EP 46: Photography can be a difficult profession, and when you are freelancing on your own, it can be downright frustrating. With clients not seeing eye to eye with your terms, and the costs of running your business often exceeding the standard pay rates, it's no wonder why many creatives end up leaving their field for a little more stability. But are we quitting too soon? What if you quit right before your big break? In this episode, I respond to an audience question about the difficulties of being a photographer and whether it is all worth it.
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Michael Der 0:02
You're listening to Artrepreneurs, a podcast that inspires photographers and visual artists to live their best creative lives. My name is Michael der and I am a full time photographer with nearly 10 years of experience in the freelancing world. And I'm sitting down with an amazing community of visual artists to talk about process business in the lessons that have helped them grow. So let's get to it. Artrepreneurs starts right now.
Hey, what is up everybody, welcome to another fabulous day here at Artrepreneurs. Thank you for joining us. We are on Episode 46, which is very close to 52, which is going to hit that one per week milestone that I am so excited to hit. Thank you all for joining us on that journey. Now, I just received a rather somber message from one of our amazing listeners of this show. And in this message, the listener expresses being down on her luck with clients with jobs. And it raises the question when is the right time to walk away. So what I'd like to do is share this message with the entrepreneurs community because I honestly can't imagine that this person is the only one going through something like this. So I am going to keep this anonymous of course, but our fellow entrepreneur has given me the go ahead green light to read it to all of you. And then afterwards, I'm going to address my thoughts and feelings on it.
Hi, Mike. Lately, I've been really struggling with whether I should keep pursuing photography, I feel like I put way more into it than I get out of it. I tried to raise my prices. But people still think they're too high. Even though I'm still under charging. I can't get anyone to pay for my full price or even the rates I give them. Because I'm too scared to charge them my real price. I do buy all my own equipment and software. And when it goes down, I have to buy new ones. I also use so much of my time shooting things and the postprocessing. Even though I enjoy it, it takes so long, all of my clients don't hold up their end of the deal. And I don't have contracts because I don't even know what to put on them. I can't charge for licenses because people rarely buy my photos anyways. And at work. I get minimum wage for photographing and doing graphic design. And I use all my own equipment and the communication department won't let me use theirs. It just feels like no one wants me to win. And I try so hard. I keep hoping it gets better. But I've been photographing for almost five years. I know I'm still in school, but I am working for pennies. I even had to pick up other jobs to be able to keep pursuing photography. I just feel stuck. I love photography. I love the process. I just don't know if it's the right choice. Tell me Did you ever feel like this? I was just wondering if you had any advice?
Alright, so there is a lot to unpack here. First of all, thank you so much for thinking of the show as a platform to seek out any insight on a very important issue. It means a lot to me that you view us as a safe place to be vulnerable and ask a pretty tough question. So thank you for that. I really admire your courage. Now, I'm going to work my way backwards a little bit just because the last question is such an immediate response for me in the simplest answer is yes, I have absolutely unequivocally felt what I believe you're feeling right now what you're describing that sense of feeling stuck, like you're not getting anywhere, that no matter how hard you try, you're just stuck in that same place that maybe this path isn't exactly for me. Now, I was just on a nother podcast with Matt Brown, go check that out. By the way, that's called just a good conversation. And I was recounting the time to him when I lost my biggest client. And I didn't get paid for like months of work right after I invested a lot of money on camera and lens upgrades. And then another client dropped. And then another client dropped. And on top of that my camera was stolen. So each day, it felt like there was a new thing that was bringing me to kind of a lower rock bottom. And I know there's nothing lower than rock bottom. But it honestly felt like I kept hitting a further rock bottom. So I got so far in debt that my accountant actually said to me, Mike, it's going to take you likely 10 plus years to climb out of this at the rate that you're going. And it was in that moment when I really faced the music when I realized all the trouble that I was in that there was nothing else to do but break down and cry. I had never felt so humiliated. I had never felt so much like a failure. Because I had sacrificed so much time so much energy. So many of the things that I normally love to do, just so I could make this profession work this line of work a freelancing actually worked for me. And here I was showing that I couldn't get that done. So yeah, I honestly believed that the universe at that time was telling me that this was not meant to be that may be the right choice is to walk away particularly because it wasn't just my life that was impacted, but also my girlfriend's life who at the time probably had some serious questions on whether living with a freelancer was actually worth it.
Now, understandably, your situation is a little bit different. I already had some traction in the industry and then I lost it while you're patiently waiting for yours to sort of kick in. So it's not quite the same situation. But I did want to let you know that I can empathize with what you are feeling emotionally or at least what I think you're feeling emotionally. So I am pulling hard for you to come out of this no matter what path you take. This industry is not easy to learn. I want to let everybody know that there are a lot of different directions that you can go and because of that it makes it so tough to decide what the right move is You don't really know what the right move is, it's like ordering food at the Cheesecake Factory, it's gonna take you like 25 minutes just to peruse the menu. But if you go to in and out, you can make that call in five seconds. So I get it, you have every right to feel frustrated with not being on the same page with your clients, and not getting the payment that you feel you deserve. But keep in mind, even the photographer's who have made it, quote, unquote, still deal with the same issues. So you're not alone.
Now I'm going to try to do the best that I can and help you out a little bit. I can't resolve all your client issues and what contracts you're going to be faced with. But here's the best advice I can honestly offer you at this time. And it's more of an internal dialogue than anything else. It's what you tell yourself. And so what I would advise you to do is not judge your journey. Okay? So first of all, these are just jobs and clients. That's perspective one. So there should be no existential crisis here, you're young, you're healthy, you don't have 20 year olds referring to you as Uncle Mike or pops, you know, like, that's, that's something that you're gonna have to deal with later on. But right now, you're in good position. I'm not trying to downplay what you're going through, but you are in good shape, you know, you can still get internships, you can talk to your professors, you can talk to your counselors, you've got a lot of resources to lean on. So the point I want to make is to reserve judgment on your journey. I know a lot of creators attach their identity so strongly to what they do professionally. But really, it's just a part of your life. It's not your whole life.
So let's do a little exercise here. What is the worst case scenario, you walk away from photography, and you pick up a corporate job, right? So if that were the case, my advice would be simply don't see that jumping paths as some sort of failure, because the reality is it isn't. It's an evolution, and walking away from what you're doing right now, it might be the best move to alleviate yourself of any unnecessary pressure. And that time away might actually allow you the opportunity to course correct, and focus on what really is going to yield the greatest life for you going forward. So if you have to step away from photography, try not to view it in any way as a failure on your part. If you have to pick up a retail job, if you have to walk dogs or drive Ubers. In the meantime, that's okay. don't view it as a sellout. Your Your journey is just evolving a little bit. And you can always come back to photography. I know you're young, and you're hungry, and your patience is being tested right now. But I just want to let you know that not long ago, I was a full time, unpaid intern at 29 years old, and I was taking photography classes on the side for shits and giggles. So I had no direction, I had no notion that I would pursue photography. That's a That's a true story. I often forget to highlight that to people because I don't know, maybe I have PTSD about it. But seriously, I was an unpaid intern at 29. So the point is, don't judge your journey, you are so early in the marathon. And I know it feels like you're maybe five miles in already and you're cramping up. But honestly, you haven't even gotten out of bed, you haven't even foam rolled or stretched yet. You are so young as a student right now. In fact, I
am actually so much more impressed by your hustle, than I am worried about your lack of clients. And truthfully, right now the freelance stuff doesn't even worry me. Okay? Because that is naturally harder to build. I'm working on that myself still. So I'm talking pricing structure, contract negotiations, licensing, estimates and bids. And I'm just gonna be honest with you, you're not going to perfect any of that, at 20 years old, and I'm just shooting straight with you, you may not even perfect that at 30 years old. And the hard thing about starting out is that you don't get a whole lot of experience, which means you don't get a whole lot of clout, which means you don't have any leverage. So I'm not saying that you shouldn't be fighting for better terms. That's always something that you should be fighting for. But just know that you may have to churn a little bit and get some momentum. And once you have that leverage, once you've set yourself up a little bit better financially, once you've increased your demand a little bit, then you can play a little bit more hardball. I mean, I love the fact that you see these jobs in this light, like you know, what is not yielding a good return for you just don't internalize these bad contracts or these lack of clients, as a reflection of something that you are inherently doing wrong. You're just early in the race, in my opinion, and that clients are bad clients, you'll move on from them.
It's more the current job that you have that quite honestly worries me. that seems like a job that is maybe only going to take you so far. And I'm not saying they're a dead end job. I'm sure there are good people there. But honestly, if you don't see them, improving the working conditions, such as the pay rates, the opportunities, the professional treatment, kick them to the curb, and apply somewhere else that's going to make you happy, there are plenty of jobs that can treat you better, there are plenty of jobs that will pay you better, there are plenty of jobs that you're likely better suited for or that you'll simply enjoy more. And mobility is the staple of your generation. It's one of the things that I love so much about your generation is the ability to move on from brands and companies and find new work, find new experiences and find new employment. So every couple of years in my opinion, you should be looking for new work, but that's just me, I don't want to put that on you.
Now if you do decide to pivot in an entirely new direction away from photography away from anything creative, that's okay too. The best strategy may actually be to quit something when it isn't working. That's really good self awareness. But proceed with caution though, because what you don't want to do is form a habit of quitting when things do get tough, because the reality is, you may face similar issues at a safer career path as well. So Jim Carrey has Great quote about his dad who is a comedian in his own right. But he took a very safe job as an accountant, because he felt like there was more stability, there's a little bit less risk. But then one day he was actually fired from his job. And so Jim, in that moment, realize that you can just as easily fail at something that you don't want to do. So why not fail out the thing that you really do want to do.
So with that in mind, before you make your decision on whether or not you're going to walk away from photography, or stick with it, just try to take a step back, assess whether you truly think that you are ill equipped to do this, like you're just not cut out for this, versus maybe you're just an alone, maybe you're in a funk, or maybe you haven't hit your 10,000 hours yet of expertise, and you're at our 9000 Or maybe diversifying isn't what you should be focusing on now. And instead, you should be doubling down on a niche. Or maybe you just haven't gotten that one piece of advice that resonates with you so strongly that it changes the entire game for you and opens up new opportunities. So before hanging it up, do what you did with us. You know, keep asking more people for advice for help. Talk to your counselors, talk to your instructors, get some internships, get some portfolio reviews, if you need me to help connect you to more people, I will happily do that. Just try to remove the emotion out of this a little bit. Assess objectively. Is your photography improving? Is your understanding of backend business getting more advanced? Are you working well with people? If the answer is yes, then don't give up on that. When you have a good process, trust that process. But I understand totally, if you do need to pivot or adjust in the meantime, to do what you got to do. There's nothing wrong with that you should not feel ashamed or embarrassed by it.
Now I'm going to leave you with a book recommendation that I think can really help navigate you through this predicament. And it's called the dip by Seth Godin subtitle, a little book that teaches you when to quit and when to stick. So the main thesis of this book is about this lull in progress that plagues just about every single venture, which he calls the dip. And it is that point in the process, where even though you invest more time you invest more energy, you invest more work into the craft, the results don't change, that, my friend is where you are, and so you have a tough choice. On one hand, the act of strategic quitting is a valuable skill for successful people to objectively see this better potential opportunity by doubling down on actions that are going to yield a greater return. That might be the smarter play for you. On the other hand, if you want what is on the other side, across that dip, you may have to grit it out and just churn through. As the saying goes, no one cheats the grind. The author states that dip is the chasm between mediocrity and success. So if you do want to stick with Starfy, because you love it, try seeing the dip that you're in right now, as a rite of passage. Sometimes a less comfortable road is the one that bears the most fruit. So in the end, my friend, my fellow entrepreneur, as wild as it is, for me to say I am actually really excited for your journey. You know, the sheer fact that you reached out to someone that you don't really know to ask for this type of advice shows to me that you have 20 times the maturity that I had at your age. And so with that being said, I have no doubt your path will be a beautiful one. Whether you stick with photography or come back to it later or even not at all. Remember, I was a full time unpaid intern at 29 years old. Don't judge your journey. Embrace the bumpy road, and all the very best.
Hey, everybody, this is Michael der thank you so much for making it all the way to the end of the episode. I hope you'll follow tag and engage with us on our Instagram account at Artrepreneurspod. We've also launched our website Artrepreneurspod.com. It is the central hub where you can sign up for our newsletter, read our blog posts, send us voicemails, and even access discounts from our amazing affiliates. It's also the perfect spot to shout out Artrepreneurs with what would be an immensely appreciated five star rating and review. And if you're feeling extra generous, you can even make a small donation that's really going to help accelerate the growth of this podcast. But no matter what you do, folks, I just want to say thank you so much for supporting this program. There are a lot of great photography podcasts out there and I am just grateful to have gained your trust even for a moment. Take care everyone. See you next week.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai