I'll say this, patience is key. Luckily I've had a full time job in the creative industry since graduating college that has allowed me the freedom to explore various opportunities in side projects. My first clients for photography were not big but at the time of Instagram really catching fire and having a few thousand followers built up by that point I thought I would begin there.
Now, you don't need to have a following on social media but I'll admit it has helped in a few cases when talking with potential clients as they look to see if you are active in the community and are pursuing your craft each and every day. These same ideas can also be applied if you are totally shut off from social media as well, so don't think you are already at a disadvantage if you don't have thousands of followers or an Instagram account at all.
Charging for the Cost of Free
I start the first few months of each year reaching out to around 20 to 30 companies each month that I think might be a good fit for myself and that are in need of photography, which is not hard. Start small, start local, you can always find small businesses and startups in your area that will be interested in working together. Though at the same time don't be afraid to reach out to larger companies or ones that are not even in the country.
One way to start the conversation is to simply begin the emails with how you can hep them. In the end you want to make sure you are showing your value and have the expertise in the space of photography. Send pricing first, always open the conversation with what you think is a fair cost for your services. If it's a brand you really want to work with feel free to turn back to them if they decide they don't have the budget by offering to work for free or in trade for product. Show your worth, gage interest, and see how you can be of help to them.
Over time you can experiment with various brands and products and a select few will begin to catch on to you as their go to photographer. Don't lose site of brining up your costs. One way to keep them honest and to be sure you are kept secure is to make up a contract. It can be as simple as a word doc with a few lines at the bottom for signatures and dates. This will allow you the opportunity to clearly state how the relationship will work and where these images can and will be used on their end. This has created opportunities for me after working for free like brands coming back to me asking if they can look to buy the full rights to the images.
Pick and Choose Brands to Partner
Look at what categories of brands you might want to work with, this will help create a niche or area of expertise. . You might be different but I started out by shooting for a handful of watch brands like MVMT, and Daniel Wellington then moved to local brands such as Vardagen. All of which had a great product and ones I could easily get behind to build my portfolio and hopefully help them with photography needs.
Why Work for Free in the First Place
There are a few reasons why working for free isn't a bad thing. Everyone is at a different place in their career and are looking for various levels of experience. If you are just starting out and feel you need to work for free to get your name out there, go for it. There is no harm in at least sending your information over to a company with a base pricing, even if it's low, in hopes to get a response. That at the very least gets the conversation started. Then if you are already a seasoned pro but want to jump into another genre of photography or creative work that has nothing to do with what you already work within this is a great way to experiment with various styles and products in hopes to find a new niche.
What do you think? Are you a beginner to photography or a pro? Do you think working for free is appropriate in todays industry? For me, over time it worked and helped me build the clients and relationships I've wanted and also allowed me to learn from trying out various techniques.