Going Freelance: Open for Business

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Ian Lunn Design is now open for business! Part 1 of my little diary synopsis has been completed: “Each month, Ian writes an entry detailing his journey from unemployment to becoming a successful, full-time Freelance Web Designer”. I am now a full-time self employed freelance web designer. All that’s left is the success part! Ok, that’s the real hard part but one step at a time.

What I’ve Been Doing this Month

Opening the Doors

Last month I wrote that getting started was frustratingly taking a little longer than expected. I had to wait a while to get funding from the Job Centre and they were being their usual selves — not able to give clear answers. I went to my appointment expecting to have to wait another week before being able to start up but just because I felt confident I was ready to start and was itching to get going, I took my business plan with me. As usual, my printer decided it wasn’t going to play so instead of printing it in good time at home, I ended up getting it printed on the high street just before my appointment, which cost me almost £5 for 17 pages. Rip off!

Printer Death

I showed my business plan to the advisor and it took him about 3 minutes to look through a months worth of work but that was expected. The most important part was that it showed I had really nailed my planning. He was impressed and signed me up for self employment credits so I officially started the day after (the 16th).

Once I came out of the appointment I was really pleased although nervous. I spent the last three months preparing but the fact that I still had lots of preparation to do hit me pretty hard. Since then I’ve been working long hours and weekends too.

Finishing off Preparations

Redesigning my Website

So my metaphorical doors are open and I can now officially trade although at the moment I’m not marketing or pursuing any clients because I’ve still got some preparations to finish. My self employment began on the 16th so I gave myself two weeks to get everything done and then really start pushing for work. The day of writing this (30th November 2010) is the two week deadline and I’m a little behind schedule! It’s not for the lack of trying, it’s just certain things have taken longer than expected.

The biggest thing I want to finish is my new website redesign. I feel the current design is really not how I want to be percieved and it’s not what I want to show clients. I designed it before I wrote my business plan which was a mistake. Because of that, it feels conflicted and I never really found my feet, I didn’t know who or what I was aiming at. I am a strong believer in “start as you mean to go on” so before I take on custom, I am going to finish my website design.

[Website - Rough Draft]1

First draft of new design (decided not to use it)

If you follow me on Twitter, you may know that my new design caused some controversy. It’s the reason I’m a week behind on my launch schedule. I personally, really liked the design I had, it was unique and used anatomy as a metaphor to help sell the message I wanted to convey. I showed it to my friends on Facebook as well as the web design community on Forrst. The feedback was mixed; some people thought it was too risky because the anatomy theme didn’t relate to web design, whilst other people liked it’s uniqueness and thought the message could be really effective provided the content was strong enough to support the metaphor. I believed in it and agreed with the latter group, it could work providing it had really strong copy to convey the message.

I spent a few days thinking about it and really struggled to leave the idea behind just because I believed in it so much. My decision was eventually based on two factors; the price of professional copy and simplicity.

I got some quotes for professional copy, asking for only the minimum amount of words I would need for the design to work because, as a start-up, my budget for outsourced work is slim. I got good quotes but I decided that if I was going to get professional copy, it shouldn’t be spread thin over the top of my own copy just because I couldn’t afford to get the entire website done. So, I looked around the web for new inspiration and I quickly reminded myself that it doesn’t have to be complex and clever to work, simplicity is always the best way.

[New website design]2

New website design in progress

I stripped what design I had right down to the bare grid layout of content. I scrapped the anatomy theme altogether and just really started concentrated on selling myself and my skills (which is what my friends were screaming all along — keep it simple). I’m currently in the process of finishing off my website and hope to launch it this coming Tuesday which will only put me 1 week behind schedule.

Formalities!

With a new business comes paperwork! These past two weeks since starting self employment I’ve been signing lots of paperwork and getting various services set up.

I have set up my business bank account with Natwest. In my Business Link workshops I was advised several times to choose a different provider for my business account than the one that I have a personal account with. Unfortunately, it was never explained why, and with what Natwest were offering, I decided it was best to stick with them.

I also set up professional indemnity insurance which is necessary if you are planning to become a freelance web professional too.

Today I subscribed to FreeAgent which I will be using to hopefully make accounting easier. I’ve scheduled an hour every week just to make sure I keep this up to date. I’ll upload the previous weeks bank statement every Tuesday and explain each transaction so it makes life easier in the future when I come to filling out my self assessment form.

I also need to finish off paperwork that I will use for my own clients. This paperwork includes: a contract, quote template, invoice template and a client worksheet that will help to establish the goals a client wants to achieve.

Overwork

Yes, I have a week to finish the design for a website, code it up, write a load of document templates, oh, and get my business cards printed too! I’ll be working this weekend for sure.

Feelings Toward the Month

Pleased About

I’m actually doing it! I’ve started! I think (and hope) that this first month will be the last month of arduous planning and preparing. Next month I will hopefully be writing about the steps forward I’ve taken and all the ideas I’ve had to hold back during this set up stage will begin to flourish.

This month I have had a chance to create lots, specifically things for my new website design and it has been great to share it with the web community, in particular, Forrst. I can’t say enough about that website, it’s great to meet like-minded people and their feedback always helps to improve on what you have. I look forward to much more social networking in the future.

Regrets

My only regret is the fact that I’m a week behind my schedule. I could have chosen to continue with the first draft of my website design to stay on track but the fact that the feedback was mixed, meant I wanted to restart. It’s crucial I get off on the right foot and I feel, in time, small decisions like this, grow exponentially to become big decisions in retrospect.

What I’ve Learnt

Plans Sometimes Slip I’m not going to beat myself up about being a week behind schedule, it’s for good reason — to finish with a better result. I think for the future, it’s going to be important to consider adding some extra time to my plans for factors such as thinking time (it’s crucial for a designer) and hardware/software issues too. I’d never charge a client for the hours where I might be struggling with an application because it’s determined not to let me save as PDF (thanks for that Photoshop!) but nonetheless, it’s important to remember these things do happen at times and a contingency plan is always worthwhile.

You Need Time to Think Since officially becoming self employed, I’ve been working super hard – way beyond 9 – 5. That isn’t bothering me because I’m passionate about what I do so the time flies. I am trying to cram a lot of things in to that time though and the one thing I feel I am forgetting to do is THINK! Doesn’t sound too important but as a creative person, it’s crucial you give yourself time to think and evaluate.

Overworking Doesn’t Mean Over Achieving As I said, I’m working long hours at the moment because I’ve got a really big to-do list. I’ve got hundreds of ideas bursting to come to life too, but they are being put on hold until I get through the crucial stuff on the to-do list.  I think I have quickly learnt that sitting at the computer from 9am – 10pm doesn’t mean that more work is going to get done.

This sits hand in hand with needing time to think. Working long hours makes your thinking fuzzy. I am yet to practice what I am about to preach but I recommend that you work sensible hours with plenty of long breaks. Sometimes I will have a 15 minute lunch. Working like this leads you to procrastination and a tired mind. It’s probably better to work a few hours, have a good break, then a few hours more and don’t work the weekends, it’s important to refresh your mind and get the time to take in some inspiration.

Plans for the Following Month

  • Finish and launch my new website
  • Get business cards printed
  • Attend Business Link workshops (will tell all in next months diary entry)
  • Start marketing and obtaining client work
  • Research selling items on design marketplaces such as ThemeForest

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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