Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

Week one of working for myself

Posted on 26 April 2008 31 comments

Article illustration for Week one of working for myself

I can’t believe it’s over so soon, but I’ve already finished the first week of being self-employed. And I can’t rave enough about the freedom of being my own boss!

As a few of you have asked, I thought I might document the early days of ‘the business’. I’ll try and cover a number of things as I go – business cards and personal branding, timekeeping and to-do lists, etc. – but for now I’m just going to briefly recap week number one.

An intentionally slow start

It hasn’t been a typical week (not that I really have a benchmark for ‘typical’ yet, admittedly), mainly due to personal circumstances – a) we’ve briefly relocated to Shropshire for the week, b) it was my last week with Sam before her travels, and c) I’m preparing for my imminent two-month trip to Norway – and so I purposefully booked in less work than I usually would in order to give myself a decent amount of free time. Somehow, though, I still ended up working a little more than I’d intended, thanks to a whole stack of paperwork and the mammoth task of managing my calendar – something I’d grossly underestimated! I also didn’t realise just how important a to-do list app would be, even right from the start… although this is a (forthcoming) blog post in itself.

Tedious admin

People always say, “Ah, you’ll spend most of your time doing admin and paperwork,” and this is something I’d prepared for (I’ve been freelancing ‘on the side’ for the last four years or so), but I had even more to contend with in my first week because I’ve just employed the services of an accountant. Not only did I need to get contracts off to him, but I also needed to send the paperwork he needed to do my tax return for 2006 / 2007, so there was a whole bunch of stuff to sort out, which was made all the more difficult by most of our earthly belongings being neatly packed away in boxes from our move. sigh

Control (cue evil laugh)

Still, in spite of this admin stuff, I managed to get the work done that had been booked in previously and still had enough ‘downtime’ to spend with Sam before she left for Vietnam on Saturday. It was this sense of control over my own workload that summed up my first week of business; this was why I decided to go freelance; this is why everyone decides to go freelance. Sure, I know there will be ridiculous client demands along the way, but having the power to set up a project based on deadlines I decide myself – and then, importantly, being able to charge for extra work if the goalposts are moved – is the kind of control I enjoyed when I freelanced part-time. Having that full-time is even better than I’d imagined.

How have the experiences of you other freelancers out there mirrored or differed from this?

31 comments

  1. David Hughes

    David Hughes

    28 April 2008 @ 07:37PM #

    I’m setting up a business with the plan to go fully free-lance early next year so look forward to future updates.

    Good luck!

  2. Shane

    Shane

    28 April 2008 @ 07:38PM #

    Thanks for the update – I can sympathise with the accountant situation.

  3. Ritchie

    Ritchie

    28 April 2008 @ 07:56PM #

    heheh… cool.. Which is better, having your own company or continue freelance? For me I will continue my freelance work, don’t even know If I will work from a company to earn money, it just that SEO really give me hard time in time management with having too many client that I can’t handle alone. T-T that’s why I don’t reply with their email messages hehe _.

    How about you Elliot, do you think that your gonna be having a hard time that your already back for freelance?

  4. Kyle Meyer

    Kyle Meyer

    28 April 2008 @ 08:15PM #

    Sounds like one hell of a week! Glad to hear things are off to a good start. Hopefully they settle just a little bit so you can allow yourself a bit of chat time. ;)

  5. Epic Alex

    Epic Alex

    28 April 2008 @ 09:04PM #

    Glad the first week has gone OK for you. How are you going to be managing your work whilst you are away? Or have you not taken any on?

    And whilst we’re on the subject, are you going to be posting on here whilst you’re away so we can keep op with what you’re up to?

  6. Bob Jones

    Bob Jones

    28 April 2008 @ 09:09PM #

    Good to hear you’re a control freak there Elliot! I’m sure your going to need to be :)

    Sounding like everything is going to plan so far.

    Are you looking to work solely on your own projects or will you be ‘subbing’ to other companies? Either way I look forward to seeing some more quality work from you.

    All the best.

  7. Dickson Fong

    Dickson Fong

    28 April 2008 @ 09:55PM #

    Glad to know you’re enjoying your first week! I agree that the most difficult part is the time/money management. Being your own boss definitely has its perks, but comes with its own distinct responsibilities as well.

    Best wishes to you and Sam.

  8. Grant

    Grant

    28 April 2008 @ 10:46PM #

    Fun to hear how things are starting out. I did my best to keep things simple when I started out too. It was a good approach.

    “… control over my own workload…”

    Just remember: that goes both ways. Schedule too much work and your workload will control you. And when you’re the boss, there’s no one to complain to about the long hours. Haha.

  9. keif

    keif

    28 April 2008 @ 11:43PM #

    That’s an awesome step – I look forward to one day going straight freelance (and feeling confident about it).

  10. Celso Soares

    Celso Soares

    29 April 2008 @ 02:21AM #

    It’s nice to see a fellow designer achieve his goals, freelancing or not. I freelanced for 5 years and I guess the best advice I could humbly give you is to set the rules of play in the very first meeting you have with every new client.

    Also, if you go through a dry spell, try and get some American clients. Loads of positive energy and fair pay.

    Good luck!

  11. Reinier Meenhorst

    Reinier Meenhorst

    29 April 2008 @ 02:31AM #

    Good to hear you’re off to a nice start! I can very much relate to the segment on ‘Control’. This feeling of control sure is addictive, mind you. Luckily it is compensated by those unreasonable requests and deadlines to keep you from living in Utopia. ;-)

    Another great thing of being independent is the fact that you can pour your passion into your work without end – it really does make the job more worthwhile and progressive.

    Hope it all works out and that you’ll still be able to treat us on some of those nice blogposts.

  12. Tony

    Tony

    29 April 2008 @ 02:40AM #

    Hi,

    I’ve been subscribing your blog off RSS for a while. As a beginning freelancer, your website and some of the work that you have done provided me some start points and insights. Of course, some magazines (nice article written in the .net magazine) here and there helped as well.

    Indeed, there’s a lot of freedom and self-control involved with freelancing, and you’re right – that’s why we do it. Though, so far I’ve only built one site, and am doing another temp job at the same time to pay the bills.

    I have a question though, and I was wondering if you could shed some light.

    At the beginning of my (first) project, I invoiced my client with a certain amount that I estimated from the top of my head. Towards the end of it, I felt that I should charge more. And in doing a bit more research than I had orginally gone through, I realised I was right. I do feel that I am in a right to be charging a bit more for some of the work that I have done. However, I have a problem getting over the mindset that “I invoiced them a certain amount, and we agreed to it.”

    Kind of confusing. Should I then simply lower the standard of my work because what I’m charging them would, say, only accounts for feature A, but not feature B? It doesn’t feel quite right.

    Please advise.

    Tony

  13. Jon Tan

    Jon Tan

    29 April 2008 @ 02:56AM #

    Congratulations on the first week of many, Elliot! My experience would say push as much admin as you can off to professionals to do more of what you love. I wish I’d done it sooner (say about 6 years ago!) I’ve got no doubt you’re entering one of the best times of your life; long may it continue!

  14. Simon

    Simon

    29 April 2008 @ 03:00AM #

    Ahh, to be able to charge when the goal posts are moved… One day…

    Best of luck Elliot. I’m interested to see what you post on to-do list apps – I’m on the hunt for a good solution myself.

  15. Max Weir

    Max Weir

    29 April 2008 @ 04:23AM #

    Good start, I’d like to see how this new venture pans out for you. All the best.

  16. rama

    rama

    29 April 2008 @ 08:06AM #

    Hey guys, i just wrote a code that converts px into em within a CSS stylesheet. Wanna know what you guys think about it.. try it here. Thx.

  17. daustralala

    daustralala

    29 April 2008 @ 10:01AM #

    I wanna be a freelancer someday. And you give me more strength to pursue it. Thanks!

  18. Magnus Jepson

    Magnus Jepson

    29 April 2008 @ 11:43AM #

    Maybe I missed it earlier, but why are you going to Trondheim ?

  19. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    29 April 2008 @ 06:32PM #

    You know, whenever I reply to comments, I always say something like, “thanks for the kind words, guys,” but I really do mean it! Reading your well wishes above puts a great big smile on my face, and I sincerely appreciate you guys taking the time and effort to leave comments. :)

    @ Ritchie: Not sure what you mean, I’m afraid… “hard time” in what way?

    @ Epic Alex: I’ll be working full-time while I’m away in Norway and I’ve got myself pretty much booked out for the entirety of my trip. I’ll be posting on here as usual, and in fact my working / blogging life will be pretty much identical to how it is in England – just with different surroundings!

    @ Bob Jones: I’ve collaborated with people on a number of freelance projects I’ve done over the years and this is definitely something I’ll continue with when required (usually when I need some development stuff done). Most of the projects I have booked in right now will just be solo efforts, but I’m going to be doing some Wordpress stuff with Adii in the coming months.

    @ Dickson Fong & Grant: You’re absolutely right! Wise words.

    @ Celso Soares: Thanks for the advice – that certainly sounds like a good idea. As for American clients… it just so happens that most of my current clients are American!

    @ Tony: As harsh as it sounds, I think you’re going to have to stick to the rate you originally quoted. You can only really charge your client more if they start shifting the goalposts, and even then that will still have to be based on your agreed daily rate. If I were you I’d write this one off as ‘research’ and a tough lesson learned, then bump your price up for the next project.

    @ Magnus Jepson: I’m going to Trondheim because my girlfriend is going travelling in the far east for two months, and I thought it was a good chance to get a change of scenery and have a little adventure of my own. I considered going pretty much anywhere in the world (as all I need is my laptop and an internet connection) but settled on Trondheim because I have some good friends there and absolutely loved it when I visited briefly last year.

  20. Hamish M

    Hamish M

    30 April 2008 @ 03:40AM #

    I’m glad to hear it Elliot!

    I freelanced a bit before I got the job I have now. Though, I was quite young then, so I didn’t have quite as many options. :)

    I have a full-time job right now, and It’s especially fun. But the freedom of freelancing is certainly enticing.

    Best of luck in for the weeks to come. I hope you’ll share some of your work with us!

  21. Dan

    Dan

    30 April 2008 @ 02:12PM #

    Yeah good luck, not that you need it :), having followed your blog for a while now, and recently started freelancing (on the side) myself, I will be watching closely how you get on. Its great that you can just up sticks with a laptop and internet connection, I look forward to the day I am in a position to go for it.

    By the way, whensw the next cooking with beer item?

  22. Michael Dick

    Michael Dick

    30 April 2008 @ 11:15PM #

    Good luck, Elliot. Keep everyone updated on your experiences.

  23. Kevin Crawford

    Kevin Crawford

    01 May 2008 @ 12:13AM #

    To hear that you’ll be traveling for two months and still working full time is very inspiring! I’ve often thought thought of traveling while maintaining a freelance business in the future, and I’m glad to hear that it’s been done before (well, at least that you’ve planned it and secured your work).

    @ Tony
    Pricing is a little bit tricky. I personally itemize different site elements & functionality and give each one a price that is a) roughly based off of time required to complete, and b) sounds like it would make sense to the client. I think when you itemize things, the pricing is a little easier to swallow for the client, and it all adds up pretty quickly.

    To make sure I don’t get stuck with extra work under a flat rate, I always let the client know a) how many design mockups the price includes, b) I will correct my mistakes for free c) I will give them 1 hr of changes for free, and anything beyond that is my hourly rate. It all sounds pretty appealing, but specifying these things really benefits me more than the client.

    Also, you should explain the development process to the client beforehand, and ask if that sounds good to them. They might have a different idea of how it should be developed, and if so, you’ll be thankful that you talked about it. I have one client that basically wants to “hold my hand” through the entire process, over the phone. It’d be pretty annoying, if I wasn’t charging hourly and watching the billable time tick away as he tells jokes and constantly asks for changes. Every time he calls, I start the timer (SlimTimer, mind you. Google it, great app).

    Also, whenever you feel comfortable doing so, start charging new clients higher rates. In two years (starting at the age of 17, in Los Angeles), I’ve gone from my first $200 brochure site, to $400 brochure sites, to $600, and now around $800. My hourly rate has gone from $15, to $20, and is now $25. As I start looking for my next client, I’ll be asking for $30/hr :)

  24. chris OB

    chris OB

    01 May 2008 @ 06:14AM #

    First off, Congrats for you monumental move. I’ve been following your posts for a while now, and I am a big fan. I work full time at as the designer for a sign and graphics company, and have a tremendous amount of job security. I have also been doing freelance logo, print and web design for a few years. I want to take the big plunge into working full-time for myself, but my desire is paired with an overwhelming sense of impending doom and failure. (The poor U.S. economic situation only compounds the situation.) Anyway, I commend you on your move, and I only hope I eventually take a similar path. But I have to ask- Do you have days when you think “why didn’t I just keep my job, what am I doing, etc?” Hopefully it’s part of the process, and like the saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

  25. Francis

    Francis

    02 May 2008 @ 12:14AM #

    Congrats ! Turned last year freelance and I won’t switch back for sure !! ^^ Just one problem that is still a bit complicated for me: managing my agenda, customers and projects. I did not yet found the perfect software to manage everything clearly…

    There is a great conference in Switzerland in 2 weeks about “going solo”… I will attend it and really hope to get feedbacks from long time freelancers… www.going-solo.net

    Bye

  26. Mo

    Mo

    04 May 2008 @ 09:00PM #

    Good for you Elliot, I wish you the best mate, it can definitely be rewarding, and I daresay hard work at times but totally worth it.

    I used to be my own business (in an unrelated field) and currently work in web development two days freelance and 3 part time at a botique agency, but I’m definitely considering running a business again.

    There’s nothing like the rewarding feeling of working for yourself!

    All the best

  27. Davin

    Davin

    09 May 2008 @ 02:58AM #

    I do freelance work every now and then, and there have been times when I have been self employed. I don’t particularly care for the bookkeeping aspect, even though a good chunk of my educational background is in that area. Having control over scope is something every business should have, however. Being able to charge more for scope-creep does not mean a lot to me, because at the end of the day I still want to own my time, and I can’t do that if clients demand more paid work. The money means less to me than it did before. Anyway being my own boss was cool enough but there’s always something to do and it’s very easy to burn out if you are not careful.

  28. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    09 May 2008 @ 03:45PM #

    @ Dan: Thanks for asking! :) I don’t think I’m going to be able to do one until I’m back in the UK (in July), but there are definitely plans to do more, I promise!

    @ Chris OB: I’ve only been freelancing for three(ish) weeks (full-time, anyway), so I haven’t ever thought that yet. And I hope I never do!

    @ Francis: I think the software you’re looking for is Things!

  29. inspirationbit

    inspirationbit

    10 May 2008 @ 10:50AM #

    I’ve also been freelancing on a side for almost 5 years, but only this week I finally went “solo” and I must admit, I didn’t have much time for the actual work yet, having too many client meetings.
    It’s great that you’re documenting your full time freelance experience, just what I need now – “brothers in arms” :-)
    All the best!

  30. Francis

    Francis

    11 May 2008 @ 06:44PM #

    Hi Elliott,

    I tried Things few months ago but was not convinced. I went on their website after your comment and saw that they are going to implement an iCal “link”, which seems to be a great feature. I’ll give it another try ! Thx !

  31. enric

    enric

    17 May 2008 @ 06:08PM #

    that’s perfect!!!

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