The first step of my self-employed journey, similar to many others, began after I registered on the HRMC site. And as underwhelming as this seemed, sitting alone at home on my laptop, it was the push that I needed to finally make that decision to become a freelancer, and ultimately make it work! Although I still consider myself a 'new starter', some of the things I've learnt in the last few years really have opened my eyes to the ‘freelancer career’.
1. FREELANCERS NEED DAYS OFF TOO!
The beauty of being your own boss means you can determine your work hours but this also includes organising your down time too. Something I discovered early on was the discipline and enthusiasm I had to get out there and get working, didn't translate to my days off. Setting boundaries and giving yourself the breaks you need can be more challenging than you think. I've found ironically scheduling or booking in my days off in the diary was one of the best ways to ensure they actually happened. Despite striving to be a successful ‘workaholic’ there's also no shame in staying in bed all day on a Tuesday. Initially for me it was a guilt complex. My thoughts were "well everyone else is working on a Tuesday- I should be out there trying to find work too". But remember holiday pay/ sick pay is not really a thing when you're paying yourself a salary. So not taking adequate time off could ultimately affect your health later on down the line. I'd much rather have a well timed day off than an unavoidable sick day that affects a booking or scheduled job.
2. WORK AND YOUR PERSONAL LIFE DON'T ALWAYS MIX
I am a converted believer that your work life and home life should be kept separate as much as you can. I realise ‘working from home’ or having a ‘home office’ somewhat juxtaposes this, however even walking from one room to the other, or sitting down at a dedicated desk space can help create that balance. Don’t get me wrong- I love a ‘working from bed’ day but I have to admit they are never my most productive. (These quite commonly occur during my "days off") It is a perk of being a photographer- you can often work anywhere- but making the decision to make this 'anywhere' a station other than my bedroom definitely helped to boost my motivation and productivity. Getting up, getting dressed and sticking to more traditional working hours (where possible) really helps give structure to my days. And when cabin fever is setting in there's always a local coffee shop for you to set up base in for a few hours!
3. ONLY YOU CAN DECIDE WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
With the decision to become self employed came the pressure to “make it work.” This pressure may not have come from anywhere in particular - admittedly mainly from my own head - but it was looming there nonetheless. However running a business requires a little bit of capital- none more so than at the very beginning. And without millionaire investors knocking at your door this money is most likely coming from your own pocket. I actually found it refreshing to discover that freelancers often take on more work, part time or zero hour contracts for example, that then enable them to also work on their own projects. Initially this concept troubled me- if I wasn't working as a photographer full time was I really a photographer? The answer is yes of course and things don't happen overnight. Working different jobs - photography and non-photography related actually makes my work life so much more interesting and exciting. There is no shame in working hard! Your career and your journey is exactly that, ”yours'. I began to think of these jobs as investments into my business. Any money I made from these temporary jobs enable me to keep my photography going and grow the business further. And of course- every moment is a networking moment right?!
4. IMPOSTER SYNDROME IS A REAL THING
Imposter syndrome is defined as, "a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Sound familiar? Photography for me was always a hobby and something I simply enjoyed to do and share with other people. The fact that people are now paying me to do this often triggers those fraudulent feelings. Best way to overcome this? Have confidence in yourself. Prove to yourself that you can do it and do it well. Clients hire you for a reason and be grateful in the fact you enjoy what you do. People are not stupid- they believe in your work enough to employ you, so you should feel the same. There's definitely comfort in the fact this is a recognised and common practice in the workplace- but don't let it impede on your work. If all else fails- fake it 'til you make it!
5. IT'S OK TO FEEL LONLEY SOMETIMES!
When I tell my friends “I’d love to work in an office” they think I’m crazy. I’m not talking about craving the early morning commuter life, but more the camaraderie I expect that comes with a lot of communal office spaces. Of course within my practical photography work I am always working with people- that’s my chosen subject matter for a reason. I love meeting new people and being sociable. However there are days spent sitting in front of your computer, editing thousands of images for a day or two on end, that sometimes leads me craving a desk buddy. Co-working spaces are an amazing thing- especially around larger cities where possibilities for hot desks are endless. And there are plenty ways to fulfil your social void if needs be. But for me it’s all about balance. I’ll have days sat at home working solo, then days spent with teams of people or multiple clients. One day I’ll be craving social interaction and the next I’ll be yearning for my desk and my coffee machine. It’s all about finding out what works for you. I've learnt it’s ok to feel lonely sometimes!
6. YOU'LL ALWAYS NEED SOMETHING NEW
Just like a child at Christmas your wish list is going to be endless. And photography specifically is a particularly expensive practice. I felt a lot of pressure initially to up my equipment game for work. And yes I definitely needed to up it to a professional level, however like most things this doesn't happen overnight. With the idea of crippling debt and multiple credit cards in my mind I was terrified of the prospect of spending money before I'd even begun to make any. To help with this I approach my kit list in a practical and logical way. If it's an essential that I need for an upcoming shoot then yes it's necessary. If it's a very particular item that I probably won't need to use again- consider the hire option. If there are multiple items in your stock that need updating, prioritise and plan ahead. You might be able to tell I'm pretty strict (aka tight) when it comes to my business money- however don't limit yourself because of your equipment. You have to look at everything as an investment. And ALWAYS do your research! The newest and most expensive kit might not be the right fit for your needs. Also if your still unsure in your practice and are still shooting a range of subjects, theres a lot of great second hand bargains around. I started off with second hand kit and now I know what I use and need, I'm ready to upgrade these items. Just be careful with used equipment- definitely do research, buy from recognised companies and try to see detailed product photos before you buy!
7. KNOW YOUR WORTH
If you couldn't tell already I don't particularly like talking about money and I''m sure a lot of people feel the same! But knowing your worth is so important in this industry not only for yourself and your business but for other artists and creatives too. I have found it hard to figure out pricing structures and discussing money in general I find awkward at times, but you have to swop your creative head for your business head at that point. Remember to not undersell yourself! Your fee doesn't just pay for the final product.. There is so much more to your role than clicking the shutter. Consider your overheads, equipment, time, post production time, kit depreciation, travelling and other expenses- along with the highly skilled role you have as the photographer in the first place! Undercharging devalues your work and can also have a rolling affect on devaluing other creatives in your field! It's definitely a tricky aspect of the job I hadn't considered before, and I still have struggles with it now- but set your standard from the start and don't compromise!
8.NOT EVERYONE WILL UNDERSTAND
And that's ok. Along with a lack of understanding sometimes comes criticism or judgement. This doesn't mean to say this was the intention, however I've often had to explain my career choices in a lot more detail than someone with a more 'traditional' job role in a similar scenario. I often felt embarrassed to talk about my photography which in retrospect seems ridiculous! A lot of people will be genuinely interested so don't see it as a negative when you get a surprised or confused response. I have to admit this is happening less and less often as career opportunities are becoming more and more diverse. Be prepared and be proud! Take the opportunity to talk about something you love!
Sometimes I have to remind myself what a bold thing it is to be self employed. Yes you get a lot of benefits but the uncertainty of freelancing is not for everyone! The exciting thing is the ball is very much in your court. The terrifying thing is this means no one is going to tell you how to do it. These are just a few things I learnt early on down the line. Ultimately you carve your own path and if you don't like something only you have the power to change it! One of my favourite parts of being freelance is that you're learning everyday. There's no rulebook or guide- sometimes you have to make your own!