Once upon a time, when I’d only been down in London for a short while, I would compare notes with friends of mine who were in “normal” jobs. The conversation would often pass the familiar point of my friends explaining that they could never give up the security that a 9-to-5 job offers, as the sort of life I lead was just too insubstantial and unreliable as far as income went. On the surface this makes sense, and I certainly can’t match full-time employment’s fringe benefits – holiday and sick pay, pensions, company cars, a nice warm office to work in and so on. However, both my own experience, and basic economic and business insight shows that this “security” is actually a bit of a sham, and it’s simply because of the old adage of not keeping all your eggs in one basket.
In my own experience I would like to drag out and dust off an anecdote I’ve used before. 8 years ago now, 2 good friends of mine lost their jobs fairly close to each other. 1 got some form of redundancy pay-off, and was unemployed for about 2 months before he found something else, the other got nothing, and was in fact owed 4 months worth of wages as the company he was working for had gone into liquidation. Both are now, you’ll be glad to hear, in very well paid jobs, doing something they love – one in fact has just changed jobs again recently. At almost exactly the same time I was on the verge of giving up assisting to go it alone as a photographer in my own right. I “retired” on my 24th birthday on the last day of a 10 day catalogue shoot in Switzerland, and felt very good about it indeed. The next week was a bank holiday week, so only 4 working days to play with. Despite this, I managed 6 shoots in my own right in that time, and made more money than I usually would in a month. This made me feel even better, as I thought it was clearly an omen that I was supposed to start out on my own at that point.
The following Monday, disaster struck. 2 of the magazines that were going to provide pretty much 2/3 of my work folded on the same day. I was not too chuffed, and panicked just a little. I thought that was it, game over, job done, take me back to the weetabix factory where I used to work and I’ll serve out my time there. It may not have escaped your notice though, dear reader, that I’m still here and taking photographs for a living. The simple explanation is that 2/3 of my clients going under is not 100% of my income (erm, obviously) and that I had enough leverage left in the remaining third, plus a willingness to backtrack into assisting for a little while, that I was able to start building things up again. With hindsight I think it put me back by about a year to 18 months, and by early 2003 I was making very good progress. The last time I ever got paid for assisting (and by then it was only a day or two here or there, and only for people I classed as “mates” – I certainly wasn’t going out looking for it) was January 2004.
The graphs littered throughout this post show what percentage of my income I’ve made from different clients over the years, and hopefully they drive home the very simple point that as a self-employed freelance-type-person I have the huge advantage that my income is spread across various different streams. Should one of my clients disappear I will obviously suffer a slight loss of income, but I won’t go under. It would take something truly catastrophic to finish me off. By comparison (and I don’t mean to scare you if you fall into this category) if you’re in full time employment and you lose your job, that’s 100% of your income down the toilet. Rather than see self-employment as insecure and risky, ever since 2001 I’ve preferred to think of myself as being much more stable than “normal” people.
Not psychologically stable mind you. Just financially. You don’t want to go there, you really don’t.