Going Freelance: Getting the Ball Rolling
And so it begins! This month I've really got into the roll of things. I've not been unemployed for long but I feel like I've taken to 9 - 5 at home like a duck to water. OK, to be honest, I'm more like a 9.45am - whatever-time-of-the-night-with-a-few-breaks-in-between guy. I'm at my desk for 9am but I tend to spend/waste some time following links on Twitter and just catching up with the web in general. The hardest thing I've found this month is simply getting started. I have lots of stuff to be getting on with so it's hard deciding what comes first.
Last month I discussed my blog schedule a little. I'm using Google Calendar to plan out when blogs are posted and when I should write entries. I've immediately found using a calendar to plan is making things less stressful. You know when you were at school and had classes to attend based on a timetable? All you had to do was turn up at a time set by someone else. Using a calendar gives you that ease of approach again. Be confident in knowing the you that laid out that plan a few days ago had good reason for doing it. Spending an hour planning everything you're going to do that week takes stress away from a time when it's important your mind is clear - when you're about to produce some top quality work!
I actually found scheduling my blog posts to be so effective, I also scheduled my work flow too. Yes, sometimes things don't go to plan and the Calendar doesn't account for having a bad day where I shouldn't have bothered getting out of bed but rescheduling is a simple case of moving a few blocks around and maybe putting in a bit of extra time at night or on the weekend.
I had a little debate with myself whether to release my blog schedule or not just in case I get tardy but the point of this diary is to share with people in a similar situation -- and putting the extra pressure on myself will hopefully keep me on track more. So, without further ado! My initial plan was to release 2 posts a month, but 24 posts a year didn't sound too impressive. I thought having a two week gap between posts would cause a reader's enthusiasm to dissipate. I am truly passionate about the web and feel there's plenty of topics I can cover that are yet to be covered so I decided to go for a weekly post schedule and try and blow readers boots off every week!
A weekly schedule seems like quite a lot of work and maybe when I take on client work, things will get a little more stressful. I've decided though to attempt to write two weeks ahead of the post schedule, so, if I post an article today, I would have actually wrote it two weeks before. This will allow me to swap client work for writing blog posts if necessary.
Just to keep interest at a high (both mine and readers), I'll be publishing a different type of post on a Friday, each week of a month, as follows:
- Week 1: Going Freelance: A Web Designer's Diary
- Week 2: Design Tutorial
- Week 3: Article
- Week 4: Code Tutorial
I'll rinse and repeat that schedule each month. I'm yet to decide what to do should there be a 5th Friday in the month though. Any ideas?
Writing the Blog
I planned to launch my blog on the 22nd of September. The weekend of the 18th though, I applied for a two day a week search engine optimisation job (just to make the leap into self employment a little easier) so I thought it might be a good idea to launch a little earlier in case the employer looked at my website. I explained in my application that I had experience in writing a blog to build exposure and gain incoming links etc. I have done this in the past with a good level of success but unfortunately, it was for a company I used to work for that is no longer trading, and thus, the website is no longer online.
I told myself there is no time like the present and feeling a little nervous about the launch anyway, decided a soft launch (not making a huge deal out of things) was maybe better. So, on the 20th of September, I published my first tutorial, BBC News jQuery Map.
In my planning, I decided I should spend a day writing a blog post, leaving four days for "actual" work -- rather than something that's just going to get me work. This first post, probably took me two days! I guess it's because the blog is new so I still needed to make tweaks to that along with writing the jQuery and the write up for the tutorial.
I also wrote the first two entries in "Going Freelance: A Web Designer's Diary". As this wasn't an idea that I had on day one of becoming unemployed, it meant I had some catching up to do so I wrote the diary intro on the 22nd, then the first entry on the 25th. This entry you are reading now has been published on the second Friday of October, but after this, I will publish the diary on the first Friday of every month.
Each diary entry is probably also taking the majority of a full day. It seems quite a lot of time for not many words but I also make 3 or 4 images for each entry then have the social media aspect of advertising what I've written too.
So this month, blogging for me has been about catching up with the blogging schedule I want to produce. I feel like I'm on a roll with blogging now so hopefully the time each entry is currently taking will drastically be reduced.
Aside from lots of blog work this month, I've been continuing with my activity on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. I've also made a few posts on Forrst which I have to say, is a great service for designers and developers. The community is fantastic and what's more, Forrst was actually the best traffic source to my website this month. I'll definitely continue to use Forrst in the coming months, not for the traffic but for the great feedback the community has to offer. I strongly recommend you check it out.
Toward the end of this month, I went to another Business Link workshop (the first one I discussed last month). This was a full day workshop that went further into becoming self employed than last month's did.
It was hosted in an awful looking hotel in Paignton, Devon filled with hundreds of old people. Myself and about 15 other people were attending, in a large conference room that had a big chandelier hanging in the centre. I sat next to the one guy you always get at these types of events -- the type you see come through the door and pray they don't sit by you, he did. Every time somebody walked through the room/hallway/whatever it was above us, the chandelier shook and this guy just had to comment on how the old people were doing certain things above to cause it. Every time!
Aside from that, it was a helpful workshop. I decided when I do officially become self employed to do it as a Sole Trader. I was originally dubious of being a Sole Trader because it means if things don't go well, you are liable to pay back debts but the speaker said not to be concerned about that because as long as I have a good cash flow forecast, it's not hard to wrap up the company before things get out of hand. My only other business type option was a Limited Company; this is harder to set/wrap up, costs money to do so and means I would probably have to pay more tax. The upside to a Limited Company is that you are not personally liable for any debts though.
The speaker recommended I go see several different accountants to find which one can do the best for me. The speaker from last month's workshop said an accountant tends to pay for themselves based on what money they can save you so I will definitely be seeing a few next month.
We also covered insurance which is something I hadn't really thought about and need to look in to further. If a client is to visit me, I'd need to be insured in case they had an accident in my house. I will also need to consider Professional Indemnity Insurance which I will look into next month and write about should I need it.
I think the biggest lesson from this workshop is that cash flow forecasting is crucial. I lost my last two web related jobs because cash flow was badly managed so keeping close control over it will be something I am sure to make imperative.
Talking to a Potential Client
As I'm not self employed yet and still putting things into place, I'm not yet taking clients on. However, this month I actually got a call from some guys I worked with in a previous job. We discussed between 1 and 3 weeks worth of work, to be done in the coming months. The guys are currently working in-house but have plans to start taking on client work in the future, which -- providing I prove myself -- could lead to more work in the future.
It should be a good start to my self employment and will hopefully open a few extra doors and get the ball rolling!
On the client front, I am still undecided on how and who I want to approach. Ideally I want to work with big clients who understand what is achievable on the web but obviously, not having much of a name yet, that's not going to happen straight away.
I think to begin with I will see how things go locally just to get projects coming in which will allow me to concentrate on personal projects such as this blog and a few other goodies (coming soon!) that will hopefully gain me much more of a presence on the web.
I may also give Google Adwords a little go seeing as I have some free credit with them.
Next month I'll be working on my business plan which should clear up my approach to clients.
Feelings Toward the Month
I think this month has gone well. I'm slowly making friends online with people that are expressing interest in what I'm doing. The month has gone well overall and I'm pretty much pleased with the way everything has happened.
It's not really a regret from this month but something that is playing on my mind. I was never too keen on my new website design but I think now I am producing content, it's maybe getting to me a little more. I think the whole serif look is something that I dislike. I'd rather go with a cleaner, sans-serif layout and really let the content do the talking.
What I’ve Learnt
Profitable companies go bust too! This was some advice from the speaker on the Business Link workshop. It's not just unprofitable companies that can go bust, but profitable ones too! It's crucial you keep a cash flow forecast because one bad month can close an other wise profitable company.
Scheduling/planning takes away stress A lot of stress seems to revolve around "what to do/when". Having a schedule takes that stress away and allows you to concentrate on just getting the work done.
Plans for the following month
- Write business plan and schedule a date for becoming self employed
- Keep up dedication to blog and social media presence
- Speak to a few accountants to see if it's worth going with one
- Launch free WordPress theme for extra exposure
- Look into funding for self employed people
- Design business cards
Resources I found helpful
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 consultant, 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.