My top five tips to make sure you put yourself, and your worth, first.
It’s been a while – have you missed me?
Age old story right? You want to be a photographer, you want to take photographs for a living, surely it should be that simple, your art will always come first, right? Wrong.
I don’t profess to you to be a photographic genius. Quite the contrary: I’d quite like you guys coming back time and time again to read more of my blog posts, not to put you off by letting you think I’m a know-it-all. These are just some nuggets of wisdom I have picked up along the way that I now pass onto you you, young grasshopper. Or even old grasshopper? Depending how long you’ve been in the game, I digress…
“Your first hurdle is figuring out how to live, eat and exist…”
Tip One: Know when to say ‘no’
You’re fresh from studies, or you’re self taught and just plucked up enough confidence to bag yourself your first gig. All bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to take over the photographic world, one shutter click at a time.
Your first hazard: people pretty much expect you to do stuff for free, or in return for something (which usually isn’t cash dollar). Your first hurdle is figuring out how to live, eat and exist on this, and I’m not going to sit behind a computer and preach to you how to do it. Every photographer’s journey is different, but what I am going to say is know when to say ‘no’.
Part of knowing your worth is having respect for yourself — deep, right? And it’s hard when there’s always some other mug willing to jump in your shoes and do it ‘time-for’ or for free. But clients won’t respect you until you respect yourself, and I’m not saying go from charging nothing to £500 per day, but baby steps, you know.
Start with expenses, then 50 quid here, 100 quid there, and soon I promise you will find your feet in this ever evolving guessing game of ‘pricing’. If everyone knew when to say no, then it would make the price-haggle game extinct once and for all. Which leads me nicely onto…
Tip Two: Every photograph is worth 1000 skills
Okay okay, so it’s not the age old saying you know and love, but it’s a play on it, people. Any photographer will know the education you have to give friends and/or family members when trying to clarify and even sometimes justify your profession to them.
Hands up if someone has ever said to you: “ah well, your job is dead easy right? It’s just point and click, isn’t it?” As depicted to you there by the lad who stood in the queue behind me in my third year of Uni, gassing whilst we waited to enter one of Cheltenham’s finest (grimiest) clubs. Yes, I did nearly deck him, but this isn’t just a juvenile comment that was once said to me in passing when I was 20. It comes up more than you think.
Some, not all, but some people just don’t understand the different components of your business; not only the pre and post production processes, but the different elements of your business too, like the marketing, accounting, networking, debt collecting — need I go on? All the things that make you an entrepreneur rather than just some dude with a camera. You can try explaining it to them until you’re blue in the face, but to be honest, guys, they probably still won’t ever get it. Recognise your skills and appreciate that you are capable of a lot of things, and that’s usually why you do what you do, and charge what you charge.
“Settling for crumbs doesn’t get you fed, it keeps you starving”
Tip Three: These are my rates, and I am not a flea market
Moving nicely on from my last point of charging what you charge for a reason, why is it when you tell a client your rates, they immediately enter into a haggling war with you?
Imagine the scene, similar to that of a flea market. You know the one, you literally just go to barter them down, the price they give you is never the final price. Why is it this habit has now festered itself within the creative industry?
You go in with a price, and the client can often, again not always, but often come back with a completely different and lower price. Often leading to a place of frustration, confusion and panic — what I like to call the ‘photographer-compulsion’ state.
Let me explain: when someone comes back challenging your prices, do you often feel step one) frustrated, as they’ve challenged you on your skills and expertise by bartering you down. Therefore leaving you in step two) confusion, “am I charging too much? Well this is what I feel I am worth, maybe I should review my prices…” Leading to the final stage, step three) panic. Voila! The photographer-compulsion state. I call it this simply because you then feel compelled to go back to your customer either agreeing to their lower price or meeting them somewhere in the middle.
It’s so hard in this instance to know when to stand your ground, and I completely understand if you’re just starting out, you want the opportunities and you don’t want to turn anything away (note: please see Tip One). But when you’re 5 years deep into your career and people still are coming back bartering you down, no matter what your price, you’ve got to know when enough is enough.
It’s hard to stick to your guns on this one. I can’t always guarantee that the client will stick by you, they may go somewhere cheaper, but what I can 100% promise you is that client will respect you — a respect you may have lost if you’d lowered your rate. Settling for crumbs doesn’t get you fed, it keeps you starving.
“Burning out is one of the most common side effects of being freelance, along with nausea, dizziness and exhaustion…”
Tip Four: Don’t burn out
Now this one is a toughie. Often eluded as something you should put to the top of your to-do list, the now millennial-dubbed ‘self-care’ has recently become the trendiest thing on the consumer market. But then why is it still the last thing that photographers ever think about?
Now, I am guilty of this still myself, and the phrase that usually springs to my mind is ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, but that isn’t the case. It’s not always about aligning your chakras and getting into your meditative state, it’s usually much simpler than that.
Giving yourself boundaries is the best and one of the easiest ways to get started. Just because you can work every God-given hour of the day doesn’t mean you should. Give yourself ‘office hours’, try and switch off at the same time every night. I appreciate that this isn’t always as simple as I am making it out. But give yourself a cut-off time; a time that your mobile phone goes on airplane mode until the next morning. Even if you’re still up retouching to the early hours (which by the way I don’t recommend…), at least your clients can’t reach you, and you won’t be reading your emails at 1am. That is the beginning of you putting yourself and your time first.
Burning out is one of the most common side effects of being freelance, along with nausea, dizziness and exhaustion. But take it from someone who knows: if you leave it and pretend like you can just go on forever until all the work is eternally done, that is when it will hit you. Cheesy as it sounds, you will work better and more efficiently if you are rested and have time away from the screens.
Tip Five: Know your worth, then add tax
Okay, last tip I promise, and it’s a quickie. Don’t forget your income tax! It’s all well and good charging your client X amount, but please remember these numbers. If you’re earning between £11,850 and £46,350 per annum, the blasted HMRC will come banging down your door for 20% of what you’ve earned. As precious as your income is, this limits your earnings, and that’s even before you’ve had to think about your student loan and national insurance…
Let’s say, for example, that you’re charging a client £200 for an all in job, and that £200 hits your account and you’re all like “sweeeeeet”. But what you’re forgetting is, if you’re earning over £11,850 per year, £40 of that is the taxman’s, leaving you with £160. Comprende?
Not so bad in this instance, but if you’re playing with the big boys and earning 10 grand a shoot, you can see where this kind of thing could come back to bite you in the ass. Just bear it in mind: know your worth but don’t forget to add tax (or at least remember to save it).
My advice to you, whatever stage of your career you’re at, is to recognise a good client, be savvy with what you want and know your numbers. This is all part of the monopoly game we like to call ‘having a photographic career’, fun ain’t it? The sooner you learn to know your worth, the sooner you will start to feel at peace, and that photographic passion that first lead you down this path will take precedence.
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Original text and imagery, copyrighted for yours truly, written originally for Findr.
Illustrations provided via Google and Pinterest.