I often meet people who have aspirations of freelancing. But how does one just up and become a freelance contractor? How does one overcome the huge wall of instability and unknown? Today, a friend expressed her frustration and discouragement about her current situation.
‘I don’t know how to get to where I want to be’
‘I’m just not making enough money’
My first question for her was, “Do you know where you want to be?”
She replied, yes, that she wanted to be a fully self-sustained freelance photographer, but that money was tight at the moment and she felt she really needed to update her gear in order to advance.
My initial advice to her was not to focus on the money. Money is a distraction. I think people get so distracted by the money they want to have, that they loose focus on what they are doing. If you put all your attention on what you are doing, the money and all that other good stuff will come naturally. Remember money is just one indicator of commercial success and should not be the goal.
Here was my main advice for her (or anyone wanting to really break into a freelance career):
I had to work for almost three years doing freelance design and photography to finally be at a point where I could sustain myself solely off freelance work. During that time I was also bartending, working with special needs youth, and had a couple other odd jobs to support myself.
At a certain point I finally realized that doing these jobs to cover the costs, was really holding me back from becoming a fully independent freelancer. I was only able to do the freelance activities part-time, and it was after using up much of my energy and time on the other jobs.
Almost immediately after I dropped the other jobs I had been working to support myself, my freelance work blossomed into a self supporting business. There was definitely lots of struggle, lots of unknown, busy months and slow months, but it was the best decision I ever made.
Sometimes you need to expose yourself to really insecure positions, like not having a steady income for a few months, while you give your all to freelance endeavors. It’s scary as hell putting yourself in that vulnerable position, but I’m telling you, it is the only way you will be able to excel and advance with your independent business.
That’s not to say that quitting your ‘day job’ is going to guaranty your success. However by having the ‘other’ job, it’s seriously holding you back from fulfilling yourself with what you’re truly passionate about.
A perfect example of this is in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. Bruce is stuck in a prison and the only way out is to climb out. But everyone who tried failed, because they were using a rope for security in case they fell. The rope was what was holding them back, not physically but mentally. When you don’t have it all on the line so to speak, you’re simply not going to be able to take something all the way.
This being said, you’re going to want to try and save up enough money so that you can live for at least four months without a substantial income. Figure out how much you need to live for four months and get saving.
As for new camera gear, I do agree that it does have an impact. Do the best with what you have for the time being. You can even rent gear if you really feel the project warrants it. Pro Tip: Rental gear – If you’re good with timing you can do half day rentals to save money, or try and book multiple projects on the same day.
I don’t normally recommend people go into debt, but freelancing is a business. And certain businesses require financial investments. If you are going to take on debt for any reason, this is probably the reason to do it. Try to get a low interest credit card or line of credit from the bank. Also you can hunt for grants or try crowd funding. This takes time and work but again, time and work is what it takes to make shit happen.
So now you have the drive, the tools, you’re almost set. The last thing you need is a solid strategy for your business. Who are your customers? How are you going to sell them your services? How are they going to know about your services? How will you be a superior choice for your customers over the hundreds of other people going after the exact same thing?
These questions are daunting and intimidating, yes, but if you take them on one by one, and develop a strategy; you will be able to pull it off. You just need to have faith in yourself and keep focused on what you want to achieve.
I am a strong believer in DIY and if you search the web, you will find tons of free resources and articles that will help guide you through these questions. I did mention that it took me nearly three years to become a fully independent freelancer. Building a clientele was one of the biggest challenges. Typically you start off offering your services below market value to compete with others who have been at it longer, have more references, a bigger portfolio, and so on. IT takes time to build your name, but eventually you can charge market value or higher and you will stop looking for new clients as a steady stream of referrals will be coming your way.
How fast you reach that point totally depends on the amount of time, effort and determination you put in. In my case, I clung to other jobs for financial stability and the amount of time I was able to commit suffered. I suspect if I had gone all in from day one I could have gotten to where I am now much more quickly.
So there you have it. First figure out how much you need to save to live off of for 4 months to a half a year (any more than that and you’re giving yourself too big a security blanket, and also deferring your dream).
Next cultivate a steadfast business strategy. Reach out to friends and friends of friends. Network. You will be surprised the amount of help and advice people are willing to give for absolutely free. Chances are, you know other people who have gone through the exact same struggle and process. Use the web. There are tons of free resources to help you succeed. Learn from others mistakes. One thing I will note, be weary of paid online courses and people claiming to have the secret to a six figure salary. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
Once you have the temporary life support money, the solid business plan, and the mindset that you are going to make this happen no matter what, and of course some existing skill, experience, and talent, you are ready to take the leap of faith, quit your day job and go H.A.M. (Hip-Hop’ionary: H.A.M. – Acronym for; Hard As A Motherfu@#r) for your dream. It won’t be easy but when you finally are living it, you will be on top of the World.
In conclusion, I also told her to have a look at this video that was posted a few weeks ago, in which Jim Carrey gives some incredible perspective and advice.