Iʼve been a professional creative for 12 years. Thatʼs 12 years of relentless budgeting, questionable risks and hard decisions. Iʼve been very lucky—I inherited money in my mid-20s, which became rent, food, and some business expenses—but my typical per annum, all told, is under $20K.
My trouble is, Iʼm a maker, not a businessman.
Since 2005, Iʼve published, edited, designed and written for An Underground Guide to Alburquerque; run all things digital for a local farm and a local cafe/grocery/distributor (both failed); designed and written for my local food Co-op and a major Santa Fe art collectorʼs guidebook; built and maintained a website for a local kink organization; designed for local art galleries, and individuals who wanted to self-publish books; shot for local and touring bands, and local startups. (Not to mention my personal projects.) The list goes on. The last few years, Iʼve maintained a clutch of websites for a national radio network, which put a floor under my finances.
I scrap and I scrape. I never actually know whatʼs happening.
Iʼm pretty sure this is the freelancerʼs life. Unless youʼre truly gifted—I mean frighteningly, what-you-touch-turns-to-money gifted—youʼre probably throwing anything at the wall and praying it sticks.
Most of what I do, I do very well. But not well enough for the work to sell itself. So Iʼve looked for ages for someone to handle the business end. Once, I briefly had the help of a brilliant business manager, and as is the way of all things in New Mexico, she departed to manage her garden instead.
A creative agency asked me recently to come on as their in-house photographer. If it works, itʼs my dream arrangement: They do the business, I do the work. Weʼve done two shoots and Iʼm optimistic. And while they negotiate with a big client—as many as 100+ headshots—Iʼll keep stitching the bills together.
Now I really donʼt know whatʼs happening. They have an interest in selling me, and I have an interest in making us both look good…but in this economy, if, like most of us, youʼre not one of the gifted, there are no assurances. So Iʼll keep throwing everything at the wall, and with some luck, maybe this one will stick.
This is what freelancing the last decade+ has taught me. You control nothing. If it works out, donʼt spend too much too soon. If it flops, well, it could not possibly be worse than normal.