In my last post, I offered some recommendations for the camera gear you’ll need to make it as a freelance photographer. But having the right photographic equipment is just the beginning. Here are nine other business essentials to be ready for any assignment.
1. E-fax/voicemail service. I subscribe to J2.com’s service, where I have a personalized number that receives my faxes and voice messages electronically, and sends them to me by e-mail. Regardless of what country or city I am in, I can easily receive messages to review, print out or listen to without running up huge phone costs. Also, I can forward my cell phone to the service when I am traveling, so I can still stay in touch with people calling about possible work, and return the calls I may have missed.
2. Mobile phone with an unlimited data plan and e-mail capability. Besides being able to take calls anywhere, I use my Apple iPhone (some may prefer a BlackBerry) to check e-mails throughout the day, and many times can line up assignments or take care of small things that I otherwise may not be able to without a computer. Many times, you won’t have an Internet connection until you are at home or a hotel, so the iPhone is a godsend in these situations.
3. A major credit card (or two). You never know when you will need to rent a car, book an airline ticket, or take care of any other things that require more than cash. Debit cards are OK, but are not very good for renting cars, because they tie up a deposit from your account, which many credit cards don’t. Also, find a credit card that lets you avoid accepting all of the added insurance items on a typical rental car agreement. I also recommend having both a Master Card and Visa, as some places might only accept one of them, or as a backup if something is wrong with one of your cards.
4. Passport. If you don’t have one, get one. You may never need it, but you should always have one in case you get a foreign assignment on short notice. Now the law requires you to have a passport even to travel between the United States and Canada or Mexico.
5. P.O. Box. I keep a post-office box as my main address, because I don’t want everyone to know where I live. This protects my equipment and, if I travel out of town, I know any mail I receive will be safe and not give the impression I’m not home. Post-office boxes are also helpful if you are renting and have to move, as then you don’t have to worry about changing your address with everyone or missing checks that may be coming. As for packages, you can have them delivered either at home or a friend’s business, because FedEx and UPS deliver only to street addresses.
6. E-mail. Make sure you have an e-mail address that you plan to keep for a long time. If you think you may change from your local provider, then sign up for Gmail, Yahoo Mail, or create your own domain that you can easily check. This provides the same continuity as a P.O. Box, as many clients may not be in touch with you for years, and then they need you and can’t find you. Addresses, e-mail and phone numbers should stay as consistent as possible.
7. Business cards. You need something to hand out to people, so they can keep you on file. Many times they will remember you and then start looking for your card with your contact details on them. My cards also happen to have my agent details and my name and address in Chinese.
8. Billing and payment. Many companies might take 30-90 days to pay you, so you will have to learn to at times ask for an advance if you are going to incur a lot of expenses, or wait patiently for payment. It is not like the newspaper world, where you get a regular paycheck and your expenses back quickly.
9. Logistics know-how. You will need to be able to get in touch with subjects, make your own travel arrangements, and figure out how to get your photos quickly and efficiently delivered to your clients. Don’t always expect a client to have the budget for an assistant, or expect a limo and tour guide at the airport to pick you up and show you around. Sometimes I have to do a shoot the same day in another city and get back that evening. I have done same-day trips between Hong Kong and Shanghai, Singapore, Seoul, and Beijing, among other combinations.
I am sure there are things I have overlooked or forgotten, but these essentials have worked well for me over the years. Beyond these, there’s one other thing you’ll need: to be patient. It takes time and dedication to build a freelance career.