1. When did you realise you wanted to start a business?
I don’t think there was a sudden realisation or epiphany, it’s just something that appealed to me more and more as my full-time job became less fulfilling (and more in danger of redundancy).
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
I finally was made redundant in December 2011, and as I had been at the company a long time, my redundancy payout was enough to fund the first few months of freelancing. In a way, the biggest hurdle that had always been in my way was automatically surmounted, as the money was there for me. With a mortgage and a family to help support, I couldn’t have done it any other way.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
Twitter, by far. I set up a few search phrases with live updates of the search results, so get notified almost immediately when someone posts looking for a photographer. There are a lot of false positives (you wouldn’t believe how many people expect photography to be free) but the work I have got has been wonderfully varied and extremely fulfilling, and in many cases has led to more.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
The most important thing is to do a good job! It also helps to be friendly, and to deliver on time. I think Neil Gaiman has said that only two of the three are enough, in practice (though I wouldn’t recommend deliberately falling short on any of them)! I will always follow up with a client after the work has been finished, not even necessarily to ask if there’s more work, but just to reinforce the relationship and to keep me on their radar. If a client knows that I can do a good job, then hiring me again saves them the bother of having to find another photographer the next time, so you’re actually helping them as well as yourself.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
I did once have a client who didn’t pay for 90 days on a 30-day payment invoice. It was the first time this had happened to me, so I wasn’t really prepared for it, but after repeated emails asking for updates, I eventually sent a more formal email that hinted at the dreaded l-word (“lawyers”). It wasn’t a direct legal threat, I just said that if I didn’t receive the money by the end of the week, I’d have to seek advice as to how to proceed. I don’t think I even mentioned lawyers explicitly.
The money arrived within the week, and the next job I got with the client was payment in cash on the day, as they recognised their mistake and took appropriate action to prevent it happening again. In most cases it’s best to assume it is an oversight rather than anything more sinister (as that’s usually the case) – that helps the good relationship continue.
As a direct result of this experience I modified my default contract and invoice to be explicit about both the payment terms and the penalty for late payment – it’s typical to charge base rate plus 8% in these cases. Something I don’t do, but which may work for some, is to offer a discount for early payment.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
I don’t have a ‘typical’ work day; I’m not sure anyone who’s self-employed does. Some days I spend emailing potential customers, letting them know what I do, other days I’m editing photographs from a shoot, and then there are the days I’m out actually taking photos. Every job is different, and every job throws up something that makes me approach the next one in a slightly different way.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at Business Unleashed?
Don’t try to be something you’re not. Be honest to your customers about what you can offer – if you build yourself up too much, you risk disappointing them when it comes to doing the work, which can damage your reputation irreparably. There’s no shame in turning down work that you don’t believe you can do. On the flip side, don’t feel that you shouldn’t push yourself – it’s good to leave your comfort zone now and then.
Learn from every job you do – think about what you could have done better, and how. Don’t be so fixed in your methods that you don’t leave room for improvement.
Don’t be too proud to ask for advice from others. There are always people who have been doing it longer than you, and the reason they are still doing it is because their methods work.
Don’t undersell yourself. There may occasionally be jobs that are just too appealing to turn down if the money’s not what you usually charge, but you should never drop your prices just because a client asks you to. It’s better to walk away than to set a precedent as the client will expect to pay the same rates next time. Promises of ‘more work if you can do this one favour for us’ are often empty – retain your integrity!
Finally, have fun! That’s the reason you got into freelancing in the first place, isn’t it?