‘Expats Freelancing It’ is a Yay For Today Q&A series on freelancing expats.
Nigel is a photographer who is based in the Middle East where he has been for 10 years. He works mostly for large organizations and agencies such as film units or advertising agencies. He comes from London and the change to living in the Middle East was huge for him. One of his biggest hurdles was to learn the cultural differences that exist when doing business in the Middle East as opposed to Europe.
What is the background of your business?
I arrived in Qatar ten years ago as a self taught photographer. I was good at what I did but not great. I managed to stumble into a freelance job that I would never have been considered for back in London. I worked my arse off. It was hard for me and I worked a lot of hours to deliver on the project and even in hindsight I can see I did a reasonable job. It lead to other jobs and as I learnt along the way I became more confident and bid for more high end work. It took me a couple of years to build a reputation and from there it has just grown.
Do you think being an expat changes what you offer and the way you do business when compared to others in your field?
I think being an expat changes things slightly. For one having the skills and business ethic you get from living and working in a place like London has made a difference to how people respond to me. I deliver what I say I will, when I say I will, which not surprisingly people really like. Apart from that I would be offering the exact same service in any country in the world as what I offer in Qatar so being expat doesn’t change my business model or services offered.
Are their unexpected challenges you didn’t anticipate when you took your business to a new location?
Culture is a big difference. A prime example of this is that people don’t want to say no you haven’t got the job, bad news is avoided. This means it can take longer to know what is happening with a potential client and sometimes you find out through a third party you didn’t get the job. Payment terms are longer and often delayed. People can be less inclined to tell you why there is a delay or explain the situation or indicate how long it might take. It can even be difficult to get the details of the correct person to talk to to expedite things.
What are the benefits of being an expat freelancer as opposed to just working as a freelancer in your home country? The benefits of being an expat in my line of work here in Qatar is that there is less competition from people at your same skill level although there is massive completion from people willing to offer less of a skilled service but for greatly reduced fees.
Are there any external frustrations that make it hard to do the work at the standard you expect.
There are lots of frustrations that keep me on my toes but most of them are easy to overcome. In the UK standards are much higher and I am used to working to these higher standards. Often people are not wanting or willing to pay for my higher standards. Sometimes this means you have to slowly educate clients that you get what you pay for. It can be a slow process but sometimes its quick and after a client has gone with the cheaper service they call me in to ‘fix things’. Having to work with the clients tastes in mind even if its strange to me is also something I have had to adjust to. It can mean constantly changing mind sets depending on what project you are working on any given day. Lastly, coming form London where things tend to be more organized and run on time it can be frustrating when there are delays due to bad organization and time keeping.
What percentage of your work is for local clients and what is for overseas clients?
Most of my work is for local companies who wish to show my work overseas. I appeal to an international taste and standards. I do some work locally for large agencies who are based outside the region so technically my client is the agency but in reality it is a local company.
Is language a barrier at all?
Language is never a problem, I have even worked in China where no one spoke my language and yet I can get by.
Nigel Downes is from England and is a freelance photographer currently based in Qatar. He has also lived in the US.