Saturday, December 06, 2014

Transition Tips for Staff Photographers to Freelance

Nikon D750, Nikkor 28-300mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/640
I had coffee yesterday with my good friend Robin Nelson []. Robin is one of the few freelancers that I know that most of the time is in good spirits.

When staff photographers lose their jobs many of them will call Robin and some have even called me looking for advice. He is always working for someone and has done so for more than 30+ years. Staff photographers basically want to do what Robin is doing–shooting assignments.

Successful photographers like Robin do something for other photographers–they bless them with the jobs they get called to do and cannot.

Robin gets calls and emails asking him if he is available and instead of just accepting and turning down assignments Robin solves the clients problem. If he is busy he finds someone for the client. Editors come to see Robin as not just a great photographer whose style they like, Robin knows other photographers who can meet their needs if he is busy.

I know of a few other photographers like Robin. Michael Schwarz, Billy Howard, and Gary Chapman are three other photographers I like referring work to when I cannot do it.

We all have these conversations with those who just lost a job or even newbies to the industry.

After our coffee time I decided it would be great to share what Robin and I would like to tell Staff Photographers who just lost a job.


1) Losing the staff job is like going through a divorce. Being on a staff is like being married and being a freelancer can feel a lot like being single again. We recommend using those same techniques you used to court someone. Just like seeing and meeting a drop dead gorgeous person that you are sure God had destined for you, that person may not be aware God told you that.

2) The movie "Runaway Bride" is a predictable, but fun romantic plot about the importance of knowing and loving oneself before beginning the journey of marriage. You really need to know all that you have to offer to a client and not just your portfolio. Maybe you are a history buff and this can be a great asset to some clients.

3) Accept Rejection – Derek Jeter during interview about his career said he was really blessed to have a job that allowed him to fail 70% of the time and consider him successful. Successful business fails more like 85 - 90% of the time. Good rule of thumb is that for every 10 people you contact only 1 of those will be interested.

Nikon D4, Nikkor 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/400
4) Court your clients – Don't ever take your clients you have for granted. Keep the fire in the relationship.

5) Ideas are more important than your portfolio. All your clients and potential clients have a job to do. They have a problem to solve. You pitching ideas that solve their problems and not your perception of what their problems are is what will keep you busy. While great stories should be told, the channel for telling that story is not every channel. Just because you find a story in the clients audience it still must address the problems that they are tackling at the moment.

Nikon D4, Nikkor 28-300mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/6.3, 1/250
6) Learn how to be a REAL friend. Number one key element to a good friend is someone who "listens." You know they listen because all the words out of their mouth after you have talked communicate understanding and compassion for where you are in life. Calling and pretending to be interested in wanting to know me and because I don't have a job for you right away you never call again is a great indication you are shallow and only interested in yourself. The client needs to be someone they can trust with their problem.

7) Don't call only to ask about work. Contact your clients when you hear of something they may be interested in. Send them a card on their birthday.

8) Don't become a problem. When the client calls and offers a job say yes you can do the job or no. Don't start telling them all the things you need to move around.  Do your very best to solve the clients problem without them knowing you had to get a babysitter or move some personal plans around. Saying I need just a minute to check my calendar and can I call you back in 5 minutes is OK. Then call in five minutes. Take that 5 minutes to solve your problems to accept the assignment, or find someone who can and then call them. I am sorry I am booked but my friend Michael Schwarz is available will be better than babbling on about your problems on the phone or even in emails to them.

9) You are starting over. If you have been shooting 6 - 8 assignments a day or even just one a day those days are over unless you get a staff job. Extremely successful photographers are maybe shooting 100 assignments a year. That is averages to about 2 a week. Starting out you may only have a few assignments that first month. You also will have times of feast and famine. You may work really hard for a couple weeks and then go a month or more with little or no work in those first few years of freelancing.

10) Find a mentor who is a successful photographer. Be sure you treat them like a friend and don't just use them. Offer to take them to lunch and you plan on paying for their meal. Don't try and get everything for free from your mentor. Remember they are giving you valuable information that will not just save your money but help you make more money.

Here are more posts that talk about business tips as well:

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