I mentioned at the end of 2015 that it had been a funny year from a work point of view – insanely busy for the first half, and patchy for the second. However, this all sounds a bit vague, and it occurred to me it would be useful for people just starting out, or considering a career in photography if I could be more precise about the frequency of work. So get ready for some graphs! For obvious reasons I’ve simply labelled my 4 main clients A-D, rather than give them their real names, but regular readers can probably make an educated guess as to who’s who!
These 4 graphs show how many jobs I shot for my 4 most regular clients in 2014. Despite just mentioning 2015, I’ve picked 2014, as it was a more balanced year, and hopefully gets across my main point which is that even “regular” clients are not actually all that regular, and even years that are more evenly spaced still have a lot of ups and downs.
Way back in the dim and distant past I talked about not keeping all your eggs in one basket, as it can leave you high and dry if key personnel change, or that client simply goes out of business. All of this still holds true, but what I’d like to stress with these facts and figures is the fallacy of assuming that just because you’ve had a busy month with a certain client, doesn’t mean the next month won’t be dead. All 4 of these clients demonstrate that phenomenon pretty clearly.
Between them, these 4 clients made up just over 60% of my income, the other 40 coming from such a wide range that it’s not worth mapping them on the graph. Their collective turnover was just over £42 000, so you can do the sums on what the others brought in.
Dealing with this problem is in part psychological, and in part practical. On a psychological level, don’t make the mistake of assuming that a current busy/high-earning state of affairs, will continue on into the distant future. Be mentally ready for the email from a regular client that says they’re moving on to another job, or that the area they’re in charge of is being closed down by the parent company. Thinking more optimistically, just because you don’t hear from a certain client for a month or so, doesn’t mean you’ll never hear from them again – assuming you didn’t royally screw up the last shoot you did for them, or insult their mother!
From the practical side, the best tactic for long-term business survival is to always keep moving, and don’t rest on your laurels. The time to be marketing yourself isn’t when you’re months into a really quiet patch, but whilst you’re still busy. Not many of us are natural marketers and self-promoters (I know I’m not) and it’s very tempting to sideline all of this activity whilst things are ticking along nicely. However, I can tell you from personal experience, that once work subsides, confidence tends to subside with it, and a position of low self-confidence is not a great one to start selling yourself from!
Plan your marketing and promotional activity as you would any other – such as a shoot. Make time for it on an ongoing basis, and schedule it in as you would any regular maintenance such as checking your camera equipment. Not only will it take less time this way, but it will be less of a big obstacle to cross when you confront it. Trust me – you’ll also feel much more confident “selling” your work when you’re already busy and active, then when you’ve not picked a camera up in weeks!
One last point about the infrequency of work. There’s an obvious financial side to this little rollercoaster. It’s been a while since I’ve talked about cashflow and other financial matters, but I would highly recommend getting in to the mindset of putting money aside as soon as each invoice is paid. Not only does this help enormously when you get your annual tax bill, but assuming you put a bit more than the basic away, you’ll also be building up a decent amount of savings to tide you over when the inevitable quiet patch hits.