Starting up on your own is a learning curve, and if you’re embarking on your new career as a sole trader or freelancer after being in employment for a while it can feel a little daunting, as well as exciting. How do you find clients? How often should you think about financials? And is it acceptable to work in pyjamas?
Michael Chapman (@mjc_photography) is a London-based photographer who took the leap to go freelance six months ago. Since then Michael has been featured in publications such as the Guardian and Edition F, as well as working with major brands such as Edelman and Soho House Group - you can find more of Michael's work here. Here are 10 key lessons from the first six months.
1. Keep a routine (that works for you). I’ve managed to maintain getting up and trying to work a 9am start - it helps get me in the zone. Although when you're busy, you're busy!
2. It's ok to enjoy your downtime. Don’t feel guilty about having a slightly lazier day - I mean, why did you decide to do this? It can feel hard at first when you might feel like you need to be putting yourself out there all the time, but it’s important to enjoy a break - and getting to do things you maybe couldn’t do in your full-time job (like drop in on an exhibition mid-week when it’s quieter, or enjoying a leisurely walk), is one of the nicest things about freelancing.
3. Network - always carry business cards, always drop your job into a conversation, and don't feel afraid to offer your services. You’ll be surprised at how interested people are, and who might remember you down the line. A handy tip is that if someone gives you a business card, email them the next day and make contact - it helps to start to cement a relationship and for them to remember you.
4. Don't work for free, unless you're getting something out of it that you really need or want. It's rarely worth the hassle, and exposure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
5. Working at home can be very lonely, so make an effort to meet friends or work from other places if you're able to. If you love being alone, then go you! But every freelancer can benefit from leaving the house and seeing some other humans once in a while, even if it’s just a little walk around the block.
6. Trust yourself. If something doesn't feel right, say, and if you don't want to do something, don't. It can be tempting to take every job on offer at first, or you might feel intimidated - but make sure you know what you’re getting into. Ask questions, always clarify a brief, and make sure everyone’s on the same page.
7. Meet and talk to other people who do the same or similar to you - it's great to have a network to refer work or discuss ideas with. If you’re offered a job that's not right for you or you don’t have time to do it, recommending someone else is a good way to support those in your professional community. They’ll appreciate it (and maybe even return the favour when they’re in the same boat).
8. Remind people you exist and you take photos, because they will forget, and people only usually think about photography when they need it. Doing your own projects keeps you happy and engaged, and means you have more content to share (especially for photographers and other creatives - adding to your portfolio is never a bad idea).
9. DO YOUR EXPENSES WEEKLY! It will save you so much time later and you'll be able to actually remember why you paid out when the time comes to file your tax returns.
10. Track your cash flow, look at it daily, and chase promptly when you've not been paid. If a payment is overdue, set reminders in your calendar to keep following up regularly, and don’t feel bad about pestering people - this is your livelihood! And if you can, put a little to one side for times you're not paid on time, or when things are slower.
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