PitFalls, Price Negotiation & Branding: What I Learned about Freelancing After 5 Years
As an Asian male residing in a country of no more than 8 million, there has always been a set route for one to pursue a typical career path reminiscent of the casual Asian meme. Either being a doctor, lawyer, or a career in the banking industry.
I was neither good at school nor did these mainstream endeavors interest me. And I have instead chosen to pursue the arts. I took up film studies but eventually niche down to photography, food photography to be exact.
I started working for companies but eventually decided to work for myself as a freelancer, setting up my own creative entity — ‘’Jameses Food Photography’’.
Sacrifices, Longterm goals
As I begin my primary years in the freelance industry there were a lot of hard knocks. From the initial lack of income to the difficult and unreasonable demands of clients, easy was never a word I could relate with, at least not for the first five years.
Although the road was rough, I had a long term goal in mind and that was to make a name for myself in the creative industry. Looking at how people were unhappily grinding in a regular 9–to-5 job gave me the motivation and clarity to never live a life of mediocrity or dissatisfaction.
Freelancing may not an easy route but I have learned important lessons on the way and hope to be able to give a heads-up to those who have decided to pursue this uneven terrain just like me.
So let’s get started…
- Start off doing things for free
As you board the train of freelancing, it is very likely you start off at ground zero when it comes to your portfolio. In the first year, you will likely have to eat the humble pie and start to approach friends or small businesses if you can do some work for them for free.
Be it a small assignment to photograph pictures for their social media or designing a logo for their brand. Take it up, this is an opportunity for you to start honing your craft and your style as well as a chance to get noticed. If you did a good job, they might consider paying you the next time round or recommending a friend to your services.
2. Be open to try out new areas
Whichever freelance trade you choose, there are likely different niches or trades. If you are a graphic designer, there is a logo, motion graphics, brochure, or website design. It would be good to try out all of them, being exposed to various areas will not only help you in your portfolio but allow you to streamline further down the line.
When I begin as a photographer, I did events, weddings as well as food photography. These different areas of photography exposed me to the opportunities available in each area as well as expose my strengths in them.
3. Niche down on what you good at and enjoy doing.
After you spent a considerable amount of time in different areas, you will want to niche down.
But Why? You ask.
Being a jack of all trades is not necessarily a good thing for your personal branding or portfolio. You can either vaguely be remembered to be able to do everything design or photography related under the sun or you can be known to be excellent in one thing.
Let’s take for example if you have a health issue, lets say a skin problem. Who do you approach? A clinic in general practice or a one specialized in skincare and which doctor in either of them do you think has a higher salary? It would be the one who is specialized in skincare isn’t it? It is the same for freelance or creative trade.
You will want to aim for a specialty because, in the long run, you will be a specialist in that field. The affiliation and value you have towards a particular trade will not just garner you a higher payout but a direct affiliation every time someone needs service in that area.
4. Farming Phase
“Rome wasn’t built in a day”
You might have heard this saying quite often but I feel it appeals to the freelance field the most. As a freelancer, you are hoping to build a name, a brand for yourself and it takes time.
Be patient and continue to farm. Plow on the field and seek out projects from different clients knowing that once you built enough connections and reliability in your creative abilities, work will come to you easily.
5. Negotiating Deals - My 50-50 rule
It isn’t easy to ask for a payment, be it for a deposit or a down payment it can be quite a sticky issue. You don’t want to sound too aggressive but at the same time, you won’t want to get cheated or shortchanged.
Try to go for a 50-50 payment, 50% as deposit, and 50% after you have delivered your final product or service. This I find is an excellent way to encourage your client to commit to the project and leaves you with 50% in case the client changes their mind or if anything goes south.
In my earlier years, I had clients cancel on me or told me that what I had delivered wasn’t what they were expected when clearly my brief to them was clear and they had agreed. Furthermore, I was doing food photography and had to transport all my gears down to the shooting location which wasn’t cheap. Leaving me with cost that I had to come out myself without having any returns. Applying this rule would have to safeguard my interest if I knew.
6. Financial Prudence
As you take up more projects you should be able to see profits coming in. You will have a strong urge to go celebrate and reward yourself with the all the money earned which I will advise against. Be prudent with your finances and set aside of it back into your business.
If you are a writer, consider getting a laptop or a wireless keyboard to help you work remotely and type comfortably.
If you are a graphic designer, consider purchasing a new drawing tablet if your is an old model, it might help you improve the quality of your design.
If you are a photographer, consider getting gears such lenses or cameras that could drastically improve the quality of your photographic creations.
Money management could be a potential downfall for freelancers as income is often varied from month to month. So besides investing back into your business as mentioned above, do save some money for rainy days too. Having a spreadsheet I find is a good way to have a birdseye view of your finances.
7. Social Media Marketing/Branding.
In 2020, beyond just having a website, social media pages are a must-have for ANY business. Having a certificate in Digital Marketing from Google, I have come to further understand that not having one is an expressway to business failure,
Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and yes even TikTok are excellent tools to help create an online presence and help you reach out to your potential target audience. Most businesses go beyond just setting up a social media page by creating advertisements in each one of them to reach out further than just their usual followers.
If you do not have funds set aside for advertisements, do consider using your social media banners to include your business details. Personally, I use my LinkedIn banner to include my portfolio links and have garnered various queries from potential clients online including job offers.
Let’s wrap things up!
When you start your freelance business consider doing some free work to gain traction for your online portfolio. Give yourself time to explore which area you want to focus on and work hard on it, be patient and give it time. Exercise prudence on how you spent your money and also consider how you can use social media to advertise your work.
Knowing and acting on these seven points above will certainly give you a good headstart on your freelance business and things to look out for. Now, let the rubber hit the road and I wish you the best on your personal journey!
My name is James, I am a Content Creator, Professional Food Photographer, and Entrepreneur passionate about sharing tips and tricks within media topics.
Do check out my other articles and consider giving me a follow as I take you along on an exciting journey.