The Joys and FMLs of Freelancing

Today I am tired, but a good tired. I’ve been an independent photographer for almost 2 years now and it’s been a wild lifestyle. I say wild because the highs are incredibly high! But with that said when things are low you really wish you’d flop over and be trampled to death. Yes, getting trampled over by a bunch of filthy feet is pleasantly better than being in a creative runt. Thankfully if you can bear it all and find a harmony between the good and bad times, everything will turn out a-okay! 

Freelancing as a creative is quite the trip. In the last few years I got the accelerated version of many life experiences, lessons, and fantastic adventures. Simultaneously I’ve also sat in a black hole of utter depression, gloom, and overwhelming feeling of what-the-heck-am-I-doing-with-my-life. I’m sure my fellow creatives can relate with this lifestyle. To those contemplating on jumping in freelance full-time here are some of the joys and FMLs (f**k my life) moments you’ll have to take into consideration.

Creativity

Joy: CREATIVE FREEDOM!!!

This is why creative types generally choice to go the independent route. You get to have creative freedom over projects and you get to be selective on work you take on. This power to choice helps direct, focus, and further refine yourself as an artist.

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I started freelancing part-time as a photographer when I was 18. During this time I photographed everything! Weddings, sports, product, babies, ladies with babies in them, night clubs, frat parties, senior portraits, …literally anything that would help me pay off school. Looking back I view myself as a light bulb shooting out light everywhere. Nowadays I’m constantly working to become like a surgical laser. Very precise and very intentional. Since current goal is to shoot editorials, publicity, and advertising I turn down everything that not driving me towards that direction.

FML: You Won’t Get Hired for What You Want to Do (but you’ll eventually will)

For one reason or another, whether it be lack of budget, conflicting art direction, maybe you aren’t that skilled yet etc., you probably won’t book work that aligns remotely close to the work you enjoy doing for some time. Time could get be a year, 10+ years, a day, it varies from person to person. On top of that when you’re not booking work the world will march on and life expenses will keep coming. When I entered the real world I quickly learned that simply being alive was very expensive. Food, rent, hygiene, bills, bills, go away!!! bills, insurance, etc. Things will start to add up –that’s just reality for you. You’re going to have to find a balance between work that progresses you and work that keeps you alive and going.

 

Money

Branden Hampton by Melly Lee (mellylee.com)
Branden Hampton by Melly Lee in Venice Beach, CA

Joy: Pretty Much Everything is a Write Off

Food? Phone bill? Car mileage? Camera equipment? Computer? –WRITE OFF! Almost everything and anything you use towards your craft/business can be deducted from your beautiful annual April taxes.

Note: Be sure to consult with an accountant. I hear getting audited is scary.

FML: Say Ba-Bye to 30% of Your $$$

As a freelancer you usually get paid in full for your jobs. At first glance this might seem like a good deal, however, the self-employment tax is higher and you’re responsible for setting aside the funds that a W-2 would normally take out for later. To give you a number example:

If you book a $100,000.00 job, $30,000.00 goes back into Uncle Sam’s pocket! That leaves $70,000.00 to hypothetically distribute among production costs, crew, craft service, art department (which almost always goes over budget,) and maybe paying yourself out.

 

Time

Joy: You Make Your Own Schedule

A five-day a week, 9-5 schedule is pretty much nonexistent. You can set up your work routine however, whenever, and wherever you like. I can start my day answering emails, then hop over to the gym for a workout, break for yummy kale salad lunch, then bounce over to a coffee shop across town to get some editing done. Or I can sleep the day away and get to work from 6:00PM to about 4:00AM. As long as I can find a good workflow and make project deadlines everything is fine and dandy!

FML: You’re Always Working

As glorious as it is to have a flexible schedule the truth is that as long as you’re self-employed you’ll never really get a real break, holiday, or weekend. Sorry! I lied. Freelancing is an unexpected 9-5 with non-paid overtime all the time.

 

Education

Joy: There’s Always Something New and Exciting to Learn

Personally I love being on the frontline line of a new discovery. It doesn’t matter what subject matter it is, I’m simply a naturally curious person and enjoy absorbing new things. –Kinda like Clefairy’s metronome.

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With freelancing you have to wear multiple hats. You will become a jack-of-all-trades with running the business end of your craft, being the art director, doing the physical labor, promoting and marketing of your brand, webmaster, getting your own coffee, and many more things.

FML: You’re Constantly Playing Catch Up

There is an enormous library and history for all creative mediums in addition to all of the new technologies becoming increasingly available. Setting aside time to build a concrete foundation for your creative craft and time to stay afloat with every update and trend is a juggling act. Umm good luck!

 

Meeting New People

Joy: Yay New Friends!!!

Since you’re not stuck in at the same environment naturally as a freelancer you’re always going to run into new people. For me I’ve gotten the privilege to be inspired by the community around me, work with tremendously talented people from both sides of the camera, and some of them have even become close friends. 🙂

FML: Stars, Planets, and Schedules Will Never Align to Hangout with Said New Friends

As mentioned earlier as a self-employed creative you will be constantly consumed with all things related to running a business and honing your craft. Thus you won’t have that much time to really enjoy the company of your new friends. In fact it will actually be hard to hang out with anyone in general. If your friends are fellow creatives chances are their schedules are just as chaotically fixed with random spurts of spontaneity as yours. And with such a random schedule that is dictated by whatever project you have on hand you’ll also probably have difficultly getting a hold of your friends would have 9-5 jobs.

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5 Comments

    • I’ve never actually posted an ad for my photography services. I got post of my gigs back then from word of mouth and simply being seen with a camera. When I was in school I shot a lot of on-campus events where people would come up to me and see if I was available for contract work. Granted back then DSLRs (though numerous) weren’t as popular and cell phone cameras sucked.

  • As odd as this might sound, it’s always encouraging to hear about other people’s struggles in pursuing something creative.

    You didn’t really mention it, but I think a big problem for anyone attempting something creative is a feeling of inadequacy and insecurity. While it’s true that you can’t do anything well unless you’re first willing to do everything poorly, it’s hard to get over those initial hurdles.

    • Initial hurdles? I feel that no matter where you in your career or skill level the undulating balance satisfaction and inadequacy will be ever present. Thankfully as we grow into our own skins we learn to let go of the things we have no control over and find a form of peace. Personally even though my future shows no signs of direct stability I feel fantastic knowing that I get a chance to make dreams into a reality on a daily basis. 🙂

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