…Don’t take things too personally. As I mentioned before, one of my biggest challenges was learning to remove my personal feelings from my work. When going from a creative hobby to a business, sometimes you have to put yourself in the client’s shoes and not allow yourself to feel undervalued. Instead, you find ways to work within a budget that is representative of the work you are putting in
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicholas Rhodes of OutSnapped. Nicholas is an acclaimed event photographer and founder of NickyDigital.com. Rhodes has spent the last decade traveling the world as a photographer for leading publications, Fortune 500 companies, international music festivals, and performers, while serving as the house photographer for many of New York City’s premier venues, including Pollstar’s 2016 nightclub of the year, Webster Hall. OutSnapped photo booths bring the award-winning skills, experience, and technical knowledge of NickyDigital.com to private events and event planners. With over ten years of experience in event photography and social media, Rhodes sets OutSnapped apart from other photo booth vendors by not only engaging party guests during events but by translating those real-life interactions into social media impressions.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I was born in Northern Westchester and from the time I was a child I was extremely interested in photography. I found my grandfather’s old school manual SLR camera in the back of the closet and begged my parents to show me how to use it. We also had a very good family friend, Bob Cosma, who is a professional photographer that mentored me in my teen years. I took as many photo classes as I could in high school, and then in college, I double-majored in photography and what they were calling at the time “New Media” at Emerson College.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
Having graduated from Emerson College with a double major, I had decided to make one my career and the other my hobby. Initially, I worked in print publications as an editorial designer at titles like Us Weekly, People Magazine, Radar Magazine, etc. Eventually, this led me to help magazines convert to online platforms. You have to remember that back in the early 2000s, a magazine’s website literally was used to subscribe to the print magazine form. During the process when I was working in magazines, I was pursuing my hobby by night, taking portraits of people in and around New York City. This leads to my last project, NickyDigital.com. When the market collapsed in 2008, Radar Magazine folded and no other magazines were hiring (they pretty much never started hiring again), I was lucky enough to be able to fall back on my hobby as a photographer as my full-time job. It was then that I really realized how I could use photography as a marketing tool to sell tickets to upcoming events.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Luckily for me, the business actually found me. It had started as a hobby, and out of popularity, I realized it could actually be a source of income. You have to remember that this is all before things like side hustles, personal brands, and influencers existed. I quickly realized that the traffic my website was getting (100,000+ pageviews a day) was giving me the ability to get people excited about upcoming events at the time. Clubs and venues didn’t have budgets for photographers because they didn’t see the value that they provided. This is when I realized that I had accidentally become a nightclub promoter. Because they didn’t have budgets for photographers, I was getting paid by the head for people who came to each event or bought a ticket. It was this challenge that made me start figuring out cool ways to use photography in event coverage to leverage that as a marketing tool.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
For me, it was out of necessity. It took me years to start to be able to separate “work” from my passion again. I didn’t have the luxury of figuring this out the easy way. Over time I started to separate my “commercial art” from my personal photography. I’m very passionate about both now, but I draw a distinction between the photos I take for myself and the ones I create for my clients.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
This is very tricky. I think it’s important to constantly be challenging yourself to learn new things and seek out new experiences. I think anything that you do repeatedly becomes dreadful. For me, it was very helpful to approach client work and personal work very differently. This allows me to be inspired in different ways. As the founder of OutSnapped.com, this allows me to use all the knowledge I’ve gained over the past 15+ years and combine it into a superpower. More importantly, it also allows me to be a photographer in my spare time again (If you’re curious, I’ve been posting my personal 35mm photography on NickyAnalog.com).
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
The grass will always be greener, right? I love controlling my own schedule, but this isn’t actually as freeing as it sounds. To me it means, having leisurely mornings and getting into the office later than most people do. The trade-off is that I have to work later than most people do and when you own a business you’re always on call, even when you have the best support staff possible. To overcome some of these drawbacks, I’ve built a team of wonderful people that I genuinely like working with. This allows me the ability to actually take days off which everyone needs in order to stay sane.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought it was going to be all about the photos, but soon I realized there are bigger marketing opportunities for the companies I worked with. This completely changed my way of thinking about helping people while still doing what I love. Now we create engaging and fun photo experiences for event guests that also provide tremendous marketing opportunities for our clients. At the moment, I’m REALLY excited about helping our clients understand the power of “phygital” marketing opportunities, in which we seamlessly move participants from the experience of physical space into an e-commerce platform. We feel strongly that these workflows will help save brick and mortar retail.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
Yes! After 13 years of running NickyDigital.com I was feeling really stagnant. I was making more money than ever but I was also unhappier than ever. I was shooting so much that I didn’t want to touch a camera anymore during my off time. I started meeting with headhunters to discuss different opportunities and ultimately decided that using my learnings from the past decade to start a new company (OutSnapped.com) made more sense than the opportunities available to me.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t think it was so funny, but the biggest mistake I made in the early years was taking things very personally. I really had to learn to separate my personal feelings from work interactions. When clients wanted things cheaper (which they always will … it’s human nature) it felt like they were not valuing me personally. Eventually, I learned the reality of this is that the quality of my work does not directly correlate to a budget. People weren’t saying my work wasn’t good, they were saying, “we want you but we don’t have the budget.”
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
I don’t think I am a great leader yet, and I think it would be weird if I did. There is still so much to learn! So many people to meet! So many amazing photos to take!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’ve provided really fun experiences for event guests. It’s easy to undervalue sharing smiles, but that’s what life is really all about! Understanding what makes consumers smile helps us educate companies on how to better reach and speak to their customers and deliver a more personalized approach to brand marketing.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Budget for the things you didn’t know existed! So you dive into a new business and you think you’ve got it all figured out, but there will always be a zillion things you didn’t know existed. For example: insurance, sales tax, payroll, etc. Do a lot of research on what your true operational costs will be before diving all in.
- Check your EGO. The first time around, my ego played such a large part in my decisions and sometimes even got in the way of making a sound business decision. It’s understandable to want a super cool office, but remember that every single penny counts!
- Every penny counts. Plan for a rainy day. When you’re first running a business and success (aka the money) starts coming in, it’s easy to spend it. It’s easy to forget how long it took you to get where you are now and that there will be a day where things aren’t going perfectly and you’ll need your safety cushion.
- Don’t take things too personally. As I mentioned before, one of my biggest challenges was learning to remove my personal feelings from my work. When going from a creative hobby to a business, sometimes you have to put yourself in the client’s shoes and not allow yourself to feel undervalued. Instead, you find ways to work within a budget that is representative of the work you are putting in.
- The Power of Networking. I used to think of networking as a dirty word. After examining my incoming business and ways to increase our event bookings it became very clear that my relationships were our number one source of work. Networking doesn’t have to be lame, think of it as a game where you come up with fun ways to keep in touch with people you genuinely like and would enjoy a relationship with, even if money wasn’t involved.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could encourage people to smile more? I have a tendency to roll my eyes when my yoga teacher tells everyone to take a moment to smile, but when you do your entire body reacts. It would be pretty amazing if we can carry this into our work and provide smile stations in public places, which would encourage folks to send each other smiles and funny faces! I’d love to be able to see how the positive effect that a Free Smiles campaign could have on our society.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m not really the inspirational quotes type, but I do think the Golden Rule is also the number one rule of business. Treat your clients, staff, vendors, and everyone else you come into contact with fairly and with respect. As your business gains traction, you will have the luxury of eliminating people who don’t reciprocate from your business.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
On the art and photography side, I’d say Andy Warhol because he seemed to really understand the nexus of human psychology, fine art, and commercial art. He sadly passed before the advent of social media, but I think he would be a fascinating person to dissect the concepts of personal brands and influencers with.
Since Andy is no longer with us, a more realistic person would be the founder of Glossier, Emily Weiss. I’m really fascinated by how she grew her brand so quickly and shifted the paradigm on wellness. I’d love to speak with her about the psychology of making people feel good about themselves. It was also very interesting to watch a company that had grown into an online success move into brick and mortar and not the other way around. …and of course, collaborate with them on converting their in-store customers into e-commerce customers!