By Ryan Ayers
Getting your foot in the door and into a production company can be frustrating when you’re just starting out in your career. Even if you’ve got a tremendous amount of talent, many production companies have their pick of experienced candidates, and often won’t consider what you have to offer. Don’t give up though—many producers start out as freelancers, taking on one-off projects until they have the experience to join an established company or create their own business. The “gig economy” is booming, and it’s easier than ever to start a freelancing career. In fact, 35% of the American workforce was made up of freelancers in October of 2016—numbers that are only continuing to grow. Freelancing can help you gain experience, build a reputation, and bring in some cash. Who knows, you may like the experience so much that you decide to work for yourself forever! With that said, starting a successful freelancing career doesn’t mean you put up a website and wait for clients to come to you. It takes hard work and consistency to make it work. Here are 5 tips for getting started and becoming a great freelance producer, photographer, or other production professional!
1. Leverage Free Tools
The best part about getting started as a freelancer is the availability of free tools online. There’s very little startup cost involved with freelancing, unless you have specialized equipment to buy (which can be used as a tax write-off in many cases). Use these tools to your advantage—for example, free time-tracking tools like Toggl and invoicing software like Hiveage or Freshbooks can help you keep track of expenses and billing. Some of these tools have paid versions with more features, but when you’re starting out you can usually get by with the basics.
2. Don’t Forget Your Contract
It may seem unnecessary for a straightforward project, but you should have a standard contract that you can tweak if necessary for individual clients. Having a contract will help prevent misunderstandings and give you both protection in case disagreements arise. The expectations on both sides will be crystal clear if you use a solid contract, and it will help ensure you get paid what you are owed, and when.
3. Find Time to Relax
When you become a freelancer, you’ll find that it’s easy to work constantly. You have complete control over your time, and when you’re first starting out, you may feel tempted to work all the time in order to pay rent and build your reputation. While this mindset is totally understandable, never shutting your working brain off can be a recipe for burnout and constant stress. Make time to relax, and block off certain days as “no work” zones. If you’re having trouble relaxing, try doing yoga, meditation, or get a massage to heal yourself and rejuvenate your creativity.
4. Don’t Neglect Taxes
Just because you don’t have an employer to take out your taxes from you, that doesn’t mean you can ignore taxes—far from it. Freelancers have to pay both the employee and the employer’s portions of taxes, plus social security tax and Medicare. This generally works out to at least 25% of your gross income, plus whatever state taxes apply. You will need to pay taxes quarterly to avoid paying a penalty at the end of the year, so mark the deadlines on your calendar! Fortunately, the IRS now offers online payments for quarterly taxes, making the process fairly simple.
5. Look to Leaders for Inspiration
You’ll experience some tough times freelancing, and you’ll need inspiration during these low points. Whether it’s Steve Jobs, Quentin Tarantino, or a favorite photographer, think of some role models in your field you can get inspiration from. Learn more about their journey and see what makes them so successful. That way, you have some guidelines for moving forward when you’re feeling tough!
Don’t Give Up
If you’re serious about moving forward with freelancing, don’t give up when the going gets tough. You’re building a business as a freelancer, and businesses are not built overnight. Have patience with your business and with yourself. Once you start building a name for yourself, it becomes much easier to get new clients and build up your portfolio—and your bank account.
Good luck, and get ready to build your own opportunities!