To me, there are two types of photographers who enter the photography field.
The first has some idea of the direction they want to take. So they begin developing a photography business, and start by choosing a few specialties as they move into a new direction. They may start a business as a portrait and wedding photographer. Or develop a business as a commercial photographer. They have a general idea of whom they want to work for.
Then there is the other side of the business. These are the freelance photographers. These people haven’t completely decided to start up a business and advertise for any one thing. Instead they want to maintain their independence and photograph many things for many clients.
As a freelance photographer, you can do many things for many people. You have to have a general understanding of photography, be quick on your feet, and be able to work at a moments notice on many different types of projects. It can be a lot of fun. It has its stressful moments when you’re not quite sure what you’ll be doing tomorrow. But above all, it can help you develop into a refined and talented photographer – and get paid throughout the process.
If your goal is to freelance on the side as you discover your inner talents, what should you do? Give these suggestions a try.
Start with your own website/blog
No matter what type of photographer you are or what types of jobs you are trying for, you have to have a portfolio to win over your potential clients. And one of the easiest ways to do that is by building and controlling your own portfolio. It doesn’t have to be fancy – start up a WordPress blog and go from there. Above all make sure it is easy to use, easy to operate as a potential client (NO FLASH SITES), and easy to find. If you don’t have any work you’ve done for clients, use some of the best images you’ve created over the past few months. Put yourself on assignment and head out to photograph in a variety of ways. If your goal is commercial work, find a friend that is willing to trade time for a few photographs. If you want to try your hand at food photography, set up a few great looking images and showcase them. It doesn’t matter if you were paid for the image or not – its your ability as a photograph at this point.
Don’t be afraid of pricing
I’ve worked with many photographers over the years, and the one thing that puts the breaks on a business like nothing else is pricing. If you’re afraid to look for work because you don’t know what to charge, just do it. Go out and find a job. Quote a price that feels natural to you. Learn from it and move on to the next one.
Remember, you don’t have to quote a price the moment you connect with someone. Instead, ask a few questions to find out what they are looking for in their photography. Ask if they have a budget they are trying to maintain. Then tell them you’ll call them back in a little while. Think about it, do a little research, set your price and call them back.
Respond to emails and phone calls as fast as you can
When someone contacts you for business, chances are they are connecting with more than one photographer. The more responsive you are, the better your chance of moving in front of your competition.
Set up your work hours
Now that you know the importance of returning calls and emails as fast as possible, let me flip it around and tell you to establish your work hours up front. If you answer an email at midnight, if they turn into a customer, they will assume they can connect with you at midnight. We all should have a life. Its okay to set your working hours up front and stick with them.
Keep your to-do list well organized
As a freelance photographer, you’ll be doing many different things throughout your busy days. Its easy to think “I’ll remember that”. Yet reality shows that’s not always the case. Learn to carry a journal around to jot notes into as you move from client to client. Or use one of the many apps that help you stay organized and create lists. You can use a to-do app like TeuxDeux or even just a note taking app like Evernote.
Look for work everywhere you go
Where do you spend your time? Where do you like to hang out? Don’t be afraid to promote what you do in those areas. If you spend time every morning in a coffee shop working on images and meeting clients, put your business card up on their community bulletin board. Make sure you check online freelance job sites as well.
Never over promise
As you are building up your name and reputation, make sure you commit to things your can truly deliver. If you can’t have an order ready by Friday, don’t tell the customer Friday. Your goal is to keep people happy, and have the opportunity of potentially working for them again.
Photography is an ever growing, every changing industry. As you grow and change with each assignment, reach out and discover ways in which you can become better at what you do. Sign up for your favorite photography sites’ newsletters (have you signed up for ours?) or make sure their RSS feeds are fed into your reader. Attend classes and follow people that truly motivate you.
Move forward with confidence
One of the reasons many photographers never get their business off the ground is they let concepts overwhelm them. They live in a “what if” state instead of actually doing things. It’s okay to make mistakes – you’ll learn as you go. And every time you make a mistake, its one more thing you can add into your business knowledge.