Getting Your Freelance Business to Succeed

When looking at becoming a Freelancer (yes I dislike that term but it’s understood) you need to make sure that you have a marketable skill. Design, development, photography, writing, all translate easy to a marketable skill. Even if you have that skill there is something way more important to have or you’re not going to make it.

Marketing Savvy! Yup I said marketing which is sort of a four letter word in my dictionary.

I know 2 awesome photographers that have tried and failed to get a business off the ground all because they were bad at the marketing part. I know one marginal programmer with a great business, because he is good at marketing. It certainly doesn’t seem fair that the photographers I know can’t get a business going while a marginal programmer does well but that’s the way the cookie crumbles (name that movie).

I must admit that I’m only okay with the marketing part, at least as far as lead generation goes. Once I’ve talked to someone I normally get the work, but getting people to talk to me I find hard. Almost all of my work comes through referrals now and referrals are golden usually.

If there was one thing I could say to people starting a new business as a freelancer, it would be to take a marketing course and really dedicate yourself to marketing your business.

Motivating Yourself to Freelance and Work Fulltime

man that's a crappy office

I was recently asked what motivated me to keep working and freelance.

There was a time, about a year ago now, that I worked 40 hours a week at my full time job and 30 hours a week freelancing. Add to that the fact that we own one car and my wife finished 1 – 1.5 hours after me and my day was really long. I’d leave at 7am to get to work and sometimes not get home till 6:30 – 7pm. I’d work for my clients over my lunch hour at work and while I waited for my wife to finish work but I’d still have to work once I helped with dinner. That meant I’d work till 10pm or so every evening and be back up at 5:30am for the next day. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll also be very familiar with the fact that I kayak 100 days a year and go out on my bicycle a few days a week.

I also worked all day Saturday and a good portion of the day Sunday. Yeah that’s a lot of work and a hectic schedule with not a lot of fun in the mix. So what kept me motivated?

I’ve always wanted to be a dad and my wife and I were starting to seriously talk about having kids (we did and she’s awesome). I love my dad but he worked for IBM when I was young and flew all over the world. I do tend to be a workaholic but I really didn’t want to miss out on my kid’s life. Even if I didn’t have to wait for my wife after work I’d be out the door at 7am and back home at 5pm, that’s a lot of the day to miss, and a lot of firsts you’re going to miss. I’ve said that at my funeral I’ve wanted people to say that I was a good dad and husband, who care what I did at work family is what matters. So I motivated myself to achieve what I wanted.

A second motivating item was the fact that I don’t do great in a traditional office environment. I do fine in places that are truly built on trust but the fact is that most businesses pay lip service to trust and really treat you like you’re 13 and need to be watched all the time. I’ve always figured that I was hired to do a job. If you need to police me to make sure I get the job done, you hired the wrong guy so go get someone that you don’t need to watch. Unfortunately as I said above while many places say they trust you, the reality is they trust you only as far as they can throw you. The lack of trust to do my job right, and the policing that came along with that lack of trust was another huge motivator.

I suppose now I should be saying that money was a big motivator? Nope it wasn’t. I make a bit more than I did but as long as I can pay the bills I’m a happy camper so if I was making less and paying the bills I’d be fine with my move to running my own business. Don’t get me wrong, I like having money like the next guy I just don’t place my happiness on the size of my bank account.

For me the motivation came down to living the lifestyle that I wanted. I want to be able to check out in the middle of the day to get a kayak session in, I don’t want to have to beg it out of a boss, I know how much I have to do and how I can make up the time. I wanted to be able to head to the park with my kids in the week. I wanted to be trusted and only work with people that treat me like that.

Honestly I miss working in a team a bit. I’d look at taking a remote working position, or a position that I only had to drop by the office on Mondays for the weekly meeting (or pick your day), then I could work from where I wanted the rest of the week. The type of office I’d love to work for is easily understood if you read Rework (amazon link).

Photo by suckamc.

The News: IE to use Webkit & Staying creative

Well here is an interesting development. In a recent developers conference in Sydney Steve Ballmer said that “Apple has embraced Webkit and we may look at that.” This is very interesting as the rendering in IE sucks currently and Webkit is awesome. I know that for all web designers it would be a wonderful thing to have the problems from IE just disappear.

Second up today is actually an article that i wrote for Design Fix on Staying Creative. It’s a quick list of how to stay creative long term as a designer.

Next is a post on 10 Key items for a perfect website. A very good check list of things to consider when building any new website. I already have a check list of things to consider when building a website but will add one or two from this list.

I am an advocate of having steady work while freelancing. Whether that is a client that has maintenance tasks or an actual steady job to make up some money. Freelance Switch has a good post on things to remember while working this steady gig. Like don’t stop marketing yourself cause it may not always be steady, and keep taking on some good projects. Just things to keep thinking about even through that amazing gig that pays the bills.

News Round up

Starting today is an article from Ars Technica about the future of Internet Explorer Mobile. Internet Explorer Mobile comes on Windows Mobile phones as the default web browser (of which I own one the HTC Touch). Anyone who has coded web standards based websites is well aware of the beast that is IE 6, which can render standards compliant code in what seems like a random way. Internet Explorer Mobile is another horrid beast entirely. Based of the code for IE 4, Internet Explorer Mobile often entirely breaks web pages making them un-useable as a mobile page. With the rise of Safari and the iPhone (also Skyfire, Opera Mini among a few others) people have seen that mobile browsing doesn’t have to be as painful as an in-laws thanksgiving. Unfortunately it appears that the new version of IE Mobile will be based of the IE 6 code, which while a vast improvement over IE 4, is still not even close to the user experience that we see from the iPhone. If you’re thinking about building for the mobile web give the article a read to catch up on the state of affairs in the mobile browsing world, though you may be disappointed.

Secondly, Freelance Switch has an article on missing the point of being a freelancer. Most people got into freelancing for an increase in freedom in choosing clients and their work habits. Often though we end up working with the same clients on the same type of projects, which removes much of the freedom we can see in the day. The article walks you through a number of ways to break the monotony of the same clients and projects so you don’t burn out.

We talked about brand designing yesterday and today there is an article from Veerle on her design process for Scroll Magazine. She starts by walking us through the design brief (if you’re not doing one you should be) and shows us some of the logo concepts. I love getting inside the mind of other good designers so I really enjoyed this article and Scroll looks beautiful and sounds like it will have interesting content so I would also suggest you get a copy as I did.

Next up if David Walsh who lists his worst  CSS mistakes. It is a humorous read, especially when you realize you did many of the same things, and it’s interesting to see how far you’ve come as a CSS wizard.

We’ll finish off today with an inspiring post from Smashing Magazine that shows off some awesome retro web design. It lists a bunch of secrets to vintage design and shows off a number of amazing designs.