In the second of 5 interviews with web designers and developers who are self employed I chat with Jon Hicks. I’ve never ‘actually’ met Jon, but he’s a fellow Brit and makes his money off the back of some one man venture called ‘“Hicksdesign”:http://www.hicksdesign.co.uk’…
you’ve probably not heard of him, it’s not like he did the Firefox logo or anything
Nathan: So what was it that made you decide to ‘go it alone’?
Jon: There were a few factors:
- My job was going to become progressively more project management (I was a designer for an educational publishers that hired other freelancers), and I wanted to keep doing the creative stuff for a bit longer.
- I’d always fancied starting my own business. I went on a government run day-course on how to start your own business to see if I thought I could do it, and it was very encouraging.
- The real catalyst was having our first child, and I wanted to look after her for at least one day a week. Part-time design jobs are hard to come by, but freelancing would give me the flexibility to do that.
Ch ch ch ch changes
Nathan: How did you prepare for the change in employment, did you ‘do it proper like’ and write a formal business plan before you started?
Jon: I wrote up a ‘mission statement’ – what I wanted to do, and what I needed to do to achieve that. This statement changed later – but it doesn’t matter, it got me started. I registered for VAT in advance (so that I could claim back all the VAT on equipment that I would buy in the first year), and worked out a price per hour.
Also – try and save up 3 months pay before you do it. Even if you get work on day one, its going to be a while before you get paid, and you need that buffer to be safe.
Nathan: On your first day did you do a shed load of work or just play PlayStation?
Jon: A shed load of work believe it or not! I had some jobs lined up ready (fortunately!) and its hasn’t stopped since.
Nathan: If you charge by the hour, how did you decide on your hourly rate? Did you pluck a figure from the air or work out a rate based on the salary you required?
Jon: Based on 2 things. First working out expenses/costs for the first year (obviously this is a guess when you’re starting off), how many hours I intended to work and how much profit I wanted (say 50%). From that you can work out how much you need to charge to cover your expenses and profit. Its also based on current market rates, and I gauged whereabouts I should place myself with my skills & experience.
Each year, don’t forget to increase your costs. Inflation rises, and you have to follow it to stay in business.
Nathan: What about marketing then… do you advertise your services in local rags, wear a short skirt and tout yourself on street corners or just rely on word of mouth?
Jon: Me in a short skirt? Ugh, that wouldn’t help anybody!
I expected to have to do a lot of advertising, but everything (and I do mean everything!) has come from Word of Mouth. Even before I got a blog (which opened up more possibilities) I got all my work from happy customers passing my details on. It’s the best form of advertising.
Nathan: How does your average work day pan out? For example do you have specific times during which you respond to prospects and clients, read blogs and eat biscuits, or do you just go with the flow?
Jon: Answering email enquiries is a huge time sucker, as are RSS feeds. My structure is generally;
Get into work. Check emails, and respond to any urgent ones.
Quit my email app and RSS reader – work until lunchtime, with wee breaks to stretch every hour.
Read RSS feeds over lunch, then quit out again.
Mid-afternoon is my worst time. Energy is low, feeling sleepy, so I often take a walk at this point to clear my head and think through problems.
Evening – respond to emails and a bit more work.
The day is also punctuated with copious cups of tea, or diet coke. I don’t have any specific time that I talk to clients – its whenever I or they need to. I don’t change my working position as much as I should do. If you can get a desk that allows to change your working position – such as working standing for short period, thats the ideal. Try not to let your body be fixed in one position for too long.
Work and play
Nathan: Does working freelance ‘actually’ give you more free time for yourself and/or your family? Or in reality and do you actually spend every waking hour sat at the computer trying to make sure that you can pay the bills each month?
Jon: The reality for me is that I spend a lot of time working. I would have more time with the kids at the weekend if I wasn’t freelance, but at least it means your more flexible during the week.
When disaster strikes
Nathan: What’s the one single biggest disaster that you’ve had to face, and how did you deal with it?
Jon: Cashflow. You really do have to plan ahead and work out if you’re going to have enough money coming in in 3-6 months time. It wasn’t a big disaster, but it almost was. Unfortunately its very easy to ignore the accounts side – you don’t get paid to do it, its dull, and therefore it gets left to the last minute. I loathe every minute of it, but I do it.
The future (is bright hopefully)
Nathan: Being self employed you must have some ambition… where do you want your business to be in ten years time?
Jon: That would be telling! I do have some plans – I don’t want to be a lone freelancer forever, but neither do I want to go back to working for someone else! More on that in a while ;o)
Nathan: And finally, what single tip would you give to someone who is considering going freelance to help make the leap into the unknown that little less daunting?
Jon: It may be hard work and stressful at times, but the sheer satisfaction is unmissable. After a while you look back and realise that you’re doing everything yourself, and your only ‘boss’ is your client. You can’t beat that feeling – trust me! If you never make that leap, you’ll never get to experience it.