We love welcoming new Photo Managers of all varieties to The Photo Managers organization. Each and every member brings a different perspective and our community is known for its collaborative and supportive environment. In this interview, we asked Allison Freedman to share her advice and experience on making a photo-managing business grow.
Allison’s career path took some interesting turns before she became a photo manager. She got her start in ornithology. As a birder, she volunteered for some time with her the park service. Later, she got a master’s degree in anthropology. After that, she went to law school and spent 1 years as a lawyer in Chicago. In January 2020 she took a year to travel and figure out what she wanted to do next. Just like so many who had big plans for 2020, however, she spent the year homeschooling her children in her basement. It was during that time that she found the profession of photo management and started her business in 2021.
What attracted you to being a Photo Manager?
I am an amateur photographer, I always have been since I was tiny. If I was a photo organizer looking at my photos, I would say there are way too many, but I love every single one of them. After being a lawyer for 17 years, I was ready to give up the 24/7, 365 schedule. I wanted something that I could control. And I love photographs. \ I was sitting in my kitchen one day, and I actually came across one of Cathi Nelson’s videos about the possibility of photo organizing being a career. At first, I laughed, but my husband walked by and asked what I was laughing at. I showed him the video and he said “that could totally be you”. So I didn’t even think about it for months. And then I just kept coming back to it, it felt like something I could try. And it seemed like an initial investment wouldn’t be too big so if you try it out and you fail, there’s not a whole lot of harm done. I love photos, I love working with people, and I am an extraordinarily organized person so I thought, why not?
What advice would you have for someone thinking about becoming a Photo Manager?
When I tell people what I am doing now, I get one of two reactions. One is, “Is that really a thing?”. And two is “I need you”. People don’t know we exist, and there’s a huge need for it. So if you’re thinking about doing it, my advice would be to jump in. Don’t wait until you think you know everything, because you will never know everything. And think about you know, what about this type of job attracts you. Is it because you have always made photo books for your family, or you like to organize photos, or you like to help people get their prints?
As an attorney, especially a baby attorney which is what they call you when you first start out, I had to deal with billions upon billions of pages of documents on a regular basis. So, jumping into dealing with a large photo collection was something I was comfortable doing. Because of that experience, starting with digital photo organizing was the right way to go. If you are like you love photobooks, maybe start there. The point is to start with things that you like.
When I first started, all I had was a laptop. I got by with just a laptop for the first few months, then I added a scanner. You don’t have to do everything, pick what you like, start small, and dip your toes in the water.
How have you found your clients?
Initially, a lot of my former colleagues became my clients. I think that there were some people around me who didn’t necessarily realize that you could hire somebody to do photo organizing for you. When they found that out, they were ready to go. Then, referrals came from that work. I’ve also found Facebook has been really, really good for me. I’ve had a couple of clients who don’t follow me, or at least they didn’t then but somehow, somewhere, I would share it on Facebook and they found me that way.
More recently, I’ve started networking and trying to put myself out there a little bit more. I’m running my first teaching class to the public next week, because I’ve gotten about a zillion questions about Shutterfly changes. So I thought, “Okay, time to take another step, put myself out there”. So I’m doing a webinar next week, on how to get your photos out of Shutterfly, what you should do with them, and what you might use instead. I’ve had a whole bunch of people sign up, and I’m not exactly sure where they found it, but my friends have shared it. So now I’m in contact with them.
Referrals are probably still and will always be my biggest source of clients. I have also had some come to me from the directory on The Photo Managers website.
How do you describe what you do as a photo manager?
I say something like, “What I love to do is take all of your photos from everywhere- every device, every cloud service, the ones that you left in your Walgreens cart 10 years ago, forgot they were there, your prints, your slides, everything. I pull them all together, clean them up, and make it so that you can access every single one of those at any time from your phone.”
What do you love most about what you do?
I love working with people, I love the fact that this is such a personal business, and I love that now when I complete a project, I’m bringing joy. I love also the constant learning, this is not a static job. I’ve even seen big changes in my not quite two years, in software and the way you can perform certain tasks. I’ve always loved learning so to be able to still do that now is something that I really, really like. I also like solving problems. I love being able to craft the solution so that when we’re done, they’re just happy. And when somebody says, “Oh my gosh, that was totally worth it!” It just makes my day, my week, my year (if you’re a Friends fan).
What do you find challenging about what you do?
Accounting, for one, figuring out taxes. I just had to figure out how to charge sales tax on certain things for Illinois, and anything dealing with the government in Illinois, not fun. Initially, one of the things I really did not like was the feeling that I was kind of out there on my own. Doing this, I came from a busy office with tons of colleagues and walking down the hall to bounce things off of people was something that I was missing initially. So, I’ve had to work on that a lot. But over the last year especially, I’ve been reaching out to other members of my new community. And I’ve really gotten to know people zoom, or phone calls. So building a sense of community has been super, super important. And the membership, The Photo Managers definitely helps with that. I’ve made some really good friends and now being able to text people or call immediately and get an answer has been really helpful. Too bad, they can’t help me with all the accounting because that I really, really don’t like.
What skills and experiences from your past have helped you build your business as a photo manager?
Being organized as one, you really have to be organized to do the job and you have to really be organized to run your own business. Communication skills is another. I was a trial lawyers so communication was big, and it’s helped me a lot. You need to communicate with your clients, you need to make sure that they know exactly what you can do for them, and they need to know what your limitations are, what the pricing is, and where you are in your process. And I’ve always been a problem solver. But I think in this kind of job, pretty much all of your life skills come into it. You’re dealing with people’s lives when you’re dealing with their photos, and you have to be sensitive to that.
How has being a member of The Photo Managers benefitted and supported you in your journey?
I have definitely taken advantage of pretty much everything that the community has to offer. I initially had said that isolation is one of the harder things that I’ve had to deal with. But on the flip side, I’ve met an amazing group of people through The Photo Managers. The camaraderie is there, and I will say that it’s an extremely open community, if you have a question, people will answer your question. And it won’t just be some sort of superfluous “go look here”, or a very, very high level, “this is what I did”, if you ask a good question, they will give you a specific five-step answer on how to solve it.
There are also a lot of resources, especially when you’re starting out. I highly recommend if you’re a member going through all of the classes that are offered and included in your membership. They are taught by people who know what they’re doing. And the beauty of it is these are not some, you know, random people off in the sky. These are people where if you’re going through that course, and you have a question that you just send them a question, they’re probably going to answer you in a few hours because that’s the type of community we have There’s plenty of work to go around so I don’t feel like I’m competing with any of them instead, I’m learning from them.
Learn more from Allison about how she approaches her business as a former trial attorney as she answers questions from our audience. Watch the full video on YouTube.