In the third of five interviews with web designers and developers who are self employed I chat with Darren Miller. I got to know Darren whilst working at TMB on an event based video game for HP. Darren is a new media designer and developer.
Nathan: So what was it that made you decide to ‘go it alone’?
Darren: Not a sit-and-think-about-it decision by any means. On returning from a year away I found it incredibly hard to either find a permanent job or commit myself to the daily commute. So I took a few freelance jobs – mainly working from home. Suddenly a year had passed and I was getting by just fine.
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?
Darren: No plan at all. I borrowed a computer from my Dad, a spare room from a friend, sent out a few letters and just got on with it.
Nathan: On your first day did you do a shed load of work or just play PlayStation?
Darren: Due to my circumstances at the time (work shy hippy), my first day was spread out over about six months. I just gradually noticed I was watching less Columbo and doing more work.
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?
Darren: My hourly rate is based on a few phone calls to agencies to get a feel for the going rate. I’m still not sure I charge enough…
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?
Darren: There’s been a few times in the last two years I’ve thought “I must get some new business” and start to look into doing a mailing or getting on the phone. Every time I think that my phone starts ringing with work offers and doesn’t stop for days!
I guess the lesson there is do a good job for people and they’ll come back for more.
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?
Darren: Depends on work load but I’ll usually do my emails and admin before getting stuck into paid work. It’s also important to devote at least one day per month to getting the bills out and the money in.
h3. 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?
Darren: I’d find it very hard to work any other way. The ability to take time off whenever you feel do to whatever you enjoy is worth so much. The price you pay for that is some unusual working hours sometimes!
When disaster strikes
Nathan: What’s the one single biggest disaster that you’ve had to face, and how did you deal with it?
Darren: Moving house was a fun week. NTL were late installing my broadband so I was checking emails and uploading stuff from a friends house. Then I lost my car keys so couldn’t do that either. Then the power got shut off.
I’d made sure I didn’t have much going on around the move so I got away with it through lots of smiles and excuses. Generally people are understanding if you have genuine problems but you do need to have a backup plan in the back of your mind for when things go really tits up.
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?
Darren: Retired would be nice – but sadly unlikely. I’d like to think I’d be doing something completely different in ten years. Programming is good at paying the bills but it’s hardly a fulfilling job. For now I’m happy enough but I always have an eye and and ear out for new opportunities.
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?
Darren: Can I do two?
- Have money in the bank.
The worst thing that could happen to me is for work to dry up to the extent that I have to get a real job. By having a few months cash to hand you buy yourself time to get new business and avoid having to take this drastic measure!
- Get a good accountant.
Unless you enjoy filling in corporation tax returns. Personally the very thought of it makes me want to kill myself.