Business vs freelance for photographers

Knowing the difference between business and freelance as a photographer is critical to advancing your career as a full time creative. Here's how you decide.
Business vs Freelance for Photographers - Pat Kay Blog

Business vs freelance. Oh no, money talk.

For most creatives, money-talk is a region where most don’t really want to go.

But for those who aspire to, or currently are making a living from doing what they love, money is a huge, huge deal to your overall success.

There’s just no two ways about it.

You have to be good at money if you want to thrive as a creative full time. Full stop. End of story. Don’t bother arguing with me.

It might seem a little daunting; making money from the passion you love, but it’s really not all that hard once you have the fundamentals down.

And the first fundamental is learning about the difference between business vs freelance for photographers.

So, then, let’s start at the basics, shall we?

The chief vs the hunter. Or, business vs freelance.

Let’s explain this with a little analogy.

In the world of freelancing, your role is that of a hunter

(and/or gatherer).

Whether or not you eat today, have a safe place to sleep tonight, or get killed by a lion tomorrow, is very dependent on your own actions as a single person operating in a vast world of other single persons.

You go through the act of hunting for clients, killing them (for their money), and then eating them (so you can survive). A brutal analogy here, but try to follow along.

This cycle repeats, over and over again. You go out, try to drum up some sales, do the thing you like doing, those clients pay you for it, you get to eat at night. It’s a very simple, straightforward model.

The downside to being a hunter is that you don’t know when you’re going to get fed next. Even worse, if you’re not contributing your kills to a tribe, no one is going to miss you when you’re gone either.

There’s immense unpredictability in being a freelancer, and that’s the biggest downside; it’s tough to try to insulate yourself from 3rd party disasters - you know, like global pandemics.

However, there is a tremendous upside.

You get to work on what you want, a lot. You’re a skilled worker selling your services for trade. That’s what the freelancing model is. And if you have no real further aspirations then that; if all you want to do is do what you love all the time, then this model will suit you best.

It’s also the model that most creatives are in. It’s a good one; don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. It can work out really really well if you understand your weaknesses (usually sales, marketing, personal branding, and accounting) and work on them just enough to allow you to keep on keeping on.

In the world of business, you’re the chief.

Status and hierarchy aside, it’s your job to be the orchestrator and architect of the tribe, directing them to perform the right actions at the right time so you can have a harmonious, autonomous, prosperous abode everyone can live happily ever after in.

You have to know all the roles that need to be created, all the tasks that need to be done; you need to know what it takes to do those things and how, and what time they need to be done.

It’s a pain in the butt.

It’s one of the most significant downsides; you need to have an expansive awareness of everything that’s happening, and you need to have some level of skill to be able to do those things too so that you know how they should be appropriately done or so you can cover them in case anything happens. And of course, acquiring those skills takes a long time, although it can be done progressively.

But if you do it right, the upsides can significantly outweigh that of being a freelancer (in my opinion). Even though it requires a tremendous amount of additional effort.

Let’s switch analogies here. Let’s imagine you owned an orchard.

Now, the primary purpose of owning an orchard is to plant crops for continued harvest. Meaning that no matter what time of year it is, there’s going to be something growing; something you can harvest down the line.

To relate back to business, what you’re doing here is growing and cultivating crops that exist outside of yourself. This is the most essential point. You sow seeds, water them, tend to them for a while, and sooner or later, they grow while you’re off doing something else, then later you can harvest them.

There are two parts as to why this is so amazing. The first part is that they continue growing throughout the seasons, producing harvest after harvest after harvest well after the first one.

Eventually, all that effort you’ve made at the start pays itself back and then becomes profit.

The other part of this magic is that you can repeat this process as many times as you want, independently of each other, whenever, wherever, with whatever crops you want, simultaneously.

And the cherry on the cake is that it becomes easier and more streamlined the more times you do it because the system of how it gets done becomes more and more refined with every pass.

The products, services, people, systems, measures, marketing; everything can exist on its own. Not only that, but your effort in growing and cultivating these things is cumulative, rather than subtractive. You’re not trading your time for money like you are in a freelancing model; instead, you’re investing your time into something, expecting a greater return than the time you spent.

That’s the biggest thing about building a business. These things that you create can exist without you, and the return you get from them is dictated by how cleverly you’ve set it all up, meaning you can do wild things like making money while you sleep, creating many different methods of making money, controlling your ROI (return on investment), writing off “holidays” (and literally everything else) as tax expenses, hiring people to do the things you don’t want to do (like accounting) or the things you might not have time for (like running multiple workshops at the same time).

That’s powerful. And scalable. And as you can see, I’m obviously a huge advocate for it.

However, owning a business doesn’t suit everyone. The more success you have, the further away you can start to drift from the thing that you initially loved doing so much when you first started - this has happened to me twice already on my last two businesses, and is beginning to occur in this Photography business I’m now running too.

Business vs freelance - what suits you best?

Once you’ve decided on the model you’re going to pursue, business vs freelance, there are so many other things to dive into, I’m excited for you.

Things like exploring ways to make money as a photographer, how to stream your income properly towards your goals, how to build a brand, products vs service-based income streams, how to price your photography, and so much more.

But for now, the objective of this article is to get you thinking about which model is right for you so that you can start planning your future as a full time creative.

Good luck!

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