Freelance Alliance Spotlight - Cathy Topping

What freelance services do you offer?

I am a freelance photographer.

How long have you been freelancing and what did you do before you became a freelancer?

I’m quite new to the world of freelancing, having only started up my photography business about 18 months ago. Before that I worked in the corporate world, dabbling with photography on the side.

What triggered your decision to go freelance?

A trip around South East Asia in 2007! I came back to London with thousands of images, a re-fired passion for photography and a desire to spend my time doing what I really love on a daily basis.

Being on your own, are there any difficult gaps to fill, knowledge or skills wise?

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There are so many gaps to be filled and so much to learn. Taking photographs is the side of the business that I understand and love, but the marketing and accounts side – the stuff that makes a business a business – is where I have had my biggest learning curves.

I sometimes miss working as part of a team, and a lot of what I do, I do on my own. Saying that, you can’t beat working from home, especially on those cold winter mornings!

There is always something new to learn with photography, whether it’s a technical lighting technique, or simply discovering a new way of looking at a familiar subject. I have found online communities to be invaluable in this respect. There is a great ethos amongst photographers to share skills, knowledge and opinions and I love being part of that community.

What were your goals when you started your business? Have they changed?

My goals at first were to get paid to take photographs! As more jobs have come my way I am beginning to get more picky about what I choose to do. I want to create a strong brand for my work and my business, and part of doing that is spending time on jobs and projects that I really care about.

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Diversification is also important. Photography is fiercely competitive and in the digital age there is competition coming from all directions. I would like to combine writing with my photography, to open up more income streams and to have something more to offer. Often magazine editors prefer to receive the full package of words and images.

 

Were there any crisis points early on? Any moments when you wondered if the pressure of making your business a financial success outweighed the benefits of independence?

I’m still having those crisis points! It’s not always easy to convince people that what I want to charge is a fair price for my images. People imagine that digital photography is cheaper than the old-fashioned sort, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are so many (expensive!) necessities that contribute towards making a professional quality image. There is always going to be a certain amount of my turnover that needs to be ploughed back into purchasing equipment and I’m never going to be the richest freelancer on this planet. But I love what I do, and money is secondary.

What are the best mistakes you’ve made? (i.e. those you’ve learned valuable lessons from.)

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Ensure the client understands what they can and can’t do with the images they are purchasing from you. Licensing images is a vast, complicated and murky subject, and I have lost out on revenue through not making these terms clear at the outset.

But I learned!

What is your most triumphant moment so far?

I never stop getting a kick out of seeing my images in print.

Looking back on your freelancing career now, is there anything that you would do differently?

Get an accountant early on. Spend more time learning about business and marketing. Take the plunge earlier – life’s too short!

What things do you find personally rewarding and satisfying as a freelancer?

It’s a great feeling when a project comes together well. I invest a lot of time and energy into getting work and then ensuring I complete it as best as I possibly can. Not all aspects of process are necessarily enjoyable, but there is such a great sense of achievement when it all comes together, and the results are good. I get a tremendous sense of satisfaction that all the hard work is focused on my own business and passion, rather than for the sake of someone else’s business.

What are the rewards, risks, and trade-offs? 

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You are your own boss, which is both a reward and a massive risk. You have to be responsible for keeping money coming in, and so it can be hard to switch off. Without the structure of someone else’s 9 to 5 suddenly every hour of the day can feel like it should be productive.

So, although there is inherent freedom in freelancing, it can actually mean you find yourself working longer hours and are loathe to take time off. It’s tricky to get the balance right, and is something I am still working on.

What have you been working on recently?

I’ve been doing some family portraits, a new-ish side of photography for me, and I’m finding that I really enjoy it. I love the interaction with people and working with them to get some images they are happy with. It’s a challenge though, as people tend to not like themselves in photos, but it’s a challenge I’m enjoying. And to my own surprise, I really like working with the kids!

See more of Cathy's work on her Freelance Alliance profile.

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Dec 8, 2009
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