Survive, organize, thrive: 8 tips on becoming an organized freelance photographer

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Ah, the life of a freelancer. What most people call “the dream” is generally a montage of you spending the majority of your time in your pajamas, procrastinating with the odd Netflix binge (or two) and then crying when tax season hits because you realise you have no idea where half of your receipts went.

When you complain to your friends about how tough it can be, they laugh and say they wish they could work in their pajamas, and that they really don’t get what the big deal is.

But working from home, especially as a freelance photographer, can get insanely stressful precisely because of the same reasons people tend to consider it “the dream.” Sure, you don’t have to come in to the office, stuck in a desk all day, but that also means you have more distractions to fend off. Don’t have a boss to answer to? Sounds great, but that also means you can’t expect anybody else to assist you when it comes to contracts, bookkeeping, or even insurance.

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Photo by Parker Byrd

We know when you shift your passion into your job, it’s easy to get lost along the way, so here are a few tips on how to survive, organize, and thrive as a freelance photographer.

01. Create a dedicated work space

A common problem for people who work from home is not knowing when to stop working. Because you work where you rest, you wake up with your laptop beside you, and the first thing you do is check your emails. You could end up stuck working in your bedroom all day, only to find that you never actually “leave” your work behind.

To avoid this, assign a dedicated work space that is preferably not in your bedroom. Whether it’s a home office, a space in the living room, or a co-working space, this will make it easier to rest when it’s time to.

Photo by Nikolay Tarashchenko

02. Treat it like an actual job

Freelancing can be the best and the worst—the best when you get to choose when you work and how often you want to work in your pajamas, but the worst when choosing your own hours means you end up working ALL the time.

Set yourself work hours and weekends, and stick to them (when you can). Otherwise, you could end up getting burned out.

Photo from Raw Pixel

03. Create a routine that works for you

The joy of freelancing means you have a say over how you run your day, whether it’s getting up at 6am for yoga to clear your mind or staying up until 2am editing. But again, this could mean you forget to set aside time for yourself.

Figure out how you work best and when you’re most productive and create a routine that you can actually follow. Set time not only for work but also for your personal responsibilities.

Photo by Bench Accounting

04. Be productive despite the distractions

We live in the digital age which means that an infinite number of distractions are constantly a click away. How many of us log on to YouTube to check a quick tutorial and then find ourselves, 12 hours later, still watching “Cute Cat Fails”? That’s right—everyone! (If you’re not one of those amazing people, can you please not judge us?)

Photo by Nicole Honeywill

One way to get through this is to use apps designed to help with productivity, stay on task, and declutter our brains. Here are a few I recommend:

  • Asana (free for solo users and businesses with less than 15 people)

A project management website that will instantly free up your mental space, set up tasks with due dates, and track what you’re working on with daily “To Do” lists and a calendar. The great thing about Asana is that it works well with other apps, like Microsoft Office, which means you can become a one man productivity king (or queen). If this isn’t your cup of tea, you can also try Taskmeister or Trello.

  • Time Camp (free for one user)

This app tracks what you spend your time on, allowing you to either get a better idea of your own productivity or see how long things actually take. Consequently, this will help you quote and figure out which jobs are ideal to take in the future. It will also tell you how much time you’re wasting on social media (or Netflix... shh!).

  • Be Focused (free)

Applying the Pomodoro technique, the app lets you schedule your work day into intervals, so you get a short break for every 25 minutes you work. Knowing that the break is coming, you actually do the work when it’s time to. Genius, right?

Photo by Raw Pixel

05. Develop an organized photography workflow

When photography is just a hobby, you get to take your time with every aspect of the workflow, but when it becomes your job, you might want to streamline certain processes to save you pulling your hair out later.

Photo by Mia Baker

Here’s an example of a general workflow you could follow: import, back up, edit, export, and transfer.

Import

The first thing you’ll need to do is to import photos, so you can prepare them for sending to your client.

Consider creating a folder system that will allow you to easily find images down the line (i.e. 2018 < Restaurant < Food < RAW). You can also use an organization tool like Photo Mechanic, which a lot of photographers love. It allows you to organize, preview, and cull images, so you can choose your favorites and import them to Lightroom for editing.

Back up

What if your memory card gets corrupted, your hard drive crashes, your computer gets stolen, or, God forbid, your house burns down? When it’s a hobby, losing your images is devastating, but when it’s your job, losing your photos can cost you money and lose you clients.

Save yourself the hassle by backing up. A great strategy to try is 3-2-1, which means you will make 3 copies of your photos—2 locally but in different media (for instance, one in an external hard drive and another in a smaller USB) and 1 off site (such as a cloud drive). This will not only make your files easier to access but will ensure that if local drives crash and are both affected, you still have an offsite backup to use.

Edit

Once you’ve imported and backed up your files, you can get to editing them.

Everyone’s editing workflow will be different. Some photographers categorize and sort their files using the star system, while others prefer color coding. Whichever you use, for your own peace of mind, choose one that will allow you to mange all of your projects most effectively.

Export

Next, you can start gathering the finalized photos you will send to your client.

Photographers like using Lightroom to export files because it numbers files accordingly, so you can rename it something like “2018_job_client name,” as opposed to “_02A1980,” which looks far less professional and could leave you with missing numbers. Additionally, with Lightroom, you can set parameters, rename files, and attach metadata—the whole shebang.

Transfer

There are many options to choose from when you send files to your client, but some of the best are Dropbox, WeTransfer, FTP (particularly when sending whole sets of images), or Pixieset (if you’d rather have online client galleries).

Of course, check with your clients to find out which will be easiest for them to access.

Photo by Joseph Pearson

06. Understand the importance of contracts

Some photographers use contracts for every single job, while others use them just for big gigs like weddings or commercial shoots. Things get complicated when large amounts of money are involved, so save yourself the worry and get yourself a contract.

When it comes to weddings, a contract usually irons out any communication issues, such as what you can expect from your client and what they can expect from you.

Photo by Raw Pixel

Wedding photographer Tanya Volt says, “The most important clauses for me are holding the right to my own editing decisions, and also that I can’t guarantee every single moment/guest being captured—these are so important to back yourself up!”

You can research for templates online, but if you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to double check TheLawTog to understand the different laws that apply to photographers from country to country.

07. Invest in insurance

As someone who’s had every single piece of equipment stolen from her hotel room recently, I cannot stress enough the importance of getting insurance early (luckily, I’m completely covered).

Photo by Annie Spratt

It’s not fun imagining the worst than can happen, but it’s an important part of business to have a contingency plan. Whether your equipment gets stolen or broken, a good insurance company will save you a lot of heartache. If you’re unsure, I recommend Aon.

08. Pay attention to your bookkeeping

Do yourself a favor and take a quick second to set this up. It will save you from headaches and free you up to do more important things—like take photos.

Studio Ninja is a popular client management and bookkeeping system for photographers. You can import contracts, track jobs, invoice clients, and more. However, it does come with monthly/annual fees.

Photo by Raw Pixel

If you’re after a free program, then Wave Accounting is the one for you. It does everything you need in a bookkeeping program, so you can track your earnings, collectibles, and expenses. The best part is that when tax season rolls around, you’re not stuck figuring everything out and realizing you owe a big old tax bill.

Working as a freelance photographer does come with its perks, but it also means learning to become incredibly responsible for yourself. While it’s a lot to take in, making these small changes and forming good habits early on will no doubt help you on your path to freelancing success.