I was promised a life of freedom, flexible working hours and the pursuit of my passion. With a solid track record of rebellious behaviour and an adversity to authority, freelancing seemed like the perfect fit. Quick confession, this epiphany only materialised after 4 months of unsuccessful job hunting, a depleted bank account and with rent months overdue. Armed with nothing but a camera and limited business acumen the realities of freelancing soon hit me like a rejection letter in the face.
An early wakeup call came when I landed my first job taking shots at a corporate event, a job gifted to me by a friend. I was confident with the camera but not when it came to interrupting CEOs of Blue chip companies to smile for the birdy. The results were poor and images were limited. The client gave me a pass out of sympathy more than anything but his good graces soon dissipated when he received my invoice. In my infinite wisdom I added my travel and food costs to the total, neglected to include an invoice number or date and sent it directly to the CEO - don’t ask, I don’t know what I was thinking either.
The silver lining of that catastrophe was realising that I was not just a photographer; rather I was a business owner who offered photography as a service and to make this work, I had to get to grips with the big bad world of business - fast. The other lesson I learned was that friends and family are generally willing to help with a recommendations or suggestions. My first few jobs were all found this way and I would never have been able to make the mistakes I made or establish my freelance business without them.
Allow me to digress briefly and set the scene of my freelance set up. My office was a combination of an upturned packing box as a desk and the corner of my bed as the chair. I had an old laptop from university that chose when it wanted to turn on and my camera kit populated the rest of the limited floor space in my apartment. I was four months into my freelance career and still didn’t realise I had to register the business or pay taxes. Although this picture does not paint me in a particularly favourable light, it shows the naivety one can have when underprepared.
Financially I was making rent as I had also taken a part time job in a bar but in terms of budgeting, my strategy was based entirely on immediate needs. I bought a wide angle lens because I landed a job shooting property interiors and used the money from the job to cover the cost of the lens I said I had in my application. Any other savings generally went on kit or Ramen noodles at the time. It was months before I actually put pen to paper and formulated a business plan. The first six months were a mess and it took a serious wakeup call before I started to fully understand what it meant to be a real freelancer.
Matt Dowling is Director of The Freelancer Club, a members club aimed at supporting creative talent.