How to succeed as a freelance creative…
I’ve been working as a full-time creative for six years and I still screw up regularly. It’s a game of strategy and I’m constantly learning new moves. I’ve been doing this for 16 years total and I still have a long way to go to get where I want to be, but I’m so much closer than I was even last year. These are a few things that I’ve learned along the way that have helped me get to where I am…
Underpromise and over deliver.
If you think it will take you two weeks to finish a project, tell your client it will take three. There have been very few times I’ve been late on a project, but it is officially the worst feeling in the world for me. My wedding contract says photos will be delivered in an online gallery within 4-6 weeks. I can only remember one time that I didn’t deliver before the 4 week mark and it was due to overwhelming personal circumstances for me and my wedding business partner. I ended up editing 3 weddings in one day to catch up because I can’t handle being late on a deadline. If you promise you’ll be done on a certain date, finish before that date!
Be on time.
Houston traffic has given me a run for my money on this one. I always check the map about an hour before I have to leave to see exactly how long it’s going to take me to get somewhere. But in a city like Houston your ETA can be altered by 30+ minutes in no time at all. I was 30 minutes late to a session a couple weeks ago because my map went from a 25 minute drive time to 45 minutes. Thankfully, it was a session with a friend and he was cool about it, but that taught me a lesson. I’ll never trust my map and I’ll always plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early. Seriously, though… I waited for a videographer once who was TWO HOURS LATE. If you want people to take you seriously, respect their time! This goes both ways. If you want me to take you seriously as a client, don’t make me wait for hours… my to-do list never ends and sitting in my truck waiting for a client doesn’t help me get anything done.
I’m honestly a horrible communicator. Ask my friends. My family. My kids. I’ve had to teach myself to be better at this for business reasons, though. If I don’t respond to an email immediately, I’m probably going to forget. For this reason, I answer emails as quickly as possible. I’ve also learned to communicate what I expect from clients. For instance, as photographers we don’t like it when people put instagram filters on our photos. That’s a pretty awkward conversation but if you don’t tell your clients what you expect, then you’re setting yourself up for even more awkward convos later.
I’ve also learned to communicate what clients can expect from me! As a creative, sometimes I just have to be bossy. People hire me for my vision and in order to give them my best work, I have to be able to control the project a little bit. This doesn’t mean I won’t take suggestions for shooting locations or I that I want to choose your wardrobe… it just means that I have to say no if something isn’t going to work well. Ultimately, my clients are trusting my professional opinion. Even if they suggest something, I have to be willing to say, “I’m sorry but the light just isn’t good right there.” It’s up to me to deliver a finished product that my clients will love and that I can be proud of.
This is about more than delivering when you say you will. I had an inquiry for a small project recently. I sent a draft over and was given some more specific direction. I realized pretty quickly that the window I had to work on this wasn’t going to allow enough time for what the client wanted. Rather than waste time trying to come up with something, I simply texted the client back and told him I wasn’t going to be able to produce what he wanted fast enough. It was already a rushed project so I didn’t want to waste any of the time that he would be able to find someone else to do it. Just put yourself in your clients’ shoes and don’t take advantage of anyone’s time or deadlines.
Give a quality product.
If you’re not giving a quality product then none of the other things in this list matter. Learn your craft. Get better at what you do every single day. Experiment and find your own lane. Get inspired by others but take your own work to another level. If you can’t look back at your work from last year and realize what you’re producing today is better, then you may not be moving forward. Always push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Take on projects that stretch you and then surprise yourself with the finished product!
CREATE. CREATE. CREATE.
Whatever you do, don’t stop. You never know when the link will come that connects you to your dream gig. You never know who is watching your drive. You never know when the momentum will open the flood gates. Continue to create, continue to push, and continue to put yourself out there. If you push hard enough for long enough, eventually you’ll find yourself at a place you only dreamed of before. In the words of Dori, “Just keep swimming!”
“You just have to find that thing that’s special about you that distinguishes you from all the others, and through true talent, hard work, and passion, anything can happen.” Dr. Dre