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A new place to go…

To my followers of this blog, who may have noticed an absence of posts over the last few months… I have stopped writing here and am now writing a new blog, called Ackee & Saltfish Journal.

Do go and have a look and keep updated on the to-ings and fro-ings of my world as a professional photographer :)

18 months

I’ve committed a major blogging faux-pas - having nothing to write about over the past few months. I must admit, that’s because I’ve been busy either preparing for or doing shoots, or spending a lot of time on my marketing and business development.

I still want to blog, but as my mother says, nothing stays the same and things have indeed changed since I left my job 18 months’ ago. As the end of an eventful year comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on how things have gone and how things should change in future.

I feel like a fully-fledged photographer now. Even though I have to make sacrifices to pay the bills, I get frequent reminders of how much better life is as a freelancer. No travelling during rush hour; no picking up colds and germs from fellow passengers/co-workers; being able to use a kitchen for cooking as opposed to only for microwave and kettle use. The periods of isolation are the downside - how true the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is, when no-one’s calling and you have to take the initiative in setting up lunch dates.

This freelance life is still a test of survival skills, of coping with doing lots of things alone, of pushing oneself out of the comfort zone. The next 18 months will see more challenges ahead, but it will be a different person facing them.

Experience definitely changes perspective on how to do things. I certainly don’t feel the novelty of cold-calling, marketing, designing my own work or networking. I know if I write more about those topics, I will be repeating myself from earlier posts.

So what to talk about from now on? The prospect of a new blog lingers, one that is reflects me as a photographer, not just one “in transition”. Maybe postings of lighting set-ups, weekly diary entries, postings of things I’ve seen that are interesting. This blog will definitely stay - I hope it will be useful to those who are thinking about making the same jump as me.

The caterpillar is coming out of its cocoon, so maybe 2013 is the year of the butterfly.

What’s It All For?

Don’t worry, I’m not contemplating an early retirement from photography!

I ask the question because we can get so absorbed in what we are doing and our short-term or daily objectives, that we forget our medium- and long-term goals. We concentrate so much on the job we have to do today, but if tomorrow - or next week or next month - is quiet, what are you going to do?

What is all the current grind for? Do you have a plan on exploiting your hard work after the job has been completed?

I know what I will do with my projects after they are completed. I upload them on to my web site and various other online sites; I promote them on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Eventually, I get around to putting them in email newsletters. But note that these are all tasks. And like all tasks, the novelty wears off and it’s easy for progress with them to stutter, in amongst the shoots I have to do.

So the other day I wrote a list on my new strategy over the next 6 months. I already have a business plan for the year, but of course, events have changed things considerably since I wrote it in January. I had hoped I would win a big contract but one wasn’t on the horizon at the time. Now I’m working with QVC, carried out about 5 shoots for Wragge & Co and worked with several clients in the construction and property sector.

So now it’s the Olympic season, coinciding with the start of the football season and the traditional holiday month of August. It’s not hard to predict that things will be quieter next month, then we’ll be in the run-up to Christmas - only 5 full months to go! If we assume that August, December and January will be less active, that only gives 3 fully “trading” months out of six.

So now is the perfect time to think about how the first half of the year has gone for your business and how you’re going to plan your activities for the next six months. Financially, a big concern will be to make sure you make enough money to take care of all your costs over the lean winter months.

In my first year, my main goal was to survive! I was new to being fully self-employed and I still had an awful lot to learn.

Now, with momentum gathering for the business, the next 12 months is about continuing promotion, not just to new contacts but to people I’ve already contacted in the past. It’s so easy to keep chasing those you’ve never spoken to before. I want to promote myself to more PR, branding, graphic design and communications agencies, but I cannot forget the law firms I contacted earlier this year, especially as the feedback from some of them has been so encouraging. I know my style and approach suits them, so increasing my familiarity within that sector will improve the likelihood of getting more consistent work.

So, next time you get distracted by a chore or short-term task, then find yourself a week later not having moved the business any further forward, think about why what you’ve done was important for the business. Did it increase its exposure in front of the right target audience? Did it make the running of your business more efficient? Did it solve a problem that was small now but could have got bigger in the future, if it wasn’t sorted out?

If there’s a point to it, celebrate the fact that you achieved it, then move on to your bigger goals. If there wasn’t a point to it, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just remember to delegate those type of tasks or leave it to do at a time when it won’t interfere with more important work.

Yes! I made it to 12 months!

Numerous surveys on start-ups will tell you that the first year is crucial for a new business. At least 50% of businesses close within 12 months of starting, and my experiences have certainly made me realise why.

Now, I may have started as a professional in 2006 but on this day in 2011, I left my full-time job to be a full-time photographer. It meant the safety net of a regular income that covered all my bills was gone. I have been through more than I anticipated, but I have made it to my first anniversary and feel very proud of surviving this long!

Not that I will take the foot off the pedal; the stats aren’t high for average start-ups lasting two years either. However, I don’t take this fact as a sign to be pessimistic; more as encouragement to keep going and growing my business, so it can continue to five years and longer.

The removal of financial certainty has been the biggest challenge for me, and I can imagine it’s one of the biggest factors as to why some freelancers or very small businesses stop and return to full-time employment. Not knowing when you’re going to get paid, the difficulties with banks and building societies who seem to be against you, and the large companies that try several tricks to delay paying you are all frustrations that can spoil your passion for what you want to do.

I’ve benefited from the support of a lot of people who have encouraged me, referred me for work or helped to promote me. There’s no way I could have got to this point without them. When you’re working so hard on your own, having that network to keep your spirits up and to talk to is vital in retaining your sanity!

What being a full-time freelancer has taught me is that I can think on my feet more and be more creative. I don’t procrastinate as much as I used to. I learned more tricks and techniques on running my business (and getting my invoices paid). I feel more grown-up and savvy than ever before.

So what am I doing for my anniversary? Working, of course! Bills have to be paid and editing has to be done, so no celebratory drinks just yet. I’ll save them for a well-deserved day off on my 2nd anniversary ;)

Promoting and Cold-Contacts - 2nd Time Around

One of the biggest challenges you face when starting out is letting enough people know about your business, and how to make sure your message is well-received and understood.

I’ve talked previously about my efforts to overcome my nerves about cold-calling and dealing with the lack of response to emails and calls. I have to say that researching the market, getting the marketing material right and contacting people is an intense, full-time job in itself. And it never ends - you have to reach the same people over and over again.

I learnt that it takes, on average, five goes at contacting people before they start to remember you and get in touch. I’ve even heard recently that’s gone up to seven attempts. Regardless of the numbers, it makes us aware that expecting to get results straight away is going to lead to massive disappointment. It’s no wonder that, again according to research, most people give up on reaching contacts after the first or second attempt. Those who persist and try at least five times are smaller in number, but they’re getting a lot more of the sales.

Whether we are in a recession or boom, the human mind behaves the same way when we’re buying. Who do I know and trust to do the job right? Most potential clients won’t know you and therefore don’t know what you can do for them. If you haven’t got enough word-of-mouth referrals, then you haven’t got the advantage of someone they trust vouching for you.

So when contacting people, try the softly-softly approach. You have to start somewhere, so introduce your service and how it can help, either by email or phone call. Then don’t worry about it if you don’t hear from them in the next few months. Go and take on new shoots - either commissioned or personal - then contact them again.

Having new work - particularly if it’s relevant to a potential client - is a great tool to use in updating your contacts on what you’re doing. Even if someone doesn’t reply to your email, they may have kept it for future reference, with the aim of seeing what else you can do later on.

I’m in the process of sending 2nd-round emails now, and not only have new clients but a new brochure, new videos and an updated web site. The new images look great and can give potential clients some ideas on what styles they could have for future portraits. Again, I don’t expect to be inundated with calls, but I know that if I contact more people who commission corporate portraits, there’s a greater chance I’ll get a call back from someone with at least a day’s shooting work.

When I send the 3rd round in a few months’ time, I will have new work and my contacts will start to remember me, so the percentage of calls or emails back to me will go up slightly. Why? Because they remember me, they are becoming familiar with my work - a few may even be impressed that I’ve persisted in showing them my work, even though they haven’t replied.

Essentially, this story is about persistence - probably the most important thing you’ll need to succeed. Don’t stress when people don’t reply back to your first email or call - they could be busy or they just may not have anything for you. Move on to another task and know that, as long as you keep them up-to-date at a relaxed pace (say every 3-4 months), they will start to become familiar with you, they will become more interested, and then they will want to communicate with you. It takes time to get there, but be patient, carry on and you will reap the rewards in the end.

Take the Initiative and Get Personal

After four solid months of hard slog in promoting the business and earning money, I’ve started to get fidgety. I’ve spent a lot of time in front of computers and have done more paid photographic work in the last two months.

Yet the urge to do something for myself always remains. And that’s why it’s important for me to do more personal projects this year.

I’ve said out loud a number of times to my friends about the personal projects I’m “about” to start and have never actually shot one frame for it - projects featuring grandparents, bowler hats or ambassadors still remain on paper. And the reason for that? Money and effort. Specifically, knowing that I have (a) enough money to cover my bills whilst I do a “free” project and (b) that I can afford the time to plan and get the right people in front of my camera.

If you read about, or speak to, professional photographers, then it will be a rare occasion when one will say that personal projects are worthless. They are a great way of testing out new ideas, new kit - even doing a trial run if you’re thinking of switching sectors (say, from portraits to landscapes).

My specific advice, if you want to get something out of personal projects, is to have an idea of what you want to achieve out of it. I’m shooting a local football final tomorrow - it’s unpaid but it’s a great chance for me to develop my storytelling skills. Taking posed pictures is one thing, but taking a series of portraits that are more active and dynamic is just as important. For advertising and business portraits, there are plenty of clients who want to show “what’s going on” in their business or on location. So I’m using my free time to develop that side of my photography.

I’ve got other ideas (on paper, of course!) and I know I’ll use them for the following:

to include in e-newsletters and brochures as a way of reminding my contacts of my latest work

as a way of continually updating my web site and other promotional material, so potential clients can see I am still very active and working.

Your personal work can be a great talking point too. A potential client called me recently about corporate portraits and was just as interested in my beauty work. Beauty work isn’t relevant for that company’s needs, but it provides a talking point. Clients will be just as convinced by you demonstrating your ability to be creative, regardless of the subject.

So get out there, take the initiative and be creative! You will undoubtedly stumble across a new way of refreshing your portfolio and keeping your target clients interested in you.

Inspirational Photographers: Jan Welters

Have you seen this man’s work? Seriously, his work is beautiful, intense - they just draw you in. I love it, especially his beauty work. You’ll have seen his work in some major magazine titles, so keep an eye out for him.

http://www.janwelters.com/janwelters-home.php

Another musical interlude, for no other reason that I listened to this track 4 times in 30 minutes because I love it so much… Chris Brown’s Turn Up the Music.

The Freelancer’s Life - A Lot Can Happen in a Month (Pt 3)

I said a lot’s happened, didn’t I?

;)

Now, on to Photography! This is quite prescient, because I write this after getting the latest Zenologue email, about the growing amount of comments from worried photographers, claiming the industry is dying and no-one wants to pay for photographers. The guy behind Zenologue, Nigel Merrick, is an excellent coach and gives such quality advice and inspiration - if you’re new to business, check him out at http://www.zenologue.com/blog/

Now, the state of my photography business is slowly, slowly getting better. My costs have come down (not so much out of choice) but the networking and follow-up calls have worked.

I’ve now secured repeat business from law firm Wragge & Co (I did my 3rd shoot for them today!) and photographed another member of the Twenty Ten networking club.

The cold-calling - I approach that in a practical way now. It’s not the best fun I’ll ever have, but I’m much better at it. Mind you, I haven’t done it in weeks because of my DTP work, but when I go back to it, I’ll still be better at it than I was six months’ ago. So it doesn’t scare me any more.

I’ve also improved my PR. Bear in mind, the one thing that will prevent you getting more income is lack of awareness of your business. I see marketing and PR as a way of helping potential clients (a) to know Natalie Lawrence Photography exists, what it does and how it can help; and (b) to get to know and trust Natalie Lawrence Photography, through its reputation, brand building in the media and word-of-mouth.

I want to really emphasis this piece of advice. It’s a tough economic climate, tougher than most of us have ever known. We’ve seemed to be in recession for 4 years and our banks (and especially my building society) can’t or won’t help us grow business properly. The budgets are there to spend, but you need to try harder to persuade people to spend money on you.

That’s why I go back to doing the same tasks multiple times. I wrote an article on using portraits for business and it got published by The Next Women business magazine and Southerly Communications. Do I stop there? No. I’ve got interviews for Channel 4 and the Guardian, as part of the Government’s Business in You drive to encourage more people to go into business. Will that mean I’ll secure work from now until 2014? No.

All these separate pieces of PR are being brought together to show a consistent programme of reputation-building. My reputation being that I am serious about business, serious about providing a quality service, that I know what I’m doing and how it can help. If you get those things across enough times, people will remember you. With testimonials from others, they will start to believe you. And when they need a job doing, that’s when they’ll contact you.

Make it easy for people to trust you. That’s how I think about PR and marketing. Don’t use the hard sell, just look to improve your target market’s knowledge of you, gradually and consistently over a period of time. 

So those are my tales so far. I’m off to do retouching, invoicing and preparing for the studio lighting course I’m running next week. It’s at Calumet, Drummond Street - come along if you want to get cracking with studio lights for portraits! The link is here.

I can tell you know, my financial situation is still not ideal. But in two months, I can see it’s starting to change. And that’s because every day I worked to achieve my goals, I got closer to achieving them. And once I achieved them, I carried on working so that I go on to achieve more.

Don’t be pessimistic - if you excel at what you do, keep going, keep approaching lots of people many times and be persistent. It really does work.

The Freelancer’s Life - A Lot Can Happen in a Month (Pt 2)

Without money, we cannot progress. I was quite candid in my admission that the lack of money was troubling me. Even worse, my Plan B was not working. That was early February (really? God, to me that seems ages ago, not 8 weeks’ ago!!).

Now it’s early April and the money situation is finally beginning to sort itself out.

I will give you some advice now, and this will be particularly for freelancers. If only your income covers your bills, get a part-time job or freelance contracts sorted BEFORE you leave your full-time job. Especially if you haven’t secured large contracts for your main business.

It will take you longer than you think to get work, so don’t worry about whether a part-time job will clash with what you really want to do - it won’t. It’s very likely you will not get that major contract out-of-the-blue from a stranger, who’s only heard of you once. They will want to hear about you many times before handing over thousands of pounds in business.

I wish I had got my Plan B sorted when I left. But then I wanted to enjoy complete and utter freedom and lots of time to get my business moving. My Plan B was - and still is - to do freelance desktop publishing and PowerPoint design work. I did this in my full-time career and enjoyed it, so it made sense - 10 years’ experience, a rack of software knowledge in the bag, how hard could it be?

VERY hard, as it turned out. Three long months it took to get just one recruitment agency to ready my CV properly. I was ignored for so long, I was really getting worried. At one point, I did give up applying and searching for jobs - for about 2 days.

But I kept going and got my 1st freelance DTP job in mid-February. Now I’m registered to seven agencies and have worked for three more clients.

What I’m about to tell you is a classic case of persistence. I’ve emailed most of the agencies I’ve signed with at least three times with my CV. I’ve called them more times than that - each time, a receptionist told me that I couldn’t be put through and a consultant will only talk to me when they deemed me suitable for their role.

I called back, either about the same role or a different one. Why? Because sometimes you can get through to a different consultant - one who actually reads your CV. Sometimes you get a different receptionist, who will put you through because it’s not crazy in the office. And sometimes, you get the same receptionist who recognises your voice and realises you aren’t going to go away anytime soon, so puts you through - in the hope you don’t call her line again.

To us normal, self-employed people, that would seem like borderline harassment of hard-pressed office types who don’t want to be disturbed! But you know what? I need to earn money. The skills I have are worth paying for. And if I think they deserve that, then it’s worth persisting in contacting them.

I can confirm that I have not been slapped with a restraining order by any agency, so the same will apply to you when chasing business. Be polite, be courteous, be patient. Don’t be sarcastic and don’t speak to people as if they owe you. When I was interviewed by the agency that took three months to read my CV, I didn’t bring up that a colleague had seen my CV two months before and rejected me. There was no point. I was there now, I hadn’t gone bankrupt, and I would only have looked petty. Would bringing it up meant that they felt bad and put me up for more work. No, it would not. So I didn’t say anything.

EGGS IN SEVERAL BASKETS

Oh yes, if you’ve noticed, I said I’d registered with seven agencies. A lot, isn’t it? Well, the good thing about reading contracts is that they give you an insight of what it’s really like to work freelance.

An agency is not obliged to give you any work. There will be times when their clients don’t need anyone. So if I relied on my first agency, they could go weeks, sometimes months without any suitable work for me.

Even if they call to say they have a job they could put me forward for, I won’t always get it. The client doesn’t always sign off jobs, they find someone else, the work clashes with a job I’ve already signed up to, or it contains a skillset I don’t have.

So I kept calling until I got registered and tested with seven agencies. I want to get paid work every week. That means keeping in touch with consultants that regularly provide me with work. And that means booking any confirmed jobs as soon as there’s a start date and location.

Another piece of advice - for your main business or Plan B: until someone signs a contract or confirms a date, time, rate and contact name for a job - assume the job or project is NOT confirmed. I put off work because of another job which I thought was confirmed - only to have it put off. Fortunately, another role turned up to make up for any lost income, but I swore I would never be inconvenienced in that way again.

Am I cross with the person who postponed? No - it’s annoying but that happens. Potential clients can change their minds as much as we can.

Which is why you DON’T have all your eggs in one basket. Look for many different clients, then whoever secures you first - wins.

A new place to go…

To my followers of this blog, who may have noticed an absence of posts over the last few months… I have stopped writing here and am now writing a new blog, called Ackee & Saltfish Journal.

Do go and have a look and keep updated on the to-ings and fro-ings of my world as a professional photographer :)

18 months

I’ve committed a major blogging faux-pas - having nothing to write about over the past few months. I must admit, that’s because I’ve been busy either preparing for or doing shoots, or spending a lot of time on my marketing and business development.

I still want to blog, but as my mother says, nothing stays the same and things have indeed changed since I left my job 18 months’ ago. As the end of an eventful year comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on how things have gone and how things should change in future.

I feel like a fully-fledged photographer now. Even though I have to make sacrifices to pay the bills, I get frequent reminders of how much better life is as a freelancer. No travelling during rush hour; no picking up colds and germs from fellow passengers/co-workers; being able to use a kitchen for cooking as opposed to only for microwave and kettle use. The periods of isolation are the downside - how true the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is, when no-one’s calling and you have to take the initiative in setting up lunch dates.

This freelance life is still a test of survival skills, of coping with doing lots of things alone, of pushing oneself out of the comfort zone. The next 18 months will see more challenges ahead, but it will be a different person facing them.

Experience definitely changes perspective on how to do things. I certainly don’t feel the novelty of cold-calling, marketing, designing my own work or networking. I know if I write more about those topics, I will be repeating myself from earlier posts.

So what to talk about from now on? The prospect of a new blog lingers, one that is reflects me as a photographer, not just one “in transition”. Maybe postings of lighting set-ups, weekly diary entries, postings of things I’ve seen that are interesting. This blog will definitely stay - I hope it will be useful to those who are thinking about making the same jump as me.

The caterpillar is coming out of its cocoon, so maybe 2013 is the year of the butterfly.

What’s It All For?

Don’t worry, I’m not contemplating an early retirement from photography!

I ask the question because we can get so absorbed in what we are doing and our short-term or daily objectives, that we forget our medium- and long-term goals. We concentrate so much on the job we have to do today, but if tomorrow - or next week or next month - is quiet, what are you going to do?

What is all the current grind for? Do you have a plan on exploiting your hard work after the job has been completed?

I know what I will do with my projects after they are completed. I upload them on to my web site and various other online sites; I promote them on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Eventually, I get around to putting them in email newsletters. But note that these are all tasks. And like all tasks, the novelty wears off and it’s easy for progress with them to stutter, in amongst the shoots I have to do.

So the other day I wrote a list on my new strategy over the next 6 months. I already have a business plan for the year, but of course, events have changed things considerably since I wrote it in January. I had hoped I would win a big contract but one wasn’t on the horizon at the time. Now I’m working with QVC, carried out about 5 shoots for Wragge & Co and worked with several clients in the construction and property sector.

So now it’s the Olympic season, coinciding with the start of the football season and the traditional holiday month of August. It’s not hard to predict that things will be quieter next month, then we’ll be in the run-up to Christmas - only 5 full months to go! If we assume that August, December and January will be less active, that only gives 3 fully “trading” months out of six.

So now is the perfect time to think about how the first half of the year has gone for your business and how you’re going to plan your activities for the next six months. Financially, a big concern will be to make sure you make enough money to take care of all your costs over the lean winter months.

In my first year, my main goal was to survive! I was new to being fully self-employed and I still had an awful lot to learn.

Now, with momentum gathering for the business, the next 12 months is about continuing promotion, not just to new contacts but to people I’ve already contacted in the past. It’s so easy to keep chasing those you’ve never spoken to before. I want to promote myself to more PR, branding, graphic design and communications agencies, but I cannot forget the law firms I contacted earlier this year, especially as the feedback from some of them has been so encouraging. I know my style and approach suits them, so increasing my familiarity within that sector will improve the likelihood of getting more consistent work.

So, next time you get distracted by a chore or short-term task, then find yourself a week later not having moved the business any further forward, think about why what you’ve done was important for the business. Did it increase its exposure in front of the right target audience? Did it make the running of your business more efficient? Did it solve a problem that was small now but could have got bigger in the future, if it wasn’t sorted out?

If there’s a point to it, celebrate the fact that you achieved it, then move on to your bigger goals. If there wasn’t a point to it, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just remember to delegate those type of tasks or leave it to do at a time when it won’t interfere with more important work.

Yes! I made it to 12 months!

Numerous surveys on start-ups will tell you that the first year is crucial for a new business. At least 50% of businesses close within 12 months of starting, and my experiences have certainly made me realise why.

Now, I may have started as a professional in 2006 but on this day in 2011, I left my full-time job to be a full-time photographer. It meant the safety net of a regular income that covered all my bills was gone. I have been through more than I anticipated, but I have made it to my first anniversary and feel very proud of surviving this long!

Not that I will take the foot off the pedal; the stats aren’t high for average start-ups lasting two years either. However, I don’t take this fact as a sign to be pessimistic; more as encouragement to keep going and growing my business, so it can continue to five years and longer.

The removal of financial certainty has been the biggest challenge for me, and I can imagine it’s one of the biggest factors as to why some freelancers or very small businesses stop and return to full-time employment. Not knowing when you’re going to get paid, the difficulties with banks and building societies who seem to be against you, and the large companies that try several tricks to delay paying you are all frustrations that can spoil your passion for what you want to do.

I’ve benefited from the support of a lot of people who have encouraged me, referred me for work or helped to promote me. There’s no way I could have got to this point without them. When you’re working so hard on your own, having that network to keep your spirits up and to talk to is vital in retaining your sanity!

What being a full-time freelancer has taught me is that I can think on my feet more and be more creative. I don’t procrastinate as much as I used to. I learned more tricks and techniques on running my business (and getting my invoices paid). I feel more grown-up and savvy than ever before.

So what am I doing for my anniversary? Working, of course! Bills have to be paid and editing has to be done, so no celebratory drinks just yet. I’ll save them for a well-deserved day off on my 2nd anniversary ;)

Promoting and Cold-Contacts - 2nd Time Around

One of the biggest challenges you face when starting out is letting enough people know about your business, and how to make sure your message is well-received and understood.

I’ve talked previously about my efforts to overcome my nerves about cold-calling and dealing with the lack of response to emails and calls. I have to say that researching the market, getting the marketing material right and contacting people is an intense, full-time job in itself. And it never ends - you have to reach the same people over and over again.

I learnt that it takes, on average, five goes at contacting people before they start to remember you and get in touch. I’ve even heard recently that’s gone up to seven attempts. Regardless of the numbers, it makes us aware that expecting to get results straight away is going to lead to massive disappointment. It’s no wonder that, again according to research, most people give up on reaching contacts after the first or second attempt. Those who persist and try at least five times are smaller in number, but they’re getting a lot more of the sales.

Whether we are in a recession or boom, the human mind behaves the same way when we’re buying. Who do I know and trust to do the job right? Most potential clients won’t know you and therefore don’t know what you can do for them. If you haven’t got enough word-of-mouth referrals, then you haven’t got the advantage of someone they trust vouching for you.

So when contacting people, try the softly-softly approach. You have to start somewhere, so introduce your service and how it can help, either by email or phone call. Then don’t worry about it if you don’t hear from them in the next few months. Go and take on new shoots - either commissioned or personal - then contact them again.

Having new work - particularly if it’s relevant to a potential client - is a great tool to use in updating your contacts on what you’re doing. Even if someone doesn’t reply to your email, they may have kept it for future reference, with the aim of seeing what else you can do later on.

I’m in the process of sending 2nd-round emails now, and not only have new clients but a new brochure, new videos and an updated web site. The new images look great and can give potential clients some ideas on what styles they could have for future portraits. Again, I don’t expect to be inundated with calls, but I know that if I contact more people who commission corporate portraits, there’s a greater chance I’ll get a call back from someone with at least a day’s shooting work.

When I send the 3rd round in a few months’ time, I will have new work and my contacts will start to remember me, so the percentage of calls or emails back to me will go up slightly. Why? Because they remember me, they are becoming familiar with my work - a few may even be impressed that I’ve persisted in showing them my work, even though they haven’t replied.

Essentially, this story is about persistence - probably the most important thing you’ll need to succeed. Don’t stress when people don’t reply back to your first email or call - they could be busy or they just may not have anything for you. Move on to another task and know that, as long as you keep them up-to-date at a relaxed pace (say every 3-4 months), they will start to become familiar with you, they will become more interested, and then they will want to communicate with you. It takes time to get there, but be patient, carry on and you will reap the rewards in the end.

Take the Initiative and Get Personal

After four solid months of hard slog in promoting the business and earning money, I’ve started to get fidgety. I’ve spent a lot of time in front of computers and have done more paid photographic work in the last two months.

Yet the urge to do something for myself always remains. And that’s why it’s important for me to do more personal projects this year.

I’ve said out loud a number of times to my friends about the personal projects I’m “about” to start and have never actually shot one frame for it - projects featuring grandparents, bowler hats or ambassadors still remain on paper. And the reason for that? Money and effort. Specifically, knowing that I have (a) enough money to cover my bills whilst I do a “free” project and (b) that I can afford the time to plan and get the right people in front of my camera.

If you read about, or speak to, professional photographers, then it will be a rare occasion when one will say that personal projects are worthless. They are a great way of testing out new ideas, new kit - even doing a trial run if you’re thinking of switching sectors (say, from portraits to landscapes).

My specific advice, if you want to get something out of personal projects, is to have an idea of what you want to achieve out of it. I’m shooting a local football final tomorrow - it’s unpaid but it’s a great chance for me to develop my storytelling skills. Taking posed pictures is one thing, but taking a series of portraits that are more active and dynamic is just as important. For advertising and business portraits, there are plenty of clients who want to show “what’s going on” in their business or on location. So I’m using my free time to develop that side of my photography.

I’ve got other ideas (on paper, of course!) and I know I’ll use them for the following:

to include in e-newsletters and brochures as a way of reminding my contacts of my latest work

as a way of continually updating my web site and other promotional material, so potential clients can see I am still very active and working.

Your personal work can be a great talking point too. A potential client called me recently about corporate portraits and was just as interested in my beauty work. Beauty work isn’t relevant for that company’s needs, but it provides a talking point. Clients will be just as convinced by you demonstrating your ability to be creative, regardless of the subject.

So get out there, take the initiative and be creative! You will undoubtedly stumble across a new way of refreshing your portfolio and keeping your target clients interested in you.

Inspirational Photographers: Jan Welters

Have you seen this man’s work? Seriously, his work is beautiful, intense - they just draw you in. I love it, especially his beauty work. You’ll have seen his work in some major magazine titles, so keep an eye out for him.

http://www.janwelters.com/janwelters-home.php

Another musical interlude, for no other reason that I listened to this track 4 times in 30 minutes because I love it so much… Chris Brown’s Turn Up the Music.

The Freelancer’s Life - A Lot Can Happen in a Month (Pt 3)

I said a lot’s happened, didn’t I?

;)

Now, on to Photography! This is quite prescient, because I write this after getting the latest Zenologue email, about the growing amount of comments from worried photographers, claiming the industry is dying and no-one wants to pay for photographers. The guy behind Zenologue, Nigel Merrick, is an excellent coach and gives such quality advice and inspiration - if you’re new to business, check him out at http://www.zenologue.com/blog/

Now, the state of my photography business is slowly, slowly getting better. My costs have come down (not so much out of choice) but the networking and follow-up calls have worked.

I’ve now secured repeat business from law firm Wragge & Co (I did my 3rd shoot for them today!) and photographed another member of the Twenty Ten networking club.

The cold-calling - I approach that in a practical way now. It’s not the best fun I’ll ever have, but I’m much better at it. Mind you, I haven’t done it in weeks because of my DTP work, but when I go back to it, I’ll still be better at it than I was six months’ ago. So it doesn’t scare me any more.

I’ve also improved my PR. Bear in mind, the one thing that will prevent you getting more income is lack of awareness of your business. I see marketing and PR as a way of helping potential clients (a) to know Natalie Lawrence Photography exists, what it does and how it can help; and (b) to get to know and trust Natalie Lawrence Photography, through its reputation, brand building in the media and word-of-mouth.

I want to really emphasis this piece of advice. It’s a tough economic climate, tougher than most of us have ever known. We’ve seemed to be in recession for 4 years and our banks (and especially my building society) can’t or won’t help us grow business properly. The budgets are there to spend, but you need to try harder to persuade people to spend money on you.

That’s why I go back to doing the same tasks multiple times. I wrote an article on using portraits for business and it got published by The Next Women business magazine and Southerly Communications. Do I stop there? No. I’ve got interviews for Channel 4 and the Guardian, as part of the Government’s Business in You drive to encourage more people to go into business. Will that mean I’ll secure work from now until 2014? No.

All these separate pieces of PR are being brought together to show a consistent programme of reputation-building. My reputation being that I am serious about business, serious about providing a quality service, that I know what I’m doing and how it can help. If you get those things across enough times, people will remember you. With testimonials from others, they will start to believe you. And when they need a job doing, that’s when they’ll contact you.

Make it easy for people to trust you. That’s how I think about PR and marketing. Don’t use the hard sell, just look to improve your target market’s knowledge of you, gradually and consistently over a period of time. 

So those are my tales so far. I’m off to do retouching, invoicing and preparing for the studio lighting course I’m running next week. It’s at Calumet, Drummond Street - come along if you want to get cracking with studio lights for portraits! The link is here.

I can tell you know, my financial situation is still not ideal. But in two months, I can see it’s starting to change. And that’s because every day I worked to achieve my goals, I got closer to achieving them. And once I achieved them, I carried on working so that I go on to achieve more.

Don’t be pessimistic - if you excel at what you do, keep going, keep approaching lots of people many times and be persistent. It really does work.

The Freelancer’s Life - A Lot Can Happen in a Month (Pt 2)

Without money, we cannot progress. I was quite candid in my admission that the lack of money was troubling me. Even worse, my Plan B was not working. That was early February (really? God, to me that seems ages ago, not 8 weeks’ ago!!).

Now it’s early April and the money situation is finally beginning to sort itself out.

I will give you some advice now, and this will be particularly for freelancers. If only your income covers your bills, get a part-time job or freelance contracts sorted BEFORE you leave your full-time job. Especially if you haven’t secured large contracts for your main business.

It will take you longer than you think to get work, so don’t worry about whether a part-time job will clash with what you really want to do - it won’t. It’s very likely you will not get that major contract out-of-the-blue from a stranger, who’s only heard of you once. They will want to hear about you many times before handing over thousands of pounds in business.

I wish I had got my Plan B sorted when I left. But then I wanted to enjoy complete and utter freedom and lots of time to get my business moving. My Plan B was - and still is - to do freelance desktop publishing and PowerPoint design work. I did this in my full-time career and enjoyed it, so it made sense - 10 years’ experience, a rack of software knowledge in the bag, how hard could it be?

VERY hard, as it turned out. Three long months it took to get just one recruitment agency to ready my CV properly. I was ignored for so long, I was really getting worried. At one point, I did give up applying and searching for jobs - for about 2 days.

But I kept going and got my 1st freelance DTP job in mid-February. Now I’m registered to seven agencies and have worked for three more clients.

What I’m about to tell you is a classic case of persistence. I’ve emailed most of the agencies I’ve signed with at least three times with my CV. I’ve called them more times than that - each time, a receptionist told me that I couldn’t be put through and a consultant will only talk to me when they deemed me suitable for their role.

I called back, either about the same role or a different one. Why? Because sometimes you can get through to a different consultant - one who actually reads your CV. Sometimes you get a different receptionist, who will put you through because it’s not crazy in the office. And sometimes, you get the same receptionist who recognises your voice and realises you aren’t going to go away anytime soon, so puts you through - in the hope you don’t call her line again.

To us normal, self-employed people, that would seem like borderline harassment of hard-pressed office types who don’t want to be disturbed! But you know what? I need to earn money. The skills I have are worth paying for. And if I think they deserve that, then it’s worth persisting in contacting them.

I can confirm that I have not been slapped with a restraining order by any agency, so the same will apply to you when chasing business. Be polite, be courteous, be patient. Don’t be sarcastic and don’t speak to people as if they owe you. When I was interviewed by the agency that took three months to read my CV, I didn’t bring up that a colleague had seen my CV two months before and rejected me. There was no point. I was there now, I hadn’t gone bankrupt, and I would only have looked petty. Would bringing it up meant that they felt bad and put me up for more work. No, it would not. So I didn’t say anything.

EGGS IN SEVERAL BASKETS

Oh yes, if you’ve noticed, I said I’d registered with seven agencies. A lot, isn’t it? Well, the good thing about reading contracts is that they give you an insight of what it’s really like to work freelance.

An agency is not obliged to give you any work. There will be times when their clients don’t need anyone. So if I relied on my first agency, they could go weeks, sometimes months without any suitable work for me.

Even if they call to say they have a job they could put me forward for, I won’t always get it. The client doesn’t always sign off jobs, they find someone else, the work clashes with a job I’ve already signed up to, or it contains a skillset I don’t have.

So I kept calling until I got registered and tested with seven agencies. I want to get paid work every week. That means keeping in touch with consultants that regularly provide me with work. And that means booking any confirmed jobs as soon as there’s a start date and location.

Another piece of advice - for your main business or Plan B: until someone signs a contract or confirms a date, time, rate and contact name for a job - assume the job or project is NOT confirmed. I put off work because of another job which I thought was confirmed - only to have it put off. Fortunately, another role turned up to make up for any lost income, but I swore I would never be inconvenienced in that way again.

Am I cross with the person who postponed? No - it’s annoying but that happens. Potential clients can change their minds as much as we can.

Which is why you DON’T have all your eggs in one basket. Look for many different clients, then whoever secures you first - wins.

A new place to go…
18 months
What’s It All For?
Yes! I made it to 12 months!
Promoting and Cold-Contacts - 2nd Time Around
Take the Initiative and Get Personal
The Freelancer’s Life - A Lot Can Happen in a Month (Pt 3)
The Freelancer’s Life - A Lot Can Happen in a Month (Pt 2)

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The short tales of a working, self-employed photographer.

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