It's funny how, when you look back at things, you realize how influential certain elements of your past were in deciding who you became in the future. I went to a pretty atypical high school. As part of the graduation requirements, every senior had to complete a senior project, with a set number of required observation and practical hours, based on a topic of your own choosing which would theoretically relate to your own interests. Many kids hated the senior project, with more then a few either faking their way through it, or doing the bare minimum and complaining the entire time. I was on the exact polar opposite of the spectrum.
I've always been sort of the independent learner type. By the time my senior year rolled around, and everyone began planning for their college majors and their futures after that, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I'd been proficient in tech and web design since jr high, and those things came naturally to me. I had also taken up photography as a hobby the year prior, and had a natural knack for it. But music was also a huge passion, and I'd been trying (and failing) to write a musical since my sophomore year. Instead of picking just one of these paths for my senior project, I decided to incorporate all three. The plan was to write a musical, build a web site to market it, and stage a professional photo shoot to have publicity materials. Just one of these three things would have been a senior project in its own right (and I got four 100's and a 99 on the judging panel because of it), but I didn't care. I wanted to do it all, and if the senior project was supposed to help you figure out what you would do in the future, I assumed that I'd have picked a definitive path by the end of the ordeal.
Nope. Wrong. Completely wrong. By the time my senior year ended, I still wanted to do it all. I ended up turning down a slew of college admissions from around the country to stay local and complete my general ed's at a community college, since I figured I'd probably switch majors a few times anyway. When it came time to transfer, I eventually settled on the Communication program at UCSD, which much unlike its name, is more of a build-your-own interdisciplinary major than it is a stereotypical "social life" communications major that most schools offer. At some point in those four years, I officially turned into a "professional photographer," though I took on web design contracts on the side. I started doing portrait, event, and commercial work, picking up weddings on the side. All the while, I had gone through four (or so) more iterations of the musical I had began writing my sophomore year of high school, the first draft of which became my senior project, and which had slowly morphed into a more contemporary orchestral work for the screen instead of the stage. And in my free time, I started going out into the backcountry to teach myself how to do night photography, which really doesn't stand a chance for future monetary prospects.
So here we are at my current dilemma--How the heck am I supposed to market myself? I've needed to order new business cards for at least three months now, but I've yet to figure out what to put on them. My last batch omitted all trace of profession, merely stating my name, email, phone number, and website. The iteration before that had "Photographer, Composer, and Web Designer." Even that wasn't too accurate. Depending on which site you visit, most "About Me" lines I've written have a combination of some of the following: Photographer, cinematographer, composer, musician, vocalist, web designer, designer, videographer, web author, computer repair. The list goes on. It also doesn't help that I've spun off GTB Media to brand my purely commercial work under. Where the heck do I fit that on the card?
At the end of the day, things aren't so bad. Granted, freelancing has its quirks, and it's hardly the dream that most would-be-freelancers imagine it would be. But even without advertising, I make enough via word-of-mouth opportunities to pay the bills (granted, I've got a place to stay here in Southern California for the time being, which helps minimize costs significantly). But when it comes to marketing oneself, the most invaluable thing I've learned is simply that: Go market yourself. Don't try to formulate a specific trajectory for your business ventures and aspirations. Rather, be upfront about what it is you do, and why it is you do it. There's a niche for just about every combination of skills under the sun, even if a specific project or client only utilizes one or two of the many things you do. Would it be nice to settle down and focus on one aspect of my business? Sure, I guess. But I've also been in situations where a photography client, for example, has chosen me over the competition simply because they thought it was cool that I also write musicals. And who knows? Maybe someday, some random big shot producer will be in need of a photographer/composer/web designer to work on a bizarre project, and I'll be just the man for the job!