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How Your Past “Irrelevant” Work Helps You Land Clients Now

I don’t usually shout during client calls, but I couldn’t believe what she’d just told me.

“You spent six years as a kindergarten teacher, and you don’t mention it once on your website?”

She blinked.  I laughed. 

“Okay, let’s look at your list of worries people have about spending money on a photographer.  What’s at the top?”

“That they’ll pay and then their kids won’t behave,” she said.

“Can you see that knowing someone worked with kids daily for six years has specific expertise that will ease their worry?”


We don’t write our website copy, or our bios, for the kick of relaying our life story (some of you remember the details on this from Irresistible You).

We write them to help potential clients understand why we are the right person to pay to do the job they need done

But we, like all professionals, have to grapple with the ‘curse of knowledge,’ or the tendency to assume that other people have the background needed to evaluate us.  We want to believe they will see our work, fall in love with it, and simply trust that we can produce it for them too. 

In reality, they might look at your portfolio and think:  “Sure, other people get great photos, but what about me with my wild kids / crooked teeth / specialty job?” 

When floundering over their web copy, many photographers decide they should talk about how they got into photography.  It can be relevant, sure.  But does knowing you developed film in a high school darkroom help a client trust that you’re going to handle their toddler?  Or would a better start to your bio be to share a funny moment from your six years in kindergarten teaching, then flow into how you’ve spent the past four years drawing on those skills as a family photographer?

(Of course, if you photograph high school seniors, and you integrate a senior’s hobbies into their shoot, then bringing up your own high school photography hobby makes sense.)

Linking past experience to your current work shows prospective clients the portfolio of assets you have to offer – and it’s not something anyone else in your area can usually replicate. 

Plus, your background may also offer a reassuringly familiar point of reference to clients who are trying to figure out who to hire.

But making these connections isn’t just about writing your bio – bringing together your skill sets can help you get free publicity, too.  I’ll tell you how in a second, but first, let’s get specific about how this applies to you.

Attention list-makers and post-it note lovers!  This will be fun.

Grab a pen, and the nearest paper:

  1. Make a quick list of the jobs you’ve held: 
  2. What practical or emotional skills helped you do them well? 
  3. Do any of those skills help you in your current work?  How?

A practical skill might be:  You used to run meetings with a dozen big personalities.  Now you use those skills to take charge and photograph large groups. 

An emotional skill could be:  You were the resident pro at settling nervous kids down on their first day of summer camp.  And oh look!  Those same techniques apply to getting kids to cooperate during family photos.

Now, on your website, rather than just making a claim:  “You don’t have to worry about whether your kids will behave – I’m great with kids!” 

You can back it up with evidence:  “As a former summer camp counselor, I understand how new situations can make kids nervous (or rebellious!).  But you don’t get through six summers of wrangling forty six-year-olds without learning flexibility and a few tricks along the way – all of which I use to make sure all kids have a great experience.”

This cross-pollination between your careers can also be used to get attention for your business.  Niche magazines, industry publications, and local sections of newspapers are always looking for twists on the same old stories.  Short articles that bring together unexpected areas of expertise can bring publicity and connections that can be better than advertising.

I can think of several publications that would be interested in an article like:

  • How Being a Waitress Prepared Me For A Career in Photography
  • How My Degree in Physics Makes Me A Killer Editorial Photographer
  • What I Learned About Photography From Six Years Running A Surf Shop

(Actually, dang, I want to read all of those articles.  Do me a favor and write yours, then send me a link, okay?)

Whether you’re spiffing up your website or pitching an article to get in front of a new audience, consider this:  How does your old expertise influence your new job?

The results can be much more convincing and productive than just focusing on your photography work alone.

Try it out!

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