How do you think 2023 is looking for the industry? Do you have any predictions?
I wouldn’t dare make photography predictions in front of so many experts! I learn so much from the AOP, and I love how active and generally supportive the bulletin boards are.
It will be a challenging year for all creative professionals, coming after a series of equally challenging years. We all have to look after ourselves well, because we’ve all been carrying heavier loads than we perhaps realise.
But I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom. There are lots of new and exciting ways to make money from what we do, and I love how easy it is now to share work, turn images into products, teach skills online – all without having to plead with gate-keepers.
You don’t need me to tell you the challenges the web poses for copyright, and I’m glad there are organisations like this one instigating discussion and fighting for our rights. But I also think there are opportunities in Web 3.0, with possibilities for micro-payments every time our work is shared, for instance.
What advice would you give photographers looking to prepare themselves for leaner times?
Save when you can. Easy to say, harder to do when turning your heating on can feel like a luxury. But even tiny bits add up, over time, and having some sort of financial cushion gives you freedom. (Ideally 3-6 months of living expenses, but I know how impossible that might feel, right now.) It allows you to say no when your instinct tells you a job is going to be a nightmare; it gives you room to experiment and try new directions without needing an immediate income from it; it means you can invest in new kit when you need it; and it means less worry and stress.
Also, leaner times aren’t inevitable. There are lots of ways of earning from your work if you’re prepared to push, hustle, adapt – and risk rejection, again and again. Which of course is another thing that’s easy to say, much harder to do. Nonetheless, keep the end goal in mind: what difference might it make if you could get two more clients/commissions, each paying you £1000+ a month? Or if you were doing 3-4 weekend photography workshops a year, each bringing in £5k or more?
Can you recommend 3 things they should consider now to prepare for the year ahead?
- We are all more tired than we think, after the past few years. Rest more. Be kind to yourself. You are not behind, and you don’t need to catch up. You don’t need to earn or deserve a holiday, a weekend away, an hour off. You just need to take it. So build in breaks, rest, recovery time. And some fun! We all tend to over-estimate what we can get done in a day, a week, even a month. But we radically under-estimate what can be achieved over years of steady, regular work.
- Pitching ideas, marketing, building an audience for your work is part of the job. You need to make time for it, every day/week. Find what works for you, what you enjoy (or at least don’t hate) doing, what brings in the work, the sales, the audience you want. Then create systems so you can do more of it, more efficiently. Even when you’re busy. Doing it regularly is the answer to the whole feast-or-famine cycle that all freelancers know only too well.
- Get comfortable with No. It’s a short word, but powerful. It’s not married to ‘sorry’ when you use it to protect your boundaries, your energy, your integrity. And when other people say no to you, it doesn’t mean your work is awful, you’re a bad person, or you can never approach them again. It just means your idea wasn’t right for them, at that time. So take it elsewhere and persist until you get the yes you want.
Are there key pitfalls to avoid?
Compare and despair. Spending time on social media when you’re tired or feeling low is self-abuse, and a recipe for misery. So is Googling yourself, reading reviews, or replying to emails from angry clients. (They’re tired, too. Almost everyone seems angry, needy, passive-aggressive, and whiny at the moment. Which is why you shouldn’t respond when you’re depleted. Sleep on it!)
Everyone curates their social feeds. Don’t look at other people’s success or exciting lives and assume that every bit of it is true. I know from the clients I work with that their glittering Instagram feeds often hide a lot of fear, worry, stress. And that a lot of it is smoke and mirrors.
If you’re stuck, get help, support. Get a coach, a therapist, a fellow freelancer who is also hitting a dry patch. Take action. Send out a newsletter. Network. Call contacts you’ve enjoyed working in the past, and see what they’re up to, what they need. Reach out to people you actually like. Or just go for a workout, a cycle ride, a walk. You’ll find it a lot more helpful than scrolling.
What should they be doing now to future-proof their business?
The key thing, I think, is to keep exploring, and to make space for personal projects. These rarely pay off immediately, but they keep you and your portfolio fresh, and often lead to ideas that will pay handsomely down the line.
Balancing art and commerce is always tricky: we all need work that pays. But it’s important to also expand what you do, to try new things and to fail at them sometimes too. It’s how we learn and grow. And how we eventually attract the kind of paid work we really love doing.
How can AOP Members / Photographers contact you (only if you want them to) – what services do you provide?
I’m a former editor of The Face and Observer magazines, a writer and author. But mainly these days, I’m a life coach helping creative professionals wanting to take their career to the next level or just work with more ease and joy, less drama and stress.
I’m at thecreativelife.net
, where you can sign up for a free 10-day course on growing your creative business, and also get The Creative Companion
, a bi-weekly newsletter full of resources, ideas, and thoughts about how to thrive as a freelance.