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|| News Item: Posted 2005-08-04

Let's Talk Business: A Career is a Funny Thing
By Rick Rickman

Photo by
I've spent the last 15 years of my life now as a freelance photographer and have seen good times and bad times and everything imaginable in between. I've learned that I can handle just about anything that is thrown at me and do OK. Sometimes I do better than OK. It's the one thing that age and longevity teaches us that nothing else can.

Recently, I had something thrown at me that, to be real honest with you, had me pretty stymied. My wife of 24 years came to me as said, Rick, I'd really like to go back to school to get my advance degree in nursing. She went on to tell me that she really would like to enroll in this program that will take about 3 years to complete and will require her to be in school 2 days a week. She told me that it will restrict her working ability and therefore won't be able to work full time.

On the face of it, it didn't sound like too much of an issue to deal with. It just meant that I would have to purchase a benefits package. We had been living on her benefit package thru the hospital now since I'd been freelance and had never had to address this before. Those benefits were quite good so getting another policy or package seemed silly.

Photo by

The Rickman family: Marla McBride, Rick Rickman and daughter Sloane Rickman.
Well, I knew that insurance and the like was prohibitively expensive but I didn't have any idea how ridiculously expensive things had become. To get a package that was even remotely close to what we had been used to, I would have to pay in the neighborhood of $2250.00 a month. Well, this is what is referred to in the real world, as a serious wake up call.

Here I am, supposedly a knowledgeable person when it comes to business matters, caught in a new situation that, from a business standpoint is economically daunting. How do I, as a freelance photographer, work out making another $27,000.00 a year just to cover a family benefit package relatively quickly? Just to keep it in perspective, $ 27,000.00 a year is more than many full time newspaper photographers make in the first few years working.

I'm also at a time in my life when I'm looking to do less scrambling rather than more. At the same time, my wife has rarely ever asked me for anything so, I know that if she's asking, it's important! All these things run thru my head and end up making for a lot of sleepless nights. Well, the non-sleep thing continued for about 2 weeks as the possibilities came up and I forced myself to evaluate the palatability of any of the options.

A lot of things ran through my head, forcing me to carefully examine what I needed to do to make all this work. As the process worked forward, I found myself being drawn to a couple options. In the back of my mind, I had always been fascinated by the thought of doing a stint as a Director of Photography somewhere. At that time there was a position open at the San Diego Union. So, I applied.

I thought it would be a great place to work with some very talented photographers, hone my management skills, and provide the benefits my family would need. It would also give me a chance to step away from freelancing for a time. I have found that stepping away from things sometimes helps give perspective to life.

The upside to this process was that I really learned that I had some very dear friends and associates, who wrote some of the most glowing letters of recommendations, for that position for me who genuinely appreciate me as a person and my work in general. A couple of those letters literally brought my wife and I to tears they were so dear.

The down side of that process was that I found out that the people at the Union didn't really want me for the job. So, that option really didn't exist. There were some other things I looked at but was really unenthused by any of the opportunities.

I called a few other friends and started to beat the pavement. About the time I thought things were going to be rough finding something that would work, I got a call from Jim McNay at Brooks Institute of Photography. Jim and I had talked about a year or so ago about the new journalism program he was in charge of in Ventura. I had also mentioned to him my new situation.

Anyway, Jim suggested I might want to think about considering teaching in his program. He didn't really have anything available at the moment we discussed this but, I was intrigued. I had been doing some seminar work for the past 2 years and enjoyed those opportunities immensely.

A few weeks went by and I actually had been thinking about how teaching might be a really effective way to share some of my experience with people in a constructive way and give me the chance to have a sound base that would help supply the needs of my #1 concern. The family! Jim called back! This time he told me he had something to discuss.

Fast forward to July and here I am seated at the Ventura campus actually learning how to be a good professor. I've got a new element to my life and I'm actually enjoying the thought of sharing knowledge with future journalists.

I share this with you for a reason. If you are always looking for a way to better your existence as a journalist then it's important to make sure that you are never limiting yourself to one way of existence.

One of my first duties as a professor is going to be to set up a directed study program for a graduating student who needs help with her business skills. It's almost comical for me to think that Rick Rickman is putting together directed study in business when I only have ever learned business by trying to do things right in the course of my own career.

It's funny too that I have never really had any formal training as a journalist but learned almost everything I know by doing the work. This is a profession in which, if you have the desire to be good at what you do, and you don't mind working hard, you will succeed by learning what you need to know on your own.

The beauty of this new situation for me is that I will be less frantic trying to find enough work to fill the month and yet still be able to do the work I really want to do as well as teach some of the upcoming journalists and watch them grow.

I love the fact that now I am photographer as well as professor at Brooks Institute of Photography. Business is what you make it. It can be difficult. Or, you can find the advantages in the opportunities afforded you and learn from each. I choose to take the second path. Figuring out what works is how good business happens. Now get out there and figure out how to stay solvent.

Related Links:
Rickman's member page
Rick Rickman joins Brooks Institute Visual Journalism Faculty

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