Back in November of 2018, I put forward $450 in hopes of being provided help with the marketing of my fine art photography. Feeling lost, I figured that paying someone who had been doing this craft – and supposedly making a very fine living off it – for the past 17+ years was the best option I had. I was oh so terribly wrong.
Note: The names of people involved have been changed in this article.
I first heard of Robert Clow’s work through a fellow landscape photographer who has been successful in making a living from selling at art shows. This photographer had recommended I pick up Robert’s book on marketing, as he felt it would be beneficial in the long-run and give me plenty to think about.
After looking at the reviews and thinking it over a bit, I chose to spend the money, buying it directly off Robert’s website to give him the most support possible, instead of buying through Amazon where they would be taking a percentage of the sale. I mean, I would like people to buy from my website as well, when possible, so I get the most support, so why not do the same?
The book came in and all was well. I read it over carefully, taking meticulous notes in order to absorb as much information as possible. I didn’t want to miss anything of use – something of which there was plenty.
A few months after reading the book and trying to figure out everything on my own, I began to get very discouraged at the rate in which I was going. I wasn’t making any sales – that wouldn’t happen until a few weeks later – and I was quickly sinking, feeling more depressed and overall lost than I had in a while. I started looking for answers, messaging the photographers I know who are full-time in their craft; I looked online, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong and how to do better. Nothing helped.
Then I remembered Robert and the conversation we had on Facebook. He had told me that he could directly help me to better figure out my pricing structure, how to get my name out there and gain more recognition, etc. Overall, he told me that he could help me if I paid him for an hour-long marketing consultation over the phone. So that’s what I did.
I was nervous yet excited leading up to the phone call. The date and time were planned out and I had sent him a list of 18 questions for him to briefly go over – my hopes were that these questions would give him a better idea of what I was expecting. He had already been told that I needed help with my pricing and with my marketing in general and I told him over email that I was hoping for help to craft a marketing plan. This was what I was expecting to happen when I got on the phone with him.
4 o’clock EST came along that fateful afternoon of November 16th, 2018 rather quickly. I was over at my girlfriend’s house and had set up my laptop and a pen and piece of paper for note-taking. Natasha Clow – Robert’s wife and business partner – called me right on time and spoke with me for a minute or two. She essentially told me that if the phone call got cut off at any point, simply wait a minute or so and they would call me back; this would ensure that we wouldn’t be playing phone tag all afternoon, to which I agreed was a good idea.
Robert then got on the phone, taking over. We spoke a while about photography before the consultation began. This was when things turned rather sour.
As I mentioned previously, I had sent him a list of around 18 questions to base the conversation around and give him an idea of what I was hoping for. I was not, however, expecting to spend money on him just answering these questions and that being it. But that is almost exactly what happened. He pulled up my website on his computer and began to answer the questions I had given him, taking at least five or more minutes with each one, dragging it out in what felt like an attempt to get me to buy another hour of his time. To make matters so much worse, every word he said – every piece of advice he gave to me – felt as though he was simply reading from the marketing book I had bought from him. There was absolutely no new information, nor any that pertained to my website or photography directly.
The most beneficial information he gave to me was to stay in the first person in the bio on my about page and on my home page, as well as to showcase my own photography in my blog rather than that of other photographers, as I had been doing with the series of interviews. These two, very small things, however, were things I was already thinking about on my own and were not at all worth the mass amounts of money I gave to him.
By the time the consultation wrapped, Robert had answered all 18 of my questions and effectively shown me that he had scammed me. To add insult to injury, he went ahead and spent at least 20 minutes more telling me just how much I would benefit if I were to pay him for 7 more sessions. He told me that this would allow him to “get to know me, my photography, and my goals better,” while also helping me to formulate a proper marketing plan.
Robert informed me that he had a student that was going on to make six figures in 2019 from art shows alone, all because of the teachings provided in these sessions. He was even brazen enough to offer to include this session – from which I learned absolutely nothing – in the package of 7, meaning I would only have to spend another $2,000 or whatever it was for the other 6 sessions. After telling me this, he informed me he would send over more information and the exact pricing if it was something I wanted to do. He strongly urged me to take advantage of this “great opportunity” multiple times throughout the 20+ minute sales pitch.
Very irritated and all too aware that I was being scammed at this point, I thanked him – don’t ask why – and hung up the phone. My girlfriend had fallen asleep on her bed aside me, so I lay down beside her and tried to figure out what to do next. When she woke, I told her what I thought.
When I told her that Robert was the author of the book I bought on marketing, she quickly told me how I should’ve told her and that she should have stopped me – would have stopped me – from spending the money if she would have known this. In her opinion, him being the author of a marketing book and offering a marketing consultation service should have raised red flags. I cannot help but agree with her to a certain degree.
For the past month, I have tried feverishly to get a response from either Robert or Natasha Clow. The multiple emails I have sent, along with the Facebook and Instagram messages, have all be completely ignored. There was no attempt to rectify the situation. No attempt to help me better understand what just happened or to give me a refund of my money – something I have continually asked for. Robert blocking me on Facebook was the last straw for me – I needed to bring this to the attention of others, if for nothing else than to bring awareness to these sort of “opportunities” presented by photographers who seem professional.
If you take away anything from this story, let it be this: do plenty of research before paying any amount of money to anyone.
It should not matter who it is or how many followers they have on Instagram or how many testimonials they have on their website. If they have testimonials, do what you can to contact those people directly and ask what their personal experience was like. This may require a bit more legwork on your end – especially if they do not have any public contact information – but it is much better than being scammed out of your money and time. Maybe even contact the photographer directly and ask him/her if they can get you in contact with anyone that had taken their course, bought their book, etc. Just be aware that the people he/she sends your way may be a bit more biased.
Truthfully, this situation has taught me a lot and it has strained my trust in a lot of individuals I once had respect for. It has shown me just how dirty this industry can be and how people can often take advantage of you just to make a quick buck.
I was hoping for help with my marketing strategy, but I came out of this situation with $450 less in my bank account (something that hurts quite a bit as a young artist in college) and I am so much more lost when it comes to making this photography business work.
About the author: Cody Schultz is a fine art photographer who creates black-and-white photos of natural environments. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find Schultz’s work on his website and Instagram.
Image credits: Header photo by energepic.com