Many people – especially those in the media industry – went into the business because they wanted to be more creative. They wanted to have more freedom to do the jobs they wanted to do when they wanted. So it can come as a shock to find being a freelance photographer, writer or editor comes with running a business. Here I give my top tips for keeping everything running smoothly.
* Put everything in writing.
Always ensure commissions are in writing in an email. If you have had a chat on the phone, and negotiated a fee then, write to the person concerned immediately confirming the price and brief.
* Be clear about what your brief is.
If you are unsure, always double check. One of the most annoying things for an editor is receiving copy or a photo and it is not how they envisaged it would be. So ensure you understand exactly what is required and that you stick to giving the publication exactly what they’ve asked for.
* Negotiate realistic deadlines.
In the media industry in particular, people can be unrealistic about how long something will take to turn round. It’s tempting to agree to turn something round fast, especially if it’s a commission you’re thrilled to have won – but be sensible. And if you come up against a problem say so early.
* Be honest if there are problems.
Freelancers can feel that if an article or commission isn’t working, it must be them. But sometimes editors have idealistic ideas about what can be achieved – and finding the perfect interviewee is much harder than you imagine. It is better to say early and allow them to get other journalists on board than to let someone down and not come up with the goods.
* Identify time wasters.
The media industry is full of people asking for ‘favours’ and trying to get something for nothing. But, while doing a favour can be a good idea sometimes, always remember you are running a business and time is money.
* Keep an eye on accounts.
Ensure your invoices are professional and then be regimented about ticking them off as paid. Again, if a publication doesn’t pay, consider if there is any point in doing work for them. There certainly isn’t any reason to do more work if there are outstanding invoices and you are having issues getting them settled. After all, if you are not being paid, you are not earning any money…
* Get to grips with tax and VAT
Unless you are an accountant, rarely does anyone enjoy this part of your business. But it is very important and even if you employ a book keeper or accountant, it is a good idea to wise up on this aspect. Ultimately you are responsible for VAT and Tax issues – and there is no legal let-off for ‘not knowing’. As a business owner or freelancer HMRC expects you do know…
And finally … remember being business-like isn’t about being unpleasant – it’s about being professional and business-like. It can be hard – after all, if you went into writing or photography, you did that because you enjoyed creating articles or books or stunning pictures and not because you wanted to ‘go into business.’ But in fact colleagues will respect you much more if you show you are business-like and not fluffy. That way they know where they stand and they will feel more confident – not less confident – about commissioning work from you.