The goal for many freelancers is freedom. Freedom from the stress of debt, making payments on time, and saving for the future. Freedom to schedule your time the way you want to so you can make time to spend with your children and go on vacation. And freedom to run a business the way you want so that you enjoy your job and your life.
Vincent Pugliese and his wife made freedom a priority in their life so they set up their own photography business, paid off their debts, started a family, and get to run their own lives while making ten times more than what they made working full time. Vincent shares how.
Vincent shares with us:
The final push to start freelancing:
Vincent and his wife, Elizabeth, worked at a newspaper as photojournalists right out of school. They loved their jobs and the fact that they got to do what they wanted. They photographed the Superbowl, the Stanley Cup, presidential speeches and whatever else the newspaper sent them on. Vincent even won an international sports photographer of the year while working at the newspaper.
In fact, it was the consequences of winning this award that made Vincent turn to freelancing. Winning the award typically comes with a salary increase, but when Vincent went to his boss, he was told that he would only get a 3% increase, which brought his salary up to over $30,000 per year. This wasn't enough, especially with a baby on the way.
Vincent felt stuck. If he took a job at another newspaper as a photojournalist, he would still not be able to make enough money to have a living and pay off his debts. When Vincent asked his dad for advice, his dad said that he already had this skill that he had honed and was really good at, but he needed to leverage it for himself. He needed to start his own business.
So Vincent started doing wedding photojournalism and corporate journalism with his wife while still working for the newspaper. Early on, he realized that this was the right move because he could make $1000 for a one hour shoot that he would have made only $100 for while working at the newspaper, even though the photographs were exactly the same.
How to get clients:
At first, it was all word of mouth and taking opportunities when they came. Vincent's first freelancing job came from the teacher of the baby class that he and his wife attended. The teacher asked what they did and when they said photography, she asked if they did weddings.
Photojournalists tend to avoid wedding photography because it feels staged and faked verses the stories that they photograph for the newspapers. Vincent and Elizabeth felt the same way, and really didn't want to become wedding photographers. But, they had to survive, so they decided to start their freelancing business with wedding photography, but do it their way. They wanted to tell the story through photojournalism and capture the open and honest moments of the weddings, rather than the staged moments. So, they said “yes” to their teacher.
They threw together a website and got hired for their first freelancing job.
The next job came from people calling into the newspaper, asking for a wedding photographer. In the past, Vincent would never have taken a job like that, but he realized that shooting weddings was just as much storytelling as his newspaper work and started to enjoy it.
In the off season, he and his wife built up a website and worked on SEO so that they started getting booked for every weekend of the wedding season. They entered the year of work. For him, the trade off was obvious. Would you trade a year of exhaustion for a lifetime of freedom? Vincent would. Actually, Vincent did, and would do it again if he had to.
Vincent was still working at the newspaper, Elizabeth was home with the baby, with a second on the way, and both were also working weekends on weddings and corporate shoots. Then, Vincent's boss started asking why he was taking so many Saturdays off and that he needed permission from his boss to take wedding photos. The gig was up. Vincent lasted 6 more months before he quit. He wasn't forced to quit, but he decided that he was making enough money freelancing, that the work was fulfilling, and that he could have more freedom if he stopped working at the newspaper. In the end, it wasn't a hard decision.
Step one to freedom: Getting out of debt.
He worked with the newspaper for three years while also freelancing at weddings and corporate events. During those three years, he and his wife used all the money from the newspaper job to pay for daily living, and all the money from their freelancing business to pay everything off. They paid off the cars, the house, credit card debt, and student loans in three years.
It was very hard work and Vincent was working nonstop. He got no slack from his friends who made fun of him for working so hard when they just lived with their debt. After all, it is culturally accepted to have debt. But the payoff of not having debt was huge. Freedom from financial stress.
They paid it off just in time too, since the market crashed in 2008. But they already owned their home so they weren't afraid of ending up on the street. And they had enough savings that they really only needed 7-8 weddings a year to survive day to day. Not that they would live extravagantly, but they could survive.
Vincent's nugget of advice for financial freedom is to question “good” debt. Is any debt actually good? People say education is good debt, but is it really if you graduate with $120,000 in debt and still no job?
Debt traps you in a life where you are always behind and desperate. How can you make decisions for your own happiness if you are always trying to catch up and make enough to get food on the table?
What freedom looks like:
For Vincent, freedom means being able to spend time with his family so he never misses his son's games and is able to raise a family the way he wants to.
There are different paths to get to freedom. To figure out if you are on the right path, look at the people 10-15 years older than you who are on that path. Are they where you want to be in 10-15 years? Are they happy? Are they in shape and healthy? Do they have a family life that you would want?
Freedom also means being able to choose when you work and choose the type of work you enjoy doing. As a wedding photographer, you can sell yourself cheaply to get the job, and it isn't a bad way to get started. But the less you charge, the less respected you will be. It is the cheaper clients who tend to nitpick the most.
Higher paying clients respect your experience and trust that you know what you are doing so you get the freedom to do the job your way. In photography, higher paying clients also pay more for venues, which give you better photos, and in turn gives you satisfaction and higher paying referrals down the road.
But, you must be in a financial position that you can wait to take the higher paying clients, rather than jumping on the first and every chance you get, even if you are being paid less and working harder.
Vincent is also building his freedom by expanding his source of income through coaching and the publication of his first book, Freelance to Freedom.
Would you like to learn more about how Vincent became a successful freelancer and manages his finances? Check out Freelance to Freedom.
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