Tips For Young Creatives

- - Working

Photographer Greg Benson has an excellent series of posts on his blog aimed at instilling basic business practices on anyone thinking of entering the creative services business. He’s up to part 4 out of 6 and the advice is very solid and makes a nice outline for someone looking to land their first freelance job. Here’s a couple highlights:

Be ready to talk money when somebody calls with a job

Know what you charge for a day’s work. Do not say “Yes” without talking price. If you don’t know market rates in your city, ask others. Know what you normally charge, but don’t be afraid to ask the photographer what his or her budget is. The same photographer may some have jobs with an editorial budget (lower) and others with an advertising budget (higher).

Invoice promptly

Develop a standard method for sending invoices, and email them promptly. I prefer PDFs over .doc attachments; a client should feel that he is looking at a finished product, not a work in progress.

Have a 30-second elevator speech in your brain

When you meet people – possibly in an actual elevator, but more likely in a networking situation – you will need to explain who you are and what you do in 30 seconds or less. Prepare a short speech for any situation. An example: “Hi, I’m Jane Doe. I’m a recent graduate of the Acme School of Art and I work as a photo assistant.

Practice your short speech with your roommate so that when you run into an important person that you’ve been dying to meet at a film screening, you don’t mumble and sound like a sophomore on a first date.

When you meet new people, remember Dale Carnegie.

Dale Carnegie wrote a book in 1936 called “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. The Big Idea of this book was that people love to talk about themselves. So, when you meet someone new, focus the conversation on what that person is interested in. Pretend you are Terry Gross on Fresh Air and interview them. Listening is better than blabbing.

It’s all very basic, but oh so important to have figured out before you start a career freelancing. Much of success in business depends on having a plan for the different situations that will arise and making business basics second nature.

Start with Part 1 here.

There Are 11 Comments On This Article.

  1. Any advice about when you don’t feel comfortable talking money? That’s my biggest hurdle at the moment

    • @Bettmo,

      This is usually a confidence issue. There’s a few basic questions you need to ask and a few basic figures you need memorized. For example, you need a firm no-go point. If someone calls with less than that in their stated budget (often the case with editorial), you no-go it. Many times, the budget magically increases…

      If they haven’t established a budget yet (often the case), you should take down some info on how it’s going to be used, what their needs are, what their wants are, then get off the phone. Formal written proposals are not only more professional looking, but give you the chance to think it through. I’ll submit a proposal by e-mail, then call them to talk it through.

      A lot of this just comes with practice. After a few years, you learn how to calmly discuss things with a client and deal with the all-too-common case of a client not exactly sure of what they want.

    • Brandon D.


      First off, work on establishing reasonable fees (e.g., the services I offer are listed in a spreadsheet along with their corresponding fees/rates). Learn what each service costs and why. That way, if a question arises, then you can explain to the client exactly why your fees are practical. The more educated you seem about this subject, the more likely the client will trust you.

      Ultimately, I just think that you have to have a strong degree of “non-attachment” about whether or not they ultimately hire you. If they hire you, then great. If they don’t, then move on to the next potential client — it’s nothing to take personally.

      Sure, you’re definitely going to want to put your heart into working for every potential client who comes your way, but you also have to be willing to completely walk away from the deal if the deal isn’t practical.

      Accept the fact that you can expect to hear some “No’s.” After all, we all hear them; no one is special.

  2. Haven’t read all the entries but I’m glad this one starts out talking money. I cringe when I hear someone say you should work for free just to get your foot in the door. Anyone willing to work for free (barring charity) probably isn’t worth hiring.

  3. I wouldn’t necessarily be all that concerned with market rates in your city. Skills and quality (and demand) of photographers vary widely, so commodity style models don’t apply here. Also, some photographers are going to have more overhead than others, such as those who own studios.

    I have spreadsheets of hundreds of jobs estimated and awarded with final pricing, and divided up based on what kind of client it was. Editorial is different than local commercial is different than big commercial and different than ad agency work. Typically for big commercial and ad agency I’ll do a sanity check with fotoquote and apply various upward or downward pressure on the price depending on situation. In these jobs, I’ve found price is rarely the main motivator on who gets chosen.

    • @craig,

      Or if anyone gets chosen for that matter. The story of the recession has been “send out requests for proposal then cancel project”

  4. Thanks for the positive comments and discussion.

    “Know what you normally charge, but don’t be afraid to ask the photographer what his or her budget is.” I originally was directing my advice to aspiring assistants more than emerging photographers, but many of the same points apply. For assistants the range of rates is narrower than the range of rates for photographers. An assistant should know their basic rate and be ready to quote it if a photographer calls with a job.

    For photographers, Craig’s suggestion of getting off the phone is a good one. When a client or prospect asks me over the phone what a proposed job will cost, I always tell them I will get back to them. There are too many variables and factors to just blurt out a price. A written email quote with a terms and conditions sheet is good practice.

  5. Yeah I need to not take it personally when a potential client says no.
    Thanks guys :)