Freelancing vs. Content Creation – Which is Right for You?

“You can work for someone else 8 hours a day or you can work for yourself for 18 hours a day” is a phrase I’ve heard bandied about from time to time, and one that I absolutely agree with. Every job I’ve ever had in my 41 years, from rehab counselor to group home manager to art gallery attendant to high school teacher, I had to partition off a part of my brain to focus on my art, figure out how to integrate it into the job. Economic realities absolutely chain most of us to working straight jobs. Those who make it off that treadmill do so because they’ve got the hustle – they figure out how to sell their creative talents to interested parties. Once that level is unlocked, the question becomes one of what’s a better investment of our time and energy – Freelance or Content Creation?

Model: Thumbelina; Photographer: Primordial Creative

I’m not here to 100% answer this question, only share my experience and anecdotal evidence from other models and photographers. If there was one tried-and-true path to a secure financial place that was creative and mentally healthy- Patreon for everyone!- then we’d all be doing it!

The primary skill of the Freelancer is meeting the needs of a client. This means being able to interpret the ideas of someone else best you can, at least if you care about a good reputation and getting more work. The question of “what are we doing?” is (normally) solved by the client before the Freelancer shows up, so a lot of mental heavy lifting is relieved. Much of our Freelancer’s energy is directed towards finding clients – temporary bosses that the Freelancer doesn’t get to choose, and every deal is a negotiation within a budget or perceived value. Many of these back-and-forth emails go nowhere as projects fall through for reasons out of the Freelancer’s hands.

The Freelancer doesn’t own their work, so the most successful projects they are part of only pay the negotiated rate once and maybe have added benefits of social media/ real media exposure and/ or personal satisfaction in a creative collaboration.

Model: LUX; Photographer: Primordial Creative

The primary skill of the Content Creator is making work interesting enough for an audience to gravitate towards. This requires a ton of upfront work that may go nowhere, often done in isolation. Unlike the projects that go nowhere with the Freelancer, the Content Creator has work that is A. done, and B. owned by the Content Creator. Even if the content flops in one venue, our Content Creator can try again with the same content in a different way, or remix it entirely, or fold it into another project, or sell the parts off in stock sites.

The downsides of the Content Creator: the burden of projects’ completion, assuming all the financial responsibilities of shoots, marketing, dealing with unruly fans, catering to a hostile or weird audience, and the ever-changing rules of host sites. I had a model friend whose seemingly lucrative Patreon became a nightmare when a subscriber filed a vengeful grievance and caused her to have thousands of dollars sucked out of her bank account. It’s also a huge amount of pressure to always be on- always make new stuff, always finish it, always pump it out. Freelance gigs end but the content creation never ends.

I’m much more confident in my fate in my own hands than in the hands of other people, which is why I’m a huge advocate of Team Content Creator. The majority of people in our model photography community I know do a little bit of both- they tour and put themselves out for hire while running their e-commerce through Patreons and Etsy or sell directly via Instagram. On a regular basis, I create content for YouTube, Shutterstock, Udemy, Skillshare, Pond5, eBay, Tunecore and of course Model Mayhem in addition to the aforementioned common sites- and it is content that can be reused across each platform. Even as a content creator, I’m at the mercy of the rules and regulations and existence of these platforms – but if one of those sites shutters, I can still take my wares elsewhere and try again. There will be no negative Yelp reviews because a client didn’t like a service I performed.

Model: Mosh; Photographer: Primordial Creative

All those freelance shoots I’ve done? Got paid once, for less-than-best work. This year I’ve been fortunate to have a few bands contact me to license work I’ve long put to bed for album artwork. Compare that to the album cover I had to shoot and redesign 3 times on a freelance basis, interpreting the difficult idea from a very particular rock musician- the freelance gig was money I needed at the time, but broken down hourly, adding in the mental anxiety dealing with the client, it was nowhere near worth it. If you’re solely working freelance, I highly encourage you to start on your content creation today; not tomorrow, not next week, not when you think the stars are perfectly aligned, because they never will be. There is no better day to take some ownership of your destiny than today.

David Miller

David Miller of Primordial Creative studio was born in 1977 in Omaha, NE. He graduated with his BFA in Photography from Arizona State University in 2006, creating portrait series that reflected both the hyperkinetic films, games and comics of the 1980s and 1990s, as well as more humanist documentary work with Indigenous communities in America and Australia. After ASU he became a teaching artist as well as exhibing around the Southwest/ West Coast and been published in numerous magazines such as Orion, View Camera, B+W/ Color, and others. In 2014 he was named as one of the top 100 Creatives of Arizona by New Times Magazine. He currently lives in Chandler with wife Vesna and 2 children, Patrick and Magdalena.

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One Response to “Freelancing vs. Content Creation – Which is Right for You?”

  1. December 14, 2018 at 6:18 pm, Art DiNo said:

    Thanks for your post David. Sometimes, due to the circumstances of life, we forget that we entered photography more for the love of art, because we liked it; we like. It is life that pulls us towards “reality”, obligations, responsibilities, etc. Forgetting about fun, that’s where mistakes, obstacles and stress start. We must remind ourselves that fun is our compass again, to recover faith. Everything else will come alone, spontaneously, in the proper measure of the work done, whether it be freelancing or content creation. As well as the new goals and dreams. Regards!!


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