Over the last several years a common question I get about freelancing is the one about how difficult it is. Looking for work, keeping clients happy, delivering things in a timely fashion, buying and maintaining equipment. All of the above. Honestly freelancing is difficult but the most difficult part isn’t what everybody assumes that it is. (at least for me anyway)
Sure, gear is expensive. You have to keep it operational and a lot of it needs to stay up to date too so you have to budget that into your pricing. Gear is always updating, and while it’s not recommended or feasible to run out and update any time something new comes out, there are updates that are worth doing right away if you can. (I’m betting Nikon’s new D850 will be one of those). You also have to learn to haggle, and not take it personally if someone can’t afford your rate and offers you something lower. Sometimes, that’s all the budget that they have and the fact that they are coming in lower has nothing to do with you at all. Also, just because someone wants to pay you $500 less doesn’t mean if you say “hey I really think I’m worth $500 more” they won’t agree.
In reality my opinion of what the hardest part of freelancing isn’t all of that. It’s the days off when everybody else is working. That’s right, the time off is the hardest part of freelancing if you ask me. No, it’s not because i’m a workaholic. Hear me out.
As a self employed individual, you have to work when you have to work. It’s not really a function of want, or pushing to schedule yourself 8-5 although some self employed photogs make that work pretty regularly. Football games happen on Saturdays and Sundays, Christmas Eve and even New Years day. Generally as a photographer while your friends are out at the bar celebrating or out at the movies, you are out shooting either for a client, or even for yourself. It gets tough sometimes. Thanks goodness the love of my life understands my passion for what I do.
This is not to say you shouldn’t take or have time off; that’s far from the case. My point is that your time working isn’t normal business hours, so you should expect your time off isn’t during regular non business hours. At first it’s an exceptionally odd experience walking into Ace Hardware at 10am on a Tuesday to buy a gallon of paint because you need to paint your deck or the ceiling of a room of your house. 10am on a Tuesday. A large number of people are at work during that time, so to be out and about when everyone else is doing their job a lot of time seems odd. You do get used to it, but there are definitely the days where you don’t have odd tasks around the house, or it’s raining outside so you are relegated to the computer or indoor things. This is the hardest part if you ask me. The down time when everybody else is working, where sometimes you feel like you should be working too.
To put it into an hourly explanation of time, I think the initial assumption is that 40 hours a week working is 40 hours a week. As a freelance photographer though that is not at all the case. One week could be 40 hours, the next could be 10, and the one after that could be 80 followed by a week of 50 followed then by a two weeks of 0. During many of the empty hours though, you wonder why you aren’t working, even if you did enough hours worth of working in the week prior to have added up to if you had worked on day you have off….
So there you have it. I know, here I am complaining about having a day here and there in the middle of the week to do things like run errands and change car oil etc. As a freelancer it can be a struggle though as I said before when your friends and family are doing something fun, lots of times you are out working. Being adamant to schedule family and self time is very important for your mental and emotional wellbeing, but you have to go when and where the work takes you. Can’t take every night and weekend off and sometimes that can be fun (I’ve had some of the coolest experiences being a photographer during non business hours), but plenty of times it’s nice having a Saturday with the family or friends. I have a few weeks each year that I know are slow and usually I take the time to update gear firmwares, send things in for repair, do general things around the house and wonder where my life went wrong right before folks start calling again. Some days I think about things that I myself want to photograph for me. Usually about the time I figure I’m done washed up in this freelance world, someone calls. And then another, And then another. Things get back to normal, but I also use the times I am not working to recognize how lucky I am in this world that I am my own boss (well, I am an employee of my wife) and I get to make pictures for a living. Regardless of any time off, or hangups, sooner or later it comes time to pack up the gear again and head out before the sunrise. Until then; more soon.