Strategies For Hard Times

In Freelance and Business by David4 Comments


Economics, shmeconomics. Not to be too glib about the world economic crisis, but plenty of other bloggers out there have already put a pretty fine point on the whole thing. Fact is, it’s gloomy out there and this crisis has hit many people pretty hard. So I’m in no way minimizing that painful reality. I’m just trying to see the sunny side of the dark cloud that is undeniably hanging over many, many people these days.

I have a good friend named Corwin. Aside from being my sometimes producer and sometimes client, we meet once a week for drinks and conversation about the state of things. We discuss marketing and finances related to our businesses, ideas for plans we’re hatching, and a couple times a year we put a weekend aside, go to a cool hotel and spend two days working through the big picture and strategizing for our businesses for the 6 months ahead. I highly recommend it. But that’s not the point at all – the point is we were talking last week and I asked him if he’d felt the ripples of this crisis. I haven’t. Not yet. He hasn’t either. That’s not to brag, neither of us have mortgages or the luxury (liability) of having our money in the stock market. We just haven’t felt it, and that may change.

But here’s where this is leading. We both feel like this is an unprecedented time for freelancers to get on their game. Those that are on their game, have tightened their belts, and respond to this crisis pro-actively rather than reactively will be way, way ahead when the dust settles. How can we do that? Here’s 5 thoughts. And remember, I’m a photographer, and like many of you I’m learning by trial and error. Mostly error. So take this for what it is – a friendly reminder and pep talk rolled into one.

Pay Attention To Your Clients’ Needs Like Never Before.
The world of commerce has not collapsed. There are businesses that need to run, and in some ways it’s business as usual. But the purse strings are tighter. Companies are still spending but they’re being more prudent than they were before. So the more value you can give to a client, the more you can meet their needs and solve their problems, the more business they will bring to you.

Tighten Your Own Belt
If your debt wasn’t a big deal before the crash, it probably is now. You will weather storms longer if your boat isn’t leaking fast, and that’s what debt is. It’s a hole in your boat and you’ll take in more water – water that will sink you-  faster than you can bail it out. Pay down those credit cards. Put 3 months of savings in the bank. Save for tax time. And be really smart about purchases. Here’s the rule: if it actively earns you more money it’s an asset. If it doesn’t, it’s a liability. Yeah, I know you’re jonesin’ for that new Nikon because if you don’t get it someone else will and then you won’t be as professional as them. Baloney. If your clients don’t need larger files and your current body is doing just fine, then put the money in savings, rent a big camera when you need it, and be happy that your company (or your family) just avoided an $8000 liability. Rent lights if you only use them once a month, and bill them to the client. The tighter your finances, the longer you’ll stay afloat. I’m scratching the surface here, but hopefully you get where I’m going with this.

Diversify. Multiple Income Streams are Better Than One.
If all you do is headshots for actors, and people suddenly stop needing – or being able to afford – headshots, what’s your fallback plan? I’m all about doing what you love, and I’m not suggesting you become a jack-of-all-trades. But is there a way you can make multiple income streams from that one specialty? Sure there is. You can teach other photographers, for one. Write a book, put out DVDs, lecture. What about taking the headshots to other markets – like the corporate world? The more sources of income you have the safer you’ll be if/when one temporarily dries up. The same is true of individual clients. Many photographers have a couple really solid clients that are their bread and butter. But what happens when, for example, staff changes occur at the corporation you shoot regularily for? There’s no guarantee the new guy will renew your account. If you’ve let your marketing slide, panic-time is not a good time to make solid marketing decisions and find new clients fast.

Be Awesome.
Chase Jarvis said this lately and put it so succinctly it’s hard to improve on. Never, ever, let your craft slide. If you’re not moving forward you’re moving backwards. You just need to be on the steady path to becoming the best photographer you can possibly be, creating the best work you can possibly create. In the end, though the market is aflood with mediocrity, excellence will always rise to the top – other factors being equal. So don’t rest on those laurels. Stay passionate about learning, stay humble, but be the awesomest at what you do.

Help Others.
The image at the top is a really tight crop of a larger image from Old Delhi this year that never really worked. I posted it here as an illustration and a reminder to myself that no matter how bad I think things might get, others have it worse. It’s all perspective. For most of us when things get “hard” it means cutting back on movies and dinners out. For most of the rest of the world “hard times” means nothing to eat and no place to sleep but the street. Just a matter of perspective and it should keep us all so grateful. Please don’t forget the poor this Christmas. I know you don’t come here for sermons and moralizing, but, well, my blog, my sermons. This financial crunch has hit soup kitchens and dowtown missions really hard. We reap what we sow in this life and I am not for a minute advocating giving so we get something in return, just stating that the world works better for all of us when we look out for each other, and give as freely as we get.  If you’re doing ok through this crunch, keep the love moving. If you’re not, there’s probably still someone worse-off than you, keep the love moving.

We’ll all get through this, but the smarter and kinder we are, the less painful it’ll all be. Any other thoughts about keeping your business lean and getting through this storm without taking a total bath, the comments are open.


  1. great write up david. really appreciated it. all i seem to be hearing is that as these times get tougher, less and less businesses will be looking for the services I offer(web and graphic design), couple that with the fact that im new to the field, puts me up against some tough stuff…guess it just means I’ll have to be creative 😉

    Thanks again.


  2. I am definitely a victim of the “economic downturn”. I earn my money as a construction plumber/pipe fitter NOT a photographer. Condo and oil refinery projects have been shelved.

    Of course, one day I would love photography to earn me some bucks to purchase more gear. Right now the “economic downturn” means no new tools to add to my small arsenal of weapons. No new workshops, gear, classes, books, or travel. Though, two positive things may come out of this.

    Firstly, is people will be looking for more ‘budget’ photographers for their wedding or family portraits. I am a budget photog because I don’t have the experience or fancy gear as the Pro’s do. The pros may be too expensive for many people.

    Secondly, being unemployed leaves me more time to go out and shoot. Shooting digitally is at no cost because of no printing or processing involve. Plus, I have 400GB of storage left for images.

    We should take David’s advice and take initiative with our situations and have a positive outlook.

  3. My job, not my hobby, is not for profit – Cancer Foundation – and we’ve definitely been hit since “major gifts” are a great way of producing revenue and, sadly, much of that major “wealth” is held up as stocks and shares and all of that is worth a tiny fraction of what it was months ago. I’m worried about the industry – not my job exactly (though with a new baby I need to be a bit concerned).

    I also take photos – I do it for money when it’s not for me. So I agree with David when he asks you to do it to expand your photography. If the choice is to charge and not get the experience, or to pro-bono it and get something in my portfolio, I’m going to take the latter. Granted, that’ll be based on time spent – I won’t do a wedding for free again ever… EVER!!!

    I enjoy photography, I enjoy it enough that I don’t want money to be the ultimate decision between me doing something or NOT. I just have to be careful, and not let myself (and thus the industry) be taken advantage of.

  4. Author

    JVL _ i hear ya. I didn’t mean to imply that others were not affected – I know major gifts are down across the board in the charity/ngo world.

    I also agree with you on the pro-bono stuff, when you can do something you love, get something out of it -even if it isn’t cash – and help people along the way – that’s the best of all worlds, I think.

    Stewarding our time, money, and talents with wisdom and savvy is vital – and the minute money becomes the only – or the largest – factor in our decision-making, we’ve probably lost the plot.

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