List: The Do’s and Don’ts of Freelancing

Finding reliable freelancers seems to be an on going problem for me. I have given out so many business cards to people who are “really interested in freelancing” that I frequently run out on assignment. 99.9999999999% of those people who are “interested” don’t ever send me an email, a portfolio or a resume. I will never hear from them again. If you are truly “interested” in freelancing for me or anyone, you need to put in some work ahead of time to show that you are serious. Keep the following 8 things in mind.

  1. If I give you a business card make an effort to follow up with me. I don’t care if its a week, a month or the next day. If you say you will be in touch, actually stay in touch. The only way that I will remember to give you an assignment is if  you stay in touch. Email is probably best.
  2. Be prepared to have work samples available when I do make contact with you. If you are serious about photojournalism, have an online portfolio or have several pre-formatted work samples that you can email to me that I can look at. I will rarely hire you for an assignment without first looking at your work, your style and trying to determine if you are experienced enough to handle it.
  3. If you are just starting out be realistic about your skills. Don’t say you can cover a high school football game on Friday night (in a cave-of-a-field) if you have never been to one before or if the only lens you have is an 18-70mm f4.5 to f5.6 that came with your camera. I expect the work you turn in to me can be published. I expect it to be work that you WANT to have published. If what you turn in is complete crap, you won’t be paid for it. That’s the way it works now. You also won’t be called back for another assignment. I would rather have you tell me ahead of time that you can’t handle the assignment then come back with nothing. A little honesty can go a long way.
  4. If I do call you to shoot an assignment for me make sure you understand what I am looking for. Ask questions. At the very least, get who, what, when where and how. There are no stupid questions just stupid freelancers. Relax, I’m just kidding about that. But seriously don’t shoot pictures of a team from Denver when I need photos of the team from Evergreen.
  5. Along the same lines as No. 4, know the coverage area you will be working in. If you want to be a regular freelancer for me show that you have an understanding of the content that we publish. If you really want to impress me, find something that we could publish (that we aren’t covering) and send it in. The second time I give you a call might be to get your full contact information so we can pay you.
  6. Don’t shoulder shoot me. If you see the staff photographer covering an event that you are at, give them some space. I understand you want to learn and make some contacts. Understand that if I’m shooting the event already the chances are slim of using anything that you send me. Go shoot some some place else, or if you understand the business (and have already made previous contact with me), ask if there is anything you can cover to help me out. Sometimes I am only able to be at one assignment for a couple of minutes before I have to get to the next one.
  7. Don’t show up to an event and tell the organizers that you work for my publication. If I assign you to cover it, you are a freelancer covering the event FOR my publication. YOU DON’T WORK AT THE PUBLICATION.  YOU ARE NOT WITH THE PUBLICATION. In case you can’t tell that stuff really bothers me. It’s been a problem lately and ethics matter even for freelancers.
  8. To go along with No. 7, be professional when you are on assignment. Remember your code of ethics and act like you are representing the publication. I have had phone calls from organizations about the behavior of freelancers while on assignment. In one instance, a freelancer was showing up to events, telling people he worked for us and getting a free meal. You NEVER take handouts. We NEVER assigned him to any of the things he “covered” and had to tell people not to let him in unless a reporter is there with him. I wish I was joking when I say he now lives in a van down by the river. Really professional. It made the publication look great.

If you can live be these ideals, you have a serious chance at becoming a regular freelancer. Its really the simple things that can make the biggest difference.

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