Behind The Scenes – First Month Freelancing

first month freelancing

It’s been a whole month since I launched Five Pixels – and what a month it’s been! I have booked my first five clients and I am already busy producing amazing designs and websites for them. It is no small task setting up and launching a business, so in this post I’ll talk about what I did before I launched, and then all the things that I did in the first month.

Pre-launch

Deciding what to do

I’d been thinking about setting up on my own as a web designer and developer for quite a while. I had a baby girl in November 2015 (I also have two sons aged 7 and 5), and I had always planned that I would begin my venture back into the working world when she reached her first birthday.

I toyed with several options before deciding on offering a complete web-design and build service. I’m quite creative, I love to write and take photos, but at the end of the day, programming and building sites is something I have done for a very long time, I know how to do it and I really love to do it. I knew I would be able to offer people a really professional service and I loved the idea of helping out small (and maybe not so small) businesses.

Skills refresh

Once baby F was around eight months old I started refreshing my skills. I did a couple of courses on Lynda.com (I signed up for a free trial). I knew how to use Photoshop, but I wanted to be better with Illustrator (another free trial). I read lots of current industry news and joined some web development Facebook groups, just to follow the general chatter.

Childcare

When baby F was ten months old I signed her up at a wonderful little nursery nearby for three mornings a week. I didn’t want to do any more than that as she is still quite young and whole days can be very tiring for small babies. Coincidentally, the school my two boys are at has just started a breakfast club, and the boys were really excited about the possibility of breakfast at school (and eating sugary cereals that we don’t have at home!), so I put them down for the three mornings that baby F was at nursery. That gave me 12 full hours once I’d accounted for travel, plus I get the odd hour most days when baby F sleeps at lunchtime. I also planned to work Mon-Thurs evenings too which would easily mount up to at least 20-25 hours each week.

Create website

Next I designed and built my own website. This was also a useful skills refresh and gave me a basis for the workflow I would undertake with clients. I didn’t spend hours on it – I wanted something simple, attractive and functional that would allow people to see what I could do. I didn’t want to get sucked into the trap of agonising over the details, the colour palette etc. so I was quite strict with myself and I launched the site “good enough” rather than “perfect” (which is what I tend to want to wait for). I am already planning a more sophisticated rebrand within the next year or two.

Social media

I also set up a Facebook business page, and I registered on several other social media channels with the name I wanted. At the moment I have only actively used Facebook, but I wanted the option of expanding as time goes on.

Business support

One other thing I did was join some entrepreneurial groups for freelancers on Facebook, i.e. non-creepy, sales-free places where other freelancers and small biz owners can ask questions, discuss business and generally relax and chat with other people in the same situation. Because everyone is at a different stage (some are just starting, like me, and some are very established), it’s important to be mindful and not compare your own start-up with another freelancer’s business in it’s 4th or 5th year. Baby steps!

With all of that in place, I had a very low key launch (i.e. I uploaded my site to the server and it went live), and then I set about finding some clients.

First month of business

Finding networks

I joined as many geographically local Facebook business groups as I could, and spent some time watching their feeds to see how the members interacted. I felt it was really important not to alienate people by acting like a bull in a china shop, so I kept an eye on what kind of posts were well received and I read the guidelines for each group to learn about themed days (some share blog posts on certain days and advertising on other days – following the rules keeps the page admins happy!).

Announcing an offer

I procrastinated over this for several days as I was so nervous about it. It was THE BIG STEP. The one where I put myself out there and said, hey, I can do this, would anyone like me to help them? I was quite worried it would be a tumbleweed moment… And for the first 24 hours… nothing. But then, slowly, people started to ask questions. They messaged me on Facebook. Friends shared my posts. People were actually interested.

I will state at this point that I placed my first offer at an incredibly low price point (for those of you into facts and figures my offer was a website or redesign for £100 for my first two clients). This was deliberate because I am an unproven entity – I am asking complete strangers to trust me with their money to provide a service that they don’t even really know if I can provide. I couldn’t point them to any sites except my own and although I could list my CV and experience, I could just as easily have made it all up, right?

I needed people to be prepared to take the gamble that I could do what I said I could do. My website and professional manner were important, but a low price always helps draw in a customer. And at the beginning of my business I needed them as much as they needed my amazing offer, if not more. Without clients, I have no portfolio. With no portfolio, how could I get clients?

Signing my first clients

It’s an amazing moment for a freelancer to take on their first paid client. It gives you verification that you really can do it. My first client was actually someone I know in real life (which is very common when starting out), and I was so delighted. That confidence has a knock on effect and within a fortnight I had chatted with and signed two more businesses who originally contacted me via Facebook. As the end of my first month approached I had a meeting I’d booked very early on that also turned into a client and finally another friend requested a site. I made it clear to each person what the timescales would be for delivery as the last thing I wanted was to disappoint, but I didn’t want to turn work away either.

Getting organised

Very quickly I realised I needed a better organisation system that I currently use. I have always used a paper calendar but I took the plunge and switched to Google calendar as it integrates well with so many other business tools. I copied everything across from my wall planner and forced myself to use it for everything from that point on. It isn’t automatic yet – I am a real lover of pen and paper, but so far this had gone quite well and I really love the google calendar app on my phone.

I also trialled many implementations of project management software (planscope, thrivesolo, freedcamp, basecamp, troll, asana, zoho, to name a few). I had a specific idea of what I wanted to be able to do with task/project management and workflow, and in the end I choose freedcamp which I liked and was heavily recommended on one of the web development groups I belong to. So far, I’m all happy with it as it has great functionality, it’s free (there are paid add-ons which I will probably subscribe to going forward), and it has a nifty iPhone app as well.

I started using toggl to track time spent on each project – not because I bill for my hours, but because I want to build an accurate picture of how long tasks and projects take me. Finally I signed up to waveapps.com for accounting, quotations and invoicing, which again is free and is absolutely brilliant.

Computer trouble

My iMac died two weeks after I launched, so I had the hassle of taking it back to the store for repair. It came back and a week later (just this weekend gone), the screen started blacking out on me again, despite a replaced video card, so it’s got to go back again next week. I am not sure where this is going to end up, but I really don’t want to think about having to buy a new one…

Software

Once I signed my first client, I took the plunge and subscribed to Adobe Creative Cloud. I had an old version of Photoshop Elements I’d used for ages, and I’d had a free trail of the latest Photoshop and Illustrator, so I knew I wanted to work with them going forward. This has been my biggest expense so far as my monthly subscription is around £45.

Blogging

I’m aiming to blog around once a fortnight. I know the value of blogging for business, but I don’t want it to detract from my real work. I have a rough content list outlined for topics I plan to cover.

Online directories

I registered my business with all the main online directories (yelp, scoot, etc). Be warned – they will ALL call you and try to sell you a premium listing. I also added my business to a couple of local directories.

Missed opportunity

One thing I missed out on was the opportunity to sponsor our village Christmas lights. I had joined the local business mailing list and I didn’t respond to the email asking for sponsors until a couple of days after it had come in. I would have loved to have done this to really get my business name out there and build up local familiarity, but I will have to wait for this one 🙂

On to the first quarter

I sent my first design out at the end of last week and the client in question has just responded and told me they think it is fab, which is a huge relief and a great feeling. So there you have it. My first month in a nutshell. It has been very, very busy and I have loved every minute of it.

I’ll do another update at three months, and in the meantime I will have some lovely work to demonstrate and some case studies to share. If you’ve read this far, you deserve a round of applause – thank you for staying with me and I’ll try to keep my future posts a little shorter 😉

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