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Ten Things You Need Before You Go Freelance

Ten Things You Need Before You Go Freelance

The freelance lifestyle can be both creatively and financially rewarding but it does also come with a few hidden pitfalls that need to be avoided at all costs. If you want to minimize your chances of failure it is well worth having these 10 things in place long before you take the leap.

Going freelance is a lot like building a house. If you want to ensure things go without a hitch then it's often wise to do things in a particular order. You wouldn't lay a concrete floor until you had all your heating pipes in place, neither would you even think about starting to build somewhere without the necessary permission. The real difference between building and a photography career is that mistakes made on a construction site are usually fixable. If you fail to have certain things in place when starting out as a freelancer you really could end up with problems that are actually irreparable.

Here are 10 things to consider prior to going freelance.    

1. A Financial Buffer

Even if you hit the ground running at the start of your freelance career it may take weeks or even months for the first few checks to come in. Having some money in the bank to cover a few months outgoings is a good habit to get into even long after the money starts rolling in. A buffer will stop you worrying when the quiet spells happen or unforeseen expenditure is required.

2. A Network of Creatives

Having a list of good creatives at your disposal is paramount when you are a freelance photographer. It will often be your responsibility to hire people to work with you and it's important you pick the right ones. You can't be taking risks on unknown creatives during an important shoot so having good working relationships beforehand is crucial. The other benefit of knowing a network of fellow freelance creatives is that they may often be in a position to recommend you to clients they work with. With no network in place, the solitary life of a freelancer just got a little bit harder.

3. Some Actual Clients

Before you quit your day job you do actually need to have some clients in place first. Just because you change your LinkedIn profile status to freelancer does not mean the phone will automatically start ringing. Start planting seeds long before you actually transition into freelancer by meeting clients and doing shoots in the evenings, weekends, or on your days off.

4. A Portfolio and Website

Most freelancers do meetings so you're going to need some kind of portfolio to show potential clients your work. Personally, I prefer a physical book to show off what I can do but if you prefer the benefits a tablet brings then go with that. It's not for me to say how many images you should have in your portfolio but you really do need a decent amount of work that sends out the message to clients that you can deliver relevant and quality images. Unfortunately, a lot of clients lack imagination and are risk averse so you do need to have examples related to the industries you are trying to get hired in on the pages of your portfolio. If you only have a handful of images in your portfolio you'll probably struggle to get hired.

As for the website, most clients will make a decision if they want to do a meeting or hire you by looking at your website first. It needs to be shouting out the same message your portfolio does. If a client visits your site and sees half-finished pages or even worse no website at all do you really think they will be filled with confidence to hire you? Get your website in place long before you go freelance as you're going to need it to help get your first few clients. The sooner you create a website the quicker you will build up good SEO too.

5. Kit

This might seem like an obvious one but you really do need the photography gear required to do the jobs you want to be hired for. This really needs to be in place before you actually go freelance. Of course, you can buy additional things along the way but the bulk of your gear should really be bought while you still have the security of a regular paycheck coming in. For tax reasons it may be a good idea to buy some of these items the moment you make the switch to freelance but the main thing is you're not relying on the money you make early on as a freelancer to pay for it.

6. A Mentor

Having at least one straight conversation with someone already in the industry can really go a long way. You don't need to have the kind of relationship the karate kid had with Mr. Miyagi but having someone at the end of the phone to answer the occasional question could really accelerate your career and help you avoid any major pitfalls along the way.    

7. An Understanding of the Tax System

This is going to vary from place to place but understanding the tax system where you live is super important to freelancers. You may wonder why this knowledge is needed before you actually take the leap into freelance but it really can save you a lot of money and minimize headaches in the future. Knowing what outgoings you can write off your tax bill, what time of year it might be best to register as self-employed, and the amount of tax you will likely need to find each year will all help shape the decisions you make regarding the transition into freelance.

8. An Idea of What to Charge

You really need to have a good understanding of what the markets pay freelancers in the areas you plan to work in. Not only will this help you to understand what sort of money you can make but knowing ballpark figures will ensure you're not a million miles away when quoting for work. It's all well and good wanting to charge $10,000 a day but if everyone else only charges $1000 in your area then you might struggle to find work. Likewise, if you charge too little you'll either go bust before you know it or those risk-averse clients I mentioned earlier will run for the hills and not hire you. Speak to your mentor and creative network to get an idea on possible rates.

9. Insurance

This one will also vary from place to place but factoring in things like health insurance are vitally important to work out before you leave the security of a job that offers these things. Not only that, you also need to make sure you have the correct liability and equipment insurance in place from day one as a freelancer. Insurance is your responsibility when you work for yourself and not having or understanding what is needed could sink your career overnight if theft or an accident were to happen. 

10. Good Credit

Until you have healthy tax records from freelancing for several years you'll probably struggle to lend off banks or get more credit. For this reason, if you were thinking about buying property or getting a new car it might be worth doing so before you actually leave your day job. Increase your overdraft limits and get a credit card while you still look good on paper to the banks. That said, these credit facilities should be used in emergencies only as interest is expensive.

So there you have it, 10 things that are well worth putting in place before you start on your journey as a freelancer. This article is not intended to discourage people from following their freelance dreams but more a checklist of points to help you build a solid foundation for your career. You really could open up a Pandora's box of problems if you fail to do certain things before you leave the security of a regular paid job.

Is there anything I missed off the list? Do you have any regrets about how you made the jump into freelance? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Lead image by Mohamed1982eg on Pixabay.

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cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

You also need a plan...
For example : where do you want to be in 2 years, 5 years and 10 years and fight for this.
If you focus with only getting a client and lower your price to get "a" job, you will not have the opportunity to get this job again with the same client if you start raising your price.
It's important to be focusing and explaining your skills and why they should choose you for this.
Create your niche and stick to it.

Mike Schrengohst's picture

And don't forget the support of your family. Most people who start freelancing are probably single. You bring a spouse into the mix and it gets super fun! I ran a successful video production business for 15 years and then got married. And look into setting up as an S-corp. And find a good accountant. Actually shooting photos and/or video almost becomes a side-line to running you business.....

Paul Parker's picture

Excellent point Mike, everything in life is much easier with the support of family. Thanks for the tip!

Liam Doran's picture

Good points. Ive been full-time freelance for twelve years. It can be great and it can be terrible..sometimes in the same day. Its pretty easy when your are young and single but add a marriage a few kids, mortgage, health insurance etc and things get complicated

Paul Parker's picture

Great to hear you've been freelancing for so long Liam! I think everything becomes more complicated as we get older... ;)

Thanks for your comment!