So, it’s two weeks into the new year – how are things shaping up? Booked a ton of new work? Setting up to land your dream client? If, like me, you’re still working out the kinks and wondering how you’ll make it all work, this post is for you. I’ve got five tips to help keep you going, keep you motivated and keep you on track for the year ahead.
New year is an interesting time. January 1st inspires all sorts of feelings, emotions and – often - stresses. I’m sure like a lot of you, I’m sat in front of a bunch of goals, aims, ideas and plans for 2014, wondering how I’ll actually put them into practice and get to where I want to be. For those of you already booking jobs hand over fist, please continue to read – and comment – because I’m sure many of us would love to hear your insights. For many of us who are new into the world of either full or part time photography/videography, are freelancing, and don’t have a long, loyal client list, it can be both a very positive time of year - and a very daunting one.
While I know this year is going to be full of fun, adventure and interesting work, it’s still challenging, a few weeks in, trying to make things stack up and get clarity. The landscape ahead is still a little foggy to say the least.
I discovered this week I’m not the only one sat here scratching my head. If you read Joe McNally’s blog, you’ll see about the rip roaring start to his year, when he received his first paycheck for $1.32. Yes, that decimal spot is in the right place.
While I’m pretty sure this isn’t his only income for the month of January, if you read his insightful post, you’ll see that the worries and concerns about how to make your business work isn’t something that gets any easier. When I read what Joe had written – with all of his success, years of experience and knowledge – I knew that this issue of survival, and seeking out success, is pervasive and it’s something I’m sure 99% of us think about.
I’ve set out a few tips that have helped me, hopefully it might help you guys too. If you have any more ideas or thoughts please drop a line in the comments below, this list is by no means definitive or exhaustive and I’d love to hear from you.
1. Have a Plan
I’m talking about a simple plan, not a detailed, 20 page business plan mapping out the next 5 years. Do you know where are you looking to go with your work, which clients are you targeting, and how are you going to reach them? Do you have a “pipeline” of work mapped out, and if not what business development and marketing activity are you undertaking to develop that pipeline? In my previous life as a project manager and business consultant, this was part of our daily grind. That doesn’t mean it comes any easier to me now. As the (rather annoying but also annoyingly true) saying goes, “those who fail to plan, plan to fail”. If you don’t have a plan in place yet for 2014, fret not – Photoshelter have put together a great little business plan infographic for you to help you pull something together with all salient points for you to think about.
2. Stay Motivated
How do you stay motivated to do everything you need to do? Personally, I write out what I need to do and break work up into chunks to make it manageable. Reward yourself a little once a chunk is completed, especially that work which is “grind” i.e. not inspiring, not fun, but absolutely necessary. There is nothing worse than feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed by the task ahead. Instead of looking at the summit of the mountain in front of you, amble off to the side, and head up over the first ridge. Don’t try and bite off more than you chew, pace yourself.
3. Stay Focused
This is a key goal for this year. Most of my time is not spent shooting. It’s spent editing, emailing, in meetings, planning, marketing, making calls, accounting, managing invoices and following up on all the other tasks that get in the way of the fun of creating. I’m trying to limit time on social media as well as cutting down both length and number of emails sent in the day. It’s very easy to spend 30 minutes a day getting social media in order, but if I’m not careful, I’ve found I can easily end up on an endless gateway to other interesting nonsense on the internet.
Social media and anywhere email are great tools, but they can also suck the life out of you, and be a total productivity killer. Stay focused, and treat social media like that 4th slice of pizza – sure it’s tasty, but do you really need it? Limit your intake.
4. Accept Uncertainty
As a freelancer, or new business owner, you never know what the next job might be, where it will take you or what you might be getting paid. Some client work can be consistent, but as we build a business from the ground up, it’s always tough and there’s often a degree of uncertainty about the ‘next job’. I’m practicing trying to be present and just focusing on doing the best job I can with the work I’m doing right now. Gregory Heisler had some sage words in the interview he did last year for a little Profoto video on advice for new professionals (skip to 2:13 to hear them but I’d watch this whole thing, it’s gold).
He’s totally right of course – if we just stay focused on doing the best job right now, the uncertainty of the future should just take care of itself.
5. Make Time To Shoot What You Love
The reality for most of us is that we will have to shoot “other” stuff, stuff we don’t really want to shoot but it might pay well (and therefore help keep us in business).
For me, the key is to try not to differentiate well paid, yet less “creative” work, from the work I wish I could shoot all day every day (typically not well paid, but intrinsically rewarding and creative).
If we treat each job as a way to grow our technical, client and/or business skills, then we can’t lose. Stay focused on the overall benefits that come with each and every job because there are always benefits to be reaped. Above all, find balance - if you’re shooting too many weddings, portraits or corporate gigs, make the time to shoot what you love and make time for your own projects. Keep fresh and stimulated. It’s hard to turn down paying work, but with a proper plan in place, once the work is coming in, you’ll be in a position to be more selective about what you take on just to earn money, and instead be better placed to spend time on your own work that keeps the flame alive and burning inside.
Hope these tips were helpful. As I said, this isn’t a full and complete list by any means, just what comes to mind for me right now. I would love you to share your thoughts in the comments below so we can learn from, and support, one another.
As Joe mentioned in his blog post, this isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. That’s cliché, sure, but clichés are usually clichés for a reason. No matter how bumpy the ride might get, remember, you’re not alone, and if we help each other out, we might actually have a moment to put our heads above the parapet and enjoy the beautiful view.