I recieve messages like the one below on the regular. I’m not expert on how to make it as a photographer but I thought I’d offer up a few bits of info which have at the very least worked for me.
Step One: Get Good Kid.
There’s no way around it.
Producing high quality work is the most sure fire way of ensuring you make it as a freelance creative. Everything else I list here is important but the standard of your work is the absolute key factor in determining whether a full time creative career is viable for you.
There are a lot of photographers out there so you need to justify why a client should pick you.
Step Two: Make Friends / Support Other Photographers
I can’t overemphasise this enough. This is where most people fail. The amount of photographers I know who bitch about other photographers / never talk to other photographers / never throw another photographer a crispy Instagram like and in general isolate themselves because they see other photographers as competition is beyond count.
Collaboration > Competition every time.
Whenever a client contacts me to do a job and I can’t do it either because I don’t have the required skills or don’t have the time I always recommend some local photographers that I like. A lot of the time these photographers also do the same for me when they run into similar circumstances.
Become part of the creative community and don’t isolate yourselves.
Step Three: Know Your Worth
The number one question I get asked when it comes to freelance creative work is “How do you know how much to charge?”. It’s always difficult because there is no easy answer. To figure out your worth I’d take the following factors into consideration.
It’s a difficult one but don’t undersell yourself, you have to be prepared for clients to walk away.
As an absolute bare minimum I don’t believe any photographer should be charging any less than £250 per day.
Step Four: Get your work in front of the RIGHT eyeballs
Everyone loves a big Instagram following but are your Instagram followers the people who hire you? For some people the answer will be yes for other it’ll be no.
I’ve got 10,000 followers on my portrait / fashion Instagram. I make about 20% of my income from that.
I’ve got 500 followers on my business / event Instagram. I make about 80% of my income from that.
Figure out who your target market is and try and get your work in front of them. A big following is useful and can increase your value as a photographer but if actual paying clients aren’t seeing it, it doesn’t count for much.
Step Five: Know your niche
No photographers shoot everything and understanding what kind of photographer you are, who your clients are and what they are looking for is essential.
As an events photographer I understand that turnaround time on the photos is nearly as important as the quality of the photos themselves. I know who my audience is. I know what they expect and what will make me stand out. I know roughly how much they expect to pay.
All of this is completely different for portrait photography and it’s completely different again for wedding photography, pet photography, product photography etc.
If you really understand your market it’ll make it easier to both get work and price yourself accordingly.
Step Six: Reliability
Clients haven’t got time for any nonsense, they need to know you can be relied on and therefore your professionalism is of key importance. Don’t be a flake, give clients realistic expectations in advance with regards to what you’ll provide them and when and make sure you stick to that. If you do run into any unforeseen complications make sure you communicate that with clients promptly.
Step Seven: Treasure your repeat clients
A lot of clients, especially big ones or public institutions can’t be bothered to go out and find a new photographer every time they have a new job, a lot of the time if they need something shooting they’ll just ring up the photographer they used last time.
This is both good and bad for us.
Good - If they use you over and over again this is fantastic, the key to sustaining life as a freelancer is to get a few of these clients who use you regularly who you can somewhat rely on.
Bad - It’s hard to break into these organisations because they aren’t looking for new photographers.
The key here is to not be scared to be proactive and confident in your approach. When speaking to a potential new client point out the holes in their current content, explain how you can add value. Think less about what your photos are and more about what they can use your photos to achieve.
Finally once you’re in work hard to stay there. Don’t get lazy and deliver sub par work just because you think you’re as safe as houses. That’s never the case.
Thom’s Final Thoughts
Only a small percentage of being a successful photographer has to do with your skills with a camera. Marketing, reliability, professionalism, branding, confidence, communication skills, pricing awareness, idea development, lead chasing etc etc etc is all key to the job.
It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone. Be prepared to struggle and remember that nearly everyone (myself included) probably isn’t doing as well as they make out they are.
Back at the start of April my Impact Hub Birmingham family asked me to join them to work on their #RadicalChildcare project, obviously a large portion of that work involved me having a camera in my hand so as today is the launch of the Radical Childcare systems lab website (which you should really do yourself a favour and check out because it’s amazing if I say so myself) I thought it would be a great time to share some of my favourite photos and videos I have created over the last four months.
Systems Lab Video
For more information on #RadicalChildcare check out radicalchild.care.