Managing your diary as a freelancer

Let me take you through a week of freelance life. More specifically, let me take you through a week of my freelance diary, with regards to how rapidly everything in it can change, and how adaptable you need to be as a freelance photographer. This is by no means a typical week, but also not unheard of either, and even if things rarely crash together quite so badly, the notion of dates in the diary moving, changing, and being cancelled with little warning, as well as being double or even triple booked, is something every freelancer needs to get used to.

The week in question is the week commencing 11th April 2016, although to give it some context, I’ll start by describing my movements on the week before, as it will help to paint a picture of what freelance life is like, and how these things often have to be dealt with on the hoof, rather than from the safe, controlled environment of an office with a big, fat, broadband connection. Here’s what my diary looked like for the week commencing the 4th April:

Monday 4th – Shoot for Client A in Fulham, West London. 1/2 day shoot involving an endless pool and some swimming coaching.
Tuesday 5th – Up early to spend the day hiking in the Brecon Beacons with my girl-friend, then overnight in a hotel in Newport, before Wednesday’s shoot.
Wednesday 6th – All day shoot at Celtic Manor for Client B, on a golf driving range/academy. From there, drive to Aylesbury to overnight in a hotel before Thursday’s job for Nikon.
Thursday 7th – Giving a talk for Army photographers on behalf of Nikon at RAF Halton, then home to London. Out to a friend’s leaving do in the evening.
Friday 8th – Teaching a Vintage portrait course for Nikon in the West End, then out with friends in the evening.

Track up Sugar Loaf
Path leading up Sugar Loaf – a very pleasant day out, but not great for staying in touch…

So, I’m clearly moving around a lot, and, on many of these days I was almost out of contact. Obviously when hiking on the Tuesday I had the phone off. On a personal note, by all means carry your phone in the hills in case of emergencies, but put it on flight mode. If it rings when you’re next to me on the summit of something beautiful, you’re getting thrown off the peak. All day Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I was in areas with very little signal, so emails and the rest were coming in very patchily, and this obviously makes communication that bit more complex than sitting at my desk with a lovely, fast 120MB broadband.

So here’s how the week panned out. When I started work on Monday the 4th, the next week looked like:

W/C 11th April - Version 1

Monday 11th AprilTuesday 12th AprilWednesday 13th AprilThursday 14th AprilFriday 15th April
Service Car AM, then free12 hour shoot for Client B - SW LondonFreeShoot for Private Client - W LondonFree

By mid-afternoon on the 4th, Wednesday the 13th had now become the date for the postponed swimming shoot. This was arranged whilst standing by the roadside in Fulham as myself and the journalist tried to compare our diaries with the coach we were working with who’d “forgotten” the shoot was today. So now the week looks like:

W/C 11th April - Version 2

Monday 11th AprilTuesday 12th AprilWednesday 13th AprilThursday 14th AprilFriday 15th April
Service Car AM, then free12 hour shoot for Client B - SW LondonPostponed shoot for Client A - West LondonShoot for Private Client - W LondonFree

Early Tuesday morning we head off to Wales for a very pleasant day in quite amazing weather climbing Sugar Loaf, then pottering about Abergavenny and Newport. Not much happened on the diary front.

On Wednesday morning we went our separate ways, my girl-friend caught the train back to London, and I drove to Celtic Manor for an all day shoot at the golf academy. Signal was pretty patchy here, which proved to be a problem, as besides shooting both still and video all day long I got an email from client C asking if I was free to shoot next Wednesday or Thursday. Now, don’t forget that the Wednesday is now booked, so I email, and eventually call and text my private client on Thursday to ask if they can confirm the 14th is definitely the day they want to shoot. No response. I ask if I can let  client C know first thing tomorrow (7th) about my availability. They tell me that’s fine, but that they must know by then, as they obviously need to get the job booked up.

I also received a text during the 6th from a journalist I work with regularly asking if I was free on the 12th for a fitness shoot. When told no, he asked if I was free on the 15th instead. Yup, no problem, and it goes in the diary. At this stage I know nothing more about the shoot, but I know I’ll find more out nearer the time. So by the end of the day on the 6th, as I drive off to Aylesbury to spend the night in a hotel before Thursday’s Army event, my diary looks like this:

W/C 11th April - Version 3

Monday 11th AprilTuesday 12th AprilWednesday 13th AprilThursday 14th AprilFriday 15th April
Service Car AM, then free12 hour shoot for Client B - SW LondonPostponed shoot for Client A - West LondonShoot for Private Client - W LondonFitness Shoot for Client D - Details unknown

Thursday 7th was a great day in it’s own right, but mixed from a diary point of view. The signal was extremely patchy on the RAF base we were using, and I had to wander around for ages trying to find a spot where I could send and receive emails. By 9am, having not heard back from my private client about the 14th, I had to let client C know that I would have to honour the original booking and that I wasn’t available. Of course, that means that 10 minutes later, the private client finally gets back to me to tell me that due to injury, she can’t make the 14th, and can we reschedule. I reply through gritted teeth “no problem”, and then immediately email client C to let them know I’m now free on the 14th, but it’s too late, they’ve booked someone else. So now my week looks like this:

W/C 11th April - Version 4

Monday 11th AprilTuesday 12th AprilWednesday 13th AprilThursday 14th AprilFriday 15th April
Service Car AM, then free12 hour shoot for Client B - SW LondonPostponed shoot for Client A - West LondonFree. (Double booked, then cancelled)Fitness Shoot for Client D - Details unknown

Some consolation arrived in the form of a booking from another client for a fairly straightforward fitness shoot on the Monday afternoon, so in the diary that goes. The rest of Thursday and Friday passed without major incidents, so by the close of play on the 8th, the next week now looked like this:

W/C 11th April - Version 5

Monday 11th AprilTuesday 12th AprilWednesday 13th AprilThursday 14th AprilFriday 15th April
Service Car AM, then Fitness shoot for Client E in Central London12 hour shoot for Client B - SW LondonPostponed shoot for Client A - West LondonFree. (Double booked, then cancelled)Fitness Shoot for Client C - Details unknown

Now, as I said at the start, this isn’t what happens every week, but the general nature of jobs moving, being cancelled or postponed, or being double-booked, is very widespread indeed. To stay on top of this phenomenon, here are a few things to bear in mind:

Client’s time vs my time. I can’t be on phone the whole time when on a shoot – a few quick emails is OK, but obviously I can’t sit there the whole time dealing with other jobs, when I should be shooting. If a client is paying for my time for the day, then it’s their time, I clearly can’t spend big chunks of it working for someone else. Break this rule at your peril!

Double bookings. These are never fun, but the only way a freelancer’s diary can effectively function is if you operate a “first come, first served” policy, as any other method will soon lead to people not trusting a word you say. I have had several occasions when I’ve been booked to do a mundane or low paying job, and then a big, juicy client has got in touch to ask if I’m available that day for something sexy and well-paying. If I sack off the original job, and take the new one, why should the original client ever trust me again? Every time they consider booking me, at the back of their mind will be the thought that if they book me in for a job, there’s a chance I’ll dump them if something better comes along. By all means ask after the original job, and see if it can be moved, but simply turning them down because you’d prefer to work on the second offer you received is a very bad policy to start following.

Kill fees and Cancellations.  The nature of double-bookings and cancellations/postponements naturally leads to the question of do I charge a kill fee, or charge when my diary gets as mucked about as this?  The subject is quite a tricky one, and there’s no industry standard at all, all I can tell you is what I tend to do, and let you make your own minds up!  Generally speaking, when I get mucked about, postponed, or cancelled, it’s just a case of sucking it up and dealing with it.  There just isn’t that much money in the market I mostly work in, such that clients can afford to pay out on shoots that don’t happen, and if I were to always insist on a fee of some sort, I may find myself becoming less and less popular.  Having said this, in the exact context of this week, Client A, whose shoot was postponed through no fault of theirs, offered to pay me a half day to cover the inconvenience, and naturally I accepted.  The chaos caused by my private client cancelling was obviously quite large and costly, but since I hadn’t written into the original terms of the shoot that there would be a financial penalty for this, I can’t justifiably charge one after the fact.  Since I almost never do work for private clients, this is a good reminder why I don’t bother, and let this be a lesson for those of you that do – get your terms agreed up front!

Google Calendar
Google Calendar

Using a calendar. It doesn’t matter what system you use, whether you prefer an old-fashioned paper diary, or an electronic version, but you must use some sort of diary, rather than trying to keep everything in your head, and you MUST update it as soon as something changes. It’s no use hoping you’ll remember everything, as I don’t believe you can, and forgetting a few dates here and there can soon snowball into complete chaos. Personally I use Google Calendar, as I find it ties in very nicely with everything else I use – I’m on an android phone, and so things like maps launch directly from an event in the diary, and I can email details of an event to myself etc etc.

Lastly, although I’ve been promising a series of posts on workflow for some time now, when the diary is as flexible as this, and I’m on the road as much as this, being organised and keeping up with my workflow becomes absolutely crucial. Staying on top of image processing and delivery, thinking ahead before setting off on a road trip, packing spares, backups and chargers, and making allowances for mistakes all become more and more crucial the more complex things become.

Personally, I rather enjoy the changing nature of my job, and get a kick out of the variety. I’m no massive fan of being double booked, and I’d love it if other people I worked with regularly were a bit better organised, but I know I’d get very bored, very quickly if every week was the same!

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