When we’re first starting out, we all sort of become deer in headlights when someone wants to pay us for our work.

I’ve had paid jobs for a while now, and even I admit that it can still be daunting when someone reaches out with a paid project!

Sometimes when you’re so focused on pleasing a client and making sure they get their bang for their buck, it can be easy to forget why they hired you in the first place. They loved your vision, your creativity, your unique style…and all of a sudden it’s nowhere to be found!

To an extent, I think this problem will always exist. When we’re free to create for the sake of creating, we’ll always perform most creatively. And when someone wants a product from us, we are set on pleasing them, which interferes with creativity.

But the goal, obviously, is to translate that freedom of carefree creativity to paid projects.

I think there are two primary ways to achieve that goal:

  1. Make creative thinking second nature. Flex that imagination muscle by shooting for fun as often as you can. I try to do one creative shoot a week, or no fewer than 2 per month. Unpaid collaborations that allow you to experiment, push boundaries, and purely create art, which will feed your creativity and keep it topped off for when you do get asked to do a paid project. It’s just like practicing piano - you might be terrified to perform in front of people, but if you play your recital piece 20 times a day for weeks on end, you’ll be more confident and assured that you’ll succeed, no matter what the stakes are (e.g., how many people are watching). Whether you’re getting paid $1,000 or $10,000, the creative muscle should be ready to be flexed. Don’t let the numbers daunt you.

  2. Remember: the client is not the enemy. When I first started getting paid for personal portraiture shoots, I always felt like I was walking on eggshells when I would deliver the photos. People who see themselves in photos are often disappointed because there’s a disconnect from how they imagined they look, and how they actually look in reality. That wasn’t always the case, but occasionally people would complain - and it wasn’t the quality of the photos that was at fault. But this sort of response can make you prone to believing that the client is out to get you and will demand their money back if you disappoint them (sidenote: ALWAYS have a contract to protect yourselves from situations like this). In the majority of paid gigs, the client is on your side. The client WANTS you to succeed as much as you want to succeed. They believe that you have a unique product to offer and they want to pay you for that product. (Can you believe that yet? Someone WANTS to give you money for what you love to do! And you are worthy of getting paid!) I still fall into the trap of believing I will disappoint the client no matter what, even though that’s simply not true. So what can be done about this? First of all, make sure your communication with them is crystal clear. Inspiration images, color specifications, where/how the images will be used, etc. should all be discussed in detail. That way, if in the small chance they say they are unhappy, you can refer back to what you discussed. Second, draft ideas in advance. When you’re worried about not being creative, spend time writing out or drawing out a shotlist. Make a list of props that could be used to add a creative flare. That way, you’ll be prepared if your creative focus is more diluted than it usually is. You really can’t disappoint the client if you’re giving them exactly what they requested.

Do you have any tips for staying creative while getting paid? Any tricks you use to hone your focus when working on paid projects? Email them to me with your Instagram username, and I’ll post them on my stories and add them to this post (with your permission)!