Stephen Bennett has survived the rigours of being a freelance writer/photographer, both full and part time, for almost 40 years.
In that time I haves seen literally hundreds of wannabes, cowboys, faux-pros, scammers,
and Uncle Harry’s make a flurry, and then disappear into the murky depths.
I have found that rather than compete with them, it is far better to ignore them:-
while they may have an immediate effect on the industry, usually on prices, and a general lowering of accepted standards, they will soon disappear after discovering that their “business model”, if indeed they have one, is unsustainable, and what they thought would be a great way to fuel their “passion”, is actually damn hard work.
However they will undoubtedly be replaced by eager souls intent on providing the industry with their particular brand of untutored and cheap, tortured crap…however survival as a freelance creative business person is not to be won by joining them, but more by beating them.
By maintaining professional standards of technique, quality and pricing, and providing what you have found through experience and research, what the market wants, backed up by strong, well tested business acumen and procedure…beating them is a lot easier than first imagined.
What follows are all tried and true methods of doing business…they are all common procedures in the business world, and expected by fellow business people.
Deviate from them or indeed ignore them, preferring to lurch your freelance career along by laxity of business principles and adapting to what ever you feel fits at the time, is a sure way to telegraph that you are an amateur…you are not serious about your career or your business, but are merely playing at being a creative artist, and inviting the rest of the business community and your customers in general to regard you as ripe for being taken advantage of: and also perpetuating the myth in which all creative artists have long been regarded, that artistic endeavours are merely a hobby, and artists are too lost in mysticism, to notice that they are being ripped off.
So here are ten basic business principles, I think essential to
- credibility and professionalism,
- to put you on an equal footing with your fellow business people,
- to procure and keep customers and clients,
- and to put you way ahead of the faux-pros, and their petty foolish games.
- Know Our AbilitiesKnow your strengths, and weaknesses, and exploit them. Don’t accept jobs that are beyond you, your equipment or your time restraints… if you don’t know how to do something, or you have never done a similar assignment before, by all means learn how to do it and improve your skills base, but muddling through it for a paying customer is not the way to learn.
And of course, asking an online forum is no way to learn how to do something new, but surely you already knew that.
As well as avoiding projects which are too big, or beyond your present knowledge, don’t reduce your normal quality and your reputation to chasing the “nickel and dime” jobs either, simply because money is short, or work is in a lean period…is it worth a couple of ready dollars to do work for someone who would probably value and appreciate a phone pic more….let the faux pros do the “work” which suits their abilities.
2 Know Your Value
and charge accordingly…work out your pricing based on your time, your equipment and its replacement value, your overheads, and your real costs of doing business. Factor in an amount for your knowledge, your reputation, your real talent, your experience and your quality: and then stick to it. Why do shoots like the guy down the road, or offer faddish techniques or products because your mate does it, or someone recommended it.
Do discounts, childishly designed coupons on your Facebook page, highly expensive, and creatively fiddly packages, actually entice the clients that you want …in other words are you wasting your time, talents and efforts playing at being in business, and trying to outdo those who will never have the wherewithal to be your competition?
- Beware the Bullshit Artists
There seems to be more absolutely useless guff published on internet forums, Facebook, in magazines and in blogs, and discussed amongst mates centred around the creative arts, especially in my field of photography and modelling, than any other area of expertise.
There also seem to be more scam artists, and more internet experts in these fields than any where else, and it is so pervasive that even professionals and usually more astute and knowledgeable practitioners often get caught up in the jargon, or fall for at least some of the nonsense.
It pays then to at least recognise some of the these buzzwords which seem to reoccur so often that they are easily overlooked:
- good exposure,
- great for your folio,
- sure to lead to future work,
- a really prestige opportunity
Experience soon shows that any offer that contains even one of these key buzzwords is basically a waste of time and effort.
- Get a Deposit
At the very least, a deposit will secure the job enough for you to begin preliminary work with a little assurance that you not wasting your time.
A non refundable deposit means that preliminary work may be eventually wasted but at least you have been paid for the time expended on it
And a deposit gives a customer a feeling that he has invested already, so he may as well go through with the rest.
However if a model or a portrait customer is only going through with the shoot because they don’t want to lose their deposit, you don’t achieve great work, simply because one member of the team does not want to be there, and final payment may become like extracting teeth.
- Get the Cash
A fundamental to good freelancing: you can’t survive on promises so make sure you get the money in your hot little hand, and although cheques are basically a thing of the past, there are so many more modern variations of “the cheque is in the mail”
- Don’t Work for Future Profits
Taking various forms such as a percentage of earnings, lots of future work and the all time favourite: “you will be looked on favourably”…empty promises don’t pay the bills.
There probably wont be any anyway, and how would you know about them anyway, because people who make empty promises don’t telegraph the fact that their windfalls actually paid off.
- Get an Advance in Full
for out of pocket expenses…at least you will be paid for your expenses, if payment for the work never eventuates. Paying for out of pocket expenses from profits from the previous work, simply means that if this job doesn’t pay, you have not only lost the money due for it, but you have lost some of your profits from the previous job as well.
- Document Everything
- the definition and scope of the job,
- payment terms and conditions,
- usage licenses,
- requested changes,
- phone calls,
that is what email is so handy: it is so easy to “forget” or “remember something differently” later on, especially if one party needs an advantage over the others involved
- Don’t Deliver Work Until Final Payment is Made
and the cash is in the bank: again a fundamental of good freelance business practice, and yet too often not followed…always ending in tears.
- Use a Contract
get everything in writing and keep changes up to date.
A gentlemen’s agreement: requires two things:
- and an agreement10 Plus: Monitor Usage of Your Work
and take action if and when breaches occur.
The only way you can make sure that your work has been used for the purposes for which it has been licensed: and you might be amazed at the uses it may be put to, or where it may turn up by either forgetfulness, assumption or creative reading of licenses.
And that is not even taking into account theft, “fair use” and internet sharing, and the like.
©Copyright: Stephen Bennett, MMXIV
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