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|| News Item: Posted 2012-01-01

Forced into Freelance: The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me
(Wife, Child and Taco Trucks Excluded)

By Brian Blanco

Photo by Brian Blanco

Photo by Brian Blanco

This photo is part of an ongoing project that was a direct result of simply being enthusiastic while pitching a story idea to an editor... and being able to provide them with a well-researched estimate of the budget it would take to pull it off.

It was about 3 years ago that I, then firmly entrenched in my comfy staff job, got a phone call to meet with my newspaper's executive editor and a representative from human resources in the little room next to the publisher's office. We all knew that room; it was the lay off room. With a beautiful view of the city, a dish of those pastel grandma mints and several silk floral pieces, it had always been an inviting enough place before the years-long rash of layoffs, but on that day, the day of the phone call, it could very well have been the gallows.

In the end, I wasn't offered any pastel mints that day, but I did walk out of that room and into the most rewarding career I could ever begin to imagine.

Since that day I have been making a point to learn something new every day about how to be a successful freelancer and it has been paying off as I'm now loving the freedom that comes with being self-employed. Some of these things I've picked up from trial and error and some from watching and listening to my colleagues (some successful freelancers and some who have unfortunately struggled) but I thought I'd jot a few of them down in an informal list of random things that came to mind.

So, in any event, here are "The Freelancing Rules" as I know them so far:

* Never, ever, send out invoices on a Friday.
* Owning a copy John Harrington's book isn't enough; you have to actually read it, comprehend it and put that information into practice.
* Insurance is cheaper than you think and more valuable than you give it credit for.
* PhotoShelter pays for itself, and then some, every month.
* When packing an obnoxious amount of lighting gear for a 6am commercial shoot in a rural area, remember to also pack your cameras or be prepared to shoot with a Canon Rebel and a kit lens purchases at a 24-hr WalMart.
* You'll get more work from referrals from your competition than you will from cold calls, so be nice to the shooters in your market.
* If you're not willing to fire a client then you're not truly self-employed
* If you pitch a well-thought-out idea to a client with enough enthusiasm they'll usually bite.
* Be prepared to give your client a fairly accurate estimate of the budget for your idea immediately following the pitch while they're all excited about it.
* Don't lift your Think Tank roller into the overhead bin while the flight attendant is looking they know when you're pretending not to strain under its weight and you'll be gate-checking $30k worth of gear.
* If you're sitting around at home waiting for the phone to ring, then you're not going to make it as a freelancer.
*Don't assume that the correct spelling of your subject's name is the first hit on Google.
Photo by Brian Blanco

Photo by Brian Blanco

When on assignment I don't seek out luxury; I seek out cheap. With this hotel, at $55.00 a night (in South Beach, Miami of all places) I may have taken that a little too far.
* Cheap hotels won't kill you, but they will send a message to your client that their budget is important to you.
*Keep your luggage in the bathroom when staying in cheap hotels bed bugs are a bitch to get rid of.
* When covering politics and you're cornered by someone who believes that you're an evil co-conspirator in some sort of global media agenda, just say, "I'm just the photographer ma'am, I just take pictures." This is the time when we get to be "just the photographer."
* Code replacement and Sports Shooter are worth the $25 per-year price tag.
* Editors are going to blame YOU, not Mr. Watson, for any misidentified players so check your code replacement files before the game then check them again.
* If you sit in a Starbucks for too long editing photos, you'll emerge smelling of burnt coffee.
* If you don't carry a back-up laptop in your trunk while on deadline-sensitive assignments then, well, there's something wrong with you.
* Those same PR people that you thought were so annoying back when you were a staffer, well, they're pretty valuable to you now as a freelancer.
* The things your write on message boards are forever.
* Not everybody who claims to be a travel strategist or social media expert really is one.
* Buying every piece of shiny new gear that hits the market will be far more detrimental to your business than it can ever be of benefit.
* Buy it a year later, for a fraction of the price, off of Fred Miranda from a guy who put 26 frames through it and stored it in a climate-controlled glass case.
* Buying an editor or fellow shooter, a beer is worth 50x the cost of any direct-mail campaign.
* Grammar counts, but please ignore any grammatical errors in this article... those actually don't count.
* The Enterprise car rental counter is always the longest and the slowest.
* Attempting to give a lesson on the First Amendment to a street cop is a waste of your time.
* Photo Rescue is slow as hell and should you need to use it on deadline you may just burst something in your brain.
* If you dress like a professional, show up early, smile and look someone in the eye as you're shaking their hand then 98% of the time you'll get the access you're looking for.
* Two percent of the time people are just arbitrarily rude.
* No editor ever went out of their way to praise a podium shot.
* Commit to the first client that calls, and honor that commitment irrespective of how much more the second client is offering in the end, both clients will be impressed with your professionalism.
* Starbucks and Panera Bread never have enough power outlets but a Hampton Inn lobby always does just act like you're staying there.
* Spouses make terrible shooting assistants which makes for long, uncomfortable drives home.
* The person at Think Tank Photo that invented the camera straps with grippy stuff on both sides deserves a prize of some sort.
* The person at Apple who decided that MacBook Pro batteries should no longer be user-replaceable deserves something too but it is not a prize.
* If a client calls to book you for a particular project and you know another shooter's style would better fit their needs, then don't be afraid to refer them to that other shooterĊ  in the end the client will appreciate you sacrificing for the greater good of their project and they'll remember you for the next one so will the other shooter.
* If Bert calls and asks you for an article for the year-end Sports Shooter Newsletter and you take your laptop to the shopping mall to type it out as you wait for your wife as she shops the day-after-Christmas-sales then your list will be way too long and only end when your MacBook battery shows only a sliver of red in the battery-life indicator.

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