Turning a passion into a job, Part I Hardskills
- Milestones instead of finish lines
- Know how, the basic frame of your voyage
- Knowing the industry is gold
- Every job experience is valuable
- Good contacts and a helpful network
- Backups and Safety
From self-employed freelancers, you mostly get the success stories and excerpts from living the good life. That’s important nowadays, because a freelancer is often more and more self-staging and has to celebrate their successes. For good reason, since social media channels give potential customers the impression to “get to know” their photographers/designers before even hiring them.
Accordingly, it makes a lot of sense for freelancers to present themselves as this creative, successful and always in a cheerful mood character: In the same way old school salesmen wouldn’t drive to a potential client with a run down car, but rather a shiny new rental.
Just like influencers, creatives like photographers like to pose with everyday highlights, expensive equipment and exciting shootings. You rarely get an insight into the boring and exhausting aspects, because you can’t make good stories about writing e-mails, contracts or tax returns.
I’m no exception, since every time I meet friends, I hear “you seem to be doing pretty well at the moment and your work looks exciting“, all of that while my I’m spending most of my days in home office, falling into the occasional essential crisis drinking my third procrastination coffee at 1 pm.
Milestones instead of finish lines
The fact is, if I hadn’t decided to become self-employed in the field of photography, I would have had a lot more fun with the medium in the last three years: Because instead of using it as an actual creative output, I spent countless hours on web design, law research, contracts, economics and, of course, on the theory of photography.
Since I have run out of fuel more than once in the last 36 months of “making passion my profession“, it is a good time for this summary, because I can finally run down: Was it worth it so far, and would I do it again?
Additionally, I want to give you an overview, what I deem to be important, if you should consider making your “hobby” into your day-to-day job. In my opinion there are three essential pillars to make it: know-how or hard skills, social or soft skills and the mind-set. Criteria that are important to me not only in photography, but in many areas of the creative industry. I tried to fit everything into one blog post, but it got way out of hand, so I’ll split it and this one is all about hard skills/know-how.
Know-How, the basic frame of your voyage
Unfortunately, it is not enough to be the very good in the creative field alone. It doesn’t matter how great you can illustrate, photograph or compose, without the background knowledge of how to survive on the market, you can’t make the leap into self-employment without crashing.
I know many talented photographers who have the skills, yet no success professionally. Because, talent is not a decisive factor when it comes to predicting the break through of freelancers in the creative industry. I should know, since I’m one of the best photographers there is in time and space throughout the undiscovered multiverse, and I’m still not on the New York time magazine cover or close to joining the magnum photo agency (it’s gotta be something with my self-marketing).
Knowing the industry is gold
Many successful photographers found their way into the profession after a career change, often choosing exactly the same field as their photographic specialty which they have previously worked in their past carrier, and they choose this area for good reason: they know the profession their potential customers, they have contacts in the industry and know what they are looking for in a picture.
As an example take former actors who take better photos with less photography knowledge than their competition with years of professional experience, similar can also be observed in the architecture, fashion or gastronomy sector.
Having worked in the industry they know naturally the steps that need documentation, important set pieces and moments that are essential to capture: In order to properly stage ballet dancers, it is necessary to know the poses/movements, which are especially challenging and difficult. That being said, any job you’ve worked before can be a useful resource because:
Every job experience is valuable
If it’s meeting a deadline or organize and prioritize goals: Anyone who starts self-employment directly from university or school without having gained work experience of some sort may lack these fundamental habits. And wow, those are actually very important – had to learn that the hard way.
Especially when it comes to prioritizing. I regularly make mistakes deciding what is more important and needs to get done prior to other, less critical tasks – like now, spending time on this blog post instead of going on client hunts.
If you also had a job or an employer that is a literal one-man/one-woman show, you can experience first-hand what self-employment is all about: Better assess whether this lifestyle appeals to you at all. I can count from one hand how many of my friends would be able and have the circumstances to bear the pressure in the early stages of business and organize their life to the necessary degree.
However, in retrospective, I wouldn’t say I had the skills and mindset necessary to head into self-employment when I started (like at all) and still somehow managed, but god forbid I would have had to take care of someone aside my sorry ass, so… Previous professional experience can also bring an advantage that should not be underestimated: useful acquaintances, colleagues and possible future customers.
Good contacts and a helpful network
Having the right contacts and be ablt to rely on them can be decisive in whether you can survive the first two years as a freelancer. Because If, for example, you start your own business as a photographer, you will have to deal with a lot of time-consuming tasks and those won’t be the once to pay the bills.
Starting with the business plan, writing contracts, building the website, marketing strategies, tax returns and working out your own portfolio – in a nutshell, there are a lot of things you have to take care of at the beginning. If you have help for these steps, you save money and, above all, nerves.
In my case, I did everything myself, from three website attempts up to the legal conditions, and that took a lot of time. Of course, there was also a learning effect which was interesting and provided a broader overview of all the contents of the business.
However, it would be a euphemism to pretend that it was not frustrating at times, e.g. to trying to figure out for days why your business simply does not appear on Google Maps or to deal with the first tax return for weeks and not getting anything back.
If, instead, you have friends or acquaintances who can help out with some of these processes or even start with your partners/friends, basically someone who complements your own knowledge well or just supports you morally, it will be a massive relief and help. Especially when it comes to create revenue, since it’s highly unlikely that this won’t be one of your bigger concerns.
Backups and Safety
Starting your own business unprepared is a luxury that only a few people can afford. Mostly those who are singles, have a safety net provided by their family/heritage, or have financial reserves.
If, on the other hand, you have to provide for a family, pay off your own home or are the “sole breadwinner” in the household, then you risk considerably more and have to plan very precisely.
In my case, I started working in the gastronomy during my bachelor and continued after my studies. So I had money coming in during the first two years of building up my own business and before starting my work as a photographer. Theoretically, I could have taken even more time, but I didn’t want to postpone the jump from permanent employment and into freelancing for another year.
It would have been a lot more pleasant for sure, many of my jobs at the start got cancelled during lockdown, which lead to dwindling reserves, unemployment, rebuilding a whole new business plan, self-doubts and finally, acceptance of the circumstances and letting go of the pressure to make it asap.
Letting go was the best thing that could have happened to me. It got followed by inquiries, commissions, start-up jobs, getting into a special artist insurance, investments in new gear, new challenges and a sense of achievement.
Would I have done that if I hadn’t had my single lifestyle and the opportunity to return to the safe haven of gastronomy at any time?
Probably yes, because I’m not a person who needs safety or control of the circumstances in my professional life that much. I’m talking about a mindset that loves, or rather needs to get challenged, full of determination instead of self-preservation, but that’s what the next blog entry is about, the mindset that you should bring with as a future self-creator.