I ran businesses my whole life. The dot com bubble in the early 2000s had me set for an early retirement. However, when that bubble burst, I quickly found myself back at square one.
The good news is going back to square one led me to where I am today—a commercial and editorial photographer for my own business: mikecalabro.com. I may no longer be set for early retirement, but I’ve been having a blast working for myself and enjoying life since then.
I’m a photographer by the simplest definition, but I’m more than a guy who snaps pictures for a living. I’m an avid storyteller—using the lens of my camera as my secret weapon. For the last 15 years, I’ve catered to clients in the motorsports and boating industry, as well as taught photo clinics. I’ve worked with the likes of National Geographic Adventure, Harley Davidson and Outside Magazine, travelling wherever those “stories” took me.
For both storytelling and photography, I’ve definitely developed those crafts over time. How I shoot now is how I hoped I would be like 15 years ago. So over the years, I really pushed the limits of storytelling by capturing action that’s punchy, bright and exciting—in a way that brings them right into it with me. I like to say it matches who I am as an individual.
As a veteran photographer, I’ve had the opportunity to hone my craft beyond the obvious aesthetics. Because, at the end of the day, I’m a business owner; it’s my responsibility to smoothly run a business, and that involves more than the output.
With my years of experience, there are three things I’ve learned along the way that guarantees every shoot will be successful, and my client will be happy:
Over the years, I’ve crossed paths with a lot of excellent photographers who create great work. Thing is, if things went wrong, some of them folded under pressure. As a small business owner, I learned that I’m the only one responsible for solving problems I come across, and for fixing the inner workings of my business in order to grow.
When I first started in 2002, I didn’t have the same resources or tools other freelance photographers have today to find clients. I had to hustle and really get my name out there. Marketing and finding clients was a full-time job—and I had to simultaneously do this while shooting. So I cast a wide net and submitted my work to any potential client I could find. (Persistence was key, take it from me.)
To add, I was also wildly disorganized when it came to keeping track of my invoices and who paid me. Invoicing was a manual task and, as a creative, they unfortunately weren’t pretty. Admittedly, my first batch of invoices looked sloppy and unprofessional. I even kept a “sent” folder on my desktop. When I got paid, moved the invoice to the “paid” folder. But oftentimes, I would neglect that step, so you can say my system was pretty inefficient… until I found FreshBooks.
At the end of the day, I’m a business owner; it’s my responsibility to smoothly run a business, and that involves more than the output.
Since using FreshBooks, I can proudly say I’ve successfully grown my client base from just two to now over 50 clients. While I’ve landed those clients through networking or repeat clients, FreshBooks has been the platform that’s supported me as I’ve grown.
In the past, I had to find clients, build a rapport and reconcile all my administrative information. It was a lot of work for one person. Today, I can solely focus on nurturing those relationships with my clients. And I rely on FreshBooks to take care of all the administrative work. Here are some of the features I lean on the most:
Based on how I invoiced in the past, this is what drew me to FreshBooks the most. I love that I can customize each invoice, allowing me to keep a consistent look to match the rest of my business’ marketing. At the end of the day, the invoices are a reflection of my business. So showing my clients that I keep the tiniest details in mind, reassures them of the quality of work they can expect.
In the past, I tracked my business expenses on Microsoft Word. The process just got far too complicated. So I’m happy FreshBooks had a solution for that pain point with automatic expense imports. Today, I have two credit cards that I use for my business. One for work expenses and the other for billable expenses. After I complete a project, I’ll assign any imported billable expenses to my clients, and it’s done super quick and painlessly. I don’t have to retype anything!
From time to time, I’ll pull my profit and loss report. I find it cool that I have the freedom to quickly see how my business has performed this year, compare to previous years and forecast for the future.
I’ve been a FreshBooks customer for over 6 years now. I like to tell others that I’m stuck using FreshBooks—but happily stuck! Today I teach a lot of photography clinics and, as part of that, I recommend FreshBooks to other photographers.
I tell them: You can shoot great images. But at the end of the day, there are a lot of great photographers out there. What sets you apart is how effortless it is to run the administrative side of your business and, in turn, how professional you’ll look to your clients. And I can say FreshBooks has done that for me.