Get it in writing

It’s been a while since my last post and there have been several factors influencing this. First, and foremost was a spout of writers block and not having much to actually write about. And secondly I have been super busy with my main project at the moment.

One thing that I have come across several times while freelancing is the “Moving of Goalposts” by the client. This is not only with my own clients, but I see it frequently with the creative agency I share my desk with. So this lead me to write some of my musing about this potentially touchy and taboo subject.

Get it in writing

As the post title suggests, this is the number one rule when working with other businesses or people. The reason for this is to not only protect yourself, but also to protect your client. Having the agreed work written down in plain English makes it easier for both parties to understand what is expected. This doesn’t always have to be a formal written contract which hundreds of solicitors have gone over with a fine tooth comb to make watertight. This makes sense if you are working on multi-million pound/dollar contracts, but for most freelancers a simple document explaining what work is being asked for and detailing out what work will be delivered and by what date is all you need. This document is in effect a working contract between you and the client but more importantly it gives you all the ammunition you need to protect yourself.

For example; Yourself and a client agree to deliver a three page website by 16th December 2013. On the 6th December the client says the website should actually be five pages but should still be ready for 16th December. What do you do?

Here’s two examples of situations you’ll end up in depending on your written agreements.

No written agreement: You are left in an awkward situation where you have already started working on the website, but now the client has asked for more pages; which means more work. They’ve not agreed to increase the budget, but if you refuse to do the work then you’re putting yourself at risk of not being paid at all. So you end up having to agree to do all the extra work for no extra money just to ensure payment. You’re left feeling sad and slightly taken advantage of. And you’re also skint and eating beans on toast for the rest of the month.

Detailed written agreement: You are left in an awkward situation where you have already started working on the website, but now the client has asked for more pages which means more work. You consult the written agreement between yourself and the client and you see that a three page website was what had been quoted for and agreed. You then show the written agreement to the client and present the argument that this wasn’t what you had both agreed. Of course you want your client to be happy so you agree to do the extra work, but they would have to increase there budget in accordance to the original quote to take into account the extra work. Otherwise, yourself and the client should stick to what was originally agree to in the document else it puts the project at risk of not being completed by the agreed date. The client acknowledges that they originally asked for three pages, but they REALLY need the two extra pages, and because they need them, they agree to the extra budget. You’re left feeling a little bit stressed from the negotiations, but you’re left with a bit more work, and ultimately a bit more cash. You still eat beans on toast as you’re a scrooge and don’t like spending money.

You may think that I am taking a dig at clients and I’m trying to make them out to be evil, sadistic and fickle people. But I assure you I completely understand the situations from the clients point of view. Every single person on this planet tries to get as much as they can from the money they spend. But also, projects are living, breathing beings. They can change from day to day and what they need may change drastically. This is why it’s just as important for the client to have the agreement as it is the freelancer. It brings focus the client’s project. If they have agreed to three pages, and the project then requires five, it will persuade them to look long and hard at those two new pages and help them decide if they do REALLY need them.

I wish that was the way every project ran but of course every situation is different. There are politics, feelings and sometimes friendships to take into account which are huge grey areas when working on design and development projects. (Sadly, I’ve seen many a project being driven by the politics rather than the requirements and it never ends well. Never). But, if you are working as a freelancer your one of your priorities is getting paid. Those 36ft speed yachts and diamond encrusted grills aren’t going to pay for themselves!

Seriously though, you need to make sure you get paid, but you also need to make sure you’re not overworked. If every project you had overran by just 10% then you would need 13 months in the year to be able to fit it all in.

Protect yourself, and your client. If you’re overworked, stressed and underpaid then your work will suffer for it. And ultimately you’re clients will suffer too. Get it in writing.

 

What a week for freelance!

Well this week has sure been a very interesting one for my freelance work.

At the beginning of the week things were looking a little bit ropey. I had very few jobs on the go and despite all my twittering and emailing potential clients nothing seemed to be materialising. Being in Bristol I thought getting freelance web design work would be pretty straight forward as the city is a huge creative hub. Turns out it’s not as straight forward as I first though. Not because the work isn’t there, it’s just trying to find it can be a bit of a mine-field.

However, by Wednesday this week I had completed the development on the One Health Physiotherapy website, I had a new little job from friends down the corridor working on something very different from my past work and I have also managed to land a large contract working on a very exciting project. My feelings today about freelance are, shall we say, a bit more positive than they were at the beginning of the week!

Admittedly I have to echo the old saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” that helps you in business. However, just because you don’t know someone who can give you work today, it doesn’t mean you won’t know them tomorrow. I was lucky enough to meet the guys at Atomic Smash because I rent a desk in the Hype & Slippers office. If I wasn’t doing this I would never have met them, and would never have got the work from them. The same goes for the work I’ve done with Hype & Slippers too.

So as I’m a week-and-a-bit into freelancing; obviously I now consider myself and expert in the field and so I’m now going to part some words of wisdom for anybody else looking to take the plunge. (I really don’t consider myself an expert. I was joking! Geesh!)

  1. Don’t work from home if you can afford it. Rent a desk somewhere. 
    Not only does this get you out of the house and away from talking to the cat all day, it also forces you into meeting new people. You never know if these people will give you work or not, but you can be sure that if you never meet them they never will.
  2. Talk to the people you do know about what it is you do and tell them that you’re looking for projects.
    I know this may sound odd or even a bit of a no-brainer, but I have had several people I know actually ask me “What is it you do again?” which once I’ve told them they’ve said “Oh, I know someone who might need a website making”. It’s not because I don’t talk to these people that they had no idea that I am a web designer, it’s just because it’s not at the forefront of everyone else’s mind. And not everyone I have told has resulted in work. But one or two have, and that’s one or two projects I didn’t have before. So tell your friends what you do. Tell them on Facebook that you are looking for work. You never know; that old pal from primary school that you’ve been stalking on Facebook for the last year may actually work for some really influential people.
  3. Get your name out there and be positive.
    Obvious I know, but I mean REALLY get it out there. Email people, blog, use Twitter, post on Facebook, tell everyone you meet. Be persistent. Be proud. If you talk confidently enough about your work, it will reflect positively with the people that read/hear it; making them more inclined to offer you work.
    This is something I have always struggled with in the past as I always feel my past work was a bit naff and I could always do better. Well guess what!? That’s what 99.999% of graphic designers and web developers feel about their work. (If you think you’re one of the 0.001%, can you please tell me how you do it!?) But there’s nothing wrong with feeling like that. It doesn’t mean your past work is crap. It just means your future work is going to be even better. Be confident about that and not only will your work get better, but your clients will trust in you more too.

So that’s my 3 (non)expert tips on how to start out in the world of freelance. Hopefully I’ve given some of you the confidence to make it out on your own (No poaching my clients please). And remember that in a week you can easily go from having nothing, to having so much work that you’ll begin to panic about how you’re going to fit it all in!

Anyway, it’s my Stag do this weekend in Brighton. This may be my last ever post, depending on how evil my Best Man is feeling. Good luck everyone. (I feel like I should be saying that to myself!)

Happy Freelancing!

 

First Day Freelancing And Yet More Questions

My first day of official freelancing is going well. I’m 95% complete on one of my ongoing projects; which is good. I’ve also sent out some business development emails to some old colleagues and some new potential clients. I feel beginning freelancing will be like an episode of Kiefer Sutherland’s 24…slow to begin with but all the action happens later on. However, I hope I’m not left with a cliffhanger at the end of every week. That would not be good for business. But I digress.

Today I have been asked a question regarding work, to which the answer was “I know what it is, but I’ve not worked with it before” and I have noticed with regards to web development that I say this a lot. It’s not because I don’t know what I’m doing. I’d like to think I do know what I am doing, and I’d say I’m a bit of a whizz when it come to web design and web development (If I wasn’t, I doubt this website would be working and you wouldn’t be reading this blog post). But it is something I experience on an almost daily basis; a technology or service which I’ve not come across before.

There seems to be an endless number of front-end web development technologies and each time I get asked about a new one I get that ever familiar sense of impending doom and the feeling I know nothing about web design or development. I have to keep reminding myself I do know what I am doing.

It’s not like print design. In this field there is Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign as your standards. Sure there is Quark Express and Fireworks and several other tools you can use, but the print industry has aligned itself to be primarily Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. This makes working in print less complicated, and means everyone is on the same page. But I’m increasingly finding web development more complex and there seems to be no industry standard for anything. Just take a look at any web developer job board and you will see a plethora of acronyms and abbreviations, all specified in different amounts for each role.

As I decided that I am going to pursue all 3 routes (Print Design, Web Design and Web Front-end Development) with my freelance, this is loading up more questions. Which technologies should I learn? Should I concentrate on one type of CMS? Should I try to learn them all?

which-tech

Now the answer to the last question is clearly ‘No’. There is no way I could learn all of the technologies and frameworks out there. I would need 1000s of hours to do that and my brain can only hold so much. I am 30 years old you know. My brain is less spongy than when I was a young whippersnapper.

With this in mind it does mean I need to concentrate on mastering certain web technologies. I’m already decent with HTML, CSS and Javascript/jQuery and I’m getting there with SASS. My last 3 websites have been developed using WordPress as the CMS and this seems to suit me well. I have a decent understanding of it and it works well with my knowledge of PHP. So maybe being a specialist in WordPress websites is the way forward? Who knows?

The one thing I do know is that in many situations, I will need to learn on my feet. I guess that’s not a bad thing? Like they say “You learn something new every day”, and that seems to ring true even more in the world of web development.

Happy freelancing!

The Scary Leap Into Bristol Freelance.

Seven months ago I decided to move to Bristol with my beautiful fiancé Jess to embark on a scary journey of uncertainty and adventure.

At the time I had a steady full-time freelance contract working for EA Games as a Web Designer and Web Developer but Jess was approached by a large solicitors firm in Bristol. The opportunity was too great to pass up for us both. EA Games were comfortable with me working remotely, and Jess was ready for the next phase in her career. So we moved to Bristol.

And it is the best thing we’ve done in our lives so far.

Bristol is an incredible city. It has such a relaxed vibe about it. There are more pubs, coffee shops and vintage markets than you can shake a stick at and to me it feels like London, but with all the crap bits of London taken out [Being too big, being unfriendly and being too smelly]. We love it here.

So seven months in I’ve found myself a place to rent in an office in Temple Meads, I’ve met some awesome new friends, and I’ve worked on some pretty cool stuff.

But four weeks ago I got notification from EA Games that they are centralising all their design and development work in the USA, so unfortunately it means no more steady work for me. Bummer, but C’est la vie!

So this obviously got me asking some pretty scary questions. Do I find a new job? Or, do I take the scary leap into full freelance? Getting a full time job would be the default answer, but I’ve enjoying working on interesting and varied projects over the past few months. And I’ve met several good people that believe I can be a good freelancer. So I did it. I made the decision.

I’m going full freelance.

So in less that seven days time, my EA Games contract ends and I become a fully fledged Freelance Web & Print Graphic Designer and Front-end Web Developer.

In the past three weeks I’ve already come across some interesting dilemmas. Such as, should I concentrate on web development, or should I put all my efforts into design? If I concentrate on just design do I try and specialise in print, which is where my background is in, or do I aim for web perfection – as I have been doing for the last year and half?

Print, Web or Development? Hmmm…

I thought long and hard about it. There are several pros and cons for each route. But there was one route that posed a lot of questions, but not many answers.

Why not do all three?

Could I? Has anyone else tried it before? I thought you have to specialise in one for people to take you seriously? Does it even make sense? Well, I mulled over these questions for some time and from all my internal arguing the only answer I could come up with was – Why not? I enjoy doing all three. Of course each one has its annoyances (Look up ‘Black in Print’ for example), but each one is equally as satisfying when you get to the end result. There’s nothing I love more than designing a website for a client and have them love the design, but I love it even more when I can code the thing and have it perform the way I like it too. And it’s not just my designs I love working with. When you get to work with someone else’s seriously cool artwork and bring it to life in the form of a website, I get such a buzz. Because of this I decided I should try and work as all three, after-all I’m increasing my market and giving me more opportunity to work on really cool stuff.

So there it is. The scary leap. I’ve made my bed and now I have to lie in it. Now onward and upwards…I hope.

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