The journey to a freelance or contract business doesn’t need to follow a linear path. In fact, finding your passion and being intentional with your passion often leads to a more substantive level of accomplishment and success.
Now a photographer, Tasha Meys’s career path has been an evolving journey. With an interest in art at college, she was expected to continue in that direction, but was reluctant to due to limited job prospects and being unsure she would fit into the art community. Following her true passion for nutrition and wellbeing, she studied food science at Otago University, where she met her future business partner, Viv.
“There was a point where we found ourselves talking more about Instagram than our food science project. We were both using it for our own businesses; Viv had a sportswear label and I had an account centred around health, wellness, and photography.”
Following along that path, Tasha worked on social media and content creation for a honey company that found her via Instagram. Next, she took the opportunity to work on a friend’s art brand creating mindful colouring-in books with a New York publisher, which then led to a move to LA.
Tasha continued to freelance, working on social media for other business accounts, in a similar way to Viv back in New Zealand. “At that point, I moved back to New Zealand and we decided to go all in on social media marketing for Instagram. We had a podcast, staff, and offered the full agency suite of services.”
Establish solid working relationships
Building on the relationship they started at university, Tasha and Viv knew they had a strong foundation on which to develop a dynamic business relationship. “We worked really well alongside each other. We thought the same, we came up with similar ideas, and had the same big-picture concepts.”
Things changed over COVID-19; Tasha’s business partner moved onto another venture, while Tasha established her freelance business.
Looking back objectively, Tasha says that both being visionaries, perhaps they were too similar. “Being in business with someone is literally like a marriage; you have to have the same big-picture thoughts. But in terms of bringing different things to the table, we were super equal; I had more creative skills and Viv had more of the business drive.”
Tasha says she learnt a lot working with a business partner, and brings learnings from that time through to the present day, using them to help her inform business decisions.
Niche down, then find your clients
Building a niche is one of the best ways to attract the right clients, says Tasha. “I could shoot a whole variety of subjects, but when you’re freelancing I think you need to have a niche, and be really good at what you do—because that’s how you get ahead. Clients deserve someone who’s experienced in the type of photography they want.”
Tasha also recommends having a vetting process to ensure a client is the right fit. “This eliminates anyone that’s going to have an issue with your price point, and prevents spending time in the pre-production process when the project is going to go nowhere.”
There’s never been a need for Tasha to advertise her services beyond social media channels, and she gives the virtual word-of-mouth a nod to her success. Often she finds a client will post their photos, then someone will message them on Instagram to enquire who took them. “Freelancing is such a snowball because word–of–mouth is still so big.”
Enquiries also come through the contact form on Tasha’s website, although many of these arrive via social media. “The website is often the last place they land before they contact me but it’s not the first place they’ve heard of me—social media is usually the first place.”
Another way to build a client base is to create a sphere of influence, where you can refer others and others can refer you, says Tasha. “Invest in a business circle or business hub in your area or industry and nurture those relationships. I have people and agencies who refer me because they’ve worked with me and trust me.”
Agencies also provide a valuable source of clients. Tasha identifies agencies who have clients that could be a good fit and emails them a portfolio and offer of work. “Agencies manage the client work, so one relationship with them equates to several clients, instead of me going out and finding them individually.”
Be intentional with your brand
Part of identifying your target audience is understanding your own brand, says Tasha. “You can spend a lot of money with the result being that you’re in front of the wrong people when it’s not that hard to find your target audience. You just need to have a specific intent around your brand.”
Each year Tasha goes through an exercise to remind herself of the point of difference she offers. This clarifies her target audiences, the different streams associated with them, and the best way to get in front of them.
Tasha says a good method is to work out where your audience is. For agencies this means contacting them by email with your portfolio, for individual clients it might mean getting their attention by putting your work up on social media like Instagram or LinkedIn and building a profile.
“Be really intentional. Like their photos, message them, reply to their stories, and just actively get in front of them.”
Of course, being in a creative industry, presentation is essential. Tasha has several channels that act as a visual representation of her work. She has a document with a portfolio and pricing that she sent out to agencies and clients that contact her, her website, and several Instagram profiles that serve different purposes.
“I have an Instagram account that’s my personal brand, and another account, @tastefully_studios that serves as a portfolio and ‘social proof’. People come over from my personal brand account and can see the actual work and finished product that I create. It’s a lot easier for them than going to my website to look at my portfolio.”
Managing productivity ebbs and flows
In her first business, Tasha’s business partner took care of the finances and the backend business operations. “Burying my head in the sand and choosing not to face the numbers made me not like that side of the business. But when I started my own business I faced the financials head-on and made challenges for myself. Now I love it. I have my threshold target for the month, and when that’s met and exceeded it becomes less scary, fun, just like a gamified challenge.”
As for the operations and process component of her business, Tasha runs everything in G Suite. “My whole life is religiously run through Google Calendar, so if it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t happen! I think having all of your work online means your business is organised—it’s all streamlined and nothing’s chaotic.”
Tasha was introduced to time tracking by a business mentor, and she finds that as a freelancer it’s an invaluable process to adopt. She says tracking your time is a good exercise to do now and then for a week or more, to see where your time is going. Figure out what earns you the most in your business, and then how much time is attributed to that task.
It’s only human nature that sometimes you fall into bad habits and times of being less productive, Tasha says, yet freelancing gives you options to deal with these times effectively. “One of the joys of freelancing is that you can go with your natural rhythms of productivity. I’ve learned when I’m not feeling motivated that sometimes powering through it is not the best strategy. I find it’s better to go for a walk, do the washing, check out for a while, and then come back to work when I’m going to be productive.”
Source motivation from mindset and inspiration
Burnout arrives in different ways, finds Tasha. There have been times when she’s pushed herself to the limit, working hard for a short time and enjoying the rewards of escalating income—while also being aware that the intensity was not sustainable in the long term. “You just push yourself too much because you’re consumed by the ‘how much can I do’ mindset.”
The other type of burnout is when there are lulls in motivation, Tasha says. “I go through stages where I feel like I’m in a rut with the business, and not feeling super inspired or motivated. For me, this is often more impactful than traditional burnout.”
During these times Tasha takes the opportunity to zoom out and do a little bit more work on the business, such as planning and vision boarding to get that drive back.
Tasha finds podcasts deliver inspiration, particularly those where people have curated a life that she admires. But learning about how other people run their lives and their businesses, both online and in real life, has also enabled Tasha to learn what she didn’t want from her business. “Often you think you want to build a big empire, but you don’t really. Managing staff, putting out fires the whole time, and not doing any of the fun parts of the business—I don’t want to do that. But it is amazing to see the different things that drive different people.”
Keeping the inspiration levels up requires conscious thought, especially when it seems like many businesses are competing in the same market. “It’s great to see people that are more experienced in what you’re doing, but while it can be inspirational, it can also be intimidating. So it’s about being intentional and focusing on your own craft. The only way you gain confidence is to do more and more of what you do. Throw yourself into scenarios where you feel uncomfortable and you’ll learn from doing and get better and better.”
Find a meaningful measurement of success
Data or dreams? Money or motivation? Each individual has their own definition of success, and for Tasha success is more about progression than expansion. For a long time, she thought that success was defined as creating a business of scale, as she saw others around her build global product businesses with huge success. Returning from a stint in Europe, Tasha evaluated the ethos of her business and her ultimate goals—and it turned out they weren’t around building a large business.
The way Tasha runs her business means she focuses on the metric of progression, maintaining growth with revenue ticking upwards, while also growing her skills and expertise and remaining creatively fulfilled.
“I asked myself ‘who are you doing this for?’. The reason I love my job is because I love the day-to-day creative of going into different client situations, learning about their stories, and learning about the business. It’s so stimulating. And I do all the fun stuff, like taking the photos, editing them, working from home, and making a good income. It’s my dream life. But it’s been an interesting journey to get to the point where I can intentionally choose my own version of success.”
You can find Tasha at Tastefully Tash.