Financing freelance: What to buy when

By Kris Millgate
Freelancers carry 100 percent of the risk and 100 percent of the reward. The reality of success or failure falls squarely on a freelancer’s shoulders. For me that means shoulders already weighed down by several sets of gear.
I’m a freelance multimedia outdoor journalist. It’s a mouthful and an armload. I take the content from one assignment and turn it into multiple options for TV, Web, newspapers and magazines. It’s a brain buzzer in all aspects and a wallet whopper in the gear department. On an average shooting day, I’m carrying a minimum of $10,000 in equipment—all at my own expense.
I need the right equipment to accomplish so much at the same time. And that’s where financial matters really impact my freelance career. I admit I’ll make something last as long as I can. I take great care of my equipment so it lasts longer than expected. But at some point, holding out on needed upgrades actually ends up costing rather than saving. Recognize when it’s time to invest in new hardware or software before it costs you an opportunity.
Opportunity Lost
I bought a standard definition (SD) video camera when I started my production company, Tight Line Media, in 2006. I knew high definition (HD) was sneaking in, but the price choked me and at that time, most of my clients couldn’t handle HD. I shot an award-winning grizzly bear series on that SD camera. In the summer of 2008, a producer for National Geographic approached me about buying that series. He wanted my footage, but he had to have it in HD and there I stood all starry-eyed with SD.
I have no idea how much I lost in that deal, but I know it was a lot. I couldn’t even carry my SD camera after that. It quickly became my back-up gear and it’s great for home videos. Now I shoot with an HD camera that captures footage with an image quality National Geographic would accept. Most of my clients still don’t care, but if that big ship comes into my port again, I have HD and man, it shoots pretty pictures. I picked up new work and paid off the camera in two months.
Spend to Save
I’m sentimental about film. At least I was until I stopped developing it. The cost and time associated with having all of my photographs developed was killing my productivity on the print side of my business. I have a nice film camera in perfect working order and I even have some film canisters still rolling around. But the money I save by not buying and developing film easily covers the cost of my new digital still camera. Besides, the dealer was so excited to have someone buying a camera and lens during depressed times that he threw in a great backpack for free. This camera was paid for in full when I left the store.
Render Me Weary
A computer techie offered me great advice when I asked him, “How do I know when to upgrade?” He said, “How much time do you spend staring at the spinning beach ball?” That’s the “please hold” symbol on a Mac.
My laptop was my only computer for four years, but as I grew up, it grew old. It dragged along painfully when rendering video, but I still held out.  I bought new video gear in 2009 and buying a new computer in the same poor economic year seemed too risky.
Risk went to the wayside when long render times left me staring at that spinning beach ball while pushing deadline in the middle of the night. I bought a new computer in December and paid it off one month later. Now my laptop is my travel computer, and I have a desktop with so much screen space that I have to take a step back from the screen when editing. After watching it fly like the wind when rendering video, I don’t know how I put up with the old creeper for as long as I did.
In conclusion, there is a balance between saving money and using antiquated equipment and software. Recognize when it’s time to invest before it costs you an opportunity. ◊
Kris Millgate is a freelance multimedia journalist based in southeast Idaho. Contact her at


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