Continuing our Chorus Stories series, freelancer and CallenderCreates maestro Jim Callender shares his experiences of being self-employed. Want to tell your story? Drop us a line at email@example.com.
Tell us about your business!
I’m a web consultant and front end developer based in sunny Brighton – who’s been running a web design and development studio – CallenderCreates. I also freelance onsite via recruitment agencies for large agencies in London.
I’ve been a developer for over 11 years and currently specialise in WordPress and Magento open source platforms. With the industry moving at such a pace, it’s a full-time job to keep up to date with new trends and technologies. I always have a test area where I can demo these as proof of concepts and use them as products for future client projects.
What prompted you to go self-employed?
I wasn’t very good at holding down a full-time job, being somewhere the same time every day. Life got in the way, and I wasn’t prepared to go through my life following someone else.
Now I can call the shots, take my business in the direction I believe in and also have the best of both worlds – work and play. Being in Brighton in the summertime makes me wonder how any work gets done with the beach nearby!
What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome when starting out?
The biggest challenges were working hard to create a name for myself and to be able to tell people that I was a professional developer who could deliver their project on-time and on-budget.
I did around one and a half years of contracting in London where I gained the confidence and knowledge of working in fast paced agencies and agile teams. The culmination of that was receiving the Freelancer of the Year award – which helped raise my profile amongst my peers and networks.
I can remember 10 years ago not knowing where my next project was coming from or how to market myself. Some days I still get those feelings. I think that’s part of being self-employed; you are always working in the back of your mind. However, now I know what to do if I need to show new and existing clients that I am available. Also, if you are creating great content online, your new clients will find you on Google or on social media.
What do you like most about working for yourself? And what do you dislike?
I like that I can walk from my house to the office. I like that every week is different. I like that every day I get emails from great people – either with new projects or new partnerships. I’ve learnt that as a one man band it’s very important to have a bunch of trusted colleagues to bounce ideas off, as well as to share lessons with. That’s where co-working spaces and local meetups come in useful.
I only dislike working by myself at Christmas time, when I see lots of teams going for Christmas dinners! Apart from that, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently when starting up?
I would have loved to have been told how to manage my finances. When you first start out I think HMRC should send all new small businesses a no-nonsense guide on how to manage a business bank account and put aside money for things like VAT, and annual returns.
What would be your top tip to anyone thinking about going self-employed?
Build up your skills, build up a pot of money for the first few months, and get experience! The fast-track method is to get contract experience at agencies, great for your portfolio and CV, and during same time market yourself in real time, there’s loads on Eventbrite and meetup.com.
Then when you get a few direct client projects come in you can then work from home or local office. I wouldn’t advise working from a cafe or the beach for extended periods as your productivity will not be very high. Great for meetings, though!
Some of my best ideas are spent away from the computer. Before going self-employed I spent six months travelling in India. I had a notebook full of ideas, so when I returned home I was ready to execute each and every one of them. Don’t be afraid if some of them fail, at least you won’t regret not doing it.
Finally, follow the GTD (Getting Things Done) approach. Write down a list of items that you need to achieve each day and have a project flow of ‘live’, ‘pending’ and ‘archived’.Evernote is great for both of these and saves you having to remember everything.
What’s your biggest success story from your time being self-employed?
I think it’s not one factor, but being able to grow a business and stay afloat for over ten years takes some degree of courage, persistence, and determination.
Do you have any pro tips on how to find new clients?
I often search Twitter for ‘looking for web developer london’, or ‘need WordPress help’ – and reply to these people. Also try building up a list of top clients that you’d like to work with, and find the Head of Development, or Production Director on LinkedIn. They can either ignore you, or you may have timed it right, and they have three projects they want you to start asap.
Email marketing is still the most engaging communication channel. I use Prosperworks CRM, and whenever I get a client enquiry I add it to my client database and then this goes to an email list, where I can send quarterly updates to show off new projects, news and availability.
How do you find managing your cashflow?
Cashflow is much easier now. Over the years I have moved from a manual .xls sheet to cloud services. Invoicing, VAT returns, estimates, and contracts can all be done online. I have 3 bank accounts – one for current, one for VAT and one for annual return. This separates the money that is owed to HMRC.
What did you consider when calculating your rates?
Calculating my daily rate was based on location, size and type of client, level of learning required to deliver the service, and whether the work is required onsite or not. Based on this formula I come up with a day rate that is always open to negotiation to both parties are happy. It’s true freelancers have a higher day rate than permanent staff, however there are no other perks included – just cold hard cash and happy clients.
Do you work from home or in a coworking space? How do you find that work environment?
I work from a lovely old factory in the North Laine of Brighton. It’s so much more productive than working from home which I may do from time to time. The office costs pays for itself in the time I save, I am much more focused, and also great for client meetings.
How did you find the transition to self-employment?
Every self-employed person will remember their first break and client project. I remember sitting in my small flat thinking about how lucky I was to be working in my own creative space. After a few months every startup has to venture out into the big wide world as cabin fever sets in. Once you do this, you will realise you are not alone and questions and problems are best shared – whether that’s done on Slack or with your co-working mates.
You can keep up with Jim on Twitter @jimcallender.
If you want to share your experiences of being self-employed, give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org
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