This month I hit the two-year mark as a freelance photographer after almost five years straight of working for a magazine full-time, as a salaried photographer/assistant editor and it’s been one hell of a ride so far. I seem to always have this discussion with people and it’s interesting to hear everyone’s varying opinions on the subject of freelance vs. the daily grind. This very column is one of the best parts of working for myself and has been since TTL number one. Now for those of you out there working a 9-5 I have nothing against that lifestyle. If it’s paying the bills and helping you maintain your current situation then I say go for it. There is something about creating that I am addicted to. Whether it’s shooting a photograph, or writing a 4,000-word story I seem to have the need to constantly be working and moving forward. I decided to take a little bit of time and reflect on the differences between the two, and the ups and downs of both since I feel at this point I have seen from both perspectives.
Freedom of choice: These are in no particular order but this one definitely sits at the top of my list. It’s one of those things where as a creative person, there is nothing more satisfying than doing exactly what you want and creating exactly what you want. Sure, there are times that I work for companies and do what they say, and stay within their guidelines; either way though, I would have to have an interest in working on that particular project because I took on the job in the first place.
Schedule: Although I am constantly figuring out and shaping my opinion on the subject of freelance vs. the grind I think that making my own schedule has been one of the most amazing parts of working for myself. How can it not be? Can you imagine getting up every day (for the most part) at the exact time you choose to? Can you imagine working when you want to work? Can you imagine saying no to work you don’t want to do so that you can focus on work that you actually want to do? Well, that’s what it’s like and it’s been very, very difficult to imagine any other way.
Health insurance: This one is a little weird these days considering the whole Obamacare situation. Before that came along, I suppose I’ve been ok with not having insurance but it’s one of those things where it wouldn’t be a bad thing to be covered for emergencies because you never know what could happen. I can and could have paid for my own insurance for the past couple of years but chose not to and I guess until now felt ok with that. I will say though that it’s nice to work for a company that pays your health benefits, that’s always a good feeling and although you might not make as much money, if the benefits are included you should be stoked on that alone.
Taxes: Oh boy, as we all know, dealing with taxes is never fun and always a pain in the ass at least to some degree. As someone who gets 1099’d for every project that I do it’s not like I can get away with not claiming money that I make since every single penny is accounted for through those forms. The hardest part (so far) is dealing with the whole tax situation. For example, if I complete a project and I’m waiting on a $4,000 check show up, that means that I am waiting on a $4,000. Whatever quote I give a company, a check shows up in the mail with that exact number on it. This means that I am 100% responsible for paying my taxes. When you do it, the best way to do it would be to do it quarterly. You pay a lower percentage, which saves you a little money in the long run. But, sometimes time passes in between checks so that by the time the money shows up, it could very well already be spent in full. Now that just means when tax time comes so does a big fat bill from Uncle Sam. This one comes with a bit of a learning curve so don’t look to me for this to be an advice column about how to correctly do your taxes. I’m nervous as hell about this coming year. I know for a fact that I am going to have to pay a good chunk of what I made to the government. But, I guess it’s better than not owing anything because I didn’t make anything right?
Self motivation: Being self-motivated is number one. I can’t stress this enough. Not only is this the most important part of being on your own; it’s one of the most important parts of being successful in general. I would not take this lightly if you are considering every quitting your job or taking a risk in general and trying to just make the switch. It doesn’t matter what you do, or what field you work in, being motivated is equally important across the board so keep that in mind. Not everyone is cut out for keeping any kind of workflow without having someone tell them what to do beforehand.
Maintaining your business relationships: This is another big one to pay attention to. I know that I’ve touched on this before in a different column but it specifically relates to this feature and plays a big role in making or breaking someone’s business. If you work on a freelance project-to-project basis like I do then you understand just how important it is to maintain a relationship with your clients. That’s the only way you will ever get offered more work from them. Sure, you can land an amazing job but if you never get called back for the same job, someone else did it better than you, or for less money than you. Either way that means its not you that got the job so keep that in mind. Always be in contact with them and always be overly attentive and thorough, even though simple email communication. Making yourself the type of person that’s easy to deal with on a professional level as well as a friendly level is mandatory.
Constant evolution: This is one that I struggle with all of the time. I have a lot of projects on my plate all at once. Typically if you ask me what I do, I will run down a list of stuff that I shoot on a regular basis. I mean, hell… this is TTL #96, which marks the 96th week in a row of coming up with an idea or solid base for this very column. What I mean by constant evolution is to always be working on new ideas, always be working on new concepts or themes. That is the only way to make it. If you off too much of the same stuff, people will catch on real quick and simple turn away. This goes back to being self-motivated. No one is going to do the work for you. I strive to evolve on a daily basis, not only in my business life but my personal life as well.
Self promotion: I can honestly say that this is my least favorite part about being on my own as a photojournalist. It’s one of those necessary evils that never really goes away. The only way you will get known as a photographer is to promote your work. Whether it be creating and maintaining a portfolio site, keeping up on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or contributing to various websites… it’s all the same.
Personal satisfaction: Now this is one of the best parts about working solo. It’s an amazing feeling to book jobs based specifically off of your portfolio work and it’s good to know that someone appreciates the time and effort that you most likely put in to create it in the first place. Being your own boss is something that can’t really be compared to much else. It’s just something that you have to figure out on your own and really question whether or not it works for you personally.
Creative control: Ah, of course we can’t forget about creative control! This is very important and one that should not be overlooked. Depending on how controlling you are about your work output, this varies from person to person. For myself, there is no better feeling then being completely in control of what work goes out under my name. There is nothing that I would put out that I didn’t fully back as a photographer and I hope to keep it that way for a while.
Well, that’s it for this week. Keep in mind that this all came from personal experience and is all based on opinion. You could be working your 9-5 and loving every minute of it and that’s fine too, it’s just not for me. Sure, everyone has their own way of doing things and eventually you will figure out exactly what it is that you are interested in pursuing. The freelance lifestyle also doesn’t necessarily work with every profession either so keep that in mind. If you have a good job as a doctor, don’t expect to say fuck you to your boss, quit and then go freelance on your own. If anything, I hope that this piece at least got you thinking and if you were on the fence about trying it out on your own, definitely consider the facts. On that note, be sure to check back next Wednesday for the ninety-seventh edition of Through the Lens and as always feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or email me at [email protected] and I will hit you back as soon as I can. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jeremypavia.