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The Assistant’s Manual: Making Yourself Indispensable with Alissa Zimmerman

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016



The Assistant’s Manual: Making Yourself Indispensable with Alissa Zimmerman

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the February issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Too valuable or rare to be replaced; not replaceable.

Extremely important and necessary; not subject to being set aside.

I always thought I wanted to grow within my role to a point where my boss considered me irreplaceable. While it is still nice to be considered irreplaceable, I’ve learned that having your employer view you as indispensable is that much more important to your career success—you are a necessary part of the company’s growth and success.

I’ve worked really hard over the past four years with my boss, Sal Cincotta. Here are the Top 10 tips I’ve gathered over those years for making yourself indispensable.

1. Be proactive.

Today’s generation of entitled millennials think that doing what’s expected of them is deserving of a gold star and a pat on the back at the end of every workday. Sal takes the time every night to put together our “Top 5” tasks for the following day. These are our marching orders, the five things he needs from us. Does that mean when you check off all of the items on your list that you’re done for the day? No. It means you’ve completed the tasks your boss assigned you, and now it’s time to start taking more from his or her plate. That is what will make you stand out as a key employee.

2. Be proud to sign your name to your work.

When the CEO of a company asks you to do something, there is an implied directive to do it with excellence. Think about it: The CEO is drowning. He has hired you because he needs help taking tasks off his plate. Your job is to perform those tasks with excellence. What is the point of taking the work off his plate if you’re just going to make him go back in and do it right, creating more work in the long run?

I have built trust with Sal over the past four years by doing just that. I take great pride in my work and my abilities. I want him to feel confident that when he hands something over to me, I will be able to complete it within 98% of what he would have done.

3. Anticipate the needs of your boss.

When I was first hired, Sal used to say to me constantly: “I need you to start anticipating my next move.” I had no idea what that meant. Did I need to become a mind reader? How the heck am I supposed to know what you’re going to need on a Thursday at 3 p.m. if it’s snowing outside? Don’t overcomplicate it. It really is as simple as taking the time to get to know the habits and routines of your boss so you can always be three steps ahead.

Many photo assistants spend most of their day doing administrative tasks rather than assisting on photo shoots. So it’s important to stay on top of your game. You want to really become indispensable to your boss? Read this, and make sure you understand the perspective: I have taken the time to get to know Sal so well that I am in a position to do the thinking for him, and he relies on me for that more than he’ll ever want to admit.

It’s the little things that matter most, too. He’s the CEO of a company that continues to grow at a seemingly never-ending pace. He makes big decisions all day. The last thing he wants to do is think more. So when he asks for a cup of coffee, I know to also bring him some kind of chocolate pastry to go with it. When he’s traveling alone, I know to send him a text with his hotel information so it’s readily available the second he lands, and he doesn’t have to go digging for information.

4. Understand the bigger picture.

I’ve talked about this in previous articles, how Sal runs this company very much like a football team: He is our quarterback, setting flags, assigning roles and delegating tasks to accomplish the end goal, as a team. Being a team player on our staff means coming in, doing your job with excellence, and being available and willing to take on more if you can.

Let’s take it a little further. Are you living in the day-to-day and completing your to-do list each day? Good job. Unfortunately, it’s not enough if you want to take your position in the company to a new level. Take a step back and look at everything going on around you. Seeing the big picture means you are aware of what the “flag” is and what steps you need to take to get there. Understanding the bigger picture, however, is what makes you indispensable. Once you understand the why and the how and every freaking wall you could possibly hit along the way, you’ll start changing the way you view the world, and your questions will be geared toward five years from now, not just today.

5. Be the expert.

Like most CEOs, Sal is extremely logical. When he hands over a task, he expects me to own it.

To be the expert in the eyes of your boss, take pride in your work and own your tasks from start to completion. If you’re going to half-ass something, don’t do it at all (though you’ll inevitably end up getting fired). Don’t back down from any task. Be able to logically and factually pro/con the available options. Prove to your boss that you’ve done the necessary legwork to come to your conclusion. Over time, after proving yourself to your boss consistently, you will gain trust and your boss will rely on you more.

6. Understand the importance of making sacrifices.

For most millennials, the concept of sacrificing anything for work is completely alien. Unfortunately, that’s the reality of life when you’re trying to build a career—especially if you want to be a core part of a startup.

Working weekends, late nights, giving up vacations and dinner plans are all sacrifices that show your employer you’re in it for the long haul. Your sacrifices are actions that prove to your boss that you take your job seriously and are the type of employee who has the passion and dedication to the company that every employer dreams of finding.

To any CEO who complains that finding good people to hire is a challenge: Do something about it. Be a living example of what you expect from your employees, and they will follow suit.

7. Beware of the dreaded “black hole.”

Ah, the black hole. We’ve all had to visit it at least once in our career to retrieve that task that was originally assigned to you that you delegated to Susie, who then delegated it to Bobby, and now here we are scrambling trying to figure out if it’s completed or not because the boss is down your throat asking for a status update. Yep, the black hole.

Stay on top of the things that are assigned to you—always follow up and close out tasks when they are completed. It’s one of the easiest things you can do as an employee, but seemingly the most difficult to execute consistently.

8. Solve problems, don’t create them.

Everyone needs to have basic problem-solving skills. But that’s the number-one trait lacking in almost every new person we try to bring onboard.

If you really want to be a valuable employee, learn how to figure things out on your own so you don’t need to be handheld every step of the way. It’s that autonomy that allows your boss to feel comfortable enough to let go and delegate more and more to you.

9. Have a good attitude.

Your attitude really is everything. I went through a dark few months awhile back where all I could focus on was the negative. Perspective is a beautiful thing—once I realized Sal had to have multiple sit-downs with me about what was going on, I knew something needed to change, and that something was me and my attitude.

Every day when I wake up, I have a choice. I have a choice to come into work and start my day off mad at the world, or I can come in happy to be alive, thankful to have the job and opportunities I have, and ready to attack the challenges that are thrown at me throughout the day. You have the exact same choice. Who wants to spend time with the person who mopes around the office, or the person who could snap at any minute? I know I don’t. People want to be around happy people. So be that happy person everyone wants to be around. It’s that simple.

10. Learn from your mistakes.

We all make them. Mistakes are inevitable—especially as you’re learning new things in your role. It’s what you do with those mistakes that determines if your boss will keep you around. If you make the same mistake over and over and over and nothing ever changes, chances are you will wind up back on the job market sooner than you’d expected.

It’s important to take time to reflect on the mistake that was made. Understand how it happened, and what you can adjust in yourself or your process to prevent it from happening again. If you learn from your mistakes, the likelihood of your making them again is much smaller.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the February issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Building Blocks: Cleaning House with Skip Cohen

Friday, January 1st, 2016



Building Blocks: Cleaning House with Skip Cohen


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


When we started the “Building Blocks” series, the whole idea was to keep providing you with ideas to help you build a stronger business. We’ve covered a lot of the key components, but now it’s January, when business is typically slow.


Just because business is quiet this time of year doesn’t mean you have to be! January is the perfect time to do a little house cleaning for the new year and at the same time make a little noise in your community. Just like a farmer planting crops in early spring, you’ve got an opportunity to plant a few seeds of your own.


It’s Time to Clean Out the Garage!


Every year, I spend at least one day cleaning out my garage. When I lived in Ohio, I always did this in the spring. It was an opportunity to get ready for better weather, hose the garage floor, get rid of all the winter dirt and reorganize everything for warmer weather.


You’ve got to do the same thing with your business, and that includes your office, paperwork and website.


What’s in that stack of papers on your desk? We’re all hoarders to some degree. Usually, it’s mail we put aside to read later on, but then we get busy. For many of you, it’s magazines you’ve saved and wanted to read, but never got around to. Get rid of those stacks now while you’ve got the time to review what you’ve saved.


Handle each piece of paper once. It’s advice a good buddy gave me back in the days before computers, the Internet and email. It’s not just about doing some house cleaning now, but should be ongoing. Read your mail and email, take whatever action is required and then move on. This is also the perfect time to clean up files on your computer, especially email.


Dated material. In that stack of papers, you are going to find things you need to respond to ASAP. For example, if you’re attending any of the 2016 conventions and trade shows, you’d better get moving on reservations, scheduling appointments, flights, etc. You snooze, you lose—so tackle things now before you miss out on some of the greatest programming in photography, especially with ShutterFest coming up.


Your network. A great network isn’t just about collecting business cards and names, it’s about building relationships. January is the perfect time to think about people in your network with whom you might have lost touch. Give them a call and make the time to get together at the upcoming conventions.


What-if marketing. January is the perfect time to think about things you want to do in 2016. There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming and coming up with ideas to create new business, market yourself and strengthen your brand. Kick back now and then, and just ask yourself, “What if?”


My garage, your website. Just like me cleaning out the garage, you need to do the same with your website.


Here’s the problem with my garage, which my wife claims is the same with my closet. I’m often in a hurry and can’t find something I’m looking for. When I do find it, I rarely put it back in the same place. I create clutter, not intentionally, but simply because I’m multitasking and moving too fast.


All of you have done the same with your website, starting with your galleries.


Too many images! Seriously, how many photographs do you think you need on your site? My recommendation is no more than eight to 10 in any one category.


Show only your best. Don’t fill your galleries with anything but “wow” images. A “wow” photo is so good you’d only have to show that one photograph to get hired. Your website galleries are about quality, not quantity. I’m betting that over and over again, many of you were rushed and dropped in images to your website without thinking about whether or not they were your best work, but you wanted to fill things up. It’s time to do some pruning.


Update your About page: The two most valuable pieces of real estate on your website are your galleries and About page. So, why do you have an old headshot or, even worse, a bad selfie with your bio? And why does your bio talk about your past instead of your love for working with your clients, capturing memories or the passion you have for photography? Share your heart. Share why you love being a photographer. Share what your potential clients want most to know—can you be trusted to capture the kinds of images they want to see?


Take advantage of the down time to reflect and rewrite your bio. Include an image or two of you with a camera in your hands working with a client.


Tweaking your skill set: Are you the best you can be? Okay, so it sounds like a commercial for the U.S. Army, but nothing could be more on target. January is a great time for you to experiment and keep pushing the limits of your skill set. Think about where your weaknesses are, and then take the time to turn them into assets for building a stronger brand.


This is also the perfect time to review the workshops you’re attending at upcoming conventions, and decide where you need the most help in expanding your skills.


Your blog: Great blogs don’t happen by accident. They’re about content and consistency. January is the perfect time to build up a stash of posts. Most important of all, remember your readers. You’ve got to share content they’re interested in, and it’s much more than just showing a few images from every family sitting or engagement session.


Help your readers better understand the value of professional photography. Help your readers to become better photographers. Help your readers get to know you. Remember, your website is about what you sell, but your blog is about what’s in your heart.


“If I can see the world through my client’s eyes,

then I can sell my client what my client buys.”

—Ed Foreman


Ed Foreman is a motivational writer and speaker who I first saw in my Polaroid days 30 years ago. I never forgot that statement. It’s not about putting yourself in their shoes, but about understanding what’s important to them and how they see the world. As you’re cleaning up your website and fine-tuning content for the new year, think about the demographics of your target audience. Give them what they want to see and read.


Self-discipline: Staying on course. I’m just like you. It’s hard to stay on course with any project when you’re being pulled in so many different directions. Right now, you’ve got time to be more creative. You’ve got time to stop procrastinating. You’ve got time to focus more than just your camera.


Create a timeline. What works best for me is sketching out a timeline. Because I’m old-fashioned, I love my whiteboard. I can keep updating it all the time, and it’s always there in my office reminding me what’s next on my list. So, whatever works to help you stay focused is what you need to turn January into a springboard—instead of a boat anchor.


I found this quote that perfectly makes my point:


Don’t always say, “There’s still time” or “Maybe next time”

because there’s also a concept of “It’s too late!”



Use January to analyze what you did right or could have done better last year. Then use the month to plan your year ahead. Don’t wait until it’s too late, and miss opportunities to grow your business and your art.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

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