Cynics of the creative industries love to say that you can’t really make a living off an artistic craft unless you are one of the lucky few to hit the jackpot with commercial success, but anyone who’s frequented the land of freelance knows this isn’t true. Building a career through freelance work requires diligence, professionalism, and masterful organizational skills, but if you’ve got ’em all, it’s certainly possible to bring in the bills with your photography.
Here are 7 crucial things to keep in mind when building a successful freelance photography career:
Your website is everything
In our Era of the Internet, mostly everything is happening online, meaning most of your freelance gigs will come from opportunities you find through job sites or individual client websites. Similarly, your clients will be looking at your online persona to get a feel for your work and evaluate whether or not you’d be a good match for the project. Your website will be a client’s main source of information regarding your experience and style, so you should invest a fair amount of time and energy into making this site aesthetically pleasing, organized, and completed with accurate, relevant information.
This is your virtual space to show your portfolio and express your creative vision, meaning you should feel good about each photo you choose to present. Additionally, your site should include your contact information in a location that is easily accessible—potential clients shouldn’t have to dig through your site to find a simple email or phone number.
Apply, apply apply
The logic is simple—the more jobs you apply to, the higher chance you have of landing something. That doesn’t mean you should apply to every single gig you see; it’s important that you feel good about a potential job, just as it’s important a client feels good about your ability. You can go about finding jobs in a number of ways. The best way is through freelance job boards, as these are specifically catered to helping freelancers locate open opportunities. Checkout sites like PeoplePerHour, GetPhotographyJobs, and FlexJobs for daily postings about freelance gigs; you can send a proposal from right within the site. Other, more general job sites like Monster, Craigslist, and Job.com are good if you don’t mind narrowing down the choices for freelance on your own. You can also reach out to clients individually, introducing yourself and your work, and inquiring about a potential collaboration—however, this isn’t a guarantee if you are unsure of whether they are looking for freelancers.
Set a consistent work schedule and stick to it
While being your own boss, setting your own hours, and not being constrained to an office setting all sounds incredibly appealing, a freelancer’s biggest downfall is their inability to see freelance as a job that requires a consistent schedule and hell of a work ethic. If you treat the job as something you can do whenever, wherever, with an unstable, loose mentality, you are much less likely to actually get things done. Of course, a big part of the job is the shooting, which will take place wherever you and the client agree, but freelancing requires a fair amount of book-keeping and clerical work which is equally as important. You should try to treat freelancing as a day job, with set weekly hours dedicated to getting work done. Similarly, it’s helpful to have a go-to spot to do your work to maintain some semblance of consistency.
Know your worth
Freelance means you don’t have a set salary with a given company or client, meaning you will be directly responsible for ensuring proper payment for each job. It’s in your best interest to figure out a general pricing point for your service, though this can, of course, be flexible depending on the size/time commitment of the job. The last thing you want is to book a gig only to get gypped on payment because you undersold yourself or were unprepared for negotiation with the client. If you have a pre-determined general service charge, it will be easier to ensure you are getting paid what you deserve.
Quick replies are key
One of the most desirable qualities in a potential freelancer is reliability, which you can show through speedy replies to emails and phone calls. Because you will need to communicate with clients before a job and likely after, you will want to make sure you are checking messages frequently and doing your best to reply to clients in a timely fashion, as to not waste their time, or your own. Developing a reputation as unreliable is sure to put a dent in your potential work opportunities, and is something that could follow you and inhibit you from getting jobs in the future. Don’t self-sabotage; do yourself a favor by making a habit of getting back to your clients quickly and efficiently.
Part of the appeal to freelance is that you can choose to manage your time in whatever way you’d like, and you aren’t tied down to the 9-5, five days a week, work life. It would be beneficial to dedicate some of this time to improving your craft, as you can really never have a big enough skill-set when it comes to a creative passion. Try attending workshops, taking online courses, reading up on new techniques, or just putting your existing skills to practice as a way of honing your craft.
Approach each job with confidence
This is the dream! You’ve turned your artistic passion into a legit job that allows you to do what you love while making money. You should dive head-first into each job you secure, giving it your all and dedicating time and energy to doing damn good work—this is your profession, after all. People are drawn to those who exude confidence, and even if you aren’t 100% self-assured, well…fake it ’til you make it.