There is no shortage of creatives in Toronto and whenever I work with an amazing artist, I’m left inspired. Lichia of Gotamago is an incredible illustrator and watercolour artist. She sketches, paints and illustrates the world so beautifully.
I was interviewed by Tahereh Marketing about being a freelance photographer and what it’s like to run my own business. These questions come up often and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my experience and hopefully it’ll help you or someone you know. Thank you so much for the feature, Tahereh!
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? When did you start photography? Where is your location? What type of clients do you have?
My name is Janet Kwan and I’m a lifestyle commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. My clients range from small business owners to large companies who need professional lifestyle photos to elevate their marketing and branding.
I started photography as a hobby in 2009, but I usually carried a camera with me even before that. I started my photography business in 2016.
2. Did you have any training or was it self-taught?
I like to say that I’m self/peer/Internet-taught. Without the help of others, it would have taken me much longer to learn completely by myself.
3. When you started did you always know your style or did it change over time?
I didn’t have my own style when I started. I was just learning how to reverse engineer the photos I really liked. Over time, I gravitated towards a more clean, minimal and bright style so I focused on developing that. I don’t limit myself to only shooting in that way, but it is what I intentionally work on.
4. When starting your journey did you have any challenges? Like finding clients? Keeping yourself motivated? Creating your website and online portfolio? How did you overcome those challenges?
Yes, I definitely had some challenges! Like many creatives, the challenge I faced was the imposter syndrome, being able to own the fact that I am now a professional photographer. Another challenge was the fear of not getting work on a semi-consistent basis. Being self-employed, finances are always on my mind, but that motivates me to connect with people and create new work which opened the door for opportunities.
5. How do you connect with your target audience? And how do you find your clients?
Because I had been doing photography on the side before turning it into a full-time business, I had already cultivated relationships with clients and word of mouth played a huge role in getting new clients. This also helped to lay the groundwork and build my portfolio.
Besides word of mouth, social media (especially Instagram) has been a great tool for potential clients to find my work. I also get inquiries through Google. I don’t use paid ads but I write with SEO in mind so that’s helped to boost search results.
6. How much of your daily tasks would you say is creative and how much is business?
That’s a great question. What many don’t realize is that business tasks take up a large portion of your time. If I were to divide my tasks into two, my actual time spent behind the camera takes up about 30-40% and everything else (emails, marketing, shoot prep, bookkeeping, etc) is 60-70%.
7. What is the definition of success in your mind for your business?
Success in my business is using photography for a greater purpose. It’s not just about taking nice photos. It’s the reason behind the photos. If I can help someone, a cause, or a business with my work, I will have succeeded.
8. What is the big next step you see in front of you?
I’ve already been shifting away from wedding photography to focus on lifestyle commercial photography so the next big step is to grow a different client base.
9. How much collaboration do you do with other professionals?
I collaborate with other self-employed creatives every couple of months. Most of us don’t have office coworkers so it’s a great way to meet peers and work together.
10. Do you do any networking? And do you see any benefits in networking with like-minded people?
I rarely ever attend networking events. It’s not how I connect and build relationships, but it works for some people. Creating a community through collaborations and referrals is much more effective for me.
11. Is there anything you’d like to add for those who are interested to start doing what they love but are afraid from the challenges that come their way?
Before making the leap, set out the reasons and purpose for why you want to pursue your passion. While there will definitely be challenges, focus on that purpose, the reason you started.
There will be times when you feel like you’re failing or want to quit. Don’t be afraid to take a step back, reassess your methods and ask for help and guidance from someone more experienced.
Don’t quit too soon. If you’ve done all you can and you no longer feel the same drive, go back to what you originally wanted to achieve and decide if that’s still your goal. If it is, keep going. If not, give yourself permission to find another purpose.
I had the pleasure of photographing Toronto-based illustrator Lichia's work and studio, Gotamago. The first time I saw Lichia's dim sum-themed calendar, I loved it and picked one up for myself and ever since then, I've followed her work.
We first collaborated together on a shoot when she was a model for a baby shower photoshoot, which was featured on the cover of Mingle Magazine, a publication of creative ideas for special occasions.
If you're in the East York neighbourhood, be sure to stop by the Gotamago shop and studio and say hi to the team.
Quinsco, pronounced 'queens-co', is a Toronto-based accessories company. The founder and designer, Rachelle, creates each piece by hand and draws inspiration from her own style: simple and refined. Her collections can be worn for all types of occasions, as individual pieces or stacked together.
See the full collection at her online shop.
Karen is the owner and artist behind @ohmyinspired, a collection of paper goods. It’s fascinating to watch and document someone create from a blank canvas.
Who would’ve known that many years after we first met in elementary school that we would have the opportunity to work together and support each other’s businesses. I'm so proud to see how far she's come and can't wait to see where she'll take it.