An interview with Freelancer Magazine

Paul Boag

I have just finished an interview for Alex Stubbs over at Being a clever cookie he massaged by ego and convinced me to take part even though I am on a family holiday in Scotland.

I hadn’t come across Freelancer Magazine before, but it certainly looks like a superb site. If you are a web design freelancer or are considering making the swap then definitely check it out. It has great features, useful resources and of course star studded interviews!

But before you disappear over to their site take a look at the interview.

Thank you, Paul, for taking the time to speak with us.


So how are you enjoying your vacation in Scotland?

Scotland is one of the most majestic places in the world. At least if it isn’t raining. I have found it incredibly inspiring being out of the office and away from the web. I have achieved so much more here because I am free from distractions.

Getting to the meat of our discussion is your weekly podcast on Web Design, which is to date the longest running and most popular web design podcast.

I believe you started this in 2005 and it has been gaining more and more recognition since. How do you feel this medium has served you and your web presence over the years?

I was very fortunate to stumble into podcasting. I started out blogging but found that hard work. I love writing but find it much harder to express my enthusiasm and excitement for a subject. Podcasting was a natural fit for my personality.

I doubt you would not be interviewing me if it wasn’t for the show. It has done a huge amount for my personal profile and that of my web design company Headscape. It is also what has enabled me to write the Website Owners Manual too. I doubt any of that would have happened if I had just stuck to blogging. There are simply too many blogs around. You need a way to stand out from the crowd and in my case that was through podcasting.

Any future plans for video podcasting?

I have thought long and hard about video podcasting and yet I do not have an answer for you. On one hand video podcasting is hugely popular and an enormous growth area. It would also enable me to show code and designs. This is something that constantly frustrates me about audio podcasts.

However, on the other hand I am aware that many people listen to my show while walking the dog or commuting to work. You cannot watch a video podcast in such circumstances. Video demands your attention in a way audio does not.

Probably at the end of the day it will come down to return on investment. Doing a full blown video podcast is a lot of work. Unless we can make it pay for itself I doubt it will happen. For now people will have to be satisfied with the audio show and the live ‘behind the scenes’ video stream.

You also have a new project in the works which has gone live recently on “The Website Owners Manual. Which from what I’ve read seams to be an evolving manual for anyone interested in running a successful website (from start to finish)….

I am really excited about the Website Owners Manual for a couple of reasons. First, there are so few books aimed at website owners or managers. They are all aimed at designers and developers. However, the client is key to the success of a project and there are certain things they need to know. Second, I am excited by the way this book is being produced. Instead of simply being published, this book is evolving through social participation. You can get access to chapters right now and have the opportunity to comment on and contribute to those chapters. I collect your feedback and adjust what I am writing accordingly. At the end of the process you get the final product. Its publishing 2.0… or something like that .

Sounds very progressive! Here at FM the bulk of readers seem to be beginning freelancers who themselves will need to know a bit of knowledge you’ve outlined in this manual… what points do you think this book would be most important to our readers?

I think the main thing will be how to better communicate with clients. The problem with most people who choose to start freelancing is that they under estimate the challenges of dealing with clients. You might be the best designer or developer in the world, but if you cannot deal with clients effectively you will fail. The website owner manual shows you what clients need to know and demonstrates ways of presenting that information to them.

So you’re the Creative Director at Headscape, you run a weekly podcast, you speak at numerous web design and marketing conferences, and still find the time to write a book. I think even David Allen himself would be proud… whats your productivity secret? Whats your daily life like?

I am a huge fan of David Allen and follow the Getting Things Done methodology closely. However being organized is only half the battle. The other half is recognizing what you are good at and sticking to that. I know I am an ideas person. I am great at starting stuff and terrible at finishing it. I therefore surround myself with people who are good at following through.

At Headscape I have three fellow directors who are expert at managing me to be at my most effective. They bring me in for short bursts of activity when a load of ideas are required and then quietly push me to the sidelines when the REAL work begins.

With the podcast, I rely heavily on the community to make it happen. There are people who transcribe the interviews, moderate the forums and even produce the show. There is Paul Stanton who helps me source news stories. Ryan Taylor produces the show by organizing guests, writing show notes and much more. Finally there is Anna Debenham who is our technician. She edits interviews, manages the site and handles the RSS feed.

These people all give up there time because they love the show. That makes me feel very honoured. I would be lost without them and feel guilty that they don’t get more out of it.

You started out as a Web Designer and evolved into other areas since, I’m guessing mostly due to your success with your podcast. How was your early experience when starting out as a Web Designer?

I started out designing for the web back in 1994. I was working for IBM producing CD-ROMs for the first generation of multimedia PCs. While doing this IBM decided to start taking the web seriously and so I got involved very early on.

I was just a junior designer which was why I was given the web stuff. It just wasn’t important back then. My career ended up growing in line with the growth of the web. As the web became higher profile so did my job until eventually I ended up working as a creative director at a dot com company in the late nineties.

Basically, I just lucked out. A lot of success is luck. The idea that successful people are in someway more talented or better is just not true. It is about being in the right place at the right time. That and having a big mouth and being willing to shout about how good you are!

What advice do you have for those looking into starting out as a Web Designer themselves?

Wow that is a hard one. Its very different starting out today compared to my experience. That said, here is my gut reaction.

First, know the basics. Focus on HTML, CSS and Javascript before anything else. Don’t get distracted by the latest fad or the more exciting trend. These are the fundamental tools you will always need.

Next, find talented people you admire and get alongside them. Don’t be shy in approaching them. In my experience they love the attention!Follow their work, ask questions and look at who they follow and admire.

Finally, get involved in the web design community. Go to meetups, conferences and other events. You will learn so much from your peers. Far more t

han from a book
or university course.