Courage, cheekiness, brains. Ten inspiring stories and advice on how to freelance

When I left my office job in marketing in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in 2013 and went volunteering in Europe, I didn’t know how to freelance to support myself, and there weren’t many remote jobs yet.

It took me about 3–4 years to change profession and lifestyle, and to learn the art of freelancing.

One of the main reasons why I succeeded were a real examples and the support of people close in spirit to me. I combined working with pleasure and purposely surrounded myself with people who had already gone freelance or successfully started their own business.

In this article — an excerpt from my book “I’m arriving. Interviews with famous Russian speaking travelers” I share the stories and advice about freelancing of ten people: five photographers and five travelers who have made a profession out of what they love.

— Time management, branding, crowdfunding, search for investors… Do they teach this at the Biology Department?

— Alexander Semyonov*, head of the Moscow State University (MSU) Biological Station on the White Sea: They teach you that the world is a very big place. From there it all depends on you and what you want to get out of the world. It doesn’t really matter what kind of education you have — there are dozens of famous and successful people who gave a shit about higher education and succeeded incredibly well.

As far as you have the courage, cheekiness, and brains, you can change the world, either globally or for your own needs.

I try to be a 21st century naturalist. The problem is that such a profession does not exist, and in the eyes of some people I do nonsense. But that is not my problem.

Since high school I have been taken for granted, so some of my activities and achievements — this is a successful attempt to rub someone’s nose in it.

Now I realize that sometimes it was a great way for my elders to steer me in the right direction. And now I take myself for granted, setting even steeper and more impossible tasks.

I struggle with laziness, basically, like any normal person.

* Alexander is also an author of the Aquatilis project — a round-the-world voyage to study the world’s oceans. The Aquatilis project did not take place in this form, but the scientist did not lose heart and became famous for his photographs of the White Sea jellyfish and other inhabitants of the northern sea.

— The main thing I have learned from your projects is that coincidences are not random. How do you activate this mechanism and make the universe go round?

— Vitaliy Akimov* is a photographer and videographer from Vladivostok, Russia: If you believe that coincidences are not random, they will be. I began to pay attention to what was happening to me, to look for cause and effect, and over time the disparate events began to come together into a puzzle. Just be more attentive to yourself and what’s around you.

If you are open to new things, you are in constant exchange with the world, your thoughts are pure and your actions are sincere — everything happens by itself.

You just watch and rejoice. The main thing is work.

In my case, going out, not withdrawing into myself (and I’m an amateur) and keeping a clear view.

Now I realize it wasn’t work, it was just a warm-up. I’m in the process of printing a book. This is where I have to work hard to find sponsors and the right people, to prepare the documents. And if I don’t work, the processes stop, no matter how open I am.

* Vitaliy moved to St. Petersburg, where he found a new home and shot two large-scale photo projects: 365 Strangers and The Strangers. He helps the locally famous singer Alai Oli with photo and video shoots.

— Did you find yourself in photography right away? Did you ever shoot weddings?

— Sergey Fomin*, a photographer from Moscow and author of the large-scale photo project Flight Over Russia: When I left science, I created one of the first advertising and printing firms in Kazan my colleagues. We periodically hired photographers for commercial shoots.

One day, accompanying one of them, I made a bet that I would do no worse work with my simple camera than he would with his equipment. The best shots were blindly chosen by a third photographer, whom we both respected. I won, I liked it.

But I had a lot to learn before I could call myself a photographer. I shot weddings and steam-powered factories, too. In Russia, it is difficult for a photographer to survive with a narrow specialization. Especially if you don’t work in Moscow.

Fortunately, I have always been surrounded by people who know how to dream and make dreams come true. And I have never met a single person who did not like the project.

I have flown with ecologists, geologists and rescuers from the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS). Permission to fly over Moscow was given by Dmitry Medvedev, and a lot of approvals and plans were worked on by the Defense Ministry, the Federal Protective Service (FSO) and the Federal Agency for Air Transport (Rosaviatsiya).

* The Russia From Above project was supported even by former Russian President and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Sergey has visited and photographed from the air more than 55 regions of Russia.

Read more inspiring stories on how to freelance in Russian language in Digital Broccoli magazine, the leading independent online publication about freelancing and remote work.

Text: Ivan Kuznetsov

Cover photo: Alexander Semenov