Guest interview, first published for Ed Goodman
What is your name and what do you do?
My name is Tara and I run a small creative studio offering photography, styling and design services for food, drink and lifestyle startups. Along with a team of handpicked designers, stylists and business experts, we help brands create engaging and visually impactful imagery, functional websites and unforgettable branding. Although we are privileged to shoot and style for a number of larger brands, the core of our business offers an creative agency style service aimed at small business and start-ups, with a price point to match. Since becoming freelance in late 2015, I have worked with a number of clients including Tesco, Heston Blumenthal, Amelia Singer, Lucie Bennett, Rubies in the Rubble, SweetPea Pantry, Marks & Spencers, Popcorn Shed, amongst others.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I have been freelance since December 2015 and I wanted to plan for the future! I was in a job that demanded long unsociable hours and that didn't encourage flexibility or creativity. I always wanted to run my own business, and decided the time was right to take the leap.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
My entrepreneurial spirit has been encouraged from a young age, right through school and University. I've had hundreds of bad ideas over the years and even today am always thinking of new business ideas. My partner is in a very good job when I went freelance and we already had a house so we were in a very privileged situation. Nevertheless, I was still given 6 months to "make it work or go back to a full time job!"
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
I want to become a member of a particular photographic society but I need a few more months under my belt! I attended a lot of business support events for small businesses, one of my first was a master class with the Guardian, they are as good as ever today and would highly recommend them. I spent a lot of time speaking to potential clients, and tailoring my services directly to their needs, the business has evolved very quickly because of this - I have added services that clients were asking for time and time again and removed those that I was wasting my time selling.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
Small and micro businesses, food, drink and lifestyle startups, restaurants, creative agencies, product manufacturers, caterers - a real mix!
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
I'd like to think I'm personable and not just an email address, my packages offer great value, I'm creative and fun to work with! There's wifi, two fluffy dogs and we walk around in socks in the studio, everyone is happy!
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
I never had an expectation that I would be doing less work, I wanted flexibility. So some days I'll spend half a day running personal errands and only a few hours of work, some days I can be at my desk for 7:30am and be at the computer for 12-14 hours! I definitely work more hours than I did in a full time job. I actually remember someone saying when I started that freelancing would be lonely, that's the only expectation I had.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
Instagram is an extension of my portfolio so I definitely couldn't live without it, I try and post daily at set times according to the insights.
Dropbox is a brilliant document sharing tool for me and often set up folders with clients to work through during long projects. Wetransfer is perfect for transferring large photo files when I'm delivering work.
I think I underestimate how well my business runs comparatively after I implemented the XERO accounting software, cash flow is so important for a small business, and just at a glance I can see all of my live quotes, current invoices and those most importantly that are overdue or unpaid.
As a freelancer, efficiency is key and in my field I also couldn't live without Adobe Creative Cloud, Apple Notes which syncs everything on my devices form final cuts to meetings notes no matter how far I am from my office.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Practice your craft and respond to your audience. Pick your marketing channels carefully and don't waste time if you aren't talking directly to your audience.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
I've learnt that you can never stop learning, and to always have a watertight set of T&Cs or equivalent!
I find it incredibly hard to switch off, and I live by list which can be a little self-destructive- they're broken down from year, to month, to week, to day to morning/afternoon! We do whatever it to make our business work, but we all need some rest too.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
I enjoy the variety of work I do more than anything else; one day I could be teaching a workshop on styling, another day on a shoot or another day working on some bigger branding projects with our design partners. I love taking a last minute mid-week trip away somewhere so I can practice my travel photography skills (and work on a personal projects) - we save a lot of money travelling mid week too!!
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
In my particular job, my home is my studio and office all combined so I have little or no work life separation which also means I can end up working quite late and even weekends. As such, I try and get out by networking and working from a number of different co-working spaces.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
To be a successful and recognized lifestyle and travel photographer.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
That you have quiet periods and busy periods and it's totally normal and not to panic. I read a great quote the other day – “There is nothing in nature that blooms all year long. So don't expect yourself to do so either.” Invest in your business when you're quiet, and no time will be wasted.