Switching to "Pro"
I just read an article online that’s pushing me to react. It’s an honest account by a man who’s giving up the freelance life in favour of going back to “working for the man.” Good for him for being so honest and candid, but the article saddened me. So, I’m reacting and writing another of those advice posts that always, months or years later, seem so presumptuous.
So, if you’re thinking of making “The Switch” and going freelance or professional, here’s a couple thoughts. I’m going to use the word “freelancer” rather than “professional” because it’s often more accurate. I’ve known hobbyists that were very professional; and I’ve known people who do this for a living that are far from it. Making a living at this ought to mean you’re a professional, but there’s professional and then there’s Professional. If ya know what I mean.
1. Go in with your eyes open.
This is not easy. Very rarely will your phone start ringing relentlessly the moment you print a business card. It takes deliberate time, effort, and money to gain momentum. Plan on it.
2. Go in with your wallet full.
Things might take much longer to get rolling than you initially thought. Meanwhile camera’s break, marketing materials cost money, and the bills and rent still need paying. Going in with 6-12 months of reserves in the bank is a very good plan.
3. Go in through the back door.
Want to quit your day-job and live the dream? Who doesn’t? Are you getting clients now? Why leave the safety net until you’ve got enough clients to (1) sustain you financially and avoid months of a totally empty calendar and (2) give you experience and feedback. Going through the backdoor is my metaphor for building a small base of clients while still in the safety of your day-job. It’s a lousy metaphor, but solid advice if your circumstances permit it. Shoot part-time as long as you can, flex your business and marketing muscles while the Boss is still under-writing your efforts.
4. Go in slowly.
Why rush this? While you have a so-called “real job” you have resources to spend on gear, you likely have medical/dental insurance, you have the luxury of planning your transition – make the most of it.
5. Don’t Go In Alone.
Going into this without honest fans, critics, and mentors is foolish. Find someone who you can talk to about this whole thing – listen to their stories, learn from their failures. If you are lousy with numbers and finances, find a great bookkeeper and account BEFORE you launch this ship into a harbour full of hazards.
6. Go in LOUDLY (or find someone to do your shouting.)
What do you know about marketing? I used to be in show business and the saying went, “show business is 10% show and 90% business.” So too with photography. The ratio might be different, the principle is not. You must know how to market yourself or have someone in your back pocket who can do it for you. Read up on marketing, establish a relationship with a designer, and have a plan.
7. Go in Balanced
Want to keep your friends and family? Want not to burn out? Set some boundaries, find some release mechanisms. Do what you love and love what you do, but don’t mistake it for the entirety of life. Find some balance – it’s as pragmatic as it is idealistic – it’ll give you inspiration and rest from the pressures.
I love what I do, and I love the life it has given me. I’ve been self-employed for my entire adult life with very brief early forays into the real world from which I always recoiled in horror. Being your own boss (and your own janitor) has its rewards, as well as its stresses. For some people this is truly the dream, for others it’ll be less so. Going in with your eyes open will give you a fighting chance at making this a dream and not a nightmare.