Starting Out in New York City

I was so excited to see the beautiful skyline of Manhattan that I forgot to film my plane’s descent into JFK airport. It was certainly an “adventure,” and when I write “adventure” in quotation marks, I meant it was quite a “learning experience.”

Fortunately, I only had my backpack and my big bag filled with my photo/film equipment. I was going to meet someone in the city, but I didn’t know any place in New York so I told her (my now current flatmate) to meet me in Times Square. Because that’s the only place I knew.

I ended up taking the wrong train and long story cut short, I ended up lost in a place called Jamaica, Queens. At the time, all I wanted to do was click my heels, close my eyes and say “there’s no place, like home. There’s no place like home. Take me back to Barcelona!”

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But I found some nice people who helped me out with the fare and helped me get on the right path to Times Square. It was definitely quite an experience for someone who’s only gone as far as Lisbon, when it comes to international travel.

So here I am in Nueva York. The Big Apple. The place where you get that “empire state of mind.” The birthplace of Yankee baseball and the pizza pie.

I have to admit it’s a daunting place, and much, much bigger than my old hometown of Barcelona. Everything is so big here – from the pizza slices to the wide avenues in Manhattan. Someone who just arrived here like myself would easily be intimidated.

freelance in new yorkFortunately, I got a great deal and I’m sharing an apartment with another girl in a small section (barrio as we call it back home but here it’s borough) called Queens. Specifially, it’s in Astoria, Queens.

Here’s a shot of our shared kitchen:

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We have a nice 2-bedroom at a “great price” of $1,600 a month. I write it in quotation marks because any price above $0 is expensive for an unemployed person like myself. Fortunately, I’m sharing the flat with a girl whose Mom owns the place. It’s highly subsidized because her Mom wants her to “learn how to live like everyone else” and “pay rent like everyone else.”

She complains that she should have it for free, but I think for $800 a month I got no complaints! Based on what I’ve seen online and on Craigslist, the $800 is a bargain for anyone living 4-5 stops from the heart of Manhattan.

But again herein lies the problem. I’m not employed so $800 is not a bargain when you’re not making any dineros – you know what I’m saying compadre?

To make matters worse, I’m not into working in an office. My father was an accountant for forty years, working for the local gas company in Barcelona. It was a good job, and he’s now living a comfortable life with his comfy pension.

But I remember as a kid how dull and boring his office was. It just outside the city limits of Barcelona and he had this dingy office that would make smiley faced clown into a black and white mute mummer. During the time with my Dad in his office, I’ve concluded the following things:

  • Office jobs are depressing
  • Office jobs get you addicted to stale coffee
  • Office jobs make you smell like stale cigarettes
  • Office jobs make you lose your eyesight (Dad never wore glasses before working at the gas company)
  • Office jobs make you think you’re paid well (but not!)

Since then, I vowed I would never work as an accountant. I’d never, ever work in an office.

So that’s how I got into freelancing as an artist. I do photo. I make films. I get paid to write engaging content (you’re still reading right? Ha!). I learned to scrape a living in Barcelona, and earned enough to pursue my artistic (Hollywood!) ambitions in the U.S. So here I am.

I’m going to stick with what’s worked for me and I’m gonna be a freelancer in New York. The only hard question is:

How to get started as a freelancer in New York?

The fastest method to get started, which will work in any corner of the world, is to find jobs online. I went back to what I know best. I know I can write blogs (DM on Twitter for my rates!) and create engaging content. I’ve done SEO for companies in Spain and I’ve also written scripts for film students back home.

The great thing about writing is it can be done anywhere. All you need is a trusty lap top and an Internet connection. So I opened an account with Fiverr and writing 200-400 word blog posts for $5. Now, this won’t pay the rent but it does pay for lunch and dinner. It’s enough but definitely not something long term.

As they say (I don’t know where but perhaps in a movie?), it’s not what you know but who you know. I’ve learned that this saying is very much true in New York, more so than anywhere else I’ve been.

I mean use my flatmate as an example. She was fortunate enough to have a mother who owns a couple of buildings in Queens so she can live at a highly discounted flat. I’ve also met several artists and actresses who got started in Broadway shows because they had family friends who knew this cousin who had a brother who had an uncle… You get what I mean.

Unfortunately, expats like myself don’t get the benefit of having connections. I have to build and earn them. So that’s what I did.

I went back to the Internet and searched on Facebook and Meetup to find groups who had the same interests as me – photography, filmmaking or just making cool artistic stuff like this grafitti that my friend made:

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The great thing about New York is how helpful people have been. It seems like whenever I watch movies about New York, someone is shot, killed or mugged. Perhaps, it doesn’t help that one of my favorite movies of all times depicts gangster violence:

I’ve always had the perception that New York was all about cutthroat competition and someone trying to outdo someone else. I got the perception that all of New York was like this, but it really isn’t. You just have to look and you’ll find some decent people who will help you if you get lost on the Jamaica platform.

Anyway, I met cool people at one of these groups. One of the cool groups I’ve joined was this film co-op group that was meeting downtown. They’re all starting out filmmakers. I started to get involved – mostly as a PA to their productions. After several projects, I was referred by one of the grips to this other production company who shot this corporate project for a startup called Skymark Ventures:

It was really fun working on this project with Skymark Ventures. I got to meet the CEO, who was also an entrepreneur. He didn’t start out penny poor like me, but he did go through the hardship of trying to build a new business in New York.

He talked about going door-to-door and establishing relationships with bartenders and various vendors to sell his premium London dry gin. You might have heard of it. It’s called Bulldog London Dry Gin. Perhaps, you might have even read that he sold his business for $55 million! Holy camote! And I think I make a killing making $5 on 200 word blog posts.

But it’s great meeting this group of filmmakers and also meeting this successful entrepreneur. It gave me hope that it is possible to build a business, to be a freelancer and to be a successful entrepreneur in New York. You just need the right support and the right people to help push you along.

Now, I’ve got the film thing going on and the Fiverr gig to do on the side. However, I found that it was enough to just scrape by. New York can be tough for anyone just starting out.

This is when I busted out my secret weapon – my camera! One of the solid ways I made money in Barcelona was through wedding photography and head shot photography.

Remember all those people I met in the Meetup and Facebook groups? Many of them were actors and actresses. Now, I do a little acting myself (actually more now than before but we’ll save that for another time), and as an actress, I know the importance of having good head shots to market oneself. So I was able to convince my actor friends to get head shot photos with me.

At first, I did it for free just to get my name out there. But soon, it got around that I was a Fiverr writing, PA loving, actress and photographer extraordinaire. I started charging $50 per session (which is a huge bargain still compared to what “pros” charge out there). But that helped me get the cash flow going.

Another source of income that I’ve found was getting involved in event photography, specifically photographing weddings. This has actually been quite profitable, and 1 or 2 gigs can easily pay the rent and then some.

The only issue I’ve found with wedding photography is competing for those lucrative jobs. I signed up for this website called Thumbtack. The only problem with Thumbtack is you have to buy the right (or credits to use) to bid for the jobs, and it’s not even guaranteed that you’ll get the job. This means that you can buy credits (lose money) and not get anything out of it!

Photography I think is the best way to make money but it’s also the toughest to find any sustainable income from. Perhaps if I build an online presence, like a Twitter account and a blog, people can get a hold of me. Sounds like a good idea right?!

New York is a Hustle

Now, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking I’m everywhere. I do photography. I make films. I write content for blogs. I’m into acting!

But that’s the reality of what it means to be a New Yorker. It’s a hustle man, you dig?

Nothing in life – unless you’re my flatmate – comes for free. This is actually one of my Dad’s favorite sayings, and it’s certainly true for someone trying to make it in New York. No one will hand you $55 million to start out with.

You have to hustle to make it in New York.

Especially, for people just starting out, you’ll be driving Ubers during the day and going to acting auditions at night. It means balancing 15 different Fiverr gigs while making that 3:00 PM call to shoot that short film by some unknown director. It means washing dishes, while taking classes at night.

It’s a lot of hard work.

There’s this other saying about New York: if you make it here, you can make it anywhere. Actually, I think that came from a Jay Z song. Now that I write about it, I think it came from “Empire State of Mind.”

Living in New York for the past few months have made me appreciate what this saying means. Starting out in New York means getting lost on the Jamaica platform. It means taking sucky jobs so you can work your way out of the mailroom and into the penthouses of Wall Street. It means washing dishes so you can learn from the famous chefs so you too can open your own restaurant one day.

But if you put in the work and effort, then success is inevitable in this town. I think that’s what that saying means and I definitely agree with it.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I know for sure I won’t live in New York all my life, even though I’m loving it more than the all-day, $1 breakfast menu at Mcdonalds. But what I do know is that wherever I end up, I’ll be ready for it.

If you like this post and need content for you blog, DM me on Twitter.

 

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