Rising Over Mediocrity with Casey Dittmer
Comfortable. Safe. Predictable. Those words describe mediocrity. As do forgettable, mundane and basic.
It’s where most businesses—hell, most individuals too—love to live. Why push to be anything more? It’s sufficient, right? Staying within the lines, never deviating? Sounds boring as shit to me.
Bold. Risky. Memorable. Uncomfortable. Those words speak to me. They form the path that makes the few rise above the majority. Let me tell you—it’s way better up here.
Creating a path to greatness isn’t for the faint of heart. If it was easy, everyone would do it. No, this has to be a conscious decision—no luck, no happenstance. You have to want it. You have to plan it. You have to take it. These three key focus points will catapult you on your way to the top.
Don’t be afraid to swim upstream
I know we feel like everyone and their brother is a “photographer.” And social media has made this much more overwhelming for all of us. All you have to do is create a page, put the words “photography” next to your name, and voila, you are in business. So how do we compete in this sea of photographers? How do we overcome it all to stand out as great? It’s simple. Don’t compete. You heard me right. Just don’t. instead, change the conversation. When I started my company, 90 percent of the photographers in town were shoot-and-burn, giving or selling digital files. Providing prints and finished products was rare. But for me, having started in the film days and worked in a formal portrait studio, I hated the idea of handing over the digital files.
So I decided to not drown in the sea. I swam upstream, offering a full-service portrait experience. I identified the “norm” and then blew right past it! I made the conscious decision to stand out on service and the customer experience that we would provide from start to finish. I also accepted from the beginning that this would immediately turn some prospects away, but I knew that would be an overall good thing. If you called and you wanted a CD, I politely said, “Totally understand that we are not a great fit for everyone. We truly believe in the importance of the printed product. I appreciate you taking the time to check us out.” I practiced. Over and over, so that it was smooth and confident. I owned it. Some people appreciated that we stood by our products and changed their focus on what they thought they needed. Others hung up on us. It was ok. Not everyone was our client. But those who were have stuck with us over the years. They spend more money each visit, and they still have our images hanging in their homes. The others … I’m sure they have a drawer full of useless CDs.
This one stance made us immediately different. It made our client experience go from the same as everyone else’s to something unique and complete. As far as competing, we weren’t even in the same stadium as the other photographers at that point, because we had chosen to rise above. We don’t focus on competing—we focus on changing the conversation.
Being a rebel will pay off
Rebel isn’t a bad word. In fact, throughout history, rebels were the ones who pushed the boundaries and expanded horizons. They took rules that confined creativity and broke them, knowing that on the other side stood ingenuity.
Be brave. Taking risks and stepping outside of the normal flow of traffic is scary, but for me, standing still, not pushing, is even scarier. When you become stagnant, you die, creatively and in your business. This industry is always changing and pushing forward. You need to find ways to jump to the front, lead, and push. Don’t follow. Be aware of what others are doing around you, but don’t be consumed by it. Use it to fuel new, outside-of-the-box ideas. Open your mind to inspiration that can occur anywhere. Never rule something out as a possible outlet for growth. Some of the things you try will lead to great success. Others will lead to failure. Accept that. Not everything will work—how could it? But you will learn from each attempt. Take those little knowledge nuggets and try again. Each time, you will grow and strengthen in your quest to rise above the rest.
Force yourself to make time to shoot and experiment. It’s crazy how you can start in one direction and it will lead to a completely unexpected, wonderful place. Challenge yourself with new techniques, styles, and subjects. Only shooting for your clients will lead you into the world of the mundane—it’s easy, and sometimes it’s necessary, but it doesn’t have to be your prison. Setting time aside to refresh and feed your creative soul will provide you with new, stunning images that stand out to clients and re-spark your energy to continue your quest to greatness.
Never apologize. Take what is yours. That’s right, it’s yours, you just have to take it. Hungering to be more is often frowned upon. Why do you need to make waves? Can’t you just be happy with the status quo? No. To that point … hell no. I don’t want to have my work look like everyone else’s. I have no desire to just be another Pinterest clone. I refuse to fall into cliché filters, styles and gimmicks. I know my artistic voice. I know how hard I work every day. I know the sacrifices that must be made, and I am proud to have chosen the path to be better than everyone else. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best. I’m pretty sure my clients want me to be the best too. So why hide or whisper your plan? Shout it. Own it. Take it.
It’s ok to lean on your support network, too
They are rooting for you! You can’t do it alone. It may be your work team, family or friends who give you strength … whoever it is, never be afraid to lean on them for support, bouncing ideas and getting extra hands for those complicated creative shoots. We all celebrate when someone we love succeeds, so don’t feel guilty for raising a hand in need once in a while. Stop making excuses. It’s going to take work. A lot of it, and hard work, too. You will cry, you will get mad, you will feel defeated. But that doesn’t mean you stop. It is yours to take. You alone stand in your way. So take it. And never apologize for wanting it.
Rising above mediocrity isn’t something that everyone wants. And that’s ok. For some, the status quo is quite fine. Go, be a minnow. But to all my fellow sharks—Wake up. Eat minnows, scare other swimmers, and be a shark. They apologize for nothing.