Recently Relocated? Tips For Rebuilding Your Freelance Business In A New City

Recently Relocated? Tips For Rebuilding Your Freelance Business In A New City

When it comes to building a video production and photography business, it can take years to cultivate good clients, get high paying and interesting projects, and form relationships with reliable help. If you move, losing that local network can take a huge toll on your business.

As written in a previous post, I quit my full time job of 6 years and moved out to southwest Colorado. I was chasing a dream project, Ascending India, and the shooting for the project is finally done. I’ve got a mountain of footage to edit, but in the meantime, I still need to eat and do what I can to make some money in my new area. I’ll share some tips on what I’ve learned and experienced in having to rebuild my networks, and expand my business offerings to find what little work I can.

Get your portfolio and reel together as soon as possible.
While we should keep an updated demo reel, portfolio, and website at all times, let’s be real– we are generally too busy working to spend time on these self promotional facets of our business. In relocating, having your recent, best work available is absolutely crucial. I’ve been leaving my business card at various places in town, meeting fellow artists, and soliciting other business owners for work. I know the first place they will go to is my website, and if I’ve not kept media fresh and updated there, I’ll be missing out on potential gigs and future clients. I'll throw out there that Squarespace has been awesome for updating and maintaining my site, and for a non-coder like myself I've been very happy with it.

Build a new network of assistants, writers, shooters, and people who know people.
I freelanced full time for about 3-4 years in Michigan before taking an in-house video producing position which was full time. Even then, I still did a good amount of work on the side. Most of my freelance jobs came from people I had known for a long time, and worked for or with previously. “It’s all about who you know,” is an expression that comes to mind here. It will take years to build up to that level again, but planting seeds and developing those contacts as quickly as possible only means it will happen sooner.

Working as an assistant with the crew at MSTV early in my career helped me establish many contacts for future work. Working as an assistant with the crew at MSTV early in my career helped me establish many contacts for future work.

Besides potential clients, keep in mind that work for you might come from fellow video producers or photographers. I researched online, scouted nearby art galleries, and asked the few people I had met about any local photo/video folks. I built a contact list and reached out to every single one of them, hoping to get on their radar and perhaps land some gigs in the nearby city of Durango, and cultivate some working relationships.

Additionally, I set up a small interview shoot (and gear review) so I brought on a local video guy to give me a hand. That was a month ago, and just yesterday he texted me saying he has got some work lined up a few towns over if I’m available. “What goes around comes around,” is another expression I think of often in our line of work.

Get ready to travel.
I happen to have relocated to one of the poorest counties in all of Colorado, and the population is only about 9,000. There honestly isn’t a ton glamorous work to be found locally. I can see myself making a 2-4 hour commute to larger cities like Albuquerque or Flagstaff when the right project presents itself. I would suggest that if you move to a small market, be prepared to commute for bigger jobs in larger cities.

While some clients will pay for your travel expenses for a project, plenty of producers specifically look for crews near their shoot location since it is cheaper than flying someone out. In some cases you might be contacted for a gig in your former city. If that happens, I would argue that if a project is going to be lucrative enough to justify it, it's worth it to fly out on your own dime. Spending $350 for a flight and crashing at friend's place for a few nights is absolutely worth it to me if I'm making $1500 a day.

Keep your ego in check.
You hear the phrase “pay your dues” in a number of industries, and in our egocentric slice of the visual world, it’s no different. I worked many low paying gigs when I was still in school, and agreed to work on some projects for free when I felt the contacts and experience earned would indeed be worth it (it wasn’t always though!) That was a long time ago, so I felt that my dues had been paid in full, with interest.

Here is an unfortunate photo of me with a pony tail, working as a part time camera op doing event videography. Here is an unfortunate photo of me with a pony tail, working as a part time camera op doing event videography. Not the most glamorous or high paying work by any stretch of the imagination, but I got my foot in the door with other crews, and got to play with expensive equipment I could never afford.

In a new city, no one knows you. You might be lucky to have a few random contacts on social media, and a few people to call on for some jobs, but we’re not all that lucky. I found myself in a place where I’ve had to take on volunteer jobs, no pay jobs, and make myself available when I’d rather be brewing beer or rock climbing, just to build my networks up again. It was a challenge at first to deal with this, but eventually I realized my ego was getting the better of me, and I simply wasn’t going to command the kind of work as I did before, without first working my way up again.

Expanding your business offerings for more potential revenue streams.
I’m a video guy first and foremost, but I’ve really been trying to up my photography game in the last 4-5 years. I finally got to a point where I was beginning to pitch and license some images to magazines, and have portraits as an add-on service for my video productions. With the relocation, I felt this was as good a time as any to really push that side of my business.

While working as an assistant on an ice fishing photoshoot in Michigan’s UP this winter, I heard this little nugget of insight into the sport: "The more lines you cast, the more fish can catch." A wave of “derrrr” came over me when I heard this and I immediately saw the parallels to my own career pursuits. I redoubled my efforts on the photography side of things, and in the last two months I’ve made more money from photography than video, for the first time ever. I also began offering teaching and consultations through my website, which I hadn't done before. I taught for about 4 years part-time, and this could be another way for me to generate some income in my new location.

Self start or join user groups and use lectures as a marketing tool.
In an attempt to reach out to the local shooters, I took it upon myself to create a Meetup group for videographers and photographers in the greater Cortez and Durango area. Creating and hosting events like photo hikes, film festival nights, and lectures on projects gave me an opportunity to directly meet people I needed work with. It cost a small amount of money on my part, but I can consider this a business expense because I’m essentially marketing myself to them by discussing projects and future work. In your area there might already be some groups like this, so I’d encourage you to join if at all possible. Volunteer to host a presentation of a really cool project you worked on, and give a short lecture about it. It is cheap artist to artist marketing, and you stand to make some friends too.

Work remotely for your old clients.
If you do any editing or even producing, you might be able to do this remotely. Make it as simple as possible for your clients, and if you want, go as far as to offer discounts or free shipping if they have to send you tapes, hard drives, or releases. I have a client in particular that loves my work but also has 3-4 guys locally working on things as well. If I make it too difficult or cost prohibitive to use me, he simply won’t.

With all this time at home, chances of me working are... remote. /badpun With all this time at home, chances of me working are... remote. /badpun

As far as producing, back in Michigan I still have plenty of contacts with writers, producers, directors, and others I had worked with for a long time. I also still get cold calls or emails for clients who are looking for a quote on a project. I can still manage the bid and scheduling process, but I make it clear that I will not be directing it on site. I can still pick the crew, work on the script and shotlist, and eventually edit everything. I'm able to generate income for my business still, and provide work for my associates back in Michigan.

Blogging and (re)building your web cred.
If you have been working in your local market for a while and have been good about having a website with proper keywords and good SEO, chances are you’ll show up in google searches with a decent ranking. With a move however, your local ties won’t help you find work in the new place… yet. Editing your website to include keywords for your new location and writing blogs with this information can help you climb those rankings. Go tell Google where your business is now located, and get listed with them. You'll show up more in searches and on maps. (You can provide a generic city address so as not to give out the specific address of your home if you want to keep that private.)

Keep creating while you’re busy marketing.
Nothing drains me more than spending a week on my laptop, scouring the web for work, sending emails, and languishing in the bowels of my office working on projects that are inherently not creative. I can’t stress enough to make time to go out and shoot what you love. Whatever your niche or passion- if you’re not getting it as regular work, you need to stay sharp on your skills. This is a great time to experiment and discover exciting locations that your new city has to offer. Our own Ben Sasso wrote a great article about the importance of experimentation a few months back.

Last thoughts:
Do what you can to stay motivated during slow times. Remember what it was that fueled your passion originally or sparked that initial creative spirit. The work will come, but it does take time. I’ve taken up homebrewing in my spare time, and continue to search online for work and pester local shooters for any jobs they might have or want to pass off. If things get tight, I'll find some non-media part time position for some spending money, or, (shuddders) shoot a few weddings.

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Great post, I moved out here to Albuquerque a year and a half ago and have been slowely trying to establish myself out here. Good luck!

Mike Wilkinson's picture

Thanks for checking it out. Do you know Zach? I think he's an Abq local.

Does he shoot for Kim Jew?

Mike Wilkinson's picture

I don't know if he does, but I do know that he is a writer here -

Ah, different guy. But I like his portfolio.

Great article Mike! My wife and I recently moved to Marquette, MI so this all sounds pretty familiar. If you're ever in town, look me up!

Mike Wilkinson's picture

Right on. I was just there a month ago working with Aaron Peterson, Dan Englund, Ryan Stephens to just name a few...

I'll be up in Marquette next weekend, my family lives there and it's where I grew up. Maybe we can meet up sometime! send me an email

Jeroen Rommelaars's picture

Thanks for your insight! I recently relocated too and find it sometimes really hard to get any customers in my new area. Luckilly I still have a strong clientbase from my former town who don't mind paying the travelcost, but I guess thats the perk of living in a small country - traveling never really is expensive :)

A buddy and I are running into this problem of rebuilding freelance contacts in a new city. So we created a site that helps solve the underserved film job industry. It's free. its called . hope it helps someone out.

Also check out