Social media freelancer @whatshepictures shares insight into what it’s like starting out in the freelance business as well as some helpful tips for picking the right jobs.
Starting a freelance business can be exciting and so rewarding. You are your own boss, the head hancho. You get to make every decision and steer your ship where ever you want to go.
But that can be really daunting too.
When starting out as a freelance creative, it can be tempting to say yes to every job offer that comes your way. What if all the jobs run out? What if you can’t pay next month’s bills? Success is supposed to mean you’re busy working all the time, right?
The power of saying no
This reactionary way of accepting work isn’t exactly being the captain of your ship. It’s important to be selective with the jobs you accept because the work you do will dictate in what direction your business will head. It dictates the brand of your business. You want control of that don’t you?
It’s scary to think about turning down work, turning down money, especially when you’re just starting your freelance business. But saying no to work that doesn’t benefit you (aside from just money) leaves more room for saying yes to all the projects that are right for you.
Jack of all trades, master of none
So you’ve started your freelance business. Maybe you’re a photographer who shoots weddings, family portraits, corporate headshots, product, and the occasional real estate gig. Your website shows how diverse your skills are with the many category headings for each portfolio on display. Does this sounds like you?
Most of the time, being a jack of all trades and master of none is a one-way ticket to Mediocre-ville. Maybe that’s your jam, but I’m going to assume that most of us want more from ourselves.
Think of it from a brand’s point of view. A brand will search for a photographer to showcase their brand new skincare line. They’ve invested lots of money into developing this line and need amazing photography to drive up sales. Are they going to hire a jack of trades? Or would their investment be safer in the hands of a product photography master?
How to know when to say yes
It’s helpful to have a clear set of criteria for selecting the right jobs for you. This criteria should keep in mind the goals you have for your business. What does your dream career look like? Where do you hope to see yourself in 2 years? 5 years?
To help you with your decision making, here are the factors I consider before saying yes to any job. You may have other factors to consider, but let this be a kicking off point to get your thinking started.
Does it pay enough?
I know I said that money shouldn’t be the only driver when accepting work, but it’s still a big one. I mean, we all have to pay our bills right? But any old amount of money isn’t good enough. You need to be properly compensated for your time, talent and experience. Look long and hard at your business to understand what your minimum day rate needs to be. If the budget your client offers is too low, respectfully decline. Believe in yourself and stick to your rates. The right clients will pay what you’re worth.
Will it be a good learning experience?
Some jobs offer new challenges so it could be a good idea to accept jobs that expand your creative muscles or technical skills. Maybe it takes you out of your comfort zone. Building on your skills and experience will strengthen your business, but it’s important to makes sure that the skills and experience you’re gaining will bring you closer to your business goals and won’t divert you down a different path.
Does it strengthen a relationship?
Strengthening business relationships is a great way to secure long term work. It’s a good idea to consider doing less than exciting jobs for your existing clients to build on the loyalty and trust in your professional relationship. Be careful with doing favours for new clients though as you need to guard against being taken advantage of. In general, I only do favours for clients I already have a history with and who have proven to be reliable.
Does it bring you joy?
Will you like doing the job? It’s a basic question that a lot of people forget to ask themselves. A lot of people start freelancing to escape the 9-5 grind doing work they don’t love. So why are you accepting work that you don’t want to do?
Realistically, not all jobs will bring you loads of joy. We all rely on those bread and butter jobs that may be less than exciting, but aren’t too challenging and bring in reliable income. But these jobs need to be balanced with projects that excite you and fill you with joy.
Make sure you regularly schedule work that you genuinely want to do. This could mean starting up passion projects for yourself or doing charity work that you truly believe in. Regularly doing work that fills you up will make doing those bread and butter jobs much more bearable.
What’s in it for you?
Personally, I like jobs that meet at least two of the four factors above: money, experience, relationships, and joy. Sometimes I’ll accept work that only meets one factor, but then I make sure that I’m getting a whole heap of that one factor. So if I’m only working for the money, I better be getting a big pile of it. Or if I’m working only for my enjoyment, I make sure that I’m getting a giant dose of joy.
Ultimately, you never want to find yourself pushing through a job wondering why am I doing this? Knowing what’s in it for you for every job you accept will give you the drive to see each project through and onto the next.
How this shapes your freelance business
When you’re intentional with the work you do, you can build your skills and experience in a specific niche. This doesn’t mean you have to give up shooting landscapes if you’re building a business around product photography. It just means you should be careful about broadcasting your side projects too early in your career if they detract from the core of your brand.
As you become known for your work in a particular niche, you’ll attract more work in that niche. You’ll land bigger clients as your reputation and skills grow. This is how you build a strong personal brand and even command a higher price for your unique talents. It’s how you set yourself apart from your competition and be in control of the business of your dreams.