Be bold - Photographer Jon Enoch

Let's be bolder. Let's push ourselves forward.

It's certainly working for Jon Enoch. Bold enough to make and seize opportunities. From entering competitions, awards, knocking on doors, filling in for people and then maximising the opportunity, pushing forward to be known for the work you want to do.

Jon chats about becoming more productive in co-work/office spaces, hiring help, regularly marketing, learning from others outside of your field and investing in himself.

Famous sports people, politicians and celebrities - Jon's attention is normally on them, but this time we focus on him.

Transcription of Being Freelance podcast interview with photographer Jon Enoch

Steve Folland: Let's crack on, shall we, and chat to freelance photographer Jon Enoch. Hey, Jon.

Jon Enoch: Hello.

Steve Folland: Thanks for doing this. You're based in London. Right?

Jon Enoch: That's it. Yeah. I've been based in London now for about eight years or so.

Steve Folland: Cool. Okay. As ever, let's get started hearing how you got started being freelance.

Jon Enoch: It's a very long and winding story. Basically, I went to university to do a geography degree and in that first, literally in that first month, I went into a branch of HMV and on the council was a competition and it was a put your name on a postcard. Absolutely no luck, no skill rather, involved. Totally forgot about it. Two months later, my phone goes, some PR agents in London saying, "That I've won the first prize in this competition." I couldn't even remember what the competition was.

Jon Enoch: Then it transpires, it was around the world trip, all paid for, essentially, for 12 months. These things really do happen.

Steve Folland: Wow.

Jon Enoch: Yeah. So, I went to see my tutors and they were like, "Of course, you can, you know, it's a once a lifetime opportunity. You can have a, basically, a sabbatical." So, I went off and had a year out in between my first and second year. Obviously, I thought it would be a prudent idea to buy a camera and take some pictures. So, that's really how I started getting into photography.

Jon Enoch: Then, I came back and I did some work on the student newspaper and I did a little bit of work experience with the local newspaper, the Sheffield Star. Then, I think they got a call off the New Musical Express, who were just looking for them to recommend somebody and they very kindly passed my details over.

Jon Enoch: I think my first ever freelance gig was going to a little, tiny little pub, in Sheffield to take some pictures of this band that I'd never heard of. I turned up and the pub was totally packed. I'd never seen anything like that in Sheffield before. And it turned out to be The Arctic Monkeys.

Steve Folland: Wow.

Jon Enoch: So, that was first ever gig and that was, I think, my first ever write up in the New Musical Express. So, that's how I started really. I was freelancing in my third year of university. Then, when I left university, I might actually get a job, using those cuttings and using those contacts on a local newspaper in Lincoln. So, a lot of luck and a lot of good things happening at the right time.

Jon Enoch: I worked at the local news for, I think I did that for two years in Lincoln, so, that was covering everything from wedding anniversaries to the turning on of the Christmas lights, which I actually really enjoyed because it was I good training ground in all sorts of different areas of photography.

Jon Enoch: Then I'd move to a slightly more harder news agency in the Midlands, basically the national newspaper wanted something shooting in Nottingham. They would call up this agency and I was one of those staff photographers working at the agency, just because for newspapers they need boots on the ground quicker than they can send people from London.

Jon Enoch: So, I worked for that agency for about two years and I used that as a way of getting my name known in London, a little bit and then I literally, just one day decided to come down - packed everything up into the back of a very old decrepit Ford Fiesta. I think I had a couple of names written down on a piece of paper and I literally went and knocked on a few doors and that's how I started freelancing.

Jon Enoch: That first month I got in really well with The Times and I think I did 28 days for The Times in the first month. So, that's really how I started.

Steve Folland: By literally knocking on doors.

Jon Enoch: Yeah, yeah. I think when you're younger, you're just busy, you never think it's going to be fine. I think, if I was to do that today, I think it would fill me with absolute dread but I think, literally, I turned up beginning of September. Had no work lined up and just went to see a few people. Obviously, I'd done jobs for them, via the news agency in Nottingham, so I wasn't a totally unknown prospect but I think it was just, again, a little bit of luck. The face fitting, arriving at the right time, yeah.

Steve Folland: So, just put this in perspective. When did you move down to London? Was it eight years ago did you say?

Jon Enoch: Yeah, that was about eight or nine years ago.

Steve Folland: How has it evolved from there? Especially because, so far, we're talking very much about covering news stories, really, which would be very different to somebody who lands on your website today.

Jon Enoch: Sure, yeah. I mean, and that's the other interesting thing. Eight years ago I started shooting news and that was actually quite hard news. So, I was out on the streets covering protests, whatever the breaking news story was of the day but slowly over time, the odd occasion would crop up when they were maybe a little bit short and they needed somebody to shoot a portrait.

Jon Enoch: So, I started to get opportunities to shoot something a little bit more stylized. I really enjoyed that and I think I've reached a point with the new stuff where I look to people, my colleagues who worked for rival publications and they were maybe, in their 60s or their late 50's, and they were standing up a ladder outside the high court in the middle of the summer in three degree heat and I didn't really want to be there, doing what they were doing.

Jon Enoch: So, I made quite a conscious decision to, when those opportunities turned up to do a nice portrait to really put a lot of effort into it and really try and master that art, which was totally, totally different to what I was doing. So, I used those opportunities to slowly build up my portfolio of celebrity faces or well known faces. Almost shooting in a way that you would if you were doing a magazine commission.

Jon Enoch: I then took those pictures to magazines and said, "Look, here's my portfolio." Then I started to pick up other clients.

Steve Folland: Excellent. When you then took those photos to other magazines, at that point you're then stepping out from, presumably, if a paper says, "Can you shoot this? This is where they're going to be. This is when you're going to turn up." Whereas, perhaps, when you go to a magazine, might they expect you to have a studio or something or I don't know?

Jon Enoch: A little bit. I mean, generally, I found it was very similar in terms of the way it was structured. Tends, all that what tends to be on location, so a lot of it, you're going to the person's house or you're going to a hotel or, occasionally, they would expect you to have a studio but you'd just hire one, you just rent a studio. That's increasingly common, nobody really has a full time studio in London these days just because the costs associated with that.

Jon Enoch: Actually, I think the interesting thing was, a lot of the skills that I'd learned operating at a newspaper level, were very transferable to the next step. Which was the magazine world or the design world which is, you've got to make a picture and quite often the time is very, very short. There's no excuses. You've got to deliver an image and actually working under pressure and working on the really, really quite tight time constraints was something that was very, very useful because even if you're shooting an advertising campaign, which I might do these days, you're not going to get hours and hours with the talent.

Jon Enoch: Time is money for those people, so, if you can produce the goods in a very time efficient way, that's something that pleases everybody.

Steve Folland: Yeah, I bet. So, what would your website have looked like if I'd have gone to it 10 years ago? Or eight years ago?

Jon Enoch: Sure. There would have been a picture of the Chancellor of the Exchequer standing outside number 10. There would have been some pictures of people rioting and throwing petrol bombs at each other in the streets of Athens. There would have been pictures of migrants. It was very, very different. There were maybe one or two images in that set of pictures that hinted at the direction that I was going to go but it was, yeah, it was a totally different set up.

Steve Folland: So very much more photo journalism. So, over time did you just gradually take those off or reduce the number?

Jon Enoch: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it was tricky because I think any freelancer, you sometimes get to these points in your career where you've got one foot in two sides of the border and it's very difficult at that stage because you're wary of taking certain material off because that's still is an income stream. Sometimes you've just got to be bold. You've just got to be like, this is what I want to do so I'm going to just show the work that appeals to those people but it's tricky.

Steve Folland: And so your clients today, did they come to you direct or is it through an agency?

Jon Enoch: A bit of both. The vast majority, I'd say 95% come direct and that is just for a whole number of different reasons why that might happen. The best is word of mouth. If you do it, do a good job and you produce good pictures, that's the best policy for generating more work. So, word of mouth, we do a load of marketing, so, we have newsletters. We send out physical things twice a year.

Jon Enoch: We just go and see people for coffee, we can take the portfolio out. So, that's basically where the work comes. Then, my agent concentrates on the very top 5 or 10% of bigger, global advertising agencies who, you basically just are far more comfortable and they expect you to have an agent. So, I'm in that really, really good position where I can pick and choose whether or not the work goes to the agent or whether I deal with it directly.

Jon Enoch: For some clients, they prefer to deal with me directly and other clients, they'd rather have a middle person dealing with everything. So, sometimes that works best for them.

Steve Folland: You said just now, we. We send things out. We do this. Who is the we, in there?

Jon Enoch: So, yeah. I took on a full time marketing person about three years back who just deals with all the office admin and just doing all those tasks I no longer want to spend my time doing.

Steve Folland: That's quite a thing to do. How did you know when you've reached that point to do that and how did you feel about it?

Jon Enoch: Id always had a few people, id use freelance people. In that eight years, I'd probably had two full time people and I've had another couple that I use on a freelance basis. The problem I was having was, I would spend two or three months training them up on how things work and the systems that we use and then inevitably, they would leave.

Jon Enoch: I just got to a stage where I was like. it definitely works. It definitely pays for itself but I need a little bit longer with that person because the initial two or three months with them, also training them it's not the most productive so you need to try and keep them for a little bit longer. I just found, if I was using people on a freelance basis, they would inevitably go and get a full time job or they would go and pick up some other work and they weren't available any longer.

Jon Enoch: So, I took a decision to take somebody on, on an actual PAYE basis and that just means that there's a lot more security for them and there's obviously a lot more security for me.

Steve Folland: Yeah. Was it a tricky thing to actually go through?

Jon Enoch: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I'd say it's probably one of the biggest challenges just because I've never been in that position before of having to effectively be someone's boss. So, it's a totally massive learning curve for me as much as it was for them. I think, like anything, you get out what you put in. So, I think, as I said, I've had those couple of people and I think each time somebody leaves, I take another person on, I'm getting much, much better at being somebody's boss and structuring the workplace and telling them what I want them to do and giving them expectations and setting tasks and challenges for them.

Jon Enoch: That in itself, is a totally different world that I wasn't used to initially and I think, looking back at those first people that I took on, I didn't know what I was doing. It was obvious. It's a skill, like anything. It needs attention and it needs time.

Steve Folland: Yeah. When it comes to marketing, what would they be doing for you?

Jon Enoch: I would have a structure across the year, so that might be, we track where clients are because one of the biggest things we find in the industry, is that people move around all the time. So, most picture editors, most art directors are themselves increasingly freelance. So, they will move around the industry so that email addresses will change, the addresses that they're working at will change all the time.

Jon Enoch: Basically, that in itself is a job. If you've got 400 potential clients, just keeping track of where they are and what they're working on because they might do six months here, four months here. They're moving around constantly, so, just having somebody to track the existing clients and make sure that we don't lose them because it's very easy.

Jon Enoch: If they move to another company and you're not aware of that, it's very easy that they will, over time they will slip away. So, we track people using a CRM system. The way you get work in my industry, is you just want to be in somebody's head at the right time. It's just finding ways of being, not in an aggressive way and not over the top but just being in the back of somebody's mind.

Jon Enoch: So that when that commission lands on their desk and they suddenly need a photographer, you're the person that they turn to or you're the person that they think of emailing. So, that might be managing a social media account so that they, while they're on the bus, on the way to work, they happen to see one of your pictures or it might be that we send them a gift at Christmas.

Jon Enoch: There's a whole range of different things that we do to just make sure that we're always, potentially, that my name is something that they think of when that job turns up.

Steve Folland: Yeah and so you have a newsletter as well, did you say?

Jon Enoch: Yeah, I have newsletters. So, we blog, we try to do a blog at least once a week and then that forms, four or five blogs a month and we consolidate that into a newsletter that then goes out to a mailing list of existing clients. Then, on top of that, I'll then do, it might be a magazine or a newspaper or something physical, that we'll then post that to people two or three times a year. But also, we're just trying to stay in touch with people so I if I'm not shooting, I'll try and pop in and see someone for coffee or go and meet them for lunch or just generally stay in touch with people.

Steve Folland: Yeah, that's nice. When you say that you blog a newsletter, is that like taking a project that you've worked on, like an example of your portfolio and how you did it?

Jon Enoch: Yeah. It tends to be something that's happened relatively recently. So, it would be new work essentially so, the blog is always, hey, we shot some pictures last week of this person. Here they are, essentially, and there might be a little bit, people behind the scenes so we might show them a little bit of the behind the scenes of how that shoot happened and then we might show them, also, not only the imagery but also, the end result. How it was used in context.

Jon Enoch: Pictures of the magazine cover or pictures of that image on a billboard, on a tube station. Just giving them a little bit more than just the image. Just so that they feel a little bit more engaged.

Steve Folland: Yeah. So, we touched there on evolving it actually into a business. Like being an employer, for example. How have you handled that other side of being a business, of the financial side, for example? Contractual things?

Jon Enoch: Sure. I mean, I think that the financial side has always come relatively straightforward to me. I think the biggest thing I'd say on that is, outsourcing is a good thing. I think when you first start, you very much have this bunker mentality that you have to do everything yourself. That you have to be the web designer, that you have to be the graphic designer that comes up with the logo.

Jon Enoch: Obviously, there's a reason why you do that because you don't have the finances to get other people involved. But I'd say one thing I've learned is, one thing I should have done a bit sooner, is try to get other people to do those areas because somebody whose job it is to build websites is going to build a website far better than you can as a photographer. Nowadays, I have a bookkeeper who does all the finance and an accountant who deals with all the end of year stuff too.

Jon Enoch: What it really allows me to do is, just it allows me to concentrate on what I do best, which is taking pictures and coming up with ideas for imagery and I think as a freelancer sometimes you can get bogged down in having to deal with all those other tasks. I think the best lesson is actually, what I try to do is make sure that my time is focused on the things that I'm good at and give the other things to other people who are experts in that field.

Steve Folland: Yeah, when it comes to working with a bookkeeper, would they send out an invoice and add your expenses to your software and things like that?

Jon Enoch: The only area that I still do is, I do the actual proactive invoicing. I send the invoice but in terms of tracking all the expenses, in terms of paying other people, in terms of logging all the costs, in terms of, basically, all of the financial management, that's something that they do. All I have to do at the end of a shoot, is send the client the invoice and the only reason I do that, is it's actually easier and quicker for me because I can remember, oh, we spent 250 pounds hiring in a giant zebra or whatever it might be and it obviously takes them a little bit longer to work out what that is.

Jon Enoch: I tend to do the invoicing and they will chase the invoices and they will make sure that all the VAT's paid on time, all the taxes paid on time. I find it just works better for me because it means there's probably a couple of days a month where my time is then freed up to do the things that I'm better at.

Steve Folland: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that's true. Because I've often thought about that myself. Now I think but then I'd have to send all of this information to that person, in order for them to add it on. And I think, so might I, as well, just add it on myself.

Jon Enoch: Yeah. Everything is all cloud based. The system we use is all based in the cloud, so, all of that financial information is accessible from anywhere, at anytime. So, the bookkeeper won't even necessarily come into the office, on a weekly basis. They will just have access to the bank accounts and see what's coming in and what's going out and they will be able to do everything remotely.

Jon Enoch: Obviously, there's sometimes physical receipts, so, they have to come in and wade through the paperwork but a lot of it's actually, well, all of it's actually on the cloud. It's actually works really well.

Steve Folland: You mention an office there. Do you have a permanent space?

Jon Enoch: Yes, yes. Quite early on in London, I made it down to London just as the credit crash happened and I think, you started to see then the emergence of co-working space or shared space. Basically, as companies laid off people and suddenly realized they had half an office left and were looking for other ways of making money. I think, for me, that was one of the best things I ever did, really.

Jon Enoch: I think, initially, as a freelancer I found it quite isolating. Coming from working in a newsroom where you had 30 or 40 people, all exactly your same age as you, all working in the same industry, suddenly to be based out of your spare bedroom in a city that you didn't know. The potential was there for it to be not a good situation, in terms of isolation.

Jon Enoch: So, I quite quickly took a co-working space and now, essentially, I have too much kit so I can't really work out of a co-working space, so I work out of a small office but it's in part of a larger complex. Basically, I find that you just get all of the benefits of working for a larger company but without any of the hassle.

Jon Enoch: I think, for me, it helps with the work life balance, in terms of, I can go to work and then once I've finished, I can shut the door and walk home and have that little bit of separation.

Steve Folland: Yeah. Did you try working from home originally?

Jon Enoch: Yeah, I did, I did. I think I just missed people, if I'm honest with you. I just missed, obviously, as a photographer, you're meeting people all the time but you're not really meeting them. You might meet them for an hour, once you shoot their pictures and so, I think I really missed just having the same people around and the same faces, on a daily basis. Also, my productivity, I found, by taking the office out of the home was just ... It just rocketed.

Jon Enoch: A task that would take me an hour to do at home took me 15 minutes just because there's no distractions, you're totally focused. You can just concentrate on that task at hand. I just found at home, there was always some distraction, there was always something cropping up. So, while that was, initially, that was a bit of a financial, you're like, okay, do I really need to be spending this money on something that I could do from home, I quite quickly found, that it'll actually pay for itself, effectively. Because all it would take me was to pick up one additional client and that would pay for it.

Steve Folland: How do you find managing your workload?

Jon Enoch: I never really had an issue with it but having said that, I'm sure others around me would say it is an issue. I love it so I don't have any qualms or problems about working seven days a week and still be working at 2:00 in the morning. For me it's just something I love doing so I don't really ever turn off. Obviously, having that office away from home allows me to do that a little bit more.

Jon Enoch: If I go away on holiday, I'm still answering emails every hour. It's the nature of the beast, I think. If you're in this business, you have to accept that it becomes a little bit all consuming.

Steve Folland: Yeah and actually, it sounds like you quite like that.

Jon Enoch: Yeah. I don't have any problems with it. I mean, obviously, there would be weeks when you were just incredibly busy and then there are weeks that are a little bit slower. So, over the course of the year, it will balance itself out. I mean, that's one of the beauties of being freelancers, is that you can decide to go for a swim on a Tuesday afternoon. Or whatever, whatever else you want to do but other times, the downside is, the work's coming in, you can't say no to it, you just have to keep saying yes. Sometimes, you can just have a constant stream of work and you just have to suck it up while you can.

Steve Folland: I noticed, on your website, there's a lot of mention of awards, which is awesome. I sat there looking at them thinking, I wonder, how important they are to you and also, first I thought, oh, he must be entering a lot of awards and then I sat down and thought, I wonder whether sometimes the magazines or newspapers enter them and so, actually, it's not him or the brands, for example or in the case of advertising.

Jon Enoch: Yeah, yeah, yeah. A little bit of that. I mean, I think initially, at the start of my career, they were very important just because they got my name in front of people, who, it would have been trickier for me to get my name in front of. I think the one thing I would say on awards is that there were awards and then there were awards. I think, almost, the awards industry in itself, it mushrooms.

Jon Enoch: Every day I seem to be getting an email about some photography awards or some other photography awards. I thin, in reality, the vast majority of them aren't really worth anything but there are definitely a handful that are. The main thing is, when I look the awards over, if I am entered for an award or if I win an award is, who are the audience. I don't really care if that room is filled with photographers because they're not important to me.

Jon Enoch: Obviously, it's lovely to win an award but what I really care is I want that room to be filled with art directors and art buyers. So, people from the slightly wider industry and I think there are lots of photography awards where the only people looking at them and the only people engaging with them are other photographers, which is pretty pointless from a career perspective.

Steve Folland: Yes, yeah. So, who are my potential clients, where are they?

Jon Enoch: Exactly, exactly and that's what you want. There's some awards that are peer awards and you go to those events and every other person is a picture editor or an art buyer so there are some awards that I've won that have been very beneficial. Again, just in terms of getting your name out there and just helping cement your place in the industry so that people have trust in you or that people just feel that you're more established.

Steve Folland: I mean, given like, you obviously are pretty established, I think it's fair to say, now. Was there a moment where you felt that momentum?

Jon Enoch: Yeah, I can remember it. I can remember exactly when it was. I was working for The Times newspaper, my boss fired me. He said, "We've got a photo shoot with the writer, Caitlin Moran," who, I can't remember what they were doing with that. I think they were dressing her up as Beyonce or something ridiculous but it was a T2 cover, she's obviously The Times star writer.

Jon Enoch: I can't remember, somebody that they normally use had dropped out or they couldn't get a normal person to shoot it and he literally, I remember him saying to me, on the phone, "If you do well on this, it'll really help your career." It made the cover and it was a good set of images and everyone was happy.

Jon Enoch: So, there were definitely turning points in your career where you've literally, oh wow, that, you need to nail it because that opportunity doesn't come along very often. Even when you start out or even in the middle of your career, you get these commissions that come in and you're very much aware that, okay, if I do well on this it'll take me to that next little step.

Steve Folland: And from a business point of view, have you had any help or any mentors or have you just been figuring it out as you've gone along?

Jon Enoch: I wouldn't say that I've had any direct mentors. I mean, there were a lot of people who I keep a close eye on and I look at what they're doing and how they're doing it but, no, I haven't had any mentors. One of the other things I would say about taking the office out of home and working from another space is that you meet other people.

Jon Enoch: A lot of the people that I've shared space with before or they've been in the office next door, they've worked in other industries so they might work in recruitment or they might run a design agency or something like that, which at first seems very unrelated to photography but actually, all small businesses or all freelancers are the same.

Jon Enoch: The end product that you're selling might be different, be that illustration or photography or whatever the nature of the game that you're in but 95% of running a business or being self employed or being freelance is the same. So, I've actually found by working with people from other disciplines, it gives you really good insight into how they work and I think sometimes you can pick things up from them that you would never come across yourself.

Steve Folland: Nice, yeah, yeah. Unless you get a co-work space or listen to a regular podcast, of course.

Jon Enoch: Exactly.

Steve Folland: If you could tell your younger self one thing about being freelance, what would that be?

Jon Enoch: I actually think it would be, everything is going to be okay, so, maybe be a bit bolder and I think what I mean by that is, I think when you first start off, you're quite tentative. I think if I could say to myself something, it would be, go a little bit harder and go a little bit faster. Also, to invest in yourself as much as you do the photography. I think when you first start off in any creative discipline, you're so wrapped up in that creative process that, that's all you think about.

Jon Enoch: So, I just think about pictures and the portfolio and images and actually as a freelancer, I think if I worked out little bit earlier that, that's about 50% of it, in terms of, getting work and getting good paid work, that makes up about 50% of the reasoning as to why you might get a shoot. So, I think maybe just being a little bit more aware of that earlier on and maybe investing a little bit more in myself and not just thinking about the pictures.

Steve Folland: John, it's been a pleasure to chat to you. All the best being freelance!

Jon Enoch: Thank you, Steve. Thanks so much.