Going Freelance: 6 Weeks In

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The new year is here and in just six weeks of trading as a freelance web designer, I’ve already learnt a lot to take into 2011 and many plans to take action upon. With Christmas out of the way, I’m looking forward to really start focusing hard on making my business a success.

What I’ve Been Doing this Month

Christmas

This month, as every month, I’ve had lots to do, and for the first time, I’ve not been able to fit everything in! Christmas made things difficult too. Mainly the fact that I was working whilst everyone else was eating chocolate and watching bad movies made it difficult to feel motivated and I didn’t get as much done as I’d have liked.

Having started trading last month, it was crucial to start getting work this month. I managed to find some work although it wasn’t the type of work I was expecting so my schedule got out of shape. As such, I haven’t been able to blog for the last three weeks but at the same time, I have managed to finish my new website redesign which hopefully, you’ll find makes reading the blog easier — and there’s some new features thrown in too!

Getting Work

In last month’s diary entry, I mentioned that although I had opened my business, I wasn’t going to take on or try to get work for three weeks to give myself the chance to finish my website redesign. Having done that, I started looking for work and to be honest, I didn’t know where to start! It’s a nerve racking time, everyone you know will ask how things are going and having to say you haven’t got work yet is always demoralising.

I started adding myself to directories such as Google Business and Thomson Local. I also came across this handy post: 15+ Great Ways to find Web Design and Development Work and I signed up to some of the services mentioned.

A friend mentioned Freelancer.co.uk to me which I signed up for and I started applying for a few jobs. I didn’t really put a huge amount of effort into it because I wasn’t completely sold on the type of work it’d get me.

Freelancer.co.uk is most likely not a website I will continue to use (especially as outsourcing isn’t a part of my plan) but it actually got me some work with a professional agency that provided extensive briefs and were understanding when I needed to charge more for work outside the scope of the initial brief.

A lot of Freelancer.co.uk’s projects seem to ask for a lot for a ridiculously low price and what’s more, there are a lot of freelancers willing to do this work for the low price. I may have been lucky or it might just take some sifting to find the good projects that have sensible budgets. If you’re looking for work on Freelancer.co.uk, I recommend you stick to your guns, quote a price you feel is reasonable for the amount of work that is required. I believe this is what got me work. Out of 85 bidders and with no feedback (because I was new to the site) I won the project based on honesty and sensible pricing.

Having won the project, I got to work, communicated with the client a lot and quickly completed it to their satisfaction. They were actually so pleased, they gave me another two projects that led up to Christmas. It’s put me in a good position for starting this new year, it means I have some extra cash to invest into further advertising my business.

Advertising

Business Cards

I got my business cards printed whilst I was in the process of redesigning my website. 250 400gsm cards for £55 over at solopress.com, I mainly chose them because they were able to deliver them within two days and I wanted to get them quick for taking to some business workshops. In the future I will most likely choose a different printer as I wasn’t particularly pleased with how the colour came out on the cards but the difference between printed and what I was expecting was minimal. They got a good response when I handed them out at the workshop though, so I was pleased.

I also spoke to Thomson Local and the Yellow Pages regarding getting adverts in their books. As yet, I have not taken up advertising with them. Both are more expensive than I was expecting. I was told by both that prices aren’t fixed and change often but just so you can get a good idea of what to expect to pay, here’s what I was offered:

Yellow Pages

**Package 1 (£959) **Yellow Pages 53mm x 49mm Ad Yell.com Medium Weight Ad 118-247 Ad SEO Page (targeted at Google)

**Package 2 (£589) **Yellow Pages 24mm x 49mm Ad Yell.com Medium Weight Ad SEO Page

Prices quoted for one year.

Thomson Local

Package 1 (£299) Promoted ThomsonLocal Ad Online Ad in Thomson Local Directory Bolded Listing in Thomson Local Directory SEO Page

Package 2 (£199) Basic ThomsonLocal Ad Online Bolded Listing in Thomson Local Directory SEO Page

For the Thomson Local packages, I was being offered 23 months online for the price of 12 due to the fact that my local directory gets printed in November (so I just missed out on the print).

For both companies, I was dubious about the SEO pages they were offering, especially Thomson Local. It was explained to me that Google have partnered up with Thomson Local for generating business details on Google Maps. I was talking to the classic sales man who was happy to lie to get a sale which put me off a little bit and I wasn’t completely sold on what he was telling me was achievable SEO wise. He tried to say that having an SEO page on Thomson Local would get me higher in Google’s search, which I don’t doubt but there’s no guarantee as to how much higher I would get.

I decided not to go with any of the packages offered by these companies. Going with either would mean I’d only need one client to make the investment worthwhile so definitely in the future it makes sense. That said, for the time being I’d like to get my feet on the ground before going ahead. As yet, I’ve not done any SEO towards my site, so I’d really like to see how far I can get with that before using other means to boost my search engine position.

Attending Business Workshops

This month I had two more business workshops to attend, run by BusinessLink. They were the last two in a series that help start ups get a good amount of information on running a business. I’ve always found the events to be helpful although the more I did, the more they seemed to cover the same topics. These last two, pretty much covered what I had already learnt in previous workshops. However, it wasn’t wasted time because it’s a great chance to meet people in a similar situation and as a web designer, getting to meet so many start ups is ideal. I distributed my business cards as usual, as well as meeting another web design company that may be a good contact in the future. They expressed an interest in using my services for some outsourcing — again, I’m not certain this is a path I want to continue to follow but it’s good just to have options available.

Unfortunately, due to Government cut backs, I was told that BusinessLink workshops are no longer available. However, BusinessLink continue to offer phone support and I believe they are trying to get the workshops funded again. If you are a start up, I recommend you call them and see how they can help.

Feelings Toward the Month

Pleased About

Jumping a Hurdle

I think I’ve jumped two big hurdles now; starting a business and getting my first work. It’s a start but there’s still a long way to go!

I am glad my new website is now up (although I still have some additional pages to add). Hopefully, it will sell my services much better than previous ones have. The blog is now more manageable and hopefully more usable for you, the reader. Let me know what you think, I’d love to hear your opinion and ideas.

Over these next few days I have a few last items on the todo list that will be the end of “setting up” and I’ll be really glad to concentrate solely on getting clients on producing great work.

Regrets

My big regret for this month, is not having time to blog. My blogging is something that I hope will get me work in the future and I was really disappointed I couldn’t find the time to do it this month. The down time was used to improve the website though so hopefully now the blog is updated, I can start publishing the best content I have ever published and really get a strong following going.

What I’ve Learnt

Be Honest and Reasonable with Pricing As I was saying when I mentioned the first project I got, I believe I won the project because of my sensible price. I detailed each task needed to complete the project and gave a time for each task accordingly. I didn’t reduce my prices just to win the bid.

Write a List of Why You are Doing what You Do When you first start your business, getting work overshadows everything else. Sometimes, a job might come a long that doesn’t fit the services you offer (although you can do it) or doesn’t match the strategic business plan you painstakingly developed. It’s difficult at times to know whether you should take that job or not. With a list of why you are doing what you do though, it can be made simpler. Your list is a constant reminder of why you chose to be in the position you’re in and what you need to do to get to the position you want to be.

I came up with this idea when I took on the outsourcing work. It’s not a part of my plan and although I earnt some money from it, it’s probably not going to further my career. The extra work meant I couldn’t write my blog (which I intend to get work from in the future) and the work I did for the client can’t be put into my portfolio. I have since wrote my list and have found it’s helped me make decisions better since.

Plans for the Following Month

  • Add the last few pages to my website (pages that hopefully sell my services better)
  • Start search engine optimising website
  • Advertise locally and get first client
  • Focus on publishing strong content for blog

You get Your Say too!

Remember, you get your say too! Whilst my diary is purely about what I’ve been doing to become a successful freelance web designer, I’d like to hear your experiences too. Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation to myself but took a slightly different path or made a different decision. Let me know! I’d also like to hear your comments and questions that I may feature in future entries too.

Written by Ian Lunn

is a WordPress & Front-end Developer producing high quality responsive websites and exceptional user experience. Author of CSS3 Foundations and creator of Hover.css & Sequence.js.

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