Diary of a freelance web developer Past mistakes

Published in: Freelancing

Over the coming months I will be writing a series of articles about starting out as a freelance web developer. This is not an easy journey, I know as this is the second time I am trying to set up my own business. It’s as much a personal diary as anything else, but I hope others wanting to start out on their own will be able to take something useful from these posts.

Being your own boss sounds brilliant, doesn’t it!? No targets to hit, working when you want to, fancy having a longer lunch break – not a problem. At least that’s how I thought it would be the first time I decided that the time was right for me to give it a go…

Wow, was I wrong!!! I was, quite frankly, thoroughly unprepared for the avalanche of admin, long, long days at the desk, difficult clients and totally irregular pipeline of work. I simply didn’t realise the vast amount of things I needed to consider, and act upon, that would make or break my newly chosen career.

Perhaps the best place to start is to look at why I failed.

Not setting goals or aspirations

Your aspirations for your business are what will define your business. Your goals will break your aspirations down into achievable chunks which, later on, will feed into your business plan. It’s no good deciding to just ‘do the job’ as I did, you’ll end up floundering, directionless and wondering what you need to do to move forward.

As a freelancer, the most basic of goals is to ensure you have enough income to cover your outgoings each month. This is perhaps the most difficult (and frightening) aspect when starting out. You are your own boss but you are also responsible for ensuring that this continues to be the case!

Have a think about what your strengths are, pick a niche in the market or focus on that good idea you’ve got and turn these into your goals.

Having no structured plan

Clearly, not having any real goals made creating a plan very difficult indeed. I hid behind the fact that I had no real goals as an excuse for not spending the time to really think through how to turn my skills into a viable business.

A plan is no easy thing to come up with – it takes time, a lot of effort and, often, frustration when you find it nigh on impossible to get the woolly ideas out of your head and onto paper.

A plan doesn’t have to be complete to the last letter, in most cases it provides the beginnings of your journey, it takes those aspirations and turns them into a route map that tells you roughly, how you’re going to get to where you want to be.

The main point here is to start it, you’ll find simply by thinking things through that the pieces will begin to fall into place.

Expecting clients to magically appear

Otherwise know as – Having No Marketing Strategy. This, I believe is probably the main reason that many new freelancers fail. We’re great at turning ideas into reality but we’re not so great at telling others how good we are.

Being fully employed normally means that work is handed to you, the reality of running your own business is that this rarely happens.

Your business plan and goals should give you an idea about who you want to target and there are many ways to go about this.

My vague aim was to build web and ecommerce sites for small to medium sized businesses. I built my website and waited for the clients to come rolling in. And waited… And waited.

Your website is your shop window, but if no one walks past that shop window, no one is going to come in.

Personally, I also think I should have invested time actually going out and speaking to local businesses. Even if nothing comes of it immediately, I believe that people are more likely to pass work on to someone they have met than spend time making enquiries on faceless websites.

Not building an online social presence

I guess this could also be listed under the previous reason, but I view social media as a means to generate a personality online for yourself and your business as well as a means to publicise.

I tended to use social media as a tool to discover rather than a tool to promote as I was afraid of what people might think of my thoughts and opinions. I really needed to get over myself, and I now understand that I am my business and if I don’t get myself out there I will fail again.

I know that there are a great variety of potential clients out there and you need to find the ones that best fit you. If you are putting up personal projects, promoting things that interest you or relate to your business, then you are more likely to attract the right sort of client, the ones that have a similar thought process or view on things to yourself.

Of course a good social presence will also work wonders for incoming traffic to your site :)

Running out of cash

This was the biggie for me and the one thing that will break a new business. No money, no way to carry on.

For myself, I had (have) a mortgage and bills to pay, I needed to feed myself. What I didn’t do was get a handle on how much I needed each month and more importantly, I didn’t stop spending my reserves on things I really didn’t need. I carried on as if I was in full time employment when I really should have switched over to survival mode and cut out everything that was frivolous.

I should have given myself a deadline and ensured that I had enough reserve cash to see me through to that date at which point I could decide if what I was doing was viable. As it was, the decision was made for me and I ended up going back to full time employment.

And all the rest!

There are many, many, many other reasons for my original failure. Most of them more granular and around management of both clients and projects, and so I’ll be delving into these in later posts as I start my journey back into the world of freelancing.

In the mean time, I’ve dug out a few other useful posts to similar topics. Well worth a read…

Other posts on starting out as a freelancer

How To Become A Freelance Web Developer: A great blog post detailing a six month plan leading up to starting out as a freelance web developer

Net Tuts: How To Become A Freelance Web Developer: Same title, different post!

10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Become a Freelance Web Designer: Despite the title, many of the questions posed are those that need answering if you do want to go freelance.

Why did you decide to go freelancing: Some opinions and reasons from across the webasphere as to why people started freelancing.