Small Business Resources, Solutions and Tactics with Outdoor Business Consultant Jim Thomsen [EP 214]
“the most critical thing that you should be doing right now is conserving cash and make sure you save that cash”
“the most critical thing that you should be doing right now is conserving cash and make sure you save that cash”
One of my daily reads each morning is The Hustle. They have some interesting News and Stories. I thought this Q & A with Tim Ferriss by KAMRAN ROSEN was great. Tim has a bunch of interesting, crazy things he is always up to.
I really like Tims thoughts on how he chooses projects:
Check out the full interview over at The Hustle
“Be brave and say yes!”.
On a recent episode of The Outdoor Biz Podcast Shannon Walton gave folks some great advice for getting into the Outdoor Biz. You can listen to our conversation on The Outdoor Biz Podcast Episode 003 and read the show notes here.
From Mountain Guiding and cooking to teaching Yoga and sailing, Shannon has followed her heart. As she says,”Being you is the bravest thing you can do.” Listen to your heart. Your heart is your inner guide and it will lead you on the right path for you. Do something that makes your heart sing. Do something that reflects how you want to show up in this world. Like that Hellen Keller quote: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
Rick: Do you have any advice or suggestions for young folks or folks in general wanting to get into the biz or get involved in the outdoor side of things?
Shannon Walton: Well, all I can say is just do it. Not to steal from Nike but just … My whole life has been about following my heart and saying yes. When I haven't been able to say yes, utilizing what's around me to figure out what's next. I'd say just “be brave and say yes”. I do notice in the outdoor industry in the last few years that a lot of the young people were coming in because it was cool. Not because they came from hardcore outdoor. I found that fairly interesting. I think as I've seen a lot of those folks grow up now in the outdoor industry they are getting out and they are finding it. I think they are following their hearts.
A recent post on Forbes.com written by Kurt Kaufer explains four benefits of podcast advertising, one example is “the hosts of these podcasts are “objective” influencers (not the brands pushing their own messages) and their listeners value their opinions on whatever topic”
Social Media has impacted photographers and photography in ways those in the photography industry are still learning about and coming to grips with. The explosion of images and video being shared in the past 3-5 years has changed how photographers work and brands interact with consumers.
On a recent episode of The Outdoor Biz Podcast I caught up with Photographer Stephen Matera to discuss his thoughts on how Social Media has impacted his workflow. You can listen to our conversation on The Outdoor Biz Podcast Episode 002 and read the show notes here.
Combining a passion for all things outdoors with a unique creative eye, Stephen creates images for the world’s leading outdoor manufacturers and publishers. He developed his vision as a natural landscape photographer, and now applies that creative vision to active outdoor and lifestyle images.
Rick: Let's talk about how social media has impacted your workflow. I'm sure it's changed how you promote yourself, but has it changed how you work with the brands? Are they requesting a different set of images for social media use?
Stephen Matera: It's a great question, because I think we're in the middle of another big shift in the photography business. The first one I'm referring to is say eight or nine years ago when digital started to become a useful tool, and it opened up photography to so many people who either hadn't done it because of the logistical challenges of shooting slides and submitting those which was just too much work the technical challenges of shooting. Digital made it a lot easier for a lot of creative people who were turned off by the technical side of photography. Now a lot of those creative people can just go out and shoot, and learn digital in a way that they couldn't with film.
Rick: That's interesting, the technical side of it has made it easier. You can go in and use three or four presets, and boom, your image is done, whereas you don't have to know Photoshop or Lightroom. It's good if you do know these tools, but it's much simpler in a lot of ways.
Stephen Matera: Yeah, it's absolutely true. And digital, you can correct a lot more exposure issues in post than you could with film. So that was the first big change, I think, that brought a lot more people into photography and into the business. I think social media is upending the whole business model. I shouldn't say the entire business model, because there's a lot of photographers, myself included, who are still earning a living as a photographer the traditional way. But what social media is doing, especially Instagram, is allowing photographers to make money off of social media. That's how they earn income. They build a huge following, and clients will pay them to go out and shoot and drop their name in a post. If you've got 300,000, 400,000 followers, that's like a direct line to your client's customers.
Rick: Well, and it seems like it's created two levels of photographers. Right? There are guys like you who still do the catalog shoots and all of those kinds of things. Then there are also this social media brand ambassador who goes out and maybe doesn't have all of the equipment and level of experience you have, but still gets great images with their phone. Those tend to be used more for social media, from my perspective and talking to brands and other photographers.
Stephen Matera: Yeah, I think that's true. But I would also say that a lot of these guys who are just shooting for social media are actually using serious cameras now.
Rick: Okay. So that's changed.
Stephen Matera: I think that's changed in the past couple of years. Some of the guys I know they did start off with their phone and they realized if they want to do this right they need to get real cameras.
Rick: That's good, because they do get better images with a good camera. I mean, the phones take great images, don't get me wrong, but I think still you can't beat a traditional camera.
Stephen Matera: So much more creative opportunity you can do with a camera than you can with a phone. I have a good buddy who is a landscape and wildlife photographer, a very talented and creative guy. He and I both shoot the Sony a7R II, which is 42 megapixels. He's got a pretty sardonic personality, and he likes to say, “We're shooting 42 megapixels for Instagram.” I'm doing it for more than that, but his point is it's overkill. The technology has become so good, and people are looking at it on their phones.
Rick: Yeah, right that's interesting.
Stephen Matera: Social media for me, while is growing, but I was really slow to dive into it, and reluctant. I was initially scared off by the terms of agreements of Facebook and Instagram where it looked like you were signing your life away just to post. While it seemed smart at the time to be cautious, I think in retrospect it's like, “Okay, these companies are really not giving images away. While we are giving those rights away, it's not like they're out there reselling our images.”
Rick: Not yet anyway.
Stephen Matera: Not yet. I guess it's possible. But it's become such a force in the business that it's necessary to have a social media presence. So about two years ago is when I really started to put some effort into it. I missed a lot of the opportunity by waiting so long. Now I'm playing catch-up. For me, social media serves two purposes. One, is just kind of building a brand and a presence. I will find that I'll get some interest in potential commercial work through that, and I didn't get into it planning on that. I thought, “Nobody's going to hire me for commercial work from Instagram.” But there is a little of that. I imagine if I keep growing it I will get a lot more of that.
I haven't had anybody ask me yet … No, sorry. That's not true. I have been approached and asked to do some social media advertising. I've done one with somebody who's now sponsoring me. It's a company called Cotton Carriers, but I'm kind of reluctant to do that at this point. Part of it's my personality. I like the idea of not advertising. But part of it, I think I just want to keep it clean for a while. If that makes sense? I don't know if that's the right word.
Rick: No, I think it does. I think guys your age and my age, we're the older, not the oldest, but the older guys of the group, and we don't have that same view of social media and throw it all out there that some of the younger photographers do. I mean, they just throw everything out there on social media. I think those of us that have … I'm going to say over 50 for sure, maybe over 45, 40, have a little bit more exclusivity about it. We don't want everybody to know what we're doing all of the time. It's interesting.
Stephen Matera: Yeah, it's very counterintuitive. I'm not a natural self-promoter.
Rick: Yeah, same here.
Stephen Matera: That's not a good character trait to have as a photographer.
Stephen Matera: I mean, I actually wrote a blog post about how I do social media kind of like, kick and screaming, and I'm reluctant to do it.
Rick: Well, it's good you're seeing positive results. That's the best reinforcer, right?
Stephen Matera: Yeah. You know, one thing I didn't expect and I'm seeing is, I do landscape photography as well, and I'm getting some regular requests for print sales that I didn't before.
Rick: That good.
Stephen Matera: Yeah. That's a little tricky, right? Because what I'm used to charging for print sales is different than what people are expecting.
Rick: Yeah and print sales, everybody says is all but dead. I mean, I sell maybe two prints a month.
Stephen Matera: Yeah. I'm not doing a ton, but it's more than I used to. I don't count on it for income, but it's a nice little check here and there.
Rick: Yeah, a little bonus. Is it mostly businesses that reach out to you? Offices and hotel chains and things?
Stephen Matera: More personal stuff.
Rick: Personal stuff, that's good to hear.
Stephen Matera: Yeah. I think the National Geographic Travel Instagram exposure I get helps with that as well.
Rick: Yeah, it's a broad audience, right.
Stephen Matera: Nat Geo pretty much owns Instagram. It's amazing how big a presence they are, and to be associated with them has helped me tremendously. Social media, I think you can't ignore it. I'm still trying to figure it out, and pretty much putting all of my energy for that into Instagram. I went to a Telluride photo festival thing a couple of years ago that my stock agency Tandem was a part of. There were these editor panel discussions where editors from certain magazines were just discussing a lot of different things. They were talking about social media, and one of the editors said flat out, “Facebook to me is dead, all I look at is Instagram.”
Rick: That's what I hear from a lot of people.
Stephen Matera: Yeah, that was an eye-opener for me. I mean, this was a couple of years ago now.
Rick: Right, so it's got even bigger now.
Stephen Matera: Yeah, exactly. I'm like straight from her mouth to my ears. It actually got into my brain, my neanderthal brain, but I need to do this.
Rick: And do you do it all yourself? Or do you have anyone who helps you?
Stephen Matera: I'm pretty much running it. I'm not to the point where I have that, although, I love the idea of having somebody do it for me.
Rick: Yeah that'd be great.
Stephen Matera: “Here's some photos. Make me sound profound and interesting.”
Rick: It's interesting too, I've been doing a bit of stock work and Aurora Photo tells us the same thing about Instagram. There are a lot of pretty interesting tips and tricks that you can use to grow your following significantly. I've been surprised. I've implemented some of these things and my following has grown over 30% in about a year. Which is not a lot, but I started out from a very small number and I just dabble in it. I don't do it as much as you do. But it's pretty cool.
Stephen Matera: Yeah. It's interesting how people are learning these tips and tricks to manipulate or work the system. “Manipulate” is not the right word.
Rick: I think that's pretty accurate.
Stephen Matera: Maybe it is. But I think that some people have it dialed, they really know how to work it. You just look at their accounts and you're like, “How do they have so many followers?” That's the one thing about Instagram that I find very discouraging, and social media in general, is quality work does not guarantee a big following.
Rick: You’re correct, it's a volume game.
Stephen Matera: Yeah. That's unfortunate. That's kind of discouraging, right? I mean, you would hope the best work would rise to the top, but Instagram tends to negate the advantage that good work would have. It doesn't mean that good work doesn't help. It does. But I've seen accounts with 10,000 followers and all they do are, like, teenagers doing selfies.
Rick: Yeah. Well, and I think that's the nature of social media. I think that's the other reason why I have trouble with it, is there's a lot of stuff that's posted out there that's like, “Really? Who cares about that?” And then it's amazing to see how many people do care about that. It's like, “Wow. I had no idea.”
Rick: Is there anything you’d like to ask or say to our audience as we go to wrap here?
Stephen Matera: I guess it's about the photo business. I heard a photographer say years ago, “You need to kind of reinvent yourself every few years.” I think that's really true. It's even more true now with social media changing things, and digital changing things. I don't mean to sound cynical here, but I don't like the adage that if you're passionate about photography, you'll be successful. I don't think that's true, just because your passionate doesn’t mean your good.
Small towns in the Sierra of California and other mountainous regions throughout the west with recreation based economies, service economies, and tourism based economies are providing solid, healthy, stable jobs where mining, lumber mills and other extraction based industries have been shuttered. The outdoor industry can in a lot of ways successfully drive the future in the West.
Allan Pietrasanta has been active in conservation, small business, and working to build vibrant communities in the Sierra Nevada region of California for over 30 years. Currently he serves as Chairman of the Board of Sierra Business Council, a non-profit based in Truckee, CA and is also on the board of the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center. I recently interviewed Allan for the Outdoor Biz Podcast podcast to gain more insight into how small mountain communities are tapping into this economic shift. (The interview below has been edited for space and clarity.)
Rick: I know now you're very involved in politics and currently are chairman of the Sierra Business Council board of directors. If anybody wants to know more about that visit the show notes for this episode or go to sierrabusiness.org. You're also one of the founders of the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center. That's esavalanche.org, if you guys want to check that out. How did you get involved in some of the local and I guess national politics? What brought that on?
Allan: Very early on, as I got involved in the outdoors, I was influenced by the Sierra Club quite frankly and the writings of John Muir and seeing the values of activism and how important it is to protect the environment. When I moved up here, it was clear to me in a small community … The population of Inyo County is 19,000. I've lived here 40 years and the population has really not changed that much.
It's clear that you can have an influence here. As time went on I got more involved in issues across the Sierra, in terms of environmental issues and growth and change. Twenty plus years ago, I fell in with a group of people who were very frustrated by the sort of David Brower/Sierra Club view of, “Look. You either preserve the environment or we're going to sue you.” So this sort of litigation being the king-pin of all solutions for environmental issues was kind of frustrating to many of us and we-
Rick: Tie it up. Tie everything up in the courts. Yeah just bog it all down, right?
Allan: Bog it all down and let the lawyers make a lot of money. And I come in with a group of people who said, “Healthy environments, growing communities in the Sierra, economic viability do not have to be mutually exclusive events.” So we started many years ago something that now is embraced by many outdoor companies and actually even companies in bigger corporate America, which is the triple bottom line. Lending for any decision or issue, looking at the environmental issues, the financial aspects of it and then also the social effects of any decisions.
Rick: So now after all these years, we just learned recently that Americans spend $887 billion a year on outdoor recreation and the industry creates over 7 million jobs, growing out of what you guys started way back in the day. Do you have any current thoughts on maybe some of the local strategies that you guys use at SBC that might play well on the national stage and how do you think the outdoor industry can move forward now that they have some pretty major clout?
Allan: What all of that is showing is, very clearly, that in a place like the Sierra and many mountainous regions in the West, where they were traditionally economies based on resource extraction, what we have shown in the outdoor industry and what we're working very hard at Sierra Business Council to work with is that, it's no longer a resource of extractive economies. It's recreation based economies and service economies, and tourism based economies that can provide solid, healthy, stable jobs in these communities where mining has shut down, lumber mills have closed and that sort of thing. So clearly the outdoor industry is in a lot of ways will be the future health in the West.
Rick: Do you think that some of these economies … Like you mentioned some of the lumber economies are shutting down, do you think that some of those small towns can come back based on some of the outdoor recreation jobs? Because some of those places, they're in places where there's only activity in the summer and nothing happens in the winter or even the summer is slow because there's only fishing. Do you think some of those will grow? Have you seen some of that in the Sierra?
Allan: Well communities in the Sierra are benefiting from things like broadband availability, from attitudes of people where they want to flee the city and raise their families in a more rural area so they can move to cities and towns in the Sierra and still have access to the rest of the world and can conduct good business. A very good example, to answer your question, is up in Loyalton, CA where, an old timber area and lumber mills closed down there years ago, and just recently that lumber mill has been purchased and is going to be turned into a biomass facility creating huge amounts of biomass energy for the area up there. There's an industrial park adjacent to the old lumber mill that's all rigged already for energy intensive manufacturing. You know things that would take a lot of energy to produce. It's all set up. Those are going to create good jobs that are non-tourist recreation oriented jobs in an old lumber town. It's kind of a full circle.
Rick: What kind of products do those manufacturers produce? Give me an example of an energy intensive product?
Allan: Well besides the energy that will be produced, which is always going to have a market-
Rick: Right. I'm sure a lot of those places will be producing solar energy and wind energy and things like that.
Allan: Yeah. Yeah. At this biomass facility one of the by-products being looked at with wood pulp is a bullet proof vest.
Allan: They can make a really strong, solid bullet proof vest with this new technology-
Allan: I think it's still in the R&D stage. But one idea down the road is to get the University of California system involved in doing research at this facility about wood pulp by-products.
Rick: That's pretty cool.
Allan: The other thing I was going to say is this kind of thing with a plant like this that was previously a lumber mill, turning it into a biomass facility, not only brings full circle for jobs into a rural depressed area and keeps away in the case of Sierra Valley or where Loyalton's located, rural sprawl from Reno. Also in this case, the raw product for this facility is wood and there's a chance to harvest all these dead trees in the Sierra, which is creating another problem for fire danger.
Rick: Right. So they could re-energize the old growth forest and material to produce these vests.
Allan: Yeah. They can harvest all this dead wood and accomplish, create better forest health on the one hand and at the same time have economic activity in an otherwise rurally depressed area.
Rick: I'm sure you still give to many conservation groups. I'm sure you guys aren't the only people doing this. There have got to be examples around the country of things such as this. How can we leverage that as an industry?
Allan: Well I would like to see the companies in the outdoor industry, embrace ever deeply work on climate change and its ramifications for the areas where their customers recreate. I would like to see them involved with forest health, water quality issues, working with communities to reduce their carbon footprint, as manufacturers in their process working to reduce their carbon footprint. I think there's a tremendous amount of opportunity on that. The other thing to see outdoor companies do is work loudly and clearly with their customer base and their elected officials around them to help preserve and maintain these beautiful public lands that are being currently threatened with the current political climate.
Rick: Right. Yeah it seems to me that there's a huge opportunity for every outdoor industry company to reach out directly to their consumer a little more than they're doing. That could be the next wave of grassroots activism that we see is these companies involving their consumer, which would be terrific.
Allan: Yeah. I mean the companies need to realize that, as one example, this effort to group by states or local counties and grab federal land, whether it's BLM land or park land or Forest Service land, and turn them into local control. What has happened, like up in the state of Utah, the state's just sold that to private industry thereby losing access and losing open space land to recreate in. That's a serious threat to the whole industry and to our environment in general. I think it's a great opportunity for the outdoor industry to really step forward for the environment.
Rick: Yep. Yep. I think a lot of people support that view. So we have about five minutes left. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for a young person just getting out of high school, just graduating college, wanting to repeat the Allan Pietrasanta move to Bishop and live in the hills? Any thoughts on where those folks should look for work? Some things they might consider doing? Any advice to the young folks out there?
Allan: Yeah. Yeah, Rick, I have advice. It's two words, “Get out.” I think I would encourage all of us, young and old to continue to get out. Go check out what it feels like to sleep in the forest and spend all night hearing the winds rip through the trees. Or climb some peak and get sweaty and dirty and enjoy the view from the summit. Or go run that rapid in the river and realize you survived it. But get out. There's nothing like it and it will open your mind to more outdoor activities. You and I grew up in a generation of people that embraced it deeply and changed their lives because of it. Maybe not everybody can do that, but I can tell you that it's a great compliment to whatever else is going on in your daily life to get out.
Allan and I are close friends and together with his wife Diana enjoy many backcountry forays in the eastern sierra to GET OUT!