your cards. Chances are you have been doing this for a while and the card isn't what is getting you noticed or not. Much like Joey Lawrence – whether his work is good or not is irrelevant. He has been noticed and that's all it takes. More to that point, he argues that marketing yourself is the majority of the battle. If you lived in the same town as him (or chase for that matter) and are trying to get started… they're going to get the call not you, no matter how outstanding you work actually is! If i were looking for a printer to get cards made, i'd get online and order some from a site that looks decent, produces good quality and all in all seems to be a 'quality' company. That said, the best printer in the state might be around the corner and i'd never know it. Marketing is where it's at.

  32. Marc Altman December 2, 2009 at 12:34 pm #

    I think it's important that we thank Michael Clinard for sharing his branding process with us. It’s great to get an in-depth perspective into an emerging photographer trying to establish their “brand”. While I agree that it should go without saying that a photographer’s work is the ultimate judging point, it’s very important to have a consistent look to accompany it. Michael, keep up the good work.

  33. Chase Jarvis December 2, 2009 at 12:50 pm #

    @ anon (11:57). two things.

    1. put your name and profile on your posts. you're super close to not making the cut due to your persistant anonymity. often times LOVE what you're saying, but the recent increase in anonymous blah blah is wearing thin.

    2. here's my point with this post: the post is NOT "don't have a business card" or "don't have promos". The point is that there is no substitute for good pictures. Slick marketing never go anyone hired unless they could take a decent photo in the first place. Keep in mind there is a spectrum to all these statements and that "good pictures" is largely subjective. BUT you can't call bullshit when the fact remains that photographers get hired first and foremost for their photographs. That's what Leila Courey said in the quote, and that's what I'm backing here.

  34. Chase Jarvis December 2, 2009 at 12:52 pm #

    from anon: "marketing yourself is the majority of the battle".

    Only if you're a good enough photograher to be considered. That's what I'm talking about.

  35. Nick December 2, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    Ha! If you are just starting out you won't be getting calls from the caliber of clients Chase deals with. Period. Don't kid yourself. Agencies putting out tens of thousands of dollars aren't going to go check out your Flickr page and ask you to shoot an international ad campaign. I think the reason this conversation is so disputed is comments are coming in from a wide range of photo markets. This will be relevent in varying degrees depending on where you are, what you shoot, and who your target audience is. If you want to work for the best agencies in the world or if you want to shoot high volume portraits for 80 bucks and be the best photographer listed in your cities "creative services" section of Craigslist, or an exclusive niche photographer, its going to have a different level of accuracy. Cheap clients will always be cheap clients. The bottom line is, in the long run, the body of work is king.

  36. Alastair December 2, 2009 at 1:54 pm #

    Interesting post, one I don't disagree with. I've never had a business card and I've still managed to get plenty of photography and non-photography work (I'm not a pro photographer).

    The Anonymous posters who are banging on about the business card being the FIRST impression.

    That's bollocks. YOU are the first impression! A fancy, schmancy business card is going nowhere if a. you're an asshole and b. you can't take a good photograph.

    Surely your business card should be the last thing you give to your client or potential client! If a client judges my work on the basis of my business card (of which I still don't have), then it's probably a client that I don't really want to deal with.

  37. John Classen December 2, 2009 at 2:00 pm #

    Up until yesterday, photography was a full-time job (employed by someone else) photographing high-end antiques and a part-time, and occasionally paying hobby for myself, and then at 8.15 AM I was let go, "the result of the current economic climate" or so I was told.

    After packing up my stuff (thank goodness I own my own camera, a few lenses and computer), I made my way to a restaurant and had a rather sombre breakfast, commiserating over a plate of eggs, bacon, toast and coffee that lacked a serious tot or two of alcohol :) I was unemployed! And then it hit me. I wasn't unemployed. I was self-employed. I had registered an LLC a few months ago, have a decent website, good supportive friends, and all I needed now were paying clients. After all, I have the ability and skills honed over 7 years to take excellent photographs, photographs that will make any client thrilled and excited!

    While the day started off on a bad note, the good news is that my company is open for business. I have been published in Veranda Magazine, PaperCity, Luxe, Houston Chronicle, Neiman Marcus Catalog and elsewhere. I love doing commercial product shoots as much as I do portraits, food, interiors and events.

    I am a fighter and we move forward with courage, hope and tons of tenacity.

    All in all, business cards will help me, but in the end, it's my work that will carry the day.

    I solicit your prayers, encouragement and guidance.

    John

  38. Peter Karlsson December 2, 2009 at 2:53 pm #

    John,

    So right. Good luck to your business!

    I wouldn't judge a photographer after his business cards; idiots do this, so go ahead and choose your type of clients with business cards or your actual work; resulting in clients interested in your image or your images.

  39. Don December 2, 2009 at 4:24 pm #

    I loved this post at Heather's when I read it this morning. I totally agree with it.

    What I don't understand is how someone can read what was said, and think that she was saying that it didn't matter 'at all'… of course it matters.

    Her point was at what level it becomes over the top. Not that you should not try to create a brand that sells you, or that you should design your business cards in paintbox and print them yourself.

    Indeed, there is a hell of a jump between 'marketing' to an art buyer at a major agency and marketing to the local senior high school market. I would rather think that the art buyer would be more impressed by the work, while the latter may be more impressed by the package. Not scientific, just my observation.

    It is important to market, to create a persona, brand and presentation that shows your work in the best light. But spending months deciding between two fonts and what PMS color the background should be is wasted time.

    Focusing on the detail of the tiny misses the larger picture of getting something NICE out there. I also don't remember her saying it didn't have to be well presented.

  40. Chase Jarvis December 2, 2009 at 4:34 pm #

    @ don. amen.

  41. Watson December 2, 2009 at 7:39 pm #

    As for cards, something decent is always better than nothing. There is no reason why any creative should not have a b-card or leave-behind. They are so cheap to order online.

    Try your best, but don't stall, and don't over think it. Otherwise, you will never get that stuff printed.

  42. Phat Baby Photographer December 2, 2009 at 7:51 pm #

    Marketing is what get's people's attention. Good work is what lands the gig once you have their attention. You really need both to be successful… in any business.

    That being said, I'll use this post as a convenient excuse to postpone ordering new business cards.

  43. Stuart Key December 3, 2009 at 2:05 am #

    We should definitely spend more time shooting… and less time browsing youtube, strobist.com, chasejarvis.com, etc. etc.

    And definitely less time posting comments on blo……..

  44. Al December 3, 2009 at 4:08 am #

    I think everybody should listen Kevin Swan's interview at F-Stop Beyond. He is marketing genius and makes a very clear point on this.

    http://fstopbeyond.tv/2009/03/fsb070-kevin-swan/

  45. Anonymous December 3, 2009 at 4:24 am #

    Hi Chase,

    Interesting article. I have not long opened a studio, and if I ignore the marketing aspect, I will simply never have any work. As such, 95% of my time is spent on my web sites, ad campaigns, client acquisition etc etc. I would LOVE to spend more time doing what I love, which is taking photos, but without the other aspects in place, it's hopeless. Been open 4 weeks and counting…:)

    J.

  46. Chase Jarvis December 3, 2009 at 5:42 am #

    Please notice that the subject of this post is not "don't market". The quote from the burnett art buyer is a reminder that we need to have our craft NAILED before we start making slick marketing materials. Because if you have slick marketing material and no real solid work to stand on you just won't get hired even if you manage to get someones attention. Not only that, but if the visit ur brand because of some slick makeeting and your work is crap they're NEVER coming back because they filed you as crap.

  47. matthew d. lyons December 3, 2009 at 12:29 pm #

    Just dropping back in to read updates. This post kind of hit me in the head about some issues–more generally–I have about growing in the profession. I'd appreciate comments and feedback.

  48. Jarle December 4, 2009 at 4:18 am #

    Well said. Unfortunately, in real life, it's not that simple. You can be the best photographer in the world, but that doesn't help if you're unable to showcaseyour work in a professional manner. There are plenty of great photographers that never make it, and vice versa: mediocre photographers that are very successful (commercially, at least).

  49. David December 4, 2009 at 10:11 am #

    Hey Chase, if you haven't already…you've got to check out this video about a business card. LOL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YBxeDN4tbk

  50. michalfanta December 5, 2009 at 5:22 am #

    Thank you very much for this post! It is too easy to fall into this problem.

  51. Areil Photographer December 9, 2009 at 2:33 am #

    Sounds like you should take this advice too Chase…quit blogging and making you're self out to be be some boy-band pop star photographer and make some images that are actually awe-inspiring. I've yet to see this from you…something that takes some craft, some skill…not just a bunch of ski photos and weird Seattle people!!!

    • Emptyhouse July 7, 2010 at 11:52 am #

      I, for one, think Chase Jarvis provides readers with some pretty awe-inspiring content (Creative Live comes to mind). No need to dog the guy for sharing advice on how to better the craft. We need more pros like him.
      By the way, if you’re going to scold the guy, you should at least check your grammar: “yourself,” not “you’re self.” ; )

      • Nick Lopez July 7, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

        I agree… and have the stones to use your real name. Chances are you don’t have the work to back up the smack.

  52. Royce Bair - free stock photos blog December 9, 2009 at 4:02 pm #

    Totally agree with Leila's assessment:
    "…meanwhile they really need to spend more time crafting their work."

  53. Susam December 20, 2009 at 11:16 pm #

    i really like the article, it's feel like i need to go out for shooting now.

    thanks!

  54. Anthony June 23, 2010 at 7:39 am #

    I couldn’t agree more. Promotions can only get you so far if you don’t have the creativity or talent or service to back it up.

  55. Karl July 7, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    maybe a well designed promo is what you need to become *more* established

    of course what photographers spending money on expensive shit need to understand – they should also be doing their homework to why they need that expensive shit. goes for anything lenses camera bodies lighting

    when used aptly and properly – they can make up that needed ooomphf

    but the main thing that a lot of photographers lack before doing anything – thinking

    if you have a car, you don’t just “decide” to go to the dealership and buy a new one just because you figure you might be able to afford it if you make the payments for 5 years and can guarantee you will make the payments. usually you will shop around, mull over it, think about it, consult with your partner about it, shop around more, generally think about it over it for a long time to see if you can budget it into your lifestyle.

    photographers without marketing plans is what i feel Leila Courey makes this note, of course only her opinion, and of course met by the readers

    my lack of punctuation and capitalization is purposeful

    will you take this post in the same regard as someone who uses better grammar because of it? :-)

  56. Iraklis January 21, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    How brilliant advice! Congrats for the post and for sharing it with others! I would appreciate very much a visit from you at my new blog about business cards!

    In this blog you are going to find tips, advices, creative ideas, market research results, special offers and discount codes from Printing Companies. Check it out at: http://diveintobusinesscards.wordpress.com I am eager to receive your feedback!

  57. Larissa June 7, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    i´m feeling better now, after reading this….thanks Chase!!!!

  58. WINDSphotography July 8, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    Hmmm,amazing remarks,well directed.How i wish folks frm my region,West Africa could read this posts.The truth is we give more than needed attention to the container rather then content all in d name of packaging,misplaced piority.Have been having issues on how best my business card should appear for a very long time,till now not been able to come to conclusion,but now i’m relief.Thanks guys!More of this…

  59. nathan else April 10, 2012 at 12:25 am #

    I take your point and could not agree more. However for the photographer who is at the point where they really do need a business card, as a designer I have to stand up and say ‘paper in hand’ matters.

    From this perspective I think it is worthwhile to look at the same approach, managing your time and keeping your objectives in perspective, but dedicating some time and effort, or resources, into a brand. Whatever that may be. A simple card with your name, website, and contact info is all you need. And the wonderful thing about this thing we do, now I am a photographer, is our individual and unique style.

    Your card does not need to be anything fancy. I am in the process of revamping my entire universe (it seems) but this is what (me) the designer tells (me) the photographer:

    “Put your name and website in a font you like. Maybe two. Add a simple element like subtle color, graphic or texture to add interest.

    No images on the front of your card. Keep it simple and clean and if you want images on your card, pick several, put them on the back, and print them through Moo.com”

    For me everything is about the website, so the card is simply one more tool to get that info into people’s hands. If you ant to know what I charge, what I create, where I come from, and how to reach me you go to my site. My card will is one of many tools I use to get people to my site. SEO and WOM being two others.

  60. Emile Cainion February 14, 2013 at 6:17 am #

    Netter Place of duty und schoene Site.

  61. Grisel Shoun March 10, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    I do agree with all the ideas you have presented in your post. They are very convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are too short for newbies. Could you please extend them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.

  62. Asia Silla May 15, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

    This article is actually helpful. I’m able to override author’, email’ and url’ default settings, but I’m not able to override comment_field’, it is getting duplicated, i.e. the default textarea is also appearing with my custom comment textarea. Any help would be appreciated.

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