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10 Things You Need to Know Before Becoming a Freelancer


As permanent and contracted photography jobs become scarce, many aspiring photographers are left with no choice but to become a freelancer. However, going freelance isn’t for everyone and there are plenty of new challenges along the way, so here are a few tips on how to avoid falling at the first hurdle.

Learn to Price Your Work Correctly

One of the first mistakes that freelancers make is undervaluing their work. This not only means you’re getting paid less than you should, but it undercuts all of your competitors and brings the overall value of the type of work you do down. 

Consider all the financial commitments that you’re having to make in order to get the work done, such as travel, time spent shooting, food and drinks, processing, editing, delivery, equipment, taxes and insurance. On top of which you need to remember that they have chosen you to do the work over anyone else. They want your style of images, which is unique to you and for that, they should pay the right price.

Don’t feel the need to attribute time to cost, there’s no need to reveal your hourly or daily rate, just quote a price for the work that they’re after and you can negotiate from there. There’s more good advice on how to do this in the Business Tuts+ article, "5 Ways to Strategically Price Your Freelance Rates.”

What’s Your Niche?

When pitching for work, you need to offer potential clients as many incentives as possible in order to persuade them to pick you over everyone else. In many instances, their decision may well come down to cost, but having priced your work correctly and competitively, you need to show them what you’re able to offer them that other photographers can’t.

This could be a commitment to meet tight deadlines, the availability for shoots at short notice or that you have awards or recommendations that affirm the quality of your work.

Listen to Briefs Carefully

Listen carefully to your clients needs and meet them as best as you are able. They’ll be forever grateful if you can solve their problems! It’s not about the work you want to create, it’s about the work you’re being paid to provide.

That’s not to say you can’t be creative and expressive, but as you are working, you need to ensure you are delivering what has been requested. If possible, try to over deliver and do more than is asked of you by putting in that extra bit of effort to ensure the client is happy.

Building Trust Through Communication

Having open channels of communication with your clients is vital. At an early stage, establish how they prefer to communicate. That method is often email, but some may prefer the phone or even text. Give them the option to set up a regular weekly meeting if the project is big enough to warrant it.

Clients need to know that they can get in touch with you in order for you to answer their questions, solve their problems and to find out how the work is going, but you don’t have to wait for them to chase you up, send them updates on the progress of the work, that way you’ll build trust and avoid any poisonous negativity.

Don’t Rely on a Small Number of Clients

Having regular clients is great, and showing commitment to them is very valuable. However, if they have a quiet month, then so do you. You can’t afford to rely on that work always being there.

Don’t restrict your opportunities, keep on building your portfolio, creating new contacts and pitching for work. You may even be able to offer incentives such as a discount for first-time clients to attract new business.

Should You Take on Every Job That You’re Offered?

As a freelancer, you shouldn’t be afraid to take on challenges, they can stretch and further what you do, but be wise, as there can be hazards along the way. If you’re asked to shoot a job you’ve not done before that requires new skills, don’t learn on the job. Practice the techniques beforehand so you’re adequately prepared.

If work is scarce, the temptation can be to say "yes" to everything. Even though learning from failures can be beneficial, when you’re starting out, it’s important to build your confidence and gather a solid body of work.

It might be wise to construct a business plan, that way, you’ve got a clear idea of your goals and what you want to achieve to avoid taking on time consuming work that doesn’t get you to where you want to be.

Stop Doing Favours for Friends and Family

This is something that I’m sure most freelancers have been guilty of at some point. It’s extremely hard to say no to family and friends, but you can’t let them convince you to work for cheap or even free. Knowing how to value your work is so crucial.

Some convince themselves that doing free or cheap work is alright, so long as future work is promised. But all you’ve done is show the client that you are cheap and you’ll find it very hard to convince them to pay your proper rates next time around.

Going freelance can often rely on using personal finance, so if anything, you may need the support of family and friends to get you started.

Find Other Creatives to Work Alongside

It can be extremely easy to feel isolated as a freelancer, which can often lead to a lack of confidence and a feeling of being unable to achieve your dreams. It’s important to have people around to you support your work, help build your contact base, find work, and to encourage you.

It may be that you can work on certain projects with a videographer or designer. Maybe you could pitch for jobs together or just share an office. Here are a few more tips on working collaboratively with fellow freelancers.

Shooting work for people in other creative industries can be valuable as well. Acting agencies will always need headshots, record labels will need promo shots and album covers, so look for opportunities to build relationships and partner with like-minded people.

Launch Your Marketing Plan

Taking amazing photographs and relying on word of mouth is a lovely idea, but in reality, it’s up to you to get your images seen. Create accounts on social media to display your work and be sure to update your followers on the projects you’re working on.

Interacting and building relationships with potential clients on Twitter is so easy and it’s a great way of letting people know who you are and what you do. Here are a few tips on using Twitter as a freelancer.

Be proactive, maybe even set regular times for daily or weekly updates and encourage people to feedback to you in order to build your confidence and know more about what your audience wants.

Once it's in your budget, don't forget about more traditional marketing and advertising. Big retail and service companies like McDonalds and Walmart of a staff of people to run their social media accounts, but they still buy radio, television and print ads.

Money Really Does Matter

It’s not fun or glamorous, but taking care of your business financials is all part of being a freelancer whether you want to do it or not!

Be organised with your invoices and receipts. Keep a list of what's coming and what’s going out each month so you can avoid any surprises. Have a plan to chase late invoices. 

Taxes are another important thing to keep track of. I cannot stress how important it is to save through the year for your tax bill, otherwise you’ll end up with a nasty shock with no means to pay for it!

If all this talk of money has got you worried and you’re not sure where to begin, then check out this "Comprehensive Guide to Starting Your Freelance Career." It’s full of helpful advice on many of the practicalities involved and will give you an idea of how to look after finances as a freelancer.

Try, Try and Try Again

Making mistakes is all part of the process, and you need to know that it’s alright to fail, as long as you persevere and keep trying.

Be sure to get feedback on your work. Revel in the positives and assess the points at which something went wrong and learn how to fix it next time around. You can't stop learning and it’s never too late to pick up new skills and techniques.

It’s all too easy to give up on your dream of working for yourself and although there are a lot of new aspects to consider, the freedom to use your time and energy as you please is well worth it. For extra credit, there’s a wealth of extra tips and resources in the article, "25+ Resources for Starting a Freelance Photography Business." Be sure to read it!

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