Seven Months In… A Full-Time Freelance Web Design Company

It’s been seven months since Eldo Web Design spread it’s wings as a full-time company. The best bit? It’s still going! That’s awesome right? It may be the lowest aiming goal I have but it’s the most important one. As I type I have signed up jobs to keep me working for a couple of months ahead and have more lined up. To put this into perspective, let us get personal for a second…

I have a wife, two kids, a mortgage, and way too many previous debts (save your money kids!) When I went full time I left a very stable position at a Design Company. I had a good salary. My salary didn’t quite cover my monthly bills and outgoings but what I brought in from Eldo Web Design in the evenings filled the gap and allowed us to enjoy our time off together.

 

So why jump?

Well three main reasons really (and a hundred little ones).

  • I physically couldn’t work any more hours in a day. Eldo Web Design had as many clients and jobs as it could take in its part time state. Any new projects would have to wait months to realistically get built and not many clients have that luxury.
  • My family. My kids are now 3 and 8 and I want to see as much of that time as I possibly can. Leaving at 8am and getting home at 7pm doesnt leave much time and Mini Eldo (not Mini Mini Eldo, just yet) seems to have assemblies and events on constantly at school that I want to attend.
  • I’d had enough of just being ‘part’ of someones else’s success.

That last one sounds a little cocky I know. But, it’s true. That is what most of us essentially do in our jobs. We work hard and realistically someone else gets the main reward. I realised that I didn’t want my reward to be a regular salary and praise from the same people every day. I wanted to actually take pride in my job and not just the parts I did… All of it.

I no longer wanted to come home with “Oh honey, my boss said well done today and I’m going to get the same pay I received yesterday”.
I wanted a “I’ve done an amazing job on this project that the client is going to hire me for the next one. Because of me. Everything I did, the way I acted, the level of my work, the speed of my work the accuracy of my work, the fact I made that mistake and solved it straight away… me me me”

(if the first bullet wasn’t cocky, that last sentence has to be right?!).

Don’t get me wrong I wanted the opposite too. I had days where I basically did nothing in full time employment and still got my reward. That made it feel even more empty.

Going on my own meant I could actually go all in, feel the full joy of the successes and want to learn from my mistakes to avoid the gut wrenching lows. Feelings I hadn’t felt regularly for many years in full time employment.

 

So how did I actually do it?

My role at my previous company called for a 3 month notice period. This gave me the time to build up work for the September I left. I was honest with any enquiries and existing clients, delaying working until I went full time. They understood and were very excited for me (although secretly I know they were happy they could bug me during the day now!).

For the last 3 or 4 years previous Eldo Web Design had been an evenings and weekend gig. It’s surprising how much damage you can do between 8pm and 1am several times a week. Its hard… but necessary.

I had a growing global client base mainly consisting of travel bloggers. Not too many local clients but that was the main area of focus for growth. My employment wage was paid at the end of the month so I knew I had one month to make the next months salary. Ladies and Gentlemen, I did it.

7 months later am I going to Disney World for the summer? No. Not even close. BUT, I’m at the stage where I’m breaking even and that is amazing. I’m earning enough money to pay my bills and spend time with my family, all from the comfort of my own home (and in my pyjamas a lot of the time!).

 

What have I learned in the last seven months?

Self-Employment is scary.

This might be different for anyone that doesn’t have 3 other people depending on them for food and a roof but it really can be scary. I’ve had minutes, hours and days where I’ve had no idea if I could carry on self employed.

What if I didn’t get that project? What if the client disappeared? What if I didn’t finish that site on time? Why does every second of every day feel like I’m at work!?!

You will ask yourself these questions and many many more and as I’ve learned – this is normal. It means you care. I’ve dealt with some people in the last 6 months that I doubt are ever scared. Not because they are super confident but because they quite clearly have no care for their reputation and responsibilities of the roles they are in. I never want to be ‘that guy’.

If you’re scared, its because you care.
If you care – you’re going to be alright.

It can be lonely and motivation will suffer!

I was under no illusions that self-employment would have its lonely moments (the clues in the name I suppose). Sometimes it’s hard to be motivated when there’s no one to motivate you. I get through these moments by doing something else that does motivate me. Taking a break from some types of projects is the only way to do a genuine job on them (another perk of self-employment). That little break can reinvigorate you. I might design my own business card, design a logo for when I’m owner of the New York Knicks and rebrand them ‘New York Eldos’, learn something new, shoot some hoops in the garden… anything that gets my brain going.

I have a very good relationship with many of my clients. This helps. Our emails and chats are informal, get the job done but without being prude or too stiff. We are human, we like to talk about stuff that has nothing to do with work as well. Many of my clients are self employed too and understand the stresses and strains.

It’s rewarding

Intangibly rewarding. If you want to be filthy rich and not work much… do not become a self employed Web Designer and Developer.

I work many many many hours and I’m making a living. Hopefully things will get more lucrative, hours will get less but I doubt there will ever be a week that I don’t have to work normal full time hours. The benefit? I can do them in my own time. I’ve been up at 4am on quite a few occasions to get some work out of the way before the ‘real day’ started.

I knocked one project out of the park in about 3 days by starting at 2am and not really stopping. Did I moan, no. Did I have to do it, no. I did it because I wanted to, and that felt good.

Being self employed means I choose when to work my 80 hours a week! (joke)

You get the reward of the job itself and the reward of the outcome. There’s a lot of pride to be had knowing you’ve achieved everything on your own.

It will change all the time.

I can summarise this is in a couple of sentences. It’s the end of the month, you haven’t made enough income for the following months bills and you have no chance of finishing anything off in time to get paid.
Panic.
Then one hour later you answer an email, answer a phone call and you have a 50% initial payment sent to you that more than covers it.
It. Will. Change. All. The. Time.

 

My tips to running a successful (for now) freelance company?

Be honest

This is a big one. Maybe it wont work for everyone (especially if you’re a not really a ‘people person’) but my most rewarding work, my best clients are the ones that I am honest with. Brutally honest sometimes. I never let feelings get in the way of interactions –

“The reason that can’t be red isn’t because I don’t like red. It’s because it would detract from the impact your contact button already has and that’s the end goal of the site. I tried red, I tried many many combinations before finding the one I’ve presented to you”

It’s simple. Back up your opinions with your experience and knowledge and the client won’t be offended.

The real big one is don’t take any, and I mean ANY aggro on board if you can avoid it. Don’t work for cheap, don’t take responsibility for something that could have been avoided if the client had the correct knowledge. Educate. If you’re honest and explain things correctly from the outset you won’t come across as rude, you will come across as honest and hopefully caring and helpful. Here’s some examples –

Client: I know we didn’t discuss this but whilst you build the ‘about page’ can we add in blah blah blah and a whole big blah…

“Based on our early conversations you don’t have the budget for me to add this on now. I wouldn’t be able to dedicate the hours needed to make it perfect across all browsers and screen sizes. I can add the blah in and can make provisions for all the other blahs and maybe in a few months if it’s still integral to the page and your budget allows we could do it then?”

Client: You said the site was SEO friendly and I paid you for extra SEO work on my existing content. I just checked and I’m now on page 2!

“Your site hasn’t gone down google rankings. Your competitors have gone up. You’ve taken your eye off the social media and your clients are putting money into Google Adwords. You need to start increasing the sites reputation on the web and step your game up if getting to the top is the goal”

Be honest… it will make everything easier I promise.

I’ve parted ways with one client since going full time because it just wasn’t working. I lost money by leaving the project but the honest truth is that their vision had completely changed from what we originally planned, and I was no longer the right person for the job.

I work with my clients not for them. If they just want to point things into place while I move them… we aren’t right for each other. Clients know their own clients and niche better than you do of course, but you know the internet and what works better on the www than them. Remember that, that is why they came to you in the first place, right?

Be humble

Google the term ‘Freelance Web Design and Development’. You’re not the only one out there right? So don’t act like it. Clients don’t have to stick with you, yes you’re good, yes you have some big clients… but you are not the only one. Be humble, be nice. I’ve found that nice things do happen to nice people.

This certainly applies to what you charge. Make sure you get what your time and expertise is worth of course but do not be an ‘expletive’ about it. You get to sit at home and work in your own time. So don’t charge stupid rates. Does ten minutes of opening a piece of software and pasting code you’ve used hundreds of times before really warrant that £40 price tag?

I always ask a client what their budget is. I’ve completed some projects of the same scope of other projects at nearly half the cost. Why? Because it was still a reasonable hourly wage, we agreed to a lengthy timescale so there was less pressure, the project was fun and it was another site for the portfolio. Those clients are thankful, trusting and guess what… loyal. They come back, they talk about you to their connections. You don’t have to then charge half price to everyone but 5 new enquiries is better than one right? Be realistic, be humble.

Celebrate your successes

On the flip side to ‘be humble’, every now and again… go nuts! Yes you’re good, yes you have secured a big client, yes you’re earning way more than expected this month. Just do it in private. Treat yourself, buy a gadget, go for a meal do whatever but remember how and why you’re doing it. It helps motivate you to keep striving for success.

I recently made a purchase as my ‘treat’. These things help to remind you what you’ve been achieving and when you enjoy that treat it helps contribute to making everything worth while. Yes it’s amazing to pay the mortgage and bills and to eat but every now and again – enjoy something more.

Celebrate your successes with the world too of course, testimonial pages, social media etc. I’ve posted a few images and statuses that could be seen as ‘showing off’ but it’s because I’m proud and want any prospective clients to see that they will be proud too. Be humble in the public eye.

Be realistic

On a few occasions I’ve taken on too much. I’ve planned to fit way too many projects in at once saying to myself I’ll work all night, I’ll get up early… never set these expectations as the norm. It’s tough I get it, you don’t want to turn down work but you don’t want to tell them you can’t actually start for 5 weeks either.

However I’ve found that if I quote 5 weeks it’s actually ok. Not one client has gone elsewhere when I’ve said this. They’ve paid their 50%, we’ve exchanged emails and bounced some ideas until the start date. The gap is really helpful and allows for a more solid plan when the project starts.

Don’t be afraid

I’ll end my advice with this one. Don’t be afraid. Of anything. Nothing. Be brave and you’ll be surprised with the result or if it doesn’t go your way you at least know you’ve stood up and been counted. Don’t be afraid to take on a challenging project, don’t be afraid to quote for what is going to be lengthy and complex site, don’t be afraid to say no when the client doesn’t have the site and its users best interest at heart. On a legal note, don’t be afraid to get initial payments and contracts signed too. It still shocks me how many people don’t do this. It protects all involved and helps you work/sleep at night.

 

The future for Eldo Web Design

This is the exciting part. Maybe a partnership, maybe a local office, maybe build a bespoke template theme to sell on the marketplace…

I don’t know. No one actually knows. The important thing is that whatever happens is up to one person…. Eldo.

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