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Going it Alone: A Step by Step Guide to Freelancing as a Photographer

Updated 3/2020

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!

Olivia Bossert is a successful, full-time, freelancing photographer from the United Kingdom. She works with brands and businesses such as East Clothing, Daisy Jewellery, Barbour, Joules, White Stuff, La Galeria Elefante and Crew Clothing to help them to grow their audiences, sell their products, and inspire their followers. She recently shared her non photo shoot daily schedule

6:45am: Our alarm goes off. I get Milo out of his crate and take him outside.

7am: Feed Milo, eat my breakfast. 

7:40am: Tom [partner] goes to work. 

8am: I shower, get dressed, put some make up on. 

8:30am-10am: Working. This usually is when I'll get all my emails done, do any really boring admin stuff (ie. invoices). I like to write a big to do list first thing on a Monday, and tackle it throughout the week. This is also the time when I check Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and do any other social media stuff that needs to be done. 

10am-11am: Take Milo for his walk. This is always a highlight of my day! Most days I'll grab my headphones and put a podcast on. I adore these walks, and I can't recommend getting out in the morning to get some fresh air (rain or shine!). I always come back with new ideas, rearing to go, feeling refreshed and energised. If I've had a bad morning so far, or I'm feeling stressed about something, taking Milo out on a walk is bound to make me feel better. Most of my *good ideas* happen on these walks. 

11am-2pm: During this time I'm back at my desk, continuing with projects I've got on. Some days that's editing images for a client. Others I might be sending out emails to people I really want to work with, introducing myself to them. I also like to use this time of day to catch up on any educational stuff I'm doing (reading up about something I want to learn, doing a course, etc). Oh, and at some point in all of this Milo and I both have some lunch!

2pm: Take Milo out for his second (shorter) walk of the day. We live in an apartment, and although he can very easily go out for wee's, etc, we haven't got a garden where he can wonder around unsupervised... so I take him out for lots of little walks throughout the day! Again, these have become second nature now, and they actually help me get far more work done. You'd be amazed how great short breaks in your day can be for your productivity! 

2:30pm-5pm: This is the time of day which is most changeable. I work best in the mornings and early afternoon, and around 2pm is where my brain starts to get tired. That might seem early to people who work in an office, but thats just how I work. I don't necessarily end my day here, but if I'm feeling really tired I'll often do "easy" jobs in this time of day: gathering inspiration, reading blog posts, watching Youtube videos, or things like cleaning the house, running errands, etc. 

5pm: Tom [partner] comes home, we take Milo out for another shorter walk. 

5:30pm: I check I've not had any last minute emails come in, and then I put my computer to sleep for the day. My laptop is connected to a big desktop screen, and I rarely unplug it, which has done wonders for me because I spend SO much less time on my computer in the evenings now! 

6pm: I'm always done with work for the day by 6pm, and I use my evenings for pure relaxation. Sometimes that means heading to yoga for an hour, sometimes it's running myself a bath. Sometimes that literally means sitting on the sofa and watching everyone's Instagram stories! 

7:30pm: Tom [partner] and I eat dinner.

8pm: We watch our favourite TV shows. At the moment we're starting Peaky Blinders season 1, and have also just watched the first episode of Ozark!

10pm: Bed time. I take Milo out for his last wee of the day, and then pop him in his crate. I head to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and then head to bed. I'll usually read for anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour. 

10:30pm-11pm: Sleep! I need a good 8 hours at least, so our lights are almost always out by 10:30pm...11pm at the latest! 

  1. 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. Looking for inspiration? Check out the tips in this article - how to become a social media influencer 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Collaborate

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.

Conclusion

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.

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