Think you're finally ready to take on the world as a freelance photographer? Follow our eight-point plan for launching your career as a lone-sword in the cut-throat world of photography and you'll be sure to hit the ground running.
(1) Fix a Daily Routine and Stick to it
Freelancing is not a synonym for sleeping late, watching daytime TV or procrastinating on Facebook. As a freelance photographer there is always work to be done. Plan your daily working hours, and conduct your social life outside of them!
(2) Get Your Web Presence Locked Down
It almost goes without saying, but if you don't already have a dedicated website (or perhaps even several, if you offer different services) and a strong social medial presence then you are not ready for the world of freelancing. The internet is your window-display and likely where you will find most new business. Make sure you have done everything you can to promote your photography online.
(3) Get Your Books in Order and Pay Your Taxes
As a freelancer, an accountant is essential rather than a luxury. When you're just starting out and not generating a huge amount of income it may be tempting to deal with this side of things yourself, but unless you really know what you're doing it's not worth the risk of attracting the ire of the tax authorities by messing up your returns.
Find an accountant that specializes in working with freelance creatives, ideally photographers. An accountant that understands your line of work - and thus knows the relevant loopholes and deductions - will actually save you a lot of money in the long run.
Conversely, an accountant who has only ever dealt with real-estate agents or electricians will potentially make your life total misery.
(4) Consider Getting an Agent
An agent is not for everyone, but depending on your line of work, and how busy you are, they can easily repay their percentage-fee several times over.
Firstly though, it's important to clear up a popular misconception about photographers' agents. Some people sign up with an agent and then complain that the agent isn't getting them any jobs. That's not how it works. If you aren't already working semi-regularly prior to being represented, then signing on with an agent is unlikely to change this situation.
In fact, if you aren't already working then an agent is highly unlikely to be interested in taking you on in the first place.
What an agent can do is allow you to take on more jobs by handling the logistical and marketing side of things, leaving you free to just get on with shooting. Many photographers consider this to be a luxury that's well worth paying out a chunk of their fees for.
(5) Figure Out a Plan B
Getting up and running at the beginning can take months, if not years. What are you going to live on in the meantime? Do you have savings, or a part-time job, that will see you through until your business really starts rolling? Ignore this factor and you risk going under before you've even started.
(6) Service Your Equipment
Cameras, lights, computer, phone, car: these are the tools of your trade and you need to be sure that you can count on every one of them to deliver, every time. Consider investing in a back-up of the most essential items. Screw up with a client once and you won't get called again.
(7) Get Out There And Meet People
As essential as social media has become, hermits don't get jobs. Show your work to the people who count; talk to anyone and everyone; go to trade events; work your contacts; call in favors. Are there organizations relevant to your particular line of work that you can join? Not only might these offer resources for finding work but also legal support and advice.
As a freelancer you need a team. Consider collaborating with other creatives (stylists, make-up artists, models, producers etc.) who are also starting out. Shooting test projects together can be a good opportunity for everyone involved to build up their portfolios while at the same time forging relationships and contacts to call on for future jobs.
However, be wary of working on what are essentially commissioned jobs for free or below rate with the promise of further fully-paid commissions in the future: in reality you'll forever be seen as 'the cheap photographer' and the real jobs will mysteriously never materialize. Work for free by all means, but make sure that there's genuinely tangible benefit in it for you - not just some vague promise of future remuneration that will likely remain unfulfilled.
With so many photographers out there all vying to score the same opportunities it takes great dedication, willpower and careful organization to make it as a freelancer today. But by following the important steps above you'll already be halfway to the winning post.
Have you already made the leap into the world of freelance photography? Let us know your tips for softening the landing.
John Braman is a photography writer with 20 years of professional experience in the industry, first shooting news and features for wire agencies such as Reuters, then producing high-end editorial and international advertising campaigns for household-name brands in the US, Europe and Asia. His expertise extends from archaic analog techniques to the latest digital technologies - and most things in between.