Surviving COVID 19 isolation as a freelancer

Another COVID 19 related blog post. Seems that everyone is talking about it, 24/7 on the news, neighbors, online, socials… it’s everywhere. I thought I would add to the noise and talk about how it is impacting the world of a freelancer who works mainly in event photography. Because really, I don’t feel like watching Netflix right now. 🙂

One of the first things goverment put a stop to was mass gatherings of people. Makes sense, you don’t want the virus to spread fast. However, mass gatherings of people (concerts, sports, major events,…) are what drive my business. Take those away, and I really don’t have much left. And it’s not just me, there are hundreds of people behind the scenes in all events that put these things together and make sure they happen. They are impacted like everyone else in the industry.

Over the years, I have taken some steps to minimize the impact of situations like we are in. How minimized depends on how long they last of course. And while maybe a bit later for the 2020 corona virus pandemic, a little food for thought for the afterwards.… because yes, this will end and yes, we will move on.

1- The Rainy Day fund

This is a concept I started when I moved into my first apartment a few decades ago. The idea is simple… always have available funds for a rainy day. Rainy days are essentially a short period of time you live without work, and ensuring you have enough money to pay the essential bills for a little while. This could be when you are sick of a horrible work environment and just quit, are randomly fired by your job, have an extended stretch of no business as a freelancer, or, as it happens these days, the world stops spinning.

What are essentials? Well, cancel that Spotify account and other non essential monthly payments. Rent / mortgage, food basics, electricity… the must haves. Ideally you want to have 3 months time in case of longer period of job loss, but at a minimum you should have a month. Whatever that amount is, save it up. I have been for the 7 years I have been in business and have had to dip into it a few times over the years, but mainly leaning on it for the next little while.

It can be putting aside $100 a month (I have been aiming for $80 a month for the last 5 years). It can be instead of treating yourself to an amazing supper when you get that huge contract, treat yourself to a good supper and put the difference aside. It takes dicipline, but it is worth it for those emergencies which we always think will never happen.

2- Diversity

This is a no brainer for a business. If you have 1 big client that gives you 90% of your gigs, you need diversity. That client (as any client) can shift to someone else in the blink of an eye. Doesn’t matter if you are friends with the director or have been there 20 years. Never put all your eggs in the same basket.

Same goes for photography style. Yes, I do a bunch of events. It’s a big portion of my income. But I also do some corporate headshots. I also do some content creation and even a bit of commercial work for clients. Have a bit of “other” income coming in helps a ton in today’s Corona Virus world. I teach privately, I consult on film projects, I speak at photography clubs,… the list goes on (not alot, but it does 😉 )

3- Review your way of living

This is a hard one. But I remember when I made the switch to full time photography, I knew my salary for the first year would be about 10% what I was making corporatly. It would go up, but I needed to change the way I lived in order to compensate.

Consume less. Whether it be buy less “toys”, or do groceries and ensure that nothing goes to waste, there are always ways to look over your living style, declutter the extras and live life with less things. Fill that void of things with friends, family, projects and so on.

I know this may seem like information being sent too late. It might be for this time around, but not for the next. I have sat with dozens of students over the last few years and when asked (because I am always asked) what is the one biggest tip you can give a new photographer trying to make their way, the answer has always been the same… learn to run a business, save money, do your taxes. Sure taking pictures is fun. Running a business is funner (as is grammar hah)

Oh, and if you were looking for a list of things to do while you have major downtime:

  • clean your gear
  • learn a new style (video for example)
  • practice your lighting setups on anyone else isolated with you…they have no excuse of having something else to do
  • take online classes
  • read photography books and get inspired
  • join some online communities
  • take some “me” time and do nothing, recharge your batteries
  • schedule some blog posts and social postings for the next little while