Like most important decisions in life, the perspective of going freelance is both daunting and exciting. If you’re wondering how to become a freelance photographer, then you should take a close look at the following, in order to decide what you already have, and what you must acquire.
The assumptions are that you already have a reasonable amount of experience in the field and that you are pursuing a freelance career for the right reason – to become a better professional by removing the mantle of limitations, and to develop yourself as a human being by confronting life head-on.
To successfully achieve this type of major transformation, one should have certain resources and undergo some behavioral changes.
Countless articles have been written on how to become a freelance photographer from the behavioral point of view, although I believe one should start with the palpable and observable things, because, at the end of the day, we live in a real world:
- Office – even if it is only a modest space in a garage, every individual should create a clear-cut distinction between his/her personal space and the professional dimension of one’s life. What populates the office should be clear for every aspiring freelancer.
- Portfolio – this can be considered as your other self. I do not dare to believe that someone who ventures on this path doesn’t possess an already existing body of work, yet its sheer importance justifies its inclusion on this list. No matter how many tales of entrepreneurial success you might have read, some amount of previous experience as an employee or mere observer of a business is a plus.
- Website – complete with a blog section, where it is ideal to have a daily presence. Some familiarity with writing for the Web would be a plus, nevertheless, this should be considered a crucial investment. Do not limit your site to being just an extension of your portfolio, your actual work should be just the starting point.
- Legal Knowledge – the fact that you are now running a business, means you are subject to different laws, as opposed to when you were just an underling, so you should acquaint yourself with the different types of legislation concerning the field (local, state and national). A golden rule of freelancing is that one should by no means work without a contract. Furthermore, never forget that you always need insurance!
- Patience and Realism – Rome wasn’t built in a day! Taking into account all the practical and commercial aspects of the process, you should immunize yourself against disappointments and lost opportunities. Additionally, try to moderate your financial expectations, as most businesses of the kind (and successful ones at that) do not usually make a profit for at least 18 months; a fact which brings us to
- The Business Plan – that should be sketched-out in collaboration with a trustworthy person who knows his/her numbers. While not a must, a financial reserve is ideal to fall back on, especially if this pursuit is going to be a full-time affair. Monthly subsistence estimates, approximations of initial costs and rates should also be taken into consideration.
You Need to Be a People’s Person!
While I have not read statistics on how many photographers are extroverts or introverts, the essential aspect is that successfully dealing is, like many things, a question of ambition and experience and, naturally, of trial and error.
One must understand that a business requires interacting with clients, and a certain type of behavior is expected:
- Developing Marketing & Sales Skills – you are selling yourself along with your talents! Bear in mind the fact that successful salesmen can sell everything from umbrellas to garbage cans, just as well. You are engaging in relationships (creating and maintaining them) with your clients, do not terminate them after a certain project is over! Do not underestimate the value of repeat business, or the power of hearsay and word-of-mouth!
- Social Media Presence – is the corollary of the previous requisite. Every communications specialist cannot abstain from stressing that Social Media is not just for fun. Again, it means a lot of time when you are not actually using and refining your talents, but it performs the same (if not a more important) function as your website.
- Organize Yourself – a systematic organization of activity has been the key to the success of the whole Western Civilization. This means developing a well thought-out schedule and sticking religiously to it. Jot down your daily tasks and activities the night before and try not to procrastinate!
- Be prepared for menial work – this is true for your photographic projects, but especially for the marketing aspect of your business. Thoroughly surf the web for clients, one-time jobs and useful pieces of advice. You can start by exploring websites like Agency Access (link) or Artist’s Market Online (link), for obtaining a head start.
- Emotional Equilibrium – frequent experience and display of powerful emotions are not a pathway to success in the business world. Never lose your overall optimism, yet be prepared for bouts of pessimism. Do not limit yourself – by losing confidence in your work – so pitch to important magazines, and enter any relevant contest. Fail again! Fail better!
Finding out that apparently unrelated skills are key in how you become a freelance photographer will seem somewhat unsettling. If you look at it from another angle, however, one could argue that along with progress in the workplace comes fulfillment as a human being.
For example, when asked about advice on how to become a freelance photographer for National Geographic, Kent Kobersteen (who previously served as director of photography) stressed the importance of pursuing other interests related to the magazine’s activity. The implied idea is that in addition to being a consummate professional in the photography department, one should also complement that with excellence in other subjects, as that (more frequently than not) is what separates the competent from the very best.
Certainly, echoes of the previous statement should be heard in every area of life. Becoming a freelance photographer is no more difficult than any other existential passage. Remember the ambivalence that surrounds every beginning – its initial difficulty and awkwardness and its promise of fecundity.