The Credit Crunch – Is it the name of an awesome new breakfast cereal, or the end of the world as we know it?

Apparently we’re all doomed. So the news would have us believe. I say apparently because firstly I’m having my best year ever so far, and secondly I hardly ever listen to the news for a whole host of reasons, so the credit crunch/banking f**ck up/end of capitalism has largely passed me by.

But I’m not completely ignorant, just full of wishful thinking, and I can’t ignore the fact that times are getting tougher for most people. Also, I keep getting asked by people if the credit crunch is affecting me, and it’s always people in salaried employment, or students who ask, rather than other snappers. There seems to be a belief amongst those in regular employment that those of use who are self employed are forever walking a tightrope suspended over the abyss of bankruptcy, and that it would be much safer to get a “proper” job. It’s this misconception which I’d like to address in this post.

I’ll start if I may with an anecdote, as it may help to explain where I’m coming from. 7 1/2 years ago I “retired” from being a photographer’s assistant, and set out on my own as a photographer. This was not as sudden a departure as it first seems, as I’d been shooting quite a bit in my own right for a while, plus I had shooting experience going back about 8 years at that point. The day I retired was my 24th birthday, and happened to be the last day of a 10 day location shoot in Switzerland – a fairly stressful and intensive patch of work which I was very happy to leave behind.

The next week was a bank holiday week, so only 4 days to play with, but I still managed to shoot 6 times in those 4 days, and made more money in that week that I previously had in a month. I thought to myself; “knockout – I was clearly supposed to do this, what perfect timing!” Then, the next Monday, the 2 magazines that were going to make up about 60% of my work folded on the same day. Bugger. So I carried on assisting for a little longer, until I’d built up a few more photographic clients, a process which took about 18 months, and from there carried on to where I am now.

At around the same time, 2 good friends of mine, who were both in full-time, salaried employment, lost their jobs. One of them, in fact, was owed 3 months wages by the time the company collapsed. Sure enough they both found more work in a relatively short period of time – they’re not still sitting on the sofa now watching daytime TV and living off the Dole. However, whilst out of work they were pretty much up a creek – job seekers allowance doesn’t kick in straight away, and comes with many catches attached – in one case there wasn’t even a redundancy payout, and given that most companies pay wages a month in lieu, there was a hefty gap in their bank balances until that first paycheck came in from the new job.

The point I’m trying to make is that the supposed security of salaried employment is a fallacy – it’s a case of all your eggs in one basket. I could lose 2 thirds of my work (and have done) and still carry on working. Admittedly I’ll have to cut back in a few areas, but I won’t lose everything. Right now I’ve got 5 main clients, and a quick glance at my accounts program shows that the biggest of those only makes up 22% of my work, the next biggest 18%, and the rest are all single figure percentages. A fairly broad earning base, basically.

On the positive side, self-employment offers far more opportunities for making money than a salary does. If someone in a salaried position wants more cash they have a few options. They can apply for and do some overtime, though this is only an option in certain places, and many firms simply won’t recognise staying behind for extra hours in the office as something they want to pay for. They can ask for a pay rise, but in the current economic climate that’s not likely to be met with a positive response. They can get a part-time job, which will probably wear them out and bring in very little cash. Finally they can quit and try and get a higher paying job elsewhere, but in a buyer’s market for jobs that’s not as easy as it sounds!

For the self-employed person the opportunities are much broader. First off there’s a much better correlation between working harder and earning more. If I choose to stay up late one night shooting stuff for my portfolio or for stock libraries, I’ll reap the benefits further down the line. Self-employment, in the sense of running your own business, offers much more flexibility in respect of managing costs and expenses when times are tough – for example if you currently run an expensive car, sell it off for a cheaper model, and so on. The self-employed person can exercise much more control over the direction of their business as well, and this is where the real magic lies.

It’s not too much of a stretch to say that it really is up to me whom I work with, and how much work I get. In the first place I can target specific clients in an attempt to get work from them, having shot suitable stuff for my portfolio, and secondly I can turn work down which I don’t feel appropriate for whatever reason. I’ve actually done the latter many times, and have even written about the advantages, so won’t go into any more detail here.

The notion of targeting specific clients only applies to the relatively limited area of my own chosen market, which is Editorial. Of course, there’s nothing particular that’s stopping me from branching out into a completely different area and thereby opening up whole new avenues of work. PR, commercial work, stock library work, model portfolios, weddings, social photography – the list of how I can apply my talents is fairly lengthy, and arguably only limited by my own preferences and how much marketing and selling I’m prepared to do!

In summary, once you combine the broader earning base of the self-employed person with the far greater power to make executive decisions about the direction of the business, the future actually looks very rosy indeed. Someone pass the milk.

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