Freelancer Interview: Tom Jepson, UX Designer

This weeks interview is with UX Designer Tom Jepson from Nottingham. We met in the queue for the buffet at a recent Creative Quarter event and had a great chat about the freelance life. Tom’s podcast is worth a listen too!

Who are you and what do you do? 

My name is Tom Jepson and I’m a UX designer running a ‘design company-of-one’; I’m making the effort to say that I’m not a ‘gigging freelancer or contractor’ these days. 

Broadly speaking I am a designer of ‘digital things’ and a remote-working, collaborative-facilitation fanatic. I bring experience from the world of corporate design, marketing, and communication into my work as UX designer however my client services extend beyond bread & butter wireframes and screen flows. 

My core offer is focussed on helping my clients understand their problem better, helping them through the design process, educating them on the value of user-centred thinking, what a designer could and should bring to the table when they’re engaged on a project, all the while designing appropriate solutions for the problem which we agree, together, needs to be solved. 

What led you to start freelancing? 

After a couple of brief stints of contracting in between corporate and startup jobs, I knew that there was only ever going to be an outcome for my career where I would be truly satisfied; working for myself. Having spent time in both the corporate and startup world, seen success and failure, and watched a lot of people make quite dramatic, terrible decisions it was clear-cut for me that I couldn’t work under someone else’s agenda. 

I have a young family who will always come first and are thankfully very amenable to the work that I have chosen to do. I want to maintain that balance for as long as possible and working for myself, almost on their clock rather than mine, has helped me focus on what’s really important. 

There’s a running joke between some close friends and I that we may all just be terrible employees. But, having tried to make the best of every challenge over the last decade, running my own shop and setting a pace which is comfortable for me and one which I believe will be valuable to my clients has proven to be a very healthy move. 

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

  • Despite early success, continued client engagement is not assured. I ‘knew’ it but until I was faced with a day where I had no clients on book, I really wasn’t prepared for the psychological impact it has. It took a while to work through it and reach a position where it wasn’t quite so scary a thought. 
  • You have to keep yourself motivated to get out and meet with people. It becomes very easy to get stuck in the comfort of your own cave and not leave the house for days on end; it’s not a healthy choice, people! 
  • You will spend more than 50% of your time not doing actual work. After a busy three months at the start of the year, I’ve spent more than half my working weeks finding ways to engage with people, working out what my public-facing persona is and how to ‘get out there’ with people. 

What three issues have you had since starting up? 

  • Identifying what my value really is. I do ‘the standard UX stuff’ – wireframes, user journeys, scope documents etc – but I don’t really feel that’s the most important skillset I bring to any engagement. It takes time to work out and truly engage with what your real value is to people. I’ve taken a lot of time to think about my business and how I need to approach my offer strategically – the value proposition; the message; the audience and market; the competitors – and am taking steps to break down the strategy into long-term, mid-term, and short-term milestones to keep me on track and to give me the opportunity to pivot if I need. 
  • Doing your own site to give yourself a presence is a massive pain in the behind, especially when you have a limited amount of tangible work to show! Plus, there’s the whole ‘it’s never really done’ thing… Add to this the fact that the majority of people with whom you do work will likely never actually see your site until you point them to it to view a case study, it makes it a thankless task! 
  • Pricing work. I have a ‘shop rate’ (you might call it your ‘breakeven’ rate) which I know I have to make each month else my bills aren’t going to get paid. After that, attributing profit which will make the work sustainable and accessible is really hard. I’ve read book after book and had conversation on conversation about it and still there’s no cut and dry answer. Coming up with the numbers and having the aspirational figures is easy, as is – to a degree – explaining it to clients when they ask questions about the rate (clients who go for price first and quibble are not the right clients); the hard part is believing that I’m really worth the money I’m charging. One cannot work at a loss. 

What’s the best thing about freelancing? 

Meeting amazing people. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some killer clients on amazing projects and do work that has proven to be very valuable to them and of which I am intensely proud. I get the time to have meaningful conversations and give a lot; even having one eye on ‘the next goal’, I’m able to contribute without always having a need for some kind of return because I know it’ll come along at some point further down the line. 

I’ve been able to experiment every single day. In the face of horrible imposter syndrome I’ve been able to approach new projects as a clean slate and find out new ways of working, ways to keep each client satisfied, and ways to distill things down into repeatable, saleable services. Having this ‘luxury’ of experimentation (and subsequent success with projects) has proven to me that I can do the job and that I still get a real kick out of it. 

Being able to take time for myself is possibly the most important thing. I work to a pretty rigid routine during the week and have found that taking some time out to read, go to the gym, or even step out for an hour to meet a friend for a coffee keeps me balanced and ready to get down to business when I really need to. 

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

Going forward, as I said at the top, I am not positioning myself as ‘a gigging freelancer’. I’m looking to create a number of repeatable, easy-to-access products based around the services I want to offer to people and am finding ways to partner with other creative pros and businesses to enhance both of our offers. I’m also persisting with my podcast – The Sideman Designer – and exploring ways to up-the-ante on knowledge sharing and passive income streams. 

Someone said to me that ‘it takes a village’ to really make something happen and I am inclined to agree. It’s great working for myself and being engaged as a consultant company-of-one to work on a project (honestly, I find that very validating!), but there is so much value in finding like minds who want to work on creating something new. 

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

The money you make is not the defining factor for your success. If you’re stepping out of a full-time job it’s almost a dead cert that your take-home cash at the end of your first year is not going to be anything like that which you got from your job. There’s so much more to working for yourself and doing things in your way that will bring greater rewards (and probably a load more cash when the time’s right!) 

You have to be prepared to work and really have to stick at it, too. If your client base has dried up after three months that’s no reason to quit; just refocus and find a means to talk to new people. Having an eye on a bigger goal (and then the even bigger goal after that) is more likely to steer you to success than focussing on where the next can of beans is coming from (although I’m not saying that being able to buy food week on week isn’t important!). 

Surround yourself with good friends and people who will challenge your thinking. If you’re working on your own there’s going to be times when you start to go off piste a little; having a solid network of people to bounce ideas off (even if that’s just a group of Instagram friends) and get some objective feedback is going to help keep you on track. 

Freelancer interview: Christian Lowery – social media manager & copywriter

This week’s interview is with NYC based social media manager, copywriter and SEO specialist Christian Lowery

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Christian Lowery, based in NYC, and I am a freelance digital marketing professional specializing in social media marketing, paid advertising and SEO copywriting

What led you to start freelancing?

I started freelancing somewhat by choice, and somewhat by necessity. I was in my mid-20s, not sure what career I really wanted to have, with a lot of uncertainty around me. I studied music at NYU, then got into real estate on a whim, and really got lost in the process of it all. Real estate wasn’t giving me a steady income, so I decided to start freelancing as a way to make money on the side.

Plus, I had always wanted a job that didn’t look like your traditional 9 to 5. One project led to another, which led to another, and I eventually got to a place where I didn’t need to do real estate anymore. I started as a freelance copywriter because I did a lot of copywriting for real estate marketing materials, and it led to this incredible digital marketing career I wouldn’t trade for the world. More on my story: https://christianlowery.com/career-change-advice/

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

  1. That you have to be STELLAR at self-motivation and time management. No one tells you to get up in the morning and get your work done. Similarly, no one tells you how much time to spend on each client and how much time to spend growing your own business.
  2. That you will pay the self-employment tax all on your own (nearly 15% on top of your income tax)
  3. That some days get lonely and you may miss an office setting every once and a while

What three issues have you had since starting up?

One was charging higher rates than many low-cost freelancers on platforms like Fiverr, another was finding the time to generate leads and write for my blog while still completing client work… but the biggest was getting people to see me as a professional in my new freelance career, after multiple career changes.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

You get more time in your day to do the things you love. I don’t commute or waste time talking to friends around an office. I get time to make breakfast for myself every morning, catch up on the news, shower, mentally prepare for a productive day, and all by 9:00am. Then, I get to go straight to work without wasting time to get there.

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

I am building my personal brand to generate revenue from my website, eGuides, consultation classes and more. For me, it’s important to generate streams of revenue that have nothing to do with client work.

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

They should take my freelance quiz to see if freelancing is really the best choice for them. The quiz is simply a list of 11 questions that will help them know if they have what it takes to be a successful freelancer. Also, I would tell them, above all else, to be extremely patient with themselves. You may start by making $10/hour on a very insignificant project, but make $50/hour less than a year later – that’s what happened to me.

Freelancer Interview: Jonathan Talks, Photographer

Our interview this week is with Nottingham based photographer, Jonathan Talks. He did my recent headshots and gets a thumbs up from me for putting me at ease during the shoot!

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Jonathan and I am a commercial photographer specialising in headshots, products and press photography.

What led you into freelancing?

With photography being very much an individual pursuit and working in the provinces one has to lend themselves to many avenues.

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

  1. Work on your skills if you provide a service or trade. There is a real joy and pride in being “good” at what you do. Upskilling yourself in my opinion is “non negotiable” in importance in my opinion. If you have skills this will help you get work and get recommendations. If you are lucky enough you can hire specialists to do marketing, admin etc.
  2. Its a big learning curve but one that can give you a lot of development as a person in work and life. Maybe they can make a degree in freelancing! (Now there’s an idea… Nick)
  3. Don’t waste your money, get as much as you can for free and only spend when you can.

What three issues have you had since starting up?

  1. You are very much on your own, of course you can forge alliances and contacts but the truth is nobody cares about your practice or in my case my photography, they really don’t, so from this you have to work on your trade and your networking.
  2. Obtaining finance takes real skill in this era. Lots of organisations promise a lot but unless you are already established or have a business degree then obtaining finance for your business or practice is a challenge.
  3. Prioritising has been tricky, as a freelancer you have to wear many hats and being organised has been a learning curve for me as a creative. I’ve had to learn to be an all-rounder.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

The challenge of delivering work beyond what you previously thought capable of. Working on new projects and delivering is a joy, one of the best parts of work.

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

For me, the next steps is to gain new clients, develop skills and eventually have a top notch photography studio in Nottingham. In fact I am hell bent on this..

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

I’m cautious on giving advice as it is such an individual decision, however I would say think carefully and then give it your all…

Jonathan Talks

jonathantalksphotography.com 

@jonathantalksphotography

Freelancer Interview: Ben Lumley, Commercial Sports Photographer

This week’s freelancer interview is with photographer Ben Lumley. Ben makes some great points about providing value and working from home – read on to find out more.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Ben and I’m a Commercial Sports Photographer. That basically means I work with brands and athletes to capture powerful images usually at live events like the London Marathon and World Triathlon Series races. 

What led you to start freelancing?

I’d always wanted to be a full time photographer from the first week I ever had my first camera but had never really had that ‘thing’ that made me stand out in a busy marketplace. It wasn’t until I coupled my love of running with photography that I saw an opportunity for my work and it went from then. 

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

  1. It always takes way longer than you think it should. You need patience and to play the long game or it’ll not work out. 
  2. That you can speed up to the process by doing great work and bringing more value to your clients than you offer. 
  3. There’s more monetary value to what you create than you give yourself credit for so put up those prices but don’t be afraid to work for free if the opportunity is great and could lead to lots more. It’s a risk and gamble game and you have to play smart. 

What three issues have you had since starting up?

  1. Admin paperwork and the boring stuff. Can’t stand it and it takes me away from the creative process that gives me the buzz. Outsourcing those parts of the business when I can has really helped. 
  2. Dealing with the feeling of not doing work. It’s ok to not work 27 hours a day. If you’ve put in a ton of work you need to let the universe catch up with all the pressure you’re putting on it. I often find the days I’m not ‘working’ (although I’m working everyday technically) are usually the days when projects get the green light or clients get in touch. 
  3. Working from home. It’s full of distractions and it’s easy to get pulled away from the work. It takes a lot of discipline. 

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

The best thing for me is being about to work with some of the best athletes in the world and build friendships I could of never of imagined in the industry. I love being able to create work from all over the country and take people’s breathe away! 

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

For me, the next steps is world wide domination lol seriously though I do want to move out of Europe and start working on events around the globe with my favourite sports. That would be cool. 

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

If you don’t love it, don’t do it. It’s not worth it. If you can’t love it even if it’s a hard day, even if clients are being difficult, even when no one’s coming back to you and you’re running out of money then you’ll not stick it out. You got to want to do it regardless of all of that, for the love of it. 

Ben Lumley
benlumleyphoto.co.uk
@bensnapsstuff

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