So you want to be a freelance photographer. It certainly sounds like a good idea: you control how much you work, what jobs you take, how much you get paid. Good work if you can get it.
Unfortunately, having everything in your control also means that suddenly, YOU have to handle all of the countless details involved in running a business–most of which have nothing to do with taking pictures. Let’s take a look at some of the factors involved in freelance photography that might not be a part of your dream.
What Does “Freelance” Even Mean?
What does it mean to be a freelance photographer? First off, it means you’re going to be self-employed–and that is a double-edged sword. As far as Uncle Sam is concerned little ol’ you will be a legally operating business entity. This could take the form of a sole proprietorship or LLC (Limited Liability Corporation), or you might decide to incorporate.
Before you decide, you’ll need to talk to an accountant or tax expert … or spend yours doing researching local, state, regional and national business and tax codes. You’ll normally have to get a federal tax ID and register with your county, township, or state. Don’t think you can operate “under the radar” here: not only do government agencies and local business organizations tend to frown on that, establishing an official business allows you to write off rent, equipment, and supplies as tax deductions.
This sounds like a hassle, and it sort of it: you’ll need to plan ahead, extremely organized, and learn to see the “big-picture” as you go. YOU function as your business around the clock, 24/7: as a freelance operative, you’ll be wearing many hats and trying to keep multiple plates spinning at any given time. Essentially, you have to consider yourself a business professional as much if not more than you consider yourself an artist. Most freelance creatives will tell you they’re lucky to have 30% to 40% of the workday actually taking pictures; the rest is marketing, sales, and bookkeeping.
Afraid so. Did you expect work to just walk in the door? If you get to the Annie Leibovitz-level, maybe … but in the first few years, marketing yourself could well be your main job. Thankfully, the internet offers a world of opportunity unheard of 20 years ago:
Stock Photos – these days, many freelance photographers either specialize in or simply supplement their income through stock photography sites like iStock which allow anyone to purchase licensed photographs for a wide variety of uses. Most advertising agencies, publishers, and graphic designers fall back on stock imagery for every project. It’s a great way to establish an ongoing market base.
Your Company Website – Having an attractive yet functional website allows you to post galleries of downloadable or printable available for purchase. A website is also a great way to promote your specialty, whether it’s sporting events, travel or local color, or the old stand-by, wedding photography.
Social Media – We live in the Age of the Tweet, so don’t be afraid to promote your work through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social site. The fact that you can sell your work here without spending money makes social media one of the most financially viable ways to market yourself, especially in the beginning.
Start with Professionalism
This recent post outlined some of the main frustrations business leaders have with freelancers. They go on and on about how often professional freelancers aren’t … well, professionals. Don’t be that person.
Sure, you’re doing this because you’re passionate about photography; we get that. At the same time, you must always remember that you need to keep the lights on and the cupboard stocker, and sometimes that means going above-and-beyond: deliver what you promised, with quality that exceeds expectations; be respectful of client’s time and schedule; and never hesitate to give them what they need rather than simply a piece you’d love to have in your portfolio.
A Final Word
Never underestimate the value of realistic expectations. You’ll only ever accomplish your goals by approaching them realistically. Dream–dream big, even–but as you establish yourself and start to understand what’s really required of a freelancer, always strive to compare this to the reality of what you can actually get done.