Rory Lewis, speciality portrait photographer, looks at the seven things he has learned since starting his business, with the benefit of hindsight.
Rory Lewis is a successful freelance photographer, who has had to balance his art with running a business and producing a superior product. Rory gives us an insight into his life as a freelance business man and how he has turned his passion into a business.
Know what you want
It’s important in an industry like photography, where you’re working with a number of companies and on a number of jobs on any given day, to know what you want in your career. If you don’t have a good idea of what you want you’re likely to end up taking work that doesn’t appeal to you, and is therefore much harder to get through. Work that doesn’t inspire you might be something that you do in the short-term, just to get established, but if you don’t know what you’re aiming for it can seem like a deep, dark tunnel that you’ll never get out of.
It helps to write down where you want you and your photography business to be in 1 month, 6 months, and 1 year. This might be a monetary goal, it might be a client you’re aiming for, or it might be a number of successful jobs. But, stick to these goals and update them as you go!
There’s nothing wrong with having a big dream, but big dreams need to be supported by a big work commitment and if you don’t understand that, success may always be only on the horizon. My dream at the start of my career was to match my salary at the job I had left to be a freelance photographer. It was a big ask considering I was starting in the bottom, but I told myself I had to do it within three months, or I would need to get another job. I did it in a month, and although it was hard, it was the early win I needed to get me through the hard times ahead.
Don’t focus on the money, but don’t forget it
Obviously if you’re running a photography business you’ll need to keep a pretty good eye on your finances. I was probably a little bit too obsessive about this. I calculated how much I needed to make every day of the working week, and then filled up my day working towards that total. But, on the days I didn’t make it, I didn’t allow myself to lose hope. The money was important, but it wasn’t the end of the world. I kept it at the back of my mind, without allowing myself to obsess too much about it.
Assert yourself, but remember your client’s ego
One of the biggest things that I had to learn when I started photography was how to massage your client’s ego. The best piece of advise i’ve learned is that “The client is always right, even if you have to lead them to their own opinion“. Since then I have worked to follow that advice, which allows me to both assert my own knowledge and opinion about a job, at the same time as allowing my client to think they’re the driving creative force. The things we do for work.
Take the opportunities that are available
When I started freelancing, I was ready to take any work. And believe me, I took some shocking jobs. I’m talking, freebees and low paid portrait photoshoots that no one in their right mind would view. But it was money, and I told myself that I had to take it because it might lead to something else. And it did. The more work I did, the more I came to understand the industry, and the easier it was for me to find better clients who paid what I wanted. Now I’m getting more than 10 times that amount to do something twice as enjoyable for clients I really love.
Feasting & starvation
You could also caption this one ‘Survive The Now, And Build For The Future‘ because one of the things you’re likely to notice about photography is that there are periods you’re run off your feet which I call feasting, and periods you’re desperate for work which I call starvation. But, it can be survived. If you have a lot of control, you can try and schedule work in the off periods. Alternatively, you can work your backside off when the work is there, and then give yourself time to recuperate and rest when the work is gone. I sometimes have to do this, and the key thing to learn is just to let yourself relax and enjoy the downtime, it doesn’t last forever.
Enjoy it, and leave happy
If there was one thing that I went into freelance photography knowing with absolute certainty, it was that I wanted to enjoy my job. Up until that point, I had worked a wide variety of different jobs, and in the end I had hated all of them. I was working in industries I didn’t like, for people who didn’t appreciate me, and for purposes that (in many cases) I wasn’t even sure of. It was important for me that I really enjoyed my photography career, so I made myself do it. I took jobs that I wanted, refused work I really didn’t want, and took pride in the fact that I was working freely for myself. I engaged in my own personal projects to keep my creativity energised. Personal projects are a great impetus for photographers to show what they can do. So I’m going to enjoy it while it’s happening, and leave it satisfied of my success.