Instagram Success Story - Photographer Ron Timehin
Ron Timehin thought he would work in the music industry, but he went a completely different route.
Playing music since he was 7, reaching the highest musical grade on the trumpet at 16, travelling and playing in ensembles around the world, it seemed like a natural next step. However, the reaction to his pictures he had been taking and posting on Instagram gave him the confidence to pursue photography professionally.
Ron worked his day job, while freelancing on the side. Building up his skills, growing his audience. When a big sports brand comes knocking you know you're doing something right. Afer grinding at it after work every evening and weekend he finally quit his job and went all-in - it’s been great ever since, with work for a number of huge companies!
His work-life balance is much better now. While he still has very busy days, not having an additional full-time job on top of his craft frees up time for him. He can now take days off and arrange his schedule as he'd like it, with space now to work on personal projects.
It was brilliant hearing about tapping into Instagram to get clients, collaborating with the likes of Adobe, and how putting himself out there and seizing opportunities has really paid off.
- Social media can be a great way to find clients and community
- Diversify your revenue streams, and
- Save your money
More from Ron Timehin
Who the hell is Steve Folland?
Steve's a freelancer helping businesses use and make video & audio content in much better ways. Find out more at stevefolland.com, track him down on Twitter @sfolland or lay a trail of cake and he'll eventually catch you up.
In 2015 is decided to create the freelance podcast (well, there weren't any others doing this then) where freelancers could learn from each other via their stories.
Check out Steve's Being Freelance Vlog that documents his weekly wanderings and wonderings as a freelancer.
Transcription of Being Freelance Podcast with Ron Timehin and Steve Folland
Steve Folland: Ron Timehin, a freelance photographer based in London. Hey Ron!
Ron Timehin: Hello.
Steve: Thanks so much for doing this. I'm really looking forward to hearing your story. How about we crack on with that actually, and hear how you got started doing freelance.
Ron Timehin: Sure. My story's a little bit odd. It's a bit of a roundabout route of getting into photography. I'd say it really started when I was a musician actually when I was younger. I used to play the trumpet. From the age of about seven years old I was playing, practicing, and working up the grade system I think by the time I was 16, I'd managed to do my grade eight, which is the highest you could get.
Ron Timehin: From there I begun traveling and playing with different bands, different orchestras, different jazz and samples. That's where I think my passion for photography really started blossoming. Mainly because I was seeing some incredible sights and I felt I needed to document it. That's kind of how it started.
Steve: Did you leave school at 16 as a freelancer musician then?
Ron Timehin: No. I carried on through A levels. I then went to university, but from the period of about seven years old till about 18 I was playing for that entire period.
Steve: And then you traveled the world as a musician?
Ron Timehin: Yes. During those times. It was pretty crazy.
Steve: That's so cool. At what point did you start to think, "Actually, I'm actually pretty good at this. Maybe people will pay me to do." How did that go from being a hobby to being a career?
Ron Timehin: That didn't happen until much later. I believe it was around about the end of my university degree. That's when I really started thinking about my options. Just a little bit of background. I went to university to study the music industry, and to learn about record labels, A&R that kind of thing. I found it wasn't really for me. And so at that point that's when photography really started becoming my main passion. And so from that transition of university to real life, that's when I decided to give it a go and try make some money from it.
Steve: When you left uni, did you ever have in quotation marks, a proper job?
Ron Timehin: Not initially. But, I did give freelance a go when I first left university for about let's say six months or so. At the time I didn't have a big enough client base, and I didn't have the knowledge or the skills to be successful at it. And so I then went into a full time job at Apple, working as a retail staff in Regent Street.
Steve: How long were you at Apple? Did you then freelance on the side of that?
Ron Timehin: Yes. I was at Apple not too long. I was only a Christmas temp. That was the only position I had. I was there for about three to four months, but during that time I was freelancing on the side and still building my network and working in my craft at the same time. It was taxing but I needed the income to support me to do that, so it was necessary.
Steve: How did you go about finding those first paying freelance clients?
Ron Timehin: I think I was fortunate enough that during the years I was traveling and taking photos. I was uploading my images to Instagram. Over the years I kind of built up a following on Instagram. That's how my work got exposed to brands and people interested in my photography. And so a lot of my work actually came through social media initially which is really good.
Steve: And did you target those brands, or were they simply scouring Instagram looking for talented photographers?
Ron Timehin: It was a bit of a mixture. A lot of them contacted me which is really, really nice to have. But, I was active in searching for work as well definitely. And because social media and Instagram was what I knew, I reached out to people that way. I'll DM brands. Sometimes I'll get replies, sometimes I didn't. Other times I would send out emails to the agencies that represented the brands. Just anywhere I could get a hold of somebody in marketing or PR that I could work with. I tried basically.
Steve: Does that mean that quite early on as a freelancer you were working with pretty good brands?
Ron Timehin: It was a mixture. It was up and down. Some of the times I was working with small brands, watch brands which were big on Instagram during that time. The kind of definitive one that I had early on was Adidas. I was commissioned to shoot some new sneakers for Adidas, and they found me through Instagram. That was really, really cool. I mean, they were a brand I'd always wanted to work with. And so when it happened during that time, I didn't feel like I was ready which I think that's always the case when you're first going into freelance or you're first doing work. It went well. Since then, it's been really good. Now, I work with them a lot.
Steve: Did you feel them when they approached you, even had I guess like the business jobs to deal with that?
Ron Timehin: Not particularly. From what I learned at university within the business of music, I can still translate that into the photography space. I had rough idea, but I was definitely naïve.
Steve: Man, what an opportunity. How did you then capitalize on that opportunity?
Ron Timehin: I just made sure that the shoe I did do for them, I made sure I smashed it out of the park basically. I knew that first impressions were really important, so I put all my effort into that shoe. They were really happy with it. That was really, really good fun to do. The weird thing was at this point I still was in freelance. Once I left Apple, I then realized that social media was a very good way to get business. And so I decided to learn more about that space. For the next basically a year and a half, two years after Apple, I began working for a social media channel called London.
Ron Timehin: They basically run London Instagram, so they had around two million followers. I was working with them in creating social media campaigns, choosing content for brands, going to meetings, learning about the business of social media. I think that's where a lot of my connections came from, and a lot of my knowledge as well.
Steve: I see. After Apple there's still this period of two years as a social media manager isn't the right word, but it seems a lot more creative within it as well there?
Ron Timehin: It was. It was a very small team. There were only about four or five of us. We were juggling lots of different roles. It was a start-up company. It meant a lot of different things. Talking to clients, managing accounts, choosing content...
Steve: Great being within a small team and being able to learn all those skills. A lot of your photography that you're known for is cityscape. Your images of London are just incredible. Did a lot of that come from that point?
Ron Timehin: Yeah. I had connections with London before just because of the Instagram community. Do you know what's really weird? I only realized this while I was looking back recently. I think it came from music strangely enough. I think it came from myself playing a lot of jazz. I used to play lots of jazz, lots of blues. Obviously, you know it's very atmospheric, very moody, sad music. And so that kind of translated into my imagery. I would like to think my age is pretty. It's still got the kind of dark undertone. That's how that kind of came around.
Steve: While you were working for that company, was there the opportunity for your work to be used by them if you see what I mean? Was there a cross over?
Ron Timehin: Yeah, for sure. I got features on their channel which is really good. Obviously, when I've got an audience of two million people, that's a lot of eyes on my work. That drove traffic to my page and my website. That was a good period for me. Funny enough at the same time, I was still freelancing. That was even more hectic than working at Apple. And so I tried to combine the two elements, so working on social and pursuing photography without social as well. And try to combine the two.
Steve: How did you manage that period like balancing those two jobs at the same time?
Ron Timehin: It was very, very hard. Very, very, very hard. But do you know what, if it was easy everyone would be doing it. I just kind of knew this is what I wanted to do, and no one was going to stop me. I thought if I can put in the work eventually something will happen where I can then go full time freelance and try do it successfully.
Steve: And what was that something that happened?
Ron Timehin: It was when my freelance work became more than my salary job. When I was getting shoots coming in, I wasn't able to do just because I was working so much with the London team. That's when I made a decision, "Okay, look, let's go for it now."
Steve: That's so cool. And when was that? Just to put this in perspective.
Ron Timehin: That was about a year ago, so not even too long.
Steve: And how's it gone since then?
Ron Timehin: It's been amazing. Absolutely amazing. It's been an absolute blessing. It's been very difficult for lots of different reasons. There were so many things that you can't plan for. That's the whole thing about freelancing. It's unpredictable, but it's so much fun. That's why I love it. I mean, I can manage my own time, I can do what I want to do, and I'm free to create how I create. It's been fantastic. I can't lie.
Steve: And the work has continued to come in mainly via Instagram, has it?
Ron Timehin: I'll say about 70% of my work comes through Instagram, and that doesn't mean I have to share it on my channel. But a lot of the inquiries I do get, they've said, "Oh, we found you though Instagram." Instagram, and my websites, and recommendations. I think those are the main three platforms I get work from.
Steve: Now, the way I found you was when I got sent a WeTransfer link, and there's often and advert playing when a WeTransfer browser opens, it might be the likes of Shutterstock or Adobe. And it was Adobe, but it was you. It was full scale in browser video. It was just brilliant. Just in case WeTransfer are listening and wondering or all of their clients are listening and wondering if that stuff ever works. I was like, "Wow, what's this?" And forgot about my download and went down the rabbit hole. Explain what that was? It was an Adobe video I was watching, but it was you.
Ron Timehin: That was crazy because I didn't know that was going to happen. I was basically commissioned by Adobe to feature in a few videos. Just promoting Adobe Lightroom CC, and how I use it on my workflow. I didn't know it was going to go that big or that viral. If that makes sense. I thought it was just going to be for social media. I started getting messages from people and Instagram DMing me with photos saying "Oh, you're on my WeTransfer page. You're on my emails." I'm like, "This is crazy." That was a surprise to me actually.
Steve: And was that fairly recently?
Ron Timehin: Yeah. Very recent. I think only about a month ago. We filmed it last year, but as with everything it takes editing time, production time.
Steve: Yeah. I could say a beautiful video. What a thing to have in the future to look back. You know like when your kids think you're not cool. You go shush, shut up, watch this. Although as a jazz musician who's also a photographer, I doubt they'll ever think you're not cool. How did that collaboration come about though?
Ron Timehin: I've worked with Adobe for the past couple of years I would say. It's been on random projects. On my Instagram I used to do Instagram live tutorials as well. I think somebody from Adobe or from the marketing agency that represents Adobe saw that. Initially, when I started working with Adobe it was to do these quick one minute tutorials that I called light room coffee breaks or Photoshop coffee breaks. That's how I kind of got my name into the Adobe family. And then when this opportunity came up, it seemed to click. Like, yeah, you're perfect. which is really, really nice to hear.
Steve: Hang on. To be clear, they came across you because you were doing live tutorials on Instagram?
Ron Timehin: Yeah. I think that's what I heard.
Steve: You were doing them off your own back, as in that wasn't like a paid for thing. You just started doing them?
Ron Timehin: Yeah. Just started doing them. Just to grow my channel and to help other people learn.
Steve: Man, I love that. That's amazing. Okay, let's go down those tutorial side of things. When did you start doing that, and is that something other than obviously this collaboration that brings you work? Have you ended up doing live workshops or?
Ron Timehin: Do you know what was really good? I think it gave me time to practice actually teaching people and holding a workshop basically on my own. Since then, I've done quite a few workshops now. I did one for Adobe recently at the photography show in Birmingham. That one was terrifying. I've never been so scared in my life honestly. It was cray. I think that was about 150 people in the audience, and it was also live streams globally. That I was terrified, but it went well. I've done some for Apple. I've done some for Sony. And they're always on different topics. I like to switch it up.
Steve: Jeez. I just love the fact that it all comes out from you putting yourself out there. Like if you'd have just sat there and thought, "Oh, I'll just put the photos out." That's one thing. I guess they get to connect with you and see that you have a skill for teaching as well by doing it live on Instagram. How did it feel when you first started doing that Instagram live?
Ron Timehin: It was terrifying. I was so scared. Do you know what, I think it's the first like couple of minutes you get really nervous. And then after that it goes away, and you realize you're talking about something that you love and something you're passionate about. And so it works. I do recommend doing it.
Steve: Because you mentioned earlier like Instagram community, so it's not just you broadcasting out there presumably. There's that sense of other people being around you.
Ron Timehin: Yeah. Definitely. I think currently I'm on around about 59,000 followers. And those are people I interact with daily. When I see them interacting with my content, or they're talking to me on live stream. I've met a lot of these people as well which is really, really good. It does feel amazing to have that support behind me and to know that I'm benefiting them as well.
Steve: You also on your website have learning tools which are like digital downloads, aren't they?
Ron Timehin: Yes. That's correct. That was off the back of the Birmingham NEC photography show talks I did. Basically, I did two talks for Sony and I did one for Adobe. Constantly throughout the Q&A sessions at the end, people would ask me, "Where can I download your presentation?" And I hadn't thought about it until then, so I said, "Okay, look, I'll put in my own my website. I'll tweak them a little bit, so people can understand it without me being there. And so I thought, "You know what? I'll put them up for 99p, just so that they're accessible and affordable for everyone really."
Steve: Brilliant. And does that give you more ideas as to doing more kind of things like that?
Ron Timehin: Yeah. Definitely. I'll definitely do some more. I've got a few workshops coming up in the new future, so I'll probably convert those to PDF as well. But, what I'm really passionate about is video. I think I need to translate that into maybe a YouTube channel. I'm looking into doing that now where I do little episodes where I'm teaching people what I know basically because I feel it's nice if it's there for people to access whenever they want. And it's easy to access.
Steve: Yeah. You've got that. What other revenue streams do you have? Do you sell your work directly?
Ron Timehin: Yeah. Some of the imagery I take of London and my travels, I sell those as prints. That's okay. I mean, I get something coming from that which is nice. I've done some social media consultancy in the past. It depends who your client is I guess. Sometimes it can be very stressful. Sometimes it can be a lot fun when you're seeing your client grow. I have been doing that. That helps with income as well. But the majority of my work comes through actually shooting content and promoting on Instagram.
Steve: And is there like a constant stream of work coming your way?
Ron Timehin: It's up and down. Some months are very dry. Well, for myself and a lot of creatives I feel like January and February are the hard months because obviously you just paid your taxes, you come off Christmas and New Years and whatnot. And businesses tend to do their budget cycles around that period as well, so they're not really investing money into campaigns being shot. So that's when you really have to budget carefully. So, January and February are, for me anyway, the driest two months.
Ron Timehin: And then after that it picks up and work comes in randomly. Sometimes I'll do a project where it will last three months, sometimes six months, and then I can have a consistent income then. I mean, that's all the whole point of freelance. There's no security really. It takes some time on learning to combat that.
Steve: How have you managed that business side of doing freelance?
Ron Timehin: What I try to do is I try to keep enough savings to last me about three months in case anything doesn't come in or late payments. Late payments are the worst thing, and just for rainy days really. Making sure you've got enough cash in the bank to support you is really important. That's the main thing I'll say.
Steve: What is it then other than the fact that you need the money and you've done the work, and you deserve the money. Is it the chasing?
Ron Timehin: It is. It's not a nice thing to do because I feel you've entered into a contract. You've held your side of the bargain basically. You've delivered the images, you've been professional. Sometimes you've had to pull strings to get the work done because they've not been efficient at it. So, when it comes to payment, they're just late and it's really is a slap in the face. I don't know. One way I try and combat that is to charge half upfront, and then have on completion. That's my standard thing I always go to a brand with. Sometimes they'll say, "No. We can do half upfront and half in 30 days after." I'm like, "Brilliant." But the ones I really don't like is when it's even 60 days after you've shot the project or 90 days.
Steve: How do you deal with that? Do you vow not to work with them again, or do you just simply shrug it off? How do you?
Ron Timehin: I have blacklisted a couple of companies. I can't lie just because after a long time of working with them, they just haven't changed their ways. And so I've had to say, "look, it's not beneficial for me working with you because you're affecting my cashflow and you're unprofessional." But that's very rare. I've only done that two maybe two companies. I think the tricky thing as a freelancer and you're working with a client, you bugging them for money it kind of deteriorates the relationship. It makes it a bit sour. I don't feel that's right mainly because you've done the job. It's now their duty to pay you. I don't feel like it's right for us as freelancers to be then chasing them for something you're rightly owed, and then feel bad about it. It's an awkward thing always. That's why you need to have that money saved in the bank, so that you're not constantly trying to chase them.
Steve: Yeah. Obviously there's a period where you were working round the clock by the sounds of it. You know working a full time job, building up your freelance career as well. How is your work-life balance now that you're full time freelance?
Ron Timehin: It's so much better. It's still very busy. I'm trying to work on personal projects at the same time. It's a lot better. I mean, I'm not working ... The thing with that London was that it was affectively a nine to five. However, it wasn't, it was nine to whatever time because we'd be promoting launch parties, events, issuing summarizes. And so that took up a lot of time, and then I would also have to do my own private work as well. Now I can work on my own hours which is really nice. I can manage my time. I can take days off when I want even though I normally work most days. I think that's like most people as well. Every day seems to be a work day, but it's fun and I love it. It doesn't feel like work.
Steve: You seem to know about personal projects. These are some projects that you've got going at the moment?
Ron Timehin: Yeah. I try and do stuff I'm passionate about as well. It shouldn't all be about money. Obviously, photography is an art form and I love creating. I do try and do a few projects that I'm passionate about. I've got a couple of books that are being released next year, so I've been working on those. They're going to be really cool. There's some really cool technology being put into the books as well. I don't know how much I can say about this actually, but really, really cool stuff. I love documentaries as well, so I've been featured in a couple of documentaries that are coming out as well. And I'm also putting a lot of time into video, so actually learning shooting video.
Steve: Yeah. You mentioned the Instagram community. How about an in your life community as well. I don't know whether being a photographer is kind of a solo kind of thing or whether there's lots of people around you. Somebody working at home, it can be pretty isolating for example. How is it for you?
Ron Timehin: It can be, yes. I don't know. For me, I try and mix it up all the time. Funny enough my Instagram community, I've met a lot of them and a lot of my peers who are also photographers are on Instagram. We meet up and we go and explore. I mean, a lot of the content you see on my Instagram is hours and hours of walking around exploring. Most of the time I'm with people, so that social element comes into play. We help each other when it comes to negotiating rates. We've given each other advice. It makes it feel a little less lonely definitely. Funny enough like the photography and arts industry it can seem kind of small sometimes, but a lot of people know each other. You don't really feel like you're completely solo.
Steve: That's good. If you could tell your younger self one thing about being freelance. What would that be?
Ron Timehin: I would tell my younger self that don't talk about anything that isn't confirmed yet I would say because obviously anything can happen like stuff falls through last minute all the time. So don't gloat about something that hasn't happened yet until the contracts are signed. Until you're actually doing the work, don't be blabbering your mouth basically. One for monetary reasons, save up and don't spend all of it on alcohol. I think finally make sure that you're putting money away for tax because paying tax all in one go is horrible, so make sure you've got enough to do it.
Steve: Sound advice. So, you're 24, are you someone who has goals like looking that far ahead?
Ron Timehin: Not particularly actually. I mean, I've got stuff I'd like to do, but I try and just go along with it basically, and just trust that I'll make the right decisions and stuff will come along. But also be smart about it. I'm not just going in blindly, but I make sure the opportunities that do come up I'm trying to take full advantage of them. I think one thing I would like to do within like the next five years or whatever, is to start with a collective effectively. One that harbors photographers, videographers, graphic designers, musicians. And we all kind of have the united style or aesthetic that we can then shoot content for brands and put on shows.
Steve: Nice. Good idea. Listen, it's been brilliant chatting to you Ron. Thank you so much. All the best being freelance.
Ron Timehin: Thank you Steve. Absolute pleasure.