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Reflections on my first year of freelancing

photographySiobhan WattsComment
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I finished up my last shoot of the year on Sunday, and when I delivered the edits to my client on Monday I broke down in tears. My emotions just came bubbling up out of nowhere, and I let them take a hold of me without any resistance. I wanted to feel every last bit of pride for all the hard work and dedication I've poured into the year and all the exhaustion, satisfaction, happiness and love that has come back out. It was a powerful feeling that I didn't expect at all. 

If you're new to my blog or Instagram, you might not know that I quit my day job last December when my maternity leave came to an end. Financially it didn't stack up for me to go back to work while paying almost my full salary for childcare. It seemed like a bad trade off, to stay in a job I didn't really like just for the security of a monthly pay cheque while paying someone else to take care of my baby. I wasn't ready to be away from Rory so much, and I definitely didn't want to go back to my job. I'd been taking on bits of photography work here and there for a few years, but not taking any of it too seriously and certainly nothing resembling having a freelance career. I'd hoped that during my maternity leave I could steer it gently in the direction of earning a regular income from my photography, so when the time came I could take a leap of faith and leave my full time job behind.  

I had this vision of how I would blend work and motherhood, working away while Rory napped, going on shoots when Gav had days off, taking Rory with me sometimes and spending evenings blogging, editing and catching up on admin. On paper, it was easy to split up my time like that and make it seem doable. To set financial goals, write lists of dream clients, ideas for blog posts and plans of how I'd market and grow my business. I wrote timetables of my days and weeks and decided how many shoots I'd need a month and how much I'd need to charge to earn the money I needed. All things that I was completely right to do, and it was a really sensible and thoughtful approach to starting my business. 

But, and this but is big...what I didn't account for is quite how much all of those plans would be thrown out of the window when the unexpected happened. And with a kiddo, the unexpected is a lot. Wakeful nights, teething, sickness, separation anxiety, those tiring toddler days that leave you too frazzled to think straight let alone manage to get any work done. And possibly the most frustrating of them all is when your kid just won't go down for a nap for whatever reason. There goes your nice couple of hours to work, and once you've spent an hour rocking, patting and walking your baby around to try and get them to sleep you'll find that all your energy and enthusiasm to work has gone too. That's the biggest challenge of working alongside parenting I think, the lack of time and energy to actually get your work done, especially if you don't have any childcare or family nearby to help out.

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I'd be lying if I said I haven't looked back since quitting my job six months ago. I don't regret that decision one bit, but there's been times when the juggle has got a little too much and I've questioned if life would have been much easier if I had just gone back to work three days a week and found a childminder for Rory. I worked from home, so the thought of me sitting on the sofa by myself all day, working on my laptop with a movie on in the background and an endless stream of cups of tea has seemed appealing during some more difficult days. And yes, probably, things would have been easier on the whole, but my days would be far less joyful without Rory and the pursuit of something I love to fill them. And I can tell you that all the hard work and the ups and downs that come with freelancing are worth it a hundred times over when you are working on your passion and building something for yourself. I know that it won't be this hard forever. In a few too-short years Rory (and any subsequent kids we might have) will be in school and I'll have five days a week to myself to work again. And I'll be looking back on these days filled with nostalgia for when my babies were little and home with me all day. I soak it up as best I can, I approach my days with gratitude (for the most part) and I try to appreciate and make the most about where I am right now in my life and in my work. Because although it might not be the easiest thing in the world, it sure is all the best thing I could ever want for myself and my family.

I think that it's doubly hard to start a business from scratch while you have a small baby. I imagine it would have been easier if I'd been a few years in to either of them, rather than doing both simultaneously. A new business and a new baby require so much more from you than they give back, you have to pour so much energy and time in to them, whilst being adept at soaking up even the smallest rewards. It's exhausting. However, being able to work for myself, to steer my own ship and feel like I have control of my future has been wonderful. Endlessly so. Creating a business based on what feels right for me, after so many years of feeling trapped in a career and a job I didn't enjoy, has been liberating and I wish I had done it sooner. Everytime someone asks what I do for a living and I get to say 'I'm a photographer' my heart swells with pride. The novelty hasn't worn off yet, and I wonder if it ever will?

I'm really proud of what I've acheived in the last twelve months, both with my work and at home with my family. Most importantly to me, Rory is one kick ass little lady. People often remark to me that she's the happiest kid they've ever seen, and what more can I ask for than that? She's smart, she's hilarious, she's kind and she's happy. Mama done good. Alongside raising her, I've been trying my best to build a business. While there have been many moments of soul searching and struggling, I have been consistently working as a photographer since last December. I've hit all my (very modest) financial goals, I've created my best work yet, met some amazing people, been hired by some dream clients and finally have an online presence that reflects what I am capable of - both as a writer and a photographer. I guess you could say that I feel legit. I am a photographer, a freelancer, a business woman and a working mama. And damn that all feels good to say out loud.

It's not perfect, it's all a work in progress and we have good days and bad days. At times I've been in tears and close to quitting, worried about money and clients and feeling like I'll just never be good enough at any of this. At the other end of the scale, I've had some of the happiest most fulfilling moments in my life and work in the last year. Looking back on it, I'd honestly never change any of it even for a second. By far the majority of my days are happy, full of love and joy and the business of juggling a toddler, a dog, a business, a relationship and a home. It's full, it's crazy and it sure is always messy...but I won't settle for anything less.

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There's so much I could write about freelancing, working as a photographer and balancing that with parenthood, and I'd love to hear what you'd like to read about. Are there any questions, or anything else you'd like to know? Leave me a comment and give me some food for thought for a future blog post.