Year One

It’s been a whole year since I officially started working as a freelance designer last August. I graduated from uni, had a brief fling with some full-time remote working, had an awkward interview with a recruiter and then decided that I’d rather give it a go by myself.

Getting Started

I felt pretty ready for freelancing full-time, I’d had a lot of experience on projects whilst I was at university. I knew I could run a project and I knew I could do the work. I’d done a one-day course at uni in freelance accounting and got myself a business account and subscription to FreeAgent so I felt like I could stay on top of the finance side.

The first month started pretty slowly, but that was only the first month. With the help of two lovely people in particular, Chris Book and Simon Wheatley, I got to know a few people and started getting a few projects under my belt. I really couldn’t thank these two guys enough for recommending me to their friends and giving me great opportunities.

I’ve found that meeting people (I don’t like networking, it’s too false) is incredibly important when you’re starting out. After that, my network seemed to grow itself!

The Stats

I can’t believe how much I’ve done. I’ve just worked these out:

  • Projects completed – 27
  • Current projects – 6
  • WordPress themes created – 13
  • Logos designed – 10
  • iPhone app designs – 3
  • Static website designs – 6
  • Illustration projects – 2
  • Website maintenance projects – 3
  • HTML e-mail designs – 1

Getting Work

From the stats above, you can see that I’ve been busy! Thanks to Chris and Simon and a lot of really great clients, I’ve managed to be constantly booked up and busy since last October. I’m now booking up around two/three months in advance.

It’s been difficult. Learning to not stress and cope with a big workload is one of the many things I’ve tried to get my head around.

Trying to learn

Not necessarily things I’ve already learnt, but things I’m in the process of learning!

  1. Scheduling projects is all well and good but nothing ever stays on schedule.

    Feedback isn’t instant, work takes much longer or nowhere near as long as estimated. It’s not a nightmare if I don’t stress about it, but I’m getting good at frequently reorganising and juggling projects.

  2. Desk space is important.

    Work got miles easier when I had my own working area set up. Matt built me a great custom desk, shelf unit and wall-mounted my second screen. When I’m at my desk, I’m working. The division between working at home and just being at home makes a big difference.

    desk area

    My desk area (if anybody knows a good way to keep those cables tidy, I’d love to hear it!!)

  3. Honesty, friendliness and manners go a long way.

    Sometimes I’m horrified by e-mails I receive. I take time to write e-mails, try to be polite and I’m always honest, even if it means admitting I don’t know what I’m doing. I really appreciate it when people are open with me, and it seems to work the other way for me too!

  4. Don’t take on too much work. Don’t work when you’re ill. Just don’t overwork at all.

    Nothing kills the desire to work than overworking. At first I was happy to work 10+ hour days. Then I was constantly tired and resentful. Now I take plenty of time to relax and always take time off when I’m ill. I’m so much more productive and enthusiastic for being happy.

  5. Clients take you much more seriously when you charge

    When you’re working on ‘portfolio projects’ or ‘getting experience’ when you’re starting out it’s very easy to find people who want a lot of your time for nothing. It’s not their fault but these clients will expect you to always do a lot for nothing, and they’ll never understand the value of your work because you’ve placed no value on it in the first place.

    I found that as soon as I started charging reasonable rates, I got reasonable clients. Not really an issue I had over the last year, but one I had to get over to start working professionally!

  6. The busier you are, the more they want you

    It’s very strange, the busier I get the more clients are willing to wait to work with me. I’m sure it’s that by telling a potential client that you already have clients reassures them that somebody else wants to work with you, so you must be decent enough.

The One Downside

I don’t have work mates. Well, I have one and that’s my lovely man, Matt. Matt mostly works from home too so it’s lucky we don’t get sick of each other. However, living in Reigate (not exactly the hippest tech town around) and working from home, I miss hanging out with people who have the same work interests as me.

Going to Future of Web Apps, Future of Web Design and openMIC are like going on a social binge, I’m totally exhausted afterwards and probably babble incoherently at everybody when I’m there. Twitter and Skype are both useful in their own ways but it’s not the same.

Hopefully there’s more years to come

I’m hoping this is the beginning of something good. It’d be hard to give up on the luxury of working flexibly from home. I’m making enough to live on and I’m having fun at the same time. I really hope this post might give confidence to some people who are thinking about leaping into freelance. It’s hard work but it’s the best work I’ve ever done.

13 comments

  1. @laurakalbag Congratulations on the first year! The social side is what scares me about homeworking I think!

    Reply

  2. timperrett

    @laurakalbag Congratulations on your first year – many more to come hopefully :-)

    Reply

  3. Jack Franklin

    Wow Laura, fantastic post, and congrats on what sounds like a fab year for you! One of the things I’ll be considering after Uni is freelancing so I may well start bombarding you with questions! ;) (4 years until I graduate though)!

    As for the social side of things, I’m pretty sure I’ll see you at Bath Camp! That’s my main issue with living in Cornwall….the closest any conferences get usually is Bristol, and even that is a 3 hour train ride away.

    Reply

    • Laura

      Thanks Jack :)

      I’m really lucky living where I do, as I’m commutable distance from both London and Brighton but not near enough to either to have a social life there!

      Definitely see you at Bath Camp, it’ll be worth the long journey :)

      Reply

      • Jack Franklin

        I'm off to Bath uni come September 25th so from now on I'm going to make an effort whenever possible to get to as many events as I can, suddenly everywhere is a relatively simple train journey! :)

        Reply

  4. duncanmacgregor

    @laurakalbag Congrats! totally agree with you on charge reasonable rates you get reasonable clients. Very true (99.8% of the time! ;)

    Reply

  5. juliancheal

    @laurakalbag ooh nice one Miss Kalbag.

    Reply

  6. mastermute

    @laurakalbag Great post! Thanks!

    Reply

  7. Congrats Laura

    Its very easy to recommend someone when they produce not only quality work but do it in a very professional manner. I think you are unique in being able to be so professional straight out of university.

    But thanks for saying thanks :-)

    I think your point 3 is the most important of all, we all have different roles to play, commercial, creative, technical and Honesty, friendliness and manners make it so much easier to do business. There is too much politics and backstabbing in big business you are so lucky to have gone straight into working for yourself you never have to see too much of that.

    Here’s to many more years to come.

    Cheers Chris

    Reply

  8. Congratulations on your first year! I myself have roughly been freelancing for around a year now too and I can totally relate to your "Trying to learn" section but I suppose thats the fun and beauty of doing what you love to do whilst learning to run your own business.

    Reply

  9. Denis

    It’s so hard to get your first clients. I stuck on this.

    Reply

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