One of the peculiar things about running my own business – I’ve discovered – is that things which I’ve previously found terminally boring have suddenly become relevant, interesting… even exciting!
I mean, a few years ago, if you’d told me that I could spend half an hour talking to someone about different types of , I’d have probably declined that particular invitation, and spent the aforementioned half an hour applying my nail polish. My, how times have changed!
So there I was last Saturday, travelling up to London on the train, heading with a certain – but only a certain – amount of reluctance, to the SWPP exhibition at the Metropole Hilton Hotel. I’ve been to plenty of these exhibitions before, sometimes as a photographer’s assistant who’s being dragged along like a kid going to the opera, and sometimes on my own as an enthusiast looking for a day out and a good poke around the latest equipment and gizmos… but this was the first time I’d attended such a beauty pageant as a self-employed photographer with several jobs behind me, many more in the offing and a few current.
Wow! What a difference a career makes (to paraphrase Stanley Adams)! Suddenly, all the exhibitors were of intrigue to me. I needed to see what they had, work out how it might fit into my schedule or workflow, look at their ideas (I would never nick any of their ideas of course. No, really I wouldn’t) and register with them for product catalogues and email updates. It turned out that now, all these products and exhibitors were talking my language, and I instantly saw the value and purpose of exhibitions and trade fairs like this. I had reason and purpose in talking to the exhibitors, and fascination in their products and services. It seemed to me that my eyes had been somewhat opened, and the time that I’d been talking to the exhibitors was time very well spent indeed. Some of the things that they had on offer were truly inspirational, but I had to see them with discerning eyes. On previous occasions I might have breezed past, looking more at the guy’s suit than the product he was trying to interest me in. But this time was different.
Trade exhibitions. Are they boring, dry, dusty affairs? No they’re not… as soon as you have a purpose and interest in the trade. I spent ages talking to people about paper, printers, cameras, lenses, lights, albums, tri-folds, acrylics, and I learned so much – about what was on offer and about how I could use it for my business.
It’d be unfair of me to single out one exhibitor over any other as to how they assisted me and provided me with advice and knowledge, but it’s true to say that going to the exhibition with ongoing projects in mind and more in the pipeline, pretty much all of them knew their stuff, were probably photographers themselves, and seemed keen to help make my business a success. Now, don’t get me wrong here. I know that these exhibitors are not charities and that they are there to make sales and a profit. But one of my regrets, at least on this occasion, is that I didn’t allow sufficient time to get round the exhibition and talk to all the relevant people. Having my business head on made such a difference, and caused me to actually talk to these people and see what it was that they were about. And many of them seemed concerned that my business should turn a profit. True enough – if my business doesn’t (or many other photographers’ businesses don’t) turn a profit, then neither will theirs – but the symbiosis which was evident was really rather charmed. I’d like to pay tribute to the SWPP and all the exhibitors at the London Metropole Hotel last Saturday. Thanks for your effort, advice and inspiration!
So.. am I an exhibitionist? Well, perhaps I won’t be blowing my life savings following trade fairs on tour. But hey, fellas… show me what you’ve got! 😉