Being your own boss

The Image Arts Union organized a recent panel about freelancing to help educate and advise students about the creative freelancing industry and how a freelance career works. The panel featured Erica Jacobs, a freelance photographer and Ryerson alumni, and Han Nguyen, a producer and director from inMotion Production Group.

The panelists gave advice to image arts students and shared their personal experiences with freelancing. Jacobs, now a full-time freelance photographer, had a rough beginning to her freelance career. “I remember crying at my job that I can’t buy Parmesan cheese! That’s when my friends with ‘serious’ jobs have an advantage.”

But Jacobs said that freelancing is a fun job because “you are your own boss.”

“If a job is really shitty, you don’t have to do it. If it doesn’t fit your schedule, interests or match your beliefs, you can turn a job down. It’s a real advantage,” Jacobs said. She said that you have to put yourself out there, and sometimes even chase for the job.

Being your own boss also includes being your own bookkeeper. “If you forget your invoice for a job, no one is going to knock on your door to let you know,” Jacobs said.

Nguyen’s career in the creative industries started as a seamstress for costume and wardrobe departments. She did seven years of freelancing on the side before landing a full-time job in 2009 as an assistant director at inMotion.

Nguyen said that being a freelancer allowed her more time to be creative. But as she represented herself and was her own company, she said she also wanted to tell people, “I have my shit together,” when she was freelancing.

“The industry is such a big world but small at the same time,” Nguyen said. “Work goes around … but just ask around – join every community.”

Jacobs gave students advice on how to start their own business with tips on pricing jobs, working with a creative team, and finding clients. “You don’t get a job that you don’t ask for or don’t invent,” she said. “No one knows you exist. You have to hustle for yourself.”

When trying to get hired by people in the creative industry, Nguyen’s advice to students was to keep a good personality. “Nobody can teach you passion (or) humbleness.”

They were both met with laughs from the audience as they each told personal anecdotes about the people trying to get hired, and how they tried to find their own jobs.

Jacobs said she received an angry, all-caps response from someone whom she didn’t hire. Nguyen said she once received a “cover letter poem,” but it lost points because there were many spelling mistakes.

Jacobs also said that students should “say yes first,” then go home and Google everything they did not know in order to receive more jobs when they are offered.

But Jacobs concludes that, even if she does not leave the house for a few days or has to drive to a photo shoot at six in the morning, freelancing is “still better than any other job.”