If you’ve often wondered how other people structure their freelancing lives and what on earth got them into running their own business in the first place, you’re in the right place for a good old snoop around.
This Friday, Lina Orsino of Lina & Tom Wedding and Event Photography gives us her insight into the wonderful world of freelancing and shares her thoughts on the good, the bad and the not so organised.
So, first of all, give us a mini bio and tell us something we won’t know about you!
If you told me 10 years ago I would be a photographer now I would have looked at you with a very puzzled expression, as granted I was a keen amateur, but I was six months into my Masters in Arts Management at Greenwich University, whilst working in a West End theatre. Meeting Tom seven years ago not only brought me to Cambridge, but a desire to support his photographic career ended up carving out my own, and our business. I am British born but to two Italian parents, and after growing up in a strong Italian culture consider myself so – I owe them a lot for changing their minds on moving back to Italy when I was little!
How long have you been running your business and what got you started?
We have been running our business, originally called Liquid Photo, since January 2009. I really felt Tom should be working professionally as a photographer after seeing his work, and especially his family wedding photography, so we made the decision to try and specialise in weddings. The great timing of two sets of friends getting engaged allowed us to shoot their weddings and build a portfolio. They we thrilled, we loved it and we went from there!
Did you launch straight into your business idea or did you spend time planning, training or even worrying before you got kicking?
Having had experience producing theatre shows and running my own theatre company, I felt confident setting up the business, but I still wrote a business plan and gave us goals to aim for. After the first three years we got to a stage where running it part-time was no longer feasible, so I undertook some business training with leading wedding and portrait photographer Julia Boggio which made me realise we had to take a leap. The best advice she gave me was that our business would only fully grow when we dedicated all our time to it, and she was so right – I went full time a few months later, and eventually Tom followed too!
Tell us about your typical working day – Are you an early bird or do you tend to work throughout the night?
I insist we are at the computers by 9am if it is an office day, as I believe in creating routines, otherwise it is hard to get motivated. It may sometimes be that it is still in pyjamas and the emails are cleared with a coffee before dressing, but work does commence. Before we were both full time we used to do very late nights processing images but now we do try and finish when we have our evening meal, although it depends on workload – It’s never five-thirty though!
What’s your biggest challenge as a freelancer?
It’s imperative you forecast when your business is your sole income. I have a spreadsheet on the go and every time we take a new booking the financials go in so I can see where we may have some tougher patches. Around 80% of our business is weddings which are usually booked a year in advance which helps, although we have had the odd last minute cancellation which can really dent your cashflow, but thankfully they are very rare. I try to keep up our online presence to pick up non-wedding work week to week – we’re passionate about weddings but also hugely committed to changing corporate photography one conference at a time! So much corporate work is stuffy, but we try to combat that. Recently we enjoyed photographing the interiors at Hotel du Vin Cambridge and their new head chef Alison. Discipline to work is everything in this life, even when the sun is shining and all you want to do is sit in a pub garden.
And what’s the best element of being your own boss?
Well if you do want to go and sit in a pub garden sometimes you can. Just being able to do things like get through the washing pile whilst working, alter our schedule so we can meet up with friends for coffee or do things like go to the bank in the middle of the afternoon and have no queue. I love being in charge of my own destiny, if I flourish it is of my own doing, and I can still get the credit.
How do you manage a good work/life balance (or do you struggle with this at all)?
If I am honest, we are terrible at the work/life balance (too much work!), but we’re working on it. I in particular struggle with work guilt, if we do have an afternoon off, but we have work to do, I then stew over the fact then that is one extra afternoon on someone waiting to see their wedding photos. It can keep me up at night, but I am getting better…
Where do you work from and do you co-work at all?
Tom and I work from our office in the conservatory at home, which looks out onto our garden. At this time of year it is lovely, all the flowers are blooming and we see lots of lovely birds darting to and from our feeders, as well as seeing our three cats dash around the garden. In the winter it can get very cold though, so working in fluffy onesies has been known! We kind of co-work with each other, and working out of the office is a problem when we are processing, as the sheer amount of memory we use with the software means working from a laptop is slow. If I have an afternoon planned of meetings though I may stop at a coffee shop to work, but it isn’t often. I have tried co-working spaces, but I do prefer the hubbub of a busy coffee shop than the office environment I’m afraid!
Do you allow yourself a regular break for coffee, exercise or lunch?
This is something else I am not very good at. I will stop and make lunch, but eat it back at the desk. Once a week I walk dogs with my neighbour to get some exercise but probably should do more. Tom is good though, he is a cyclist and goes out riding 3-4 sessions a week.
Are there any apps/tools/gadgets/people that you just couldn’t work without?
We process all our images using Adobe Lightroom software, we much prefer this to Photoshop which we only use for things like removing something unsightly from a shot. We also use a management system designed for photographers called Light Blue which is fantastic, as soon as an enquiry comes in it goes straight in and workflows then take us through booking and processing and to the end of the job.
We would love to hear your thoughts on “networking” – do you go to any regular events or meet ups to meet other freelancers?
I like networking, but have done less of it in the last year, I choose my networking events more carefully now as I find they can actually be counter-productive if the same people are going to the same events, which I think happens quite a lot in Cambridge if I’m honest. It also really depends on the subject matter and how busy we are. The best sessions for me are where I learn something as well as network – I like listening to talks. Tom and I also run a network, Cambridge Darkroom, a monthly ‘social’ network for photography enthusiasts, where they can chat with like-minded people in a bar, listen to an interesting speaker and get back to chatting and hopefully inspiring each other.
What essential advice would you give to anyone thinking of becoming a freelancer?
Planning, planning, planning! Make sure you don’t give it all up too quickly, we worked towards the business we have now in stages. One of us went part-time with the day job, then the other, then one went full time, then the other and I was forecasting and planning the whole way through. If you are joining a saturated market, you have to work out what your USP is and really push it.
Anything else you would like to add or share?
When planning your finances as a fully self-employed person, remember things like tax which you will get bills for twice a year, as opposed to coming out of a PAYE system which you may have been used to. Make sure you have a great accountant you trust, it’s really not worth the risk of not ticking a box on a form and getting into trouble with the Inland Revenue. Our accountancy firm, Tax Assist on Mill Road, have been with us from the start and have been hugely supportive and helpful.
How can we find you online (and off?):
Lina was also very recently a research consultant on Sunday Time’s bestselling author Paige Toon’s new novel “Thirteen Weddings”, out now.
Thanks so much Lina for taking part in our Freelancer Friday series, if you would like to put yourself (or somebody else worthy of being featured) forward, let’s talk!