• Ruth Towell

5 things I have learnt in my first year of being full-time freelance.

Today is my first anniversary of quitting my job and diving into the full-time freelancing career! This milestone has got me looking back over the past year and reflecting on all the things I've learnt throughout my first year of going it along.

It's been a crazy year, full of highs and lows - I've definitely not yet mastered the freelance life (will I ever?!), but here are a few things I've learnt over the last 12 months...

1) Start your day well!

On those days I'm stuck at home editing, it's so easy to sit at the computer all day without really getting up and going outside.

I now try to get up early and create space where I can head to the gym or go for a run, enjoy a tasty breakfast, and spend time setting myself up for the day. On the mornings when I make this happen, I feel so much more focussed and accomplished by the time I sit at my desk.

2) Find your tribe.

Working as a photographer often means you are working solo and could easily feel isolated. As someone who enjoys working with people, this has been challenging at times over the past year. I have had to get intentional about getting people around me, in both professional and social contexts.

Don't see other photographers as competition, but see them as people who you can learn from and partner with. I'm part of a great community for professional photographers called Photographers United. It's a great place to get advice, to talk about the photography industry, and to stand together and collectively combat any issues faced within our industry. One of my goals for next year is go head to some more talks and events for photographers, there's quite a lot going on in London and I'd love to be part of it.

Co-working and networking can be other great ways to connect with people from a broader spectrum of industries (although networking can be hit-and-miss, I'm really not a fan of super corporate 'men-in-suits' networking events where they use terms like 'referrals', 'lockouts' and 'one-to-ones'). I'm experimenting with a few co-working spaces at the moment, somewhere I can go for a day a week to focus on work, but also to work alongside other creatives.

3) Quiet times are times to have fun.

Over the past year I've found myself going through the odd patch of having a few quiet weeks work-wise. To start with I found myself struggling during those times, feeling unproductive and frustrated at the lack of work. I then realised that these patches were the perfect opportunity to develop skills and experiment with my style whilst working on some personal projects.

So a few months back I started a portrait project titled 'I work for me' - photographing women who run their own businesses, working by themselves. It's great as I've not only had the chance to create new work, but I have had the opportunity to meet so many other inspirational women who, like me, are pioneering their own businesses.

4) Get to know yourself.

I love a personality test - I did the Myers Brigg personality test a few years back and then a few months ago I found out my Enneagram profile. Upon reading my results of each of these I remember thinking 'that makes so much sense!'.

My Myers Brigg profile came out with me being 51% extrovert and 49% introvert (I'm an ENFJ if you're interested). Which explains my frustration if I have a week where I am sat in my home-studio editing, but also explains why I feel tired after a week of travelling and constantly being around people. I need a good balance of both things. Knowing this means that I can schedule co-working days or personal-project shoots into editing weeks and I can create space after a trip to recharge by working from home.

The Enneagram profile came out as a 3w2, pointing to the fact that I love to dream big, but I hate failing. Setting up a business means that I've had to cultivate new relationships with people I'd love to work with. Shortly after going freelance I sent emails and posted my portfolio to around 100 people, about 90% of those people didn't reply. I felt like I was shouting into an empty void and that my grand plan to connect with new clients had failed. In reality, I had not failed at all - I not only started getting my name out there, but also ended up working a few new clients from that process, a couple of whom I continue to really enjoy working with on different projects.

Learning a little bit about my personality has given me a lot of perspective on the way I work and how I can be effective in that. I now recommend doing tests like Myers Briggs and Enneagram to so many people, they're such useful tools to help you step back and understand your personality a little bit more.

5) Remember why are you doing this!

It's so easy to fall into the cycle of planning, shooting, editing and invoicing without thinking about what motivated you pursue this career in the first place.

I love going to new places, meeting new people and telling untold stories - being a photographer and filmmaker enables me to do all these things. Whether it's telling the story of someone who has just started a new business, going behind the scenes of a well established brand, or travelling to a remote village on the other side of the world and capturing a story which will inspire people to take action that effects change.

It's what makes me feel alive, and I can't help but feel honoured every time I work on one of these projects.


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© 2020 Ruth Towell