Free Bird

It’s now been a little over three months since I left my old design agency to work as a freelance web designer.

My decision to take on the freelance world was a relatively easy one, and I think, deep down I have always liked the feeling of taking a risk and restarting the jigsaw. As much as I appreciate the feeling of being content, it’s a feeling that soon wears off and the thrill of the challenge takes over.

Even with a few hours spare in the evening, I’m not too great at settling. In fact the only way for me to really sit there and watch something on the telly is to have a bottle of red wine at hand. So it really came as no big surprise to my friends and family that I took the plunge.

A few months before I went solo, I was witnessing Simon Collison (aka Colly) leaving Erskine Design to set up shop on his own. And as always, his account of making this decision was superbly documented on his personal blog. This was encouragement to myself, and although I am nowhere as prolific as Colly, it’s a great insight to what I could expect.

So how’s it going you may ask? Well, I’ll try my utmost to keep the smug levels to a minimum. It’s going rather bloody well!

There’s a huge gap in the web design market in Milton Keynes. That much has become apparent in the recent months. However, it’s not going to come knocking at the office door on a Monday morning begging you to design and build a website. A mixture of networking, knowing the right people and referrals is what keeps the freelancing ticking along. The more websites I design, the more referrals I get. It’s simple Maths.

The elements of fear, feeling of success mixed with the sheer enjoyment of working from home with a 12-week old puppy chewing at your feet, simply cannot be beaten. I’m stacked up with work now until the end of September with new leads coming in for October. I sometimes think, “when will all come crashing down?” but it’s this thought process that drives my business. Contentment only lasts about 15 minutes after each launch and I’m already thinking about the next project and client and wanting to produce my best work.

My advice for anyone thinking of going freelance is as follows.

Have enough work on to last at least the first six weeks and never stop networking and polishing your portfolio whilst you work on these jobs. Keep track of every invoice and receipt. You’ll be glad you did when you have to work out your tax. It’s not all just design concepts and wireframing you know. You need to get your shit together in Excel and filing your documents.

This is so important. It keeps you organised and stops you from getting lazy. Setting expectations for your client will mean you produce good quality work and the satisfaction your client will get when you produce the goods on time will mean recommendations in the future. Good project management is essential. I’ve always used Basecamp and it works well for me.

Be honest about your rates. If you have a day rate, stick to it. If you have an hourly rate, stick to it. You need to earn money to pay the bills and have a few holidays just as much as the next guy. If you charge cheaply you also run the risk of clients actually questioning why you’re so cheap. Cheap rates equals cheap standards of work to a lot of customers. Plan for each individual project and work out just how much of your time it will take. There are some useful tools to help if you really are lost.

Don’t ever overreach or try to be someone you’re not. When you pitch for work, showing a transparent way of working and an honesty about what you do will be a benefit to you. Trust me.

Be proud of what you do but always thrive to better yourself with each project. Follow the developments in the technology you use and keep a close eye on the trends. Don’t pander to the trends, but be aware of them and try to improve upon them.

So there you go. A free bird flying in the freelance world. The wind behind me and I’m not looking back. A bottle of red tonight followed by the football tomorrow. Always good to settle, even if it is just for 15 minutes.