Freelancer Interview: James Shaw, Volley Design

This week’s freelancer interview is with James Shaw from Volley Design. James works in-house and as a freelancer – a great option that can offer the benefits of both types of working.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m James Shaw, a highly motivated, idea led graphic designer working both as a freelance and for a marketing agency based in Somerset.

What led you to start freelancing?

Freelancing started for me over a year ago when I started getting small side projects from working in a Co-working space in central Bath. I started to really enjoy meeting clients, marketing my brand and managing projects. I officially went full time freelance in the June of 2017, when I met the amazing Charlotte Godfrey from the The Network for Creative Enterprise. This partnership offers business support for creative individuals and small companies to develop a creative idea into an economically sustainable business.

This platform allowed me to pursue my freelance business offering me support in starting my business, how to manage the business, getting my brand solid and gaining a network of clients.

What three issues have you had since starting up?

I think issues are always going to come around when running your own business and i think at times it’s good to have these as they allow you to learn and know if they are going to occur again.

  1. Getting clients to pay on time. This can lead to cash flow problems if clients do not pay on time
  2. Keeping track of all the admin I resolved this in the end by getting someone to help me with me social media and emails to give me more time to focus on client projects.
  3. Motivation – At first it was hard as my normal routine of work had suddenly gone and you have to motivate yourself to get into a routine. I found leaving the house and working from Co-working hubs worked extremely well, it meant you had a place of work and you had like minded individuals around you.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

Freelancing can be tough but it has its benefits. It allowed me to manage my days how best worked for me, to me this was healthier and helped me with workflow. The biggest reward is working on projects and being able to directly work with the client on what they want, it’s so pleasing to see your client happy and your work delivered and out there.  

You also get time to work on personal projects – something I am super passionate about and think all creatives do. For me it helps inform client work and lets me get all those ideas in my head onto paper.

How would you like to develop your freelance career in the future?

Right now I am enjoying the balance between my freelance work and also my employed work as a designer. I want this time in my work life to help move Volley Design to the next step and eventually allow me to financially go full time freelance again and build Volley Design into a design studio – big goals but you need to have these I think. I also want the business to explore new sectors to work in including event work and installations – I have always wanted to get involved in a large scale piece of design or even graphics for a concert… imagine how fun that would be.

Anything else you’d like to tell anyone thinking of or currently freelancing?

I think if you’re looking to go freelance my advice would be just go for it…. Put everything into it and take all opportunities thrown at you, you never know where they will take you.

I would also say if you’re turning up to work and not enjoying it then it’s not right for you… move on and try something new don’t stick at it for the money… your creativity will suffer. Do what’s best for you at the time.

James Shaw
Volley Design

Freelancer Interview: Rachel Sarah, freelance digital media consultant

This week’s interview is with freelance digital media consultant Rachel Sarah. Rachel is a writer, photographer and videographer and can be found at www.rachelsarahmedia.com

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Rachel Sarah. (Rachel Sarah is my business name so it’s easy to remember!) I work in digital media – marketing, photography and, recently, videography.  Mostly I create strategies, written (and some video) content for large businesses, whilst also doing events and personal photography.

What led you to start freelancing?

Since being in University I always wanted to be a freelance writer as I work best with my own scheduling and hours – I work best after midnight!

Since then, I’d freelanced in writing alongside my full-time jobs.

But after sustaining a really bad ankle injury and working from home at my last full-time job, I really didn’t want to go back into the office so I ended up quitting and throwing myself into full-time freelance life!

What three things do you wish you’d known before starting out?
That creating connections with people is key.
Rejection is par for the course, and that it needs to be embraced!
Don’t be scared of being broke – if you find yourself some recurring clients you’ll be set!

What three issues have you had since starting up?

1. Concentrating on my own projects (website, social media etc) as client work always takes priority – this is painfully obvious when comparing my own social channels to my clients!
2. Balancing my schedule with my partner’s 9-5 (I’m still usually working when he wants to spend time together).
3. Learning when to stop working.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

Being able to look outside on a nice day and go “you know what? I’ve ticked a lot of things off the list so far, I’m going outside for a drive/ walk/ climb”. The freedom you get with being freelance can never be oversold.

I’m a massively outdoorsy person so I love that ability to get out and be in nature when I want to.

You can definitely get a bit lonely sometimes but if you make sure you get out and work in different spaces and spend time with people in the week then you can definitely avoid that.

I also love the fact I can work my most productive hours. In the morning I’m useless; at 11pm my brain is overflowing with ideas and motivation!

How would you like to develop your freelance career in the future?

I’d personally like to move away from business strategy into the purely creative.
I think that this is definitely feasible to do as I grow more and create a team around me to do the marketing and social side of things!

My heart lies in storytelling/ creativity, not analytics – though you need both to run your own business.

Anything else you’d like to tell anyone thinking of or currently freelancing?

  • If you can, find yourself recurring clients so you don’t have that month-to-month financial worry.
  • Creative jobs (especially online) are so important in every aspect of business you should make sure you value yourself!
  • Don’t work for free unless you WANT to (e.g. I’ve currently offered a local charity my video services for free because I have the a spare time at the moment and want to give back).

How To Set Up A Freelancer Website

As a new freelancer you’ll probably need a website to promote yourself and your freelance services. You might be wondering how to set up a freelancer website. You can easily spend days of your life Googling things and getting confused. As a freelance web designer, I’ve got you covered with these tips.

Self Hosted or Website Platform?

You can either get your own website, or you can use a website builder like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace etc. If you want to get up and running quickly, a website builder can be a great choice. Once you’re established, making money and need something more customisable you can look at setting up your own site or having one designed for you.

Domain Name

Whatever option you choose, you will need a domain name. You can choose your name, company name or a keyword domain like freelancedesigner.com to try and get some search engine traffic. There are hundreds of domain registrars – I’d recommend sticking with a reputable one as losing access to your domain could be fatal to your business.

I’ve used Namecheap as they are, well, cheap for the first year. After ten years of using various domain registrars for myself and clients, I mostly use LCN.com as you can ring them up and speak to someone if you have an issue. I can’t stand 123reg, 1and1 and Heart.

Your emails will be something@yourdomain.com so choose wisely and avoid domains that are difficult to spell or appear unprofessional.

Domain Name System (DNS) Settings

If you want your emails in one place (like Google Apps) and your website somewhere else, you’ll have to make changes to the DNS settings on your domain. It’s fairly straightforward to do the above but you may need to read their help files, call support or get a technical mate to help.

Self Hosted

Website Hosting

Once you’ve got a domain name you’ll need some website hosting which is where your website and emails (probably) live. You can redirect your domain name to this hosting from the control panel of your domain registrar.

Alternatively, you can buy your domain and hosting from the same company and you won’t have to do this step.

Website Software

There are lots of options and I recommend using WordPress. It’s free, easy to use and has millions of themes and plugins available (also mostly free, or cheap). Old installs of WordPress can be easy to hack, but it’s also easy to keep WordPress up to date.  Crap passwords are also a security risk, so use a solid password and get a password manager app like Lastpass or 1password.

Website Theme

If you’re just starting off, get a simple free WordPress theme from the approved directory and you can upgrade to a custom theme further down the line. Getting distracted and wasting time messing around with the visuals of your site will prevent you from getting online quickly, so focus on getting a simple site with good content out there first.

Without wanting to sound harsh, hardly anyone is going to see your site to start with so don’t get hung up on details at this point.

Recommended WordPress Plugins

Here are some plugins we always install – they are regularly updated and don’t upsell too aggressively (apart from Yoast, but it’s an awesome free plugin so I’ll let them off)

  • Analytify – Adds Google Analytics tracking code to your site along with nice dashboard widget showing an overview of your traffic
  • Contact Form 7 – Allows you to add easily contact forms to your site
  • Yoast SEO – Allows you to optimise each page on your site with an easy to follow traffic light system
  • Wordfence – Security plugin that protects your login page and alerts you to any changed files or other weird stuff happening on your site.

Website Builders – Wix, Weebly, Squarespace etc

If you’re using Wix, Weebly, Squarespace or one that comes with your website hosting, these website builders allow you to login, choose a theme and create pages. You are limited in what you can achieve, but these systems are a great way to get started quickly, especially if you’re not very technically inclined.

Content Is King

Your content is absolutely vital. Having the right tone that matches how you do business, focusing on the benefits to the client rather than waffling about yourself and making sure it’s free from errors are key points. Employing a copywriter and/or proofreader can be a fantastic investment and mean the difference between people leaving your site or getting in touch.

Regular updates are vital too, if you want to get the attention of search engines. Projects you’re working on, opinion pieces about your industry and client feedback can all be great content for your site.

Search Engine Setup

A new site is unlikely to immediately appear in search results for any competitive keyword. 

You’re up against established sites that have been marketing themselves for years and might have a team of experts working on improving their rankings.

If you want instant traffic, you may need to pay for advertising and get busy on social media. We’ll cover marketing in a future article – for now make sure your site is running Google Analytics and you’ve set it up in Google Search Console so you get a heads up of any technical issues that might be preventing search engines from picking up your content.

Freelancer Interview: Events manager, Nottingham

This week’s interview is with an experienced freelance event manager – some great tips here on client management and diversifying your income.

Who are you and what do you do?

Mostly, I run events, but I also sometimes do commissions making one off things for people and organisations. I started running events around 2006, but have been in the field I do them for since around 2000.

What led you to start freelancing?

My former boss! Suffice to say he did a lot of bad things, and I handed in my notice after a particularly appalling one. When I started not many people knew him. By the time I left, he’d built himself a very bad reputation and I needed to get away from him ASAP.

I hadn’t decided between freelancing or looking for another job, but got snapped up immediately on freelance terms by several organisations I’d met through the job. It’s been seven years, and there’ve been difficult patches, but since starting out I’ve never seriously craved a full time job.

What three things do you wish you’d known before starting out?

1. To not bother with guest lecturing. It’s a shame, but universities and colleges repeatedly lose paperwork, require you go on their PAYE system, or demand that a £250 invoice be resubmitted split into ten different budget lines. It’s not worth the hassle and if I did it now, it’d only ever be a favour to a friend.

2. To go higher on corporate day rates. No, higher than that. They won’t often blink at high day rates, but will have someone assigned to ask for a slight reduction on the total, then tick a box saying they got it. It seems to be an exercise for most people in that kind of work, not a difficult negotiation. It’s way easier than haggling with, say, small business owners or university commercial departments (the latter especially will fight tooth and nail over the smallest amounts).

3. Talking to TV production companies is a waste of time because most of them want you to work for free. They’ll try to dazzle you with celebrity names and big audience figures. A few have approached me for expertise in several fields, and not just as a talking head, actually wanting me to design and physically make stuff for them. Since wasting time on an actual meeting with one, I usually respond with something like “Sounds great, I’d love to help! [insert extremely quick initial thoughts on project] My day rates are…”. That’s more than boilerplate, so opens a way for anyone serious, but sees chancers off immediately.

What three issues have you had since starting up?

1. Cashflow

My field is quite seasonal, leading to slumps in midwinter and midsummer. I have to be careful, and sometimes come up with other income streams in the months before those periods. I’ve also put my rates up for certain jobs to give myself a bit more buffer for downtime.

2. Gossip and politics

Any given industry is smaller than you think, and in most jobs there’ll be some kind of office politics and a power structure to deal with. Freelancing is similar, but you’ll be entering many different organisations as an outsider, with little history or contextual awareness. This makes orientation challenging. Often you’re in a vulnerable position, but it can also give you some immunity too.

It can take a long time to learn which clients really have your back, and you’ll mostly have to watch your own. In some ways, being freelance can really help you figure this stuff out, as you can get multiple perspectives on things and triangulate. You’re less connected within a given organisation, but much more connected between such organisations than most of their employees.

Mostly people get on with the job, but occasionally someone makes a power play to become your new boss, or a client hires someone full time who then tries to sink you for whatever reason. It’s really worth finding the people who talk straight and want to reduce drama. Build relationships with them well before anything bad happens; they’re good at being in charge and solving problems.

3. Client scaling/changes/disasters:

Sometimes, something changes or goes wrong within a client organisation, and freelancers will be first on the chopping block. This was really hard for me to accept the first time it happened to a repeating yearly project. Now I build endings into my expectations for every project, even repeating ones, and even the longest client relationships. Not exactly detailed contingency plans, but at least some idea of what could be next. Nothing lasts forever, no matter how good it is or how loyal the client.

Flipping this, sometimes no matter how good you are, there’ll be clients who just can’t get it together or be good to work with. I’ve never fired a client halfway through a job, as I’m usually stubborn enough to finish difficult ones and fight my corner. There are a couple of clients I’ve fired immediately after though, and refused to work with again. You don’t have to be mean about this, just tell them you’re too busy. Nothing you say is likely to change their problem behaviour. Also, be honest but also fair to them if other freelance friends ask you about them.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

There are loads!

My own schedule, travel, getting to decide what projects I want to do, getting to work with and learn about lots of different organisations, lie ins, building client relationships where we really understand and respect each other, being able to head out into the hills when I need to.

If I had to pick one, it would be the lie ins.

How would you like to develop your freelance career in the future?

I’d really like to develop some more income streams. I’ve done it before with physical products, but they were quite seasonal and took a lot of work to make. Tinkering with all the products and processes until the margin got bigger was fun, but after that point the actual production work can be quite tedious. I’ve also found with that specific project, I only seem to have the time and energy lined up to do it once every two years.

I’d like to try with a digital product because that’s more open to automation. Digital goods are something I get to look in on through other bits of my work. I don’t quite buy the hype on passive income streams, as most of the people you read on that seem to be talking guff or selling something. I’ve met a lot of people in my field who make a digital thing, whack it up on a storefront then expect it to just sell. Some of them get really bitter when it doesn’t. I also know people who’ve either had massive commercial successes, or at least got their bills paid for a while through moderate success.

Marketing is work, and I hate it, but almost nothing sells itself. It’s probably what I need to learn more about next.

Anything else you’d like to tell anyone thinking of or currently freelancing?

Day rates are really hard to figure out when you first start. There’s some limited information online, but the best thing you can do is talk to friends working in the same field. What I thought was a realistic and reasonable day rate when I first started out turned out to be a low mates rate for most of my freelance friends.

I know a few people starting out who’ve quoted for jobs then had the client ask them to charge more. These kind of people within client organisations are rare; if you find one, hold onto them and do the best work you can… within your scope and budget 🙂

Contracts for freelancers, associates or subcontractors

There’s much  to be thankful for as a freelancer, with all the freedoms and flexibility your status provides, but sometimes it’s easy to get carried away by this new found autonomy and forget to ensure that your contractual back is covered. Here’s our three top tips to ensure you stay protected and keep enjoying your work, and its benefits.

Are you legally a Freelancer, contractor or employee?

Check your status – this sounds simple, right? You’re a freelancer – what’s the issue? Unfortunately its not as simple as ‘I am as defined in the contract’ – if this position is challenged by HMRC checking that tax is being properly paid, or if your fellow freelancers want to challenge their status with the company that you work with. What you are called in your contract is no longer a definitive answer to this question. A recent case in the Supreme Court tested this, and the law has been clarified.

Your label is only part of the puzzle, what actually matters is what’s  happening ‘on the ground’ and how much control or instruction you are given by the party you work for. Typically these are the sorts of indicators that show true freelancer status:

  • You chose whether you come to work, and if you don’t, you are not paid.
  • You bring all the equipment and tools that you need to undertake your tasks.
  • You are not required to wear a uniform, or branded clothing.
  • Any vehicle you use is owned and insured by you,  and not provided by your work place
  • You could send someone to deputise for you in your absence , so long as they have the requisite skills or experience.
  • You are told what jobs to do, but not necessarily how to do them.
  • You are not paid for any absences, holidays, sick leave or parental leave.
  • You insure your own operations.
  • You work under a fixed term arrangement for a specified period of time less than 12 months in duration, or on a specified project or assignment, with breaks between any rolling repeat of these arrangements.

None of these indicators is definitive – anyone seeking to challenge your status would look at the position in the round, and take a view about whether you were sufficiently controlled and instructed to  qualify you as an employee – whatever your contract says.

Make sure your contract is clear about your status, who is responsible for paying tax and insurance to cover your work and that you have a right to substitute another worker if you are not available to provide the services. Take advice and be careful, not complacent.

You can check your tax status on the UK government website here

Copyright and Ownership of Materials

Who owns the rights to what you produce as a freelancer? Do you? Does the party to whom you provide services own everything or anything that you create? And can you use anything you create during the delivery of your services elsewhere? For another project? Another competitor?

These are all questions which arise around the ownership of intellectual property rights in any work that you undertake.

If you were an employee, the basic position would be that any Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) would accrue to your employer – in broad terms – but as a freelancer the position is less straightforward.

Get it clear in the contract, and ensure that if you are creating original materials, ideas, processes, or even goods that you have a potential IPR interest in, you know what you can use elsewhere or exploit outside the confines of the freelancer contract.

Making Payment Terms Clear

Getting paid – nobody likes to be taken for granted and if you have a late payer for your services it can feel like that,  and be a real challenge. Maybe your contract terms can help that?

Are you clear about what your payment terms  are? How many days after invoice are your fees due? Can you flex that timeline and shorten the period for persistent late payers? Is it in your contract, and is the right to vary it also there?

Can you down tools if you are not paid, until you are paid? Seems like a no-brainer – you’d be surprised! Unless your terms state so, this is not a given, and in fact could create liabilities for yourself if you stop work without that explicit right to do so, and the other party suffers a loss. Be careful!

Can you ask for money in advance under your terms? Particularly if you have had your hands burned, or the other party presents a bigger risk, or has a reputation?

Think about charges for late payment – some will impose an administration fee added if you are required to chase late payments, and you have the option of addition contractual or statutory interest on any late payment. Make sure your terms deal with this in line with your legitimate entitlements – and for further info you could look here…

https://www.gov.uk/late-commercial-payments-interest-debt-recovery

If you need further advice on any of these issues,  please contact us:

Heather Stanford, Managing Director of Stanford Gould Limited

heather@stanfordgould.co.uk

www.stanfordgould.co.uk