I remember growing up and going to school I always thought that you had to pick a specific career and stick with it for the rest of your life, no ands, ifs, or buts. Even as a kid this terrified me. I used to ask my parents what would happen to me if I wanted to be something else someday. They eased my worries a bit, saying that no matter what I wanted to be they would support my decisions. As I grew older I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life. My goal was to be a famous novelist. Then adults in my life started telling me that writing as a career choice wasn’t the best idea because it wouldn’t supply me with a steady enough income. So what? I thought this is what I love. It actually was not until the end of high school and even well into college that the thought of simply being a freelance writer occurred to me. Once I realized how freelancing could allow me to work from basically anywhere and be my own boss I was so in. I know that freelance anything has been and sometimes still is looked at as a sort of a cop-out. People assume, “Oh, this person just doesn’t want to get a serious job so they “freelance” or they assume when I mention freelancing that I just don’t have a plan and it’s the only thing left to say before telling people I’m jobless. I’m here to tell you that I don’t agree with the negative reputation that freelancing has earned. It’s a lot harder than it looks.
For those of you who may not know this is what freelancing is:
It is a term typically used to describe a person who is self-employed and who is not necessarily committed to a specific employer long-term. In other words, we are the “independent contractors” of the creative industry. For what it’s worth I love the idea of freelancing, but it’s important to understand that this job description is not for everyone.
Below are 10 things you should be aware of before considering a career in freelance and some helpful steps to get you started.
Things to consider before taking the plunge
Do you like being alone?
Obviously working from home is a luxury. You can sleep in, edit photos in your PJs, take a break to go outside and shoot when the sun comes out, hang out with friends for a long lunch. However, there isn’t going to be anyone waiting by the coffee each morning to discuss last night’s episode of This is Us with you. There won’t be anyone to joke around with when you have random free time. In other words, you won’t get the office culture and coworker friendships that can make a job more fun. My advice for when the loneliness kicks in is to head to a local coffee shop, meet some people, and make connections. You never know what it may spark for you.
2. Understand where you are and where you hope to go
Freelancing is not for someone who is going to just hope that jobs/projects come in. A successful freelancer makes those projects happen, they go searching for them until they get exactly what they are after. It’s tiresome and requires a lot of perseverance and tough skin when it comes to being rejected. So never expect anything. Know yourself and what you want to accomplish and make a plan on how to get from point A to point B. The nice thing is that you can always start freelancing while you are still doing something else. This is a good idea in order to have a trial period to see if you can handle it.
3. Are you flexible?
For me, this was the hardest thing to cope with. Freelancers tend to lead unpredictable lives. This can be a blessing and a curse. Best thing to do is try to develop a schedule that works for you, but understand that it could change at any given point. If you want security and a set routine each day then I would advise you to stay clear of freelancing.
4. Can you stick to a budget?
You won’t have a constant, reliable source of income. I mean you can definitely work hard to make it has constant as possible but you do not have a set salary like you would working for a specific company and that’s something you will need to be prepared to live with. That’s when sticking to a budget can be very beneficial. Also, remember that when you receive a payment nothing is being withheld and you will have to pay taxes on it eventually. Freelancers need to be aware of all expenses and they should monitor everything closely in order to be ready for tax season. For photographers in New England or anywhere that winter gets pretty harsh you would need to build in your budget for the slower months of not getting as many assignments or maybe you books so destination weddings abroad and take off for the winter.
5. Are you organized?
This is a big one. If you miss deadlines, forget client appointments, misplace photographs, or forget anything then you aren’t going to get a lot of repeat clients and you will begin to realize how fast reputations spread by word of mouth and you will be working three times as hard to redeem yourself. You must stay on top of everything so be prepared for a lot of work.
6. Can you be your own boss?
Being able to hold yourself accountable is key. If you are a self-motivated individual with good time management skills then you will be just fine. You also need to be the bad guy and give yourself consequences. If you can’t be a boss then you will be a very unproductive freelancer. Because face it no one is going to tell you to sit down at your computer by 9 AM to get the edits from your last shoot done. You will have to be that person and it can be very difficult.
7. Can you sell yourself?
Why? Well because every freelancer, no matter what your skill set, is a salesperson. So learn how to sell yourself and learn how to do it well. Self-promotion is integral for success.
8. Can you say no and handle rejection?
If you consider yourself a perfectionist then learn how to not be one before you become a freelancer. Because of the unpredictable nature of a career in freelance, most people are eager to take on any project that comes along. If you do this you may end up with more work than you can handle. This won’t do anyone any good if you overbook yourself. You want the work you do to be amazing quality, you want your customers leaving you happy and satisfied with their experience and end product. This is going to mean saying no occasionally which can be very hard. On the flip side don’t be too worried when things aren’t coming your way. Take a step back, breathe, relax and know that it will all work out if you keep a level head.
9. Are your interests varied?
You are going to have a hard time starting out as a freelance photographer who refuses to shoot weddings or maternity pictures. Maybe they aren’t your favorite sessions to do, but you are still going to need to do them. You won’t get to your dream level of freelance on your first day or even first few years. It’s going to take time and you will need to commit yourself to taking on the projects that you don’t always love.
10. Can you separate work and personal life?
A huge drawback of freelance anything is that the work will never leave you and you won’t be able to escape from it. Having a typical 9-5 is sometimes preferable because you know when work ends and your personal life begins. Once you leave the office it’s a lot easier to push the work aside and worry about other things when it is locked in your desk or saved on your work computer. Being your own boss means that the projects will always be there and the deadlines will always change. You must be vigilant, make some sort of schedule and know when it’s quitting time. The beauty is that this can change all of the time.
If you still think after reading all this that freelancing is the next career step for you then here are some ways you can get started.
- Have a versatile portfolio/website that shows you can do all projects that come your way because of your wide range of experience.
- Make sure you have good looking business cards that draw people in while also promoting you. ALWAYS have them with you.
- Develop a business plan. It’s okay if you don’t have an MBA from a prestigious school, but freelance photography is a business so it’s good to have something written about how you would like your business to succeed.
- Get Organized or you will never take off.
- Understand that there are no secrets, just work hard and keep at it and you will be fine.
I hope this helps some of you decide if freelance photography or freelance anything for that matter is for you. If you have more questions let us know in the comments below.