Freelance tips, two years in

[Edit: I was interviewed by The Freelance Web about these tips – hear me talk about this stuff over here]

So we’re just signing off our accounts for the second year of Thirty8 Digital (crazy business: two years? Where the hell did that go?). Things have been brilliant so far ~clutches hard at large piece of wood~ and I wouldn’t now do anything apart from work for myself.

I just got an email from my friend and ex-colleague Frankie Roberto, telling me he’s going freelance and asking for some tips. I have much to say about this stuff, and stopped myself writing him a thesis, but thought it might be interesting to throw the things I said into a quick blog post.

So here it is, the things I’ve taken away from the first two years of business:

> Get an accountant, it’s worth every single penny

> Don’t bother with stuff like FreeAgent, at least until things get much more complicated. Use Google Docs instead and save yourself the monthly fee.

> Find a blinding host if you’re going to be doing that stuff (ours is Vidahost, who are bloody brilliant: disclaimer, here’s an affiliate link…

> Try to avoid really low budget stuff, even though you’ll probably have to do that shit when you first get started just to get rolling – but in my experience the people who have £500 to spend on a website almost always want a £5000 website, whereas those who have £5000 to spend probably want a £5000 one…

> Genuinely under-promise and over-deliver. It’ll hurt a bit now, but later on people will come back because of it.

> Run your entire business life out of Google Docs. There really isn’t a viable alternative, which might hurt from a privacy perspective but you’re going to have to live with that right now.

> It’s hackneyed, but *everything* takes twice as long as you think. Make sure your estimates reflect this.

> Back every bastard thing up in at least three different places. This includes files, images, code, websites, everything. You probably knew that already, but worth making sure 🙂

> Introduce lots of people to lots of other people. I’m pretty sure there’s a karma thing going on here somewhere..

> Fix a single rate for everything you do, and then apply a discount if you want to do things cheaper for, say, a specific sector or client. It’ll make them feel good that you’re cutting prices for them and it won’t force you to do something over-complicated with your pricing.

That’s mine. What are yours?

19 thoughts on “Freelance tips, two years in”

  1. Some extra bits of advice about the backups:

    – Test them. You don’t have a backup if you can’t actually get the data back 🙂
    – Just having everything in Dropbox doesn’t count, if you delete a load of stuff locally, getting it back through the dropbox interface can be painful.
    – Make sure it’s as automated as you can make it. The more work you have to do to back it up the less likely you will be to do it.

    • That’s a brilliant point, Paul – I’m totally with that. And you’re right too, I probably should test some of these potentially easy “restores”…

  2. It is worth mentioning that some accountants will include the FreeAgent fee in their costs which is always helpful and means you don’t pay out for both.

  3. My number 1 when people ask is to build up a chunk of cash behind you (enough to live on for a couple of months or more ideally) before you start out freelance and then try to maintain it at that level. Takes so much stress away and as a bonus, think it gives the confidence to say no to bad projects!

    Also, I’ve always had freeagent, and wouldn’t be without. It ‘knows’ and has workflow for things like invoicing/book keeping/payroll/dividends/tax etc etc and so makes them much easier than a spreadsheet would. I also really like that the accountant has a login so it’s really easy for them to correct/do stuff, or to discuss things.

    • Yeah, your point about having a cushion is a really good one. When I made the leap from full time work to freelance, I had 3 days a week booked in with Storm which really helped in a similar way – and now having a bit of a cash pot to fall back on removes the hand-to-mouth thing you talked about on Twitter.

      FreeAgent – yeah. I guess at some point it’s inevitable for us as invoicing gets more complicated / frequent – but it’s been good managing without so far I think.

  4. Here are a few from me:
    > track your time – especially if you’re juggling lots of things at once, it is the only way to know where the time goes
    > the fact that you are small and nimble is worth a lot to your clients
    > being genuinely enthusiastic about clients’ projects is worth even more
    > rejoice every day that you do not have to (insert whatever you liked least about corporate life here)
    > sleep is for later.

    • Hey Rebecca – great to hear from you (we should do some work together!) – ace points, apart from the sleep one 🙂 I like sleep. And beaches. Sleeping on beaches = even better…

  5. I would add… try and give/persuade clients what they really need, not what they say they want.

  6. Good tips, you catch on fast for a late starter! Congrats on surviving. One more year and you join the ranks of “established” (no actual prize but I’ll throw in a pint).

    Only one to disagree with: Never ever ever bloody sodding discount a service based business. You only devalue your perceived professional worth.

    Make them believe! (And add 30% to all quotes)

    • Not sure I agree with your disagree – especially when working in various sectors – so for us to charge £X-Y% for a non-profit client just kinda works.

  7. Nice post Mike. I’m trying to make the jump over to freelance and these lessons you’ve talked about come hard, right? Thanks for sharing the advice.


    • Hey Martin – thanks for commenting.

      The leap from full time was made easier for me because I took on a pretty solid 6 months consultancy for 2-3 days a week at the beginning. That way I could use the additional days to build my business but still know that income was going to be sorted.

      Prior to that I tried very hard to get my previous employer to let me go down to 3 days a week and freelance on the remaining days but they were having none of it…

      • Yeah I’d have a pretty hard time doing that at my place. We’re only a company of 4…but there’s still zero flexibility, hence the imperative to do this on my own.
        That sounds like a smart transition strategy you had there. I hear you’re in the new Freelance Web podcast…I’ll hit it up on Fri :p

  8. I so agree with you Mike…………..Back up in several places……..And the Karma thing definitely works. I think we should all help each other!
    Thanks for a great blog mate!

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