This week on the Boagworld Web Show we are joined by Headscape alumni Chris Sanderson to talk about the process of starting your web design business.
Paul: Hello and welcome to Boagworld.com, the podcast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. My name is Paul and I’m being joined as always by Marcus but we also have Chris Sanderson on the show. Hello Chris!
Marcus: Hi Chris.
Paul: He’s cheerful now he’s left Headscape. He always used to be grumpy.
Marcus: He so didn’t.
Paul: I know, I made that up, but it sounded good.
Chris: Lots of coffee because it’s 3 o’clock.
Marcus: I feel I am being ganged up on today by ex-Headscapers.
Paul: Yes you are. It just struck me that we are talking about setting up a new business and Marcus, the last time you did that was like thirteen years ago, while both myself and Chris have done it in the last few months. So I figured who better to have on the show than Chris, because we’ve done it in completely different ways. Because in my head I’ve been planning it for a while, but I am thinking in Chris’s head it was a bit of a sudden decision.
Chris: I’ve done it completely wrong Paul, yes.
Paul: It doesn’t make it wrong! I’ve done my wrong. We’re going to share lots of disasters in this show, it’s going to be a good one.
Marcus: I think it’s kind of cool because you’re both, you’re not setting up agencies are you and the majority of people I think who are listening to this are in an agency, or in a web team or have a mate who are looking at starting off as a single person, freelancer-type position I suspect.
Paul: Well that was something I was wanting to talk to you about Marcus, that actually me and Chris are now setting up in competition with Headscape. We’re building our own agency and we are going to steal all your clients.
Marcus: And Chris is doing the sales work and you’re doing the design? Is that right Paul?
Paul: Yes, that’s about it.
So Marcus do you want to explain why it is me and Chris have set up recently and what’s going on at Headscape? As I don’t think we’ve actually talked about it as such and I think a bit of context might be useful for people.
Marcus: Yes, ok. Well Chris joined us in 2002 so after thirteen years, the other Chris, Scott and I got together and we felt it was time to get rid of the dead wood.
Paul: So that was me and Chris, was it? We were the dead wood?
Marcus: Yes, that was you two. No. I mentioned on last week’s show that we had a very tough year last year. At the end of every sentence I say ‘but it’s changed!’ and now we’ve got too much work, we don’t know what to do with ourselves. How long that will last for, I don’t know. But it’s good. But last year was appalling. As I mentioned on last week’s show we kept coming second, maybe we weren’t getting as many opportunities as we used to but also we had a couple of what we thought were dead cert huge projects, neither of which came off. One of which was right at the end of the year which made us sit up and think ‘we’ve got to do something’. At which point, as you’ve just been saying Paul, you were looking for a change in your life and your work so you said ‘I’m happy to go’. Because as well as winning more work to keep the company going, we felt that maybe we were a bit too big to do that so at the time we basically asked people in the company if they were thinking the same way you were Paul and we willing to say ‘I want to go somewhere new, and do something different’ and Chris turned round and said that, which was obviously disappointing because he’s been rock solid, or was rock solid for thirteen years but that’s life and Chris in many ways helped us out by doing that and gave us the chance to get back on a steadier footing which we have done. Which is great.
Paul: Yes. From a financial point view as well, I was quite an expensive person in the company so it made sense for me to go.
Marcus: Well you both were really.
Paul: Yes, when you are in a company that long you start to get very expensive.
Marcus: But that wasn’t a reason. We had not a great year in 2012 and then we had a cracking year in 2013 and you think ‘ok we are back to where we were’ and then in 2014 I think we only hit target on two months out of twelve. And it’s like it’s not feasible to carry on thinking we can do that, so how can we save money and obviously in a company like a Digital Agency we had very little outgoing other than salary. And it’s a hard decision to come to and talk about with people, that we need to reduce our numbers and people coming forward and volunteering is a much more pleasant way of doing that.
Chris: I didn’t realise – I thought it was a plot against people from the West Country.
Marcus: Well no, Ian is still there and he is the furthest West of all.
Paul: Yes, that’s very true. So Chris, from your point of view, had you been thinking about it before the voluntary redundancy thing? Or was it literally ‘right, yes let’s do it!’
Chris: Well no, if I am honest I had been thinking about it for six months or so. It was a wakeup call to sit back and think what do I love doing, what do I want to be doing in five or ten years’ time which I never really thought about. You get into a bit of a routine don’t you, not thinking that far ahead so it was just a chance for a change to be honest.
Paul: Yes. And how’s it going? Because I haven’t really spoken to you much since then. So you set up as a freelance designer. What are you doing, and what are you not doing and how is it going?
Marcus: Chance to plug, Chris!
Chris: Well yes. I’ve debated my job title a few times. It’s hard to summarise what I do – Design Generalist as opposed to Jack of all trades?
Chris: Polymath, I like it.
Paul: That’s what you’re supposed to call yourself. You’re a renaissance man.
Chris: So it’s primarily UI design and Consultancy, to sum up what I do and probably like yourself, I am very, very busy at the moment, which I can’t complain about. Yes, it’s going really well.
Paul: Oh that’s really good. I’m really pleased. I got from the little conversations that we had up front, it wasn’t like you had a load of work already lined up and you were ready to go. It wasn’t anything like that. So where has work materialised from?
Chris: It’s thanks to you Paul, and your Twitter following.
Chris: Yes. I think it was at the end of Jan, you posted to say Chris is leaving Headscape, this is what he is doing – this guy is fantastic, which obviously was very truthful. And a lead came off of that and off the back of that and it tends to just come in through reputation. I’ve done it the wrong way if I am honest, I feel if you are going to go down the Freelance route, maybe moonlighting is the way to do it to build up some business before you say you are going to completely jump ship and go it alone but it’s been a very lucky experience.
Marcus: It’s worked out though?
Chris: It’s worked out.
Marcus: I am very pleased to hear that.
Paul: Yes, you have no idea how that makes us feel.
Chris: Massive relief.
Marcus: This would have been a bit awkward, wouldn’t it. ‘Actually I have nothing, I am sat on my hands everyday’.
Paul: My family is starving, the house is getting repossessed….
Chris: … please give me a job?
Paul: That would have been bad. Tell me—we can edit this bit out if you don’t want to discuss it Chris—but I am quite interested. Did you have to rely on the redundancy payment you got as part of Headscape? Or did you win work that quickly?
Chris: That’s a really good point. I did which I didn’t anticipate, and the biggest tip I can give to anyone to do the same is don’t underestimate the payment terms of your clients, which I did massively. To put it into perspective I have only just been paid for the first job I started back in February. So that’s quite a few months relying on that. So yes, that was essential.
Paul: Yes, cash flow is always a big problem to begin with. I’ve been with Headscape, and I don’t know if people know this, but because we had a bad 2014, I’d actually gone down to 4 days a week towards the end and so I was doing some freelance work to make up the salary difference there. So that had got me a little bit of money behind me which helped over the transition period and obviously being bought out of Headscape gave me a bit of a buffer aswell, although not as much as I had hoped at the time, because of the year Headscape had had.
Things like that, having that little pot of money behind you when you start I think is quite important isn’t it, really. Because you are right. People are bad at paying on time.
Chris: Yes, expenses as well, obviously getting things set up, things to purchase, it all adds up.
Marcus: It makes me realise how lucky we’ve been at Headscape. Because we’ve had very few bad payers over the years. I think it’s working in non-profit charity sectors quite a lot and they tend to be good payers compared to commercial clients.
Paul: It depends on what you call a bad payer mind, Marcus.
Marcus: Late payment. That’s what we are talking about. I mean most people we talk about pay within 30 days – and hooray – that’s not the norm.
Paul: Right that’s not been my experience, even within higher education. They are always at least a couple of weeks over which is funny. Perhaps you look scarier for some reason, I don’t know.
Marcus: Maybe being an Agency, people take you more seriously. I don’t know.
Paul: So you’ve only been paid for some stuff since you started in February?
Chris: Yes, some of the clients I am working with are on 40 and 90 day payment terms.
Paul: Wooooah. Couldn’t you not just say ‘piss off’? I would haggle over that. That is outrageous.
Chris: It is quite excessive, yes. But it does just depend who you are working with. If it’s a big multinational there are lots of hoops to go through so…
Marcus: Yes, we only have one client, well two in the past – we used to work with BT who had terms like you’ve agreed to and then we had another client like that who we just agreed to their terms. But pretty much everyone else, they agreed to ours, which is good.
Paul: We’re getting completely off. We haven’t even started yet. I was going to talk about lots of other cool things, but I will skip over that. This is going to turn into a very rambling season I can tell.
Let’s take a break for a second and talk about one of the sponsors which is Template Monster. One of the reasons I want to talk about Template Monster is not only because they are a sponsor, but because they are providing a lot of the questions we are covering in this season of the show. They are putting their communities’ questions in, so a lot of the questions we are dealing with in these shows are coming from real freelancers, real start-ups and people wanting to do this stuff. Because Marcus, as you said at the beginning, a lot of people that are listening to this are freelancers and even more so because of Template Monster because obviously they have a lot of freelancers in their community. Which is great, a lot of people setting up as sole traders as you want to call them.
But Template Monster are not just providing us with questions, they are also supporting the show so I would really appreciate it if you could check them out. If you have clients that don’t have enormous budgets, you can’t do bespoke design for them, you might want to check out Template Monster as they have 46,000 different templates available to you. It’s worth saying as well that their templates – they are not all just HTML templates, they have WordPress templates, Magenta templates, open cart themes etc, etc so a lot of the technical work has been done for you as well. And they have some gorgeous templates that has lots of fancy stuff. The sort of stuff Chris does – parallax stuff and lazy loading things, it’s all very beautiful and nicely animated and that kind of stuff so they are worth checking out. And the prices I think, they are incredibly reasonable to get you up and running. And talking of pricing, top tip that I’ve worked out because I have been working with Template Monster on and off on their site for quite a while now, but one of the things I have noticed they do a lot is they often have deals over holidays, they do sales and things. So if you think their reasonable pricing is not reasonable enough, then check back whenever there is a holiday or keep an eye on them for sales as they do discounts. You can find out more about Template Monster by going to Boagworld.com/TemplateMonster. Please use that url because then they know it’s come via this podcast.
Discussing how to setup your business
Ok. That’s very cool I have now just moved on to the list of discussion points that I have got here and all of my discussion points have disappeared. Do they appear for you?
Marcus: Is this the list you sent through earlier? I thought it was quite sparse to be honest?
Paul: Have you seriously only got the two things at the top? Yes! All the questions have disappeared! This is great. This is professional.
I am going to fill them in, while we talk. Because each week I am posting on the website about the following week’s podcast and so what you can do is if you want to contribute a question—obviously you can send me questions anyway—but if you follow me on the website I will post about what next week’s topic is and then you can post questions about what you would like us to cover on the show.
We do have in our list two and then I will look up on the comments and find out other ones. But the first one we are going to do is ‘How do I know when it is time to go full-time? How do I know when it is time to make that switch?’
Well we’ve kind of touched on that. I was thinking about it for a while, Chris you were mulling it over so did the voluntary redundancy thing, was that the push that you needed?
Chris: It was yes. Ideally, like I said I would have like to have built up a bit more freelance work in my spare time first so that you are reducing that risk when you finally take the plunge. It is pretty scary stuff thinking I haven’t got any work this month so yes, it’s probably something more, looking at the way you’ve done it you’ve obviously built it up over a couple of years and I presume you were in a position where you felt it was time to make that step?
Paul: Well no, you see it wasn’t like that really.
Chris: I’m turning it around on you.
Paul: That’s fair enough. I am not convinced anyone really does it like that. There are a lot of people who build it up in the part time, but I think most people need a shove. If I think about how Headscape was set up, we were made redundant and that made us do it. In this case, I drew a line in the sand, I’d been mulling it over—I am a getting things done fanatic—so I had a reoccurring task that said ‘Are you still happy at Headscape?’ that popped up every six months. And for eleven years I just clicked ‘Yes, I am’ and moved onto the next thing. And then I got to the point where it was like ‘Well, things have been a bit tough this year but no, it will pick up and be great’. And I kind of did that for a good while and then we got to the point where I went down to four days a week which kind of forced me into building up a bit of freelance work, if that makes sense, and getting a few projects of my own behind me. But that was a forced thing rather than a choice and then I drew a line in the sand with a particular project that was a huge project that I was really excited about doing that was a slam dunk that we were sure we were going to get and I just had some kind of inkling that made no sense whatsoever that this might not happen. And it didn’t make any sense. It was really, I mean Marcus, you can testify to this – it really was a no-brainer, wasn’t it?
Marcus: I mean, when you look back I am pretty sure I know what happened, and it’s not something I am going to discuss on this podcast, but actually it does make sense. But it didn’t at the time. No, we were being assured by the highest powers that it was in the bag.
Paul: Yes, so I drew this line and said to myself and to Marcus and Chris if this one doesn’t come off, then it’s time for me to do something different. So that was kind of the push I needed.
Chris: You must have had something in the pipeline though, when you did leave?
Paul: Sure, I had stuff in the pipeline in the sense that I had been doing one day a week of my own stuff anyway.
Paul: But that was about it, really. What that had proved to me was… when did we go down to four days a week? It wasn’t that long before, was it?
Marcus: About November/December time?
Paul: Yes, so I only had had a couple of months of that. And that had proved to me that I could do it I think.
Marcus: I think this is very dependent on your own personal circumstances. I think if you’ve just left Uni or something like that and you are still living at home for example, then you can take a lot more risks than someone like you Paul for example. You have a mortgage to pay, and have a family to feed and all those kind of things. In that situation you do need a bit of a shove. But if you have fewer responsibilities then you can take a risk and go for it. But that’s making it very black and white.
Paul: No I think that is a fair comment.
Chris: I think in this day and age no job is secure. There is always a risk, so whilst it’s a bigger risk to suddenly go it alone, I felt that even a permanent job somewhere there would still be risk involved. I couldn’t guarantee I would have a secure job somewhere else for twelve months.
Paul: No, that is a really good point Chris. And also I think in some ways I actually prefer at least if you are working for yourself you know how long the runway is. If you are an employee and if the company is quite a secretive company and not particularly open, that hammer can fall any day. You can go from having a job to not with no notice, no expectations, so I think that’s one of the… there is almost more security in being your own boss as you know how much longer you have got, if that makes sense.
Chris: Exactly, yes.
Paul: I mean one of the things I was going to draw out of that, one of the things that I did perhaps that I liked is that I created my own push if that makes sense. I drew a line in the sand and said ‘right, if these criteria happen I am going to do this’. And I think that’s quite helpful because you can um and ahh about stuff for so long – is now the time/is now not the time? That you may never actually get round to doing it. While saying ‘ok if I get this amount of work I will go freelance’ or ‘if this happens with my current position then I will set up by myself’. I think that’s a quite helpful thing to do isn’t it?
Chris: Yes, I think it’s unrealistic to think moonlighting you will have enough work to suddenly turn around and quit your day job. It might give you a bit of a buffer, but at some point you have got to take that plunge.
Paul: Yes, it’s not a nice simple transition definitely. The next question that came in was ‘How do I go about landing those first clients?’ We kind of touched on that a little bit.
Marcus: Use Paul’s massive Twitter following.
Chris: I was going to say – ask Paul to Tweet for you! Yes, everyone Tweet Paul.
Paul: Thank you. That’s great, thanks a lot.
Chris: One of the slightly awkward things I did was getting back in contact with old friends and colleagues in the industry which were really good friends that I had simply lost touch with, probably through geography more than anything. So getting back in touch with them, trying to build a bit of a network there without going straight in and saying ‘have you got any work for me?’
Paul: That’s what it all comes down to doesn’t it. Is that networking and relationships.
Chris: Yes completely.
Paul: How did you Marcus, because this fell to you when we starting Headscape, what was your kind of approach?
Marcus: Well I always said when you first start up, ‘tap up your friends’. Which might not necessarily be people in the industry, just people who work for companies and with them you can be completely open and say ‘look this is what I am doing, this is really scary. I am really good and I can prove that, just give me a chance to get in front of people’. And remember, we did that with one project, quite a big project with a company called ICEM back in the early days of Headscape, which the Finance Director is a mate of mine. He’s not anymore, I am not sure ICEM even exists anymore, but I did exactly that. You don’t have to make any promises, just ask for a chance to pitch for this. And he did and we won it. So I think use your friends, is what I’d say I guess, in a nice way. You are only ever really, trying to get in a position where you can sit down and talk to people about these are my skills and this is how I can help you. You’re not asking them for a job, you are asking them for a chance to try and get a job which is a different thing.
But you guys have got the advantage of being very skilful, being around for a long time and having done a load of work and got great portfolios. Going back to my example of a younger person trying to start up on their own, I guess that’s quite a lot tougher. As Chris said, I made contact with people I knew within the industry. I don’t think it’s worth banging the phone, I’ve said that many times before. But maybe it is worth going and banging on the doors of local businesses and saying ‘I am local’, that’s the connection with you, I am just around the corner which might mean something to a local company. But other than that, cold calling I don’t recommend. It’s about personal connections.
Paul: And I think it shows how important it is to build up personal connections and relationships. It’s interesting I often have with my Dad because he’s worked as an independent wildlife photographer for years and one of the things that he’s really struggled with, looking at me going independent as I have just done, he’s worried about ‘Are you going to bring in enough business? We had some really lean times etc.’ But as he’s seen what’s happened, he’s identified weaknesses in how he did things – he’s retired now. Which is that he didn’t network. He didn’t build those relationships. He didn’t go to events. He didn’t meet other people in the industry. Which is what I have invested huge amounts of time and effort into. So that’s why Chris can leverage my Twitter followers and my reputation because I have spent so long building that. And that’s almost the biggest thing you can do before you go freelance, before you set up by yourself.
I look at someone like Anna Debenham who didn’t go to University, didn’t get all of the qualifications and stuff you’ve got, was very, very young. Her success—she’s incredibly good at her job, it’s worth saying that, but let’s set that aside a minute—a big portion of her success was that she got involved with the web community. She met with people. She built relationships with different people. And I think that is such an important part of the equation that a lot of us don’t spend the time on that we should do.
You mentioned something else a minute ago Marcus, about building your portfolio if you are starting out.
Paul: Chris, you used work you did with Headscape to build your portfolio. Is that a fair assessment?
Chris: Err… yes.
Paul: Which some companies would have a problem with. I don’t.
Chris: I mean I obviously approached Headscape before I did that, just to make sure they were happy with that approach. As well as Headscape having a relationship with these clients, I also have a relationship with them as well. It was nice to get in contact with them to get testimonials from them to use on my site, which I think was very valuable.
Paul: So flipping that around Marcus. From a Headscape point of view, you were fine with that, were you? Because I don’t think I was involved in this, because this was after I stepped back.
Marcus: I am just currently putting the legal letter together.
Paul: I presume you said ‘Yes you can approach them, you can use them in your portfolio but don’t steal them?’
Marcus: I don’t think we actually said that.
Paul: Well it doesn’t need saying, does it?
Marcus: I might take a bit of a dim view of something like that but I’m very easy going on things like that. If for example Chris had an almost solitary connection with one of the Headscape clients and that client turned round to me and said ‘Look we want to work with Chris, and so we are off’. I wouldn’t have a tantrum about that, I would go ‘Well yes, suppose, fair enough’. Certainly for a testimonial point of view, absolutely. No problem whatsoever.
Chris: It’s tricky, because personally I don’t want to be in competition. But inevitably there will be a time when you get approached.
Marcus: As long as people are transparent and they say that this has happened, are you cool about it? Then I can’t see an issue. I think it’s pretty unlikely I would have an issue about it if someone said ‘Well this is the situation, this is the way we want to go’ – this is the client speaking, and I’d go ‘Fair enough’ probably.
Paul: Did you do any other, had you got anything else in your portfolio beyond that? Did you think about doing any discounted work to build your portfolio to begin with, Chris?
Chris: There’s a couple of other pieces in there of freelance work, but if I am honest it’s the time that I would have needed to do that, to build a portfolio, it would have taken months to do. I didn’t really have months to spend.
Paul: Yes, it’s the time that’s the issue. But it’s a good way of starting out. If you haven’t yet set up your own business but are thinking about doing that, but have no portfolio behind you, I would seriously think about working for local charities, that kind of stuff to build up a portfolio. I don’t know about you guys, but I think we mentioned this on the last show. If you’re at the stage where you really are at the beginning of your career, I really don’t think you should be talking about setting up by yourself anyway.
Chris: I don’t think it’s the right time to do it. Like we said, reputation makes it so much easier. It’s something that I’ve learnt what I do by working with you guys. It takes that time to build your skills and your reputation. I think you are right, it’s just too early.
Marcus: You wouldn’t be able to win any work if you couldn’t point at other examples of your work. Everyone needs a portfolio. And I am telling myself now, that I must update our case studies.
Paul: You’ve been saying that for thirteen years!
Marcus: No, but we just had two sites go live and so it’s a must-do for a case study. I’ve got the testimonials from the clients. I just haven’t written the case study.
Paul: Ahh that’s something I am struggling with at the moment, is testimonials. I hate asking clients for testimonials for some reason and I really need to buckle down and do it because I could get some good ones if I could be arsed to do it.
Marcus: So yes, keep your portfolio up to date and it’s imperative for getting a job with another company but it’s even more imperative for winning work as a freelancer or as an Agency. Especially as we’ve been saying for years and years you shouldn’t be doing upfront design work for many reasons, so therefore the only way you can convey your skills to a potential new client is by showing your portfolio and pointing them to similar work you have done for other people. So yes, it’s imperative.
Paul: I’ll tell you another thing we really must talk about is pricing. And how to decide on your pricing model and what to do in terms of pricing. Chris, again, what did you do there? I mean I suppose you knew your rate that you were charged out at Headscape so did you use that as a baseline, or did you work out your overheads? How did you go about deciding that?
Chris: If you go to ournameismud.co.uk/fraq/ there is a very handy UK freelance rate calculator.
Chris: So that’s ournameismud.co.uk/fraq. A free plug for them. It’s a really good calculator that just gives you some ballparks and some good stats on prices that you should be setting based on your age, experience, where you are based, skill set. So I used that as a ballpark and just chatting at other colleagues to gauge what they are charging as well.
Paul: The figure that they’ve come back with—I’ve just put it through—feels fairly low. Perhaps I am just greedy. That’s what it is. Although to be honest I put design, and of course I am not design anymore am I.
Chris: You’re not going to say what figure came back are you Paul?
Paul: Per day. You see this is the thing that gets me, right. Because I got very scientific on this one. I wanted to know so I started with what take home salary that I wanted. Then I went systematically through every conceivable cost that I might have in terms of—I am just trying to find it, so I have got it here—broadband supply, office supplies, accounting, sales costs, insurance, petrol, different applications that I use, hosting, software, hardware, the lot. And then added in ‘Oh I need to set some money aside for pension and set money aside so I can take time off for vacations’ all that kind of stuff and calculated a rate back off of that.
Marcus: Was there nine months of holiday in there Paul?
Paul: No, five weeks. You arse.
Marcus: Oh dear. Such an easy target.
Paul: So you just guessed basically, Chris? Not that I am criticising.
Chris: The hardest thing for me was trying to decide on whether to charge a day rate or hourly rate.
Paul: So what did you chose about that?
Chris: I went for day rate. I think it’s easier, I think you present better by charging a day rate. There is more of an element of trust there.
Marcus: I agree.
Marcus: It’s because we don’t. We charge an hourly rate, which is one of Mr Scott’s things, he loves an hourly rate and I can’t be bothered to argue about it. I just think a day rate is more understandable.
Paul: I guess it depends on the type of work you do. Because I do a day rate as well.
Marcus: Headscape tends to do big chunky projects, where a day rate makes more sense to me, but hey-ho. You end up pricing things in multiples of eight hours and four hours, so I am doing days and half days anyway.
Paul: The time when I don’t do day rates is mentorship stuff and on demand consultancy where people can just pick up the phone to me. Obviously a day rate doesn’t work in that case, and that’s where I just track my time on that.
Paul: Chris, do you track your time?
Have you any idea whether your projects are profitable or not?
Chris: I remember I used to be the worst person in the world for tracking my time.
Marcus: No you weren’t.
Chris: Was there somebody worse?
Paul: Leigh was worse.
Marcus: At least two people. You are talking to one of them. I am better now because over thirteen years obviously you build up many, many clients who you carry on working for, who you provide support and maintenance for. And the majority of those clients you work for are on a support agreement basis. So if we don’t put our time into harvest on those particular projects then effectively they are getting work for free. But we are not great at tracking time on fixed price projects. But keep a close-ish eye on it.
Chris: I am going to do another plug here for timelyapp.com which is fantastic for tracking, just planning as well. It’s really, really easy to see visual representation of your time over the coming months.
Paul: I might have to check that one out.
Chris: Harvest is fine, but it didn’t give me that visual representation and I coudlnt easily plan ahead as to what I was working on in the coming weeks and months.
Paul: See I just use a normal calendar to do what it looks like it does here. But this looks better. I am a sucker for an organisational app kind of thing.
Chris: It just gives you a little bit more detail I feel was lacking in a typical calendar point of view.
Paul: Yes. No, I like that. No I will definitely check that out.
Marcus: We use tom’s planner still but if there’s something out there that can merge the two then that sounds good.
Chris: Harvest have got useful, isn’t it Harvest forecast app that has something like that?
Paul: Because where I’ve been time tracking, I do time tracking straight into freeagent which is my accounting time software.
Chris: That was going to be my final plug. That is an absolutely fantastic bit of software that has saved my life.
Paul: One of the other questions we got asked was about the accounting side of things, and the legal side of things and we’ll come onto the legal in a minute. But what are you doing from an accounting point of view? Are you managing it yourself through freeagent and getting an accountant in once a year? What’s the approach you are using?
Chris: I started off being a cheapskate and using Quickbooks online because that seemed to do everything I needed. It would do the payroll, invoicing. The more I got into using it, it was just unusable. And I know we talked about freeagent before but the pricing at the time, I thought do I want to be paying £30 a month for this? But it just solves so many headaches with, as you know, it does everything for you so all of a sudden £30 a month doesn’t seem anything when its saving you hours of accountancy headaches.
Paul: So you are set up as a limited company are you?
Chris: Yes, I should have said.
Paul: Because I was an idiot, I listened to people. I shouldn’t have listened to people so at the moment I am straddled. I have a limited company but I still have a partnership going. I’ve been through bloody everything the last few months. But I have got to say, I’ve found freeagent has been absolutely brilliant but I still have an accountant. I have a freeagent specialist accountant that basically does everything for me. All I do is invoice through freeagent and put in my expenses. And they calculate payroll and do everything else involved in it. So you are doing all that side of stuff yourself are you?
Chris: No, end of year accounts I have a separate accountant to do that.
Paul: Because that’s a really important part of it, and it’s quite a big cost as well that you can easily overlook the cost of ongoing accountancy and not just a cost financially to you, but a cost in time doing all this kind of stuff.
Chris: I was finding myself stressing on evenings spending hours trying to work out how should I be declaring the fact that I have bought shares in my company – just simple things like that. I shouldn’t be stressing like this, it should be easy to do.
Paul: And that’s the other thing, going back to pricing and your pricing model, is I’ve actually calculated in my model you can’t charge yourself out full time because you’ve got all these other things to do and you do end up doing them in the evenings, especially if you’re saying things like networking and blogging and reputation is really valuable. So actually my charge out rate is based on me only charging out 50% of my time, which is probably quite an extreme version, but that is probably because I am lazy and I don’t want to work.
Chris: To start off with I think I was working pretty much full time without much business development, but yes, it’s taking up more and more of my time. So yes, you need to find ways of making it easier with apps like freeagent to save any time that you can really.
Paul: What about proposal writing and that kind of thing. What are you doing from that side of stuff?
Chris: You see bizarrely I haven’t had to write any formal proposals yet.
Paul: Oh cool.
Chris: A lot of it has just been through skype calls, discussions, very simple basic contracts at this stage, so I think I am lacking in that respect. I haven’t been asked to write up huge documents which, as you know, take up hours of your time.
Paul: I’ve not written anything huge, but I’ve started getting worried about because I am dealing with fairly large clients, the same kind of clients Headscape are dealing with, I started to get paranoid with liability and stuff like that. So I bought some Terms and Conditions in off some website or other. Can’t even remember which it was now – I should probably know and put it in the show notes. And so I bought in some Terms and Conditions and now I use an app called proposify which essentially allows me to really simply put together my little proposals that look very pretty, they are very nice and I can steal bits from one proposal and put it into another and do all of that stuff, and that has my Terms and Conditions in, and people can sign off in propsify for it. Marcus tried to do it recently and managed to not be able to really spell his own name.
Marcus: Very, very poor useability.
It is though.
Paul: Its only clicking the button that matters. It’s not the signature that matters, Marcus.
Marcus: ‘Now sign your name’. And its like… ‘Where? Oh in that box, using my mouse?’ And I am left handed with a pen but I use a mouse with my right hand.
Paul: I think you are whats called an edge case, Marcus.
Marcus: It’s a wonderful thing usually to have. I have all my notebooks on the left and my mouse on the right. But this is the first occasion where ‘what you are wanting me to try and write with my right hand?’
Paul: Why didn’t you move the mouse to your left hand?
Marcus: Well writing with the mouse full stop isn’t good.
Paul: Yes, its rubbish. I accept that. Anyway, what I like about that app is that you can see where the people have read your proposal or not, which is really nice. And you can see how long they have spent reading which bits and all that kind of stuff, which is very cool.
Chris: That’s kind of handy. Do you tend to do more fixed price work?
Paul: Yes and no. In my case because I am doing consultancy stuff often sometimes they can be fixed prices, but I am doing a lot of this kind of almost consultancy on demand stuff where they buy a time bank of my hours and they can call on that when they want to, to get help. But either way, I try and put a contract in place because I like people to have signed it. I like people to have approved my terms and conditions, so I know where I stand over it. And the other thing is, I don’t know whether you have crossed this bridge yet, but I needed business insurance. Have you had a client ask for that yet?
Chris: I haven’t been asked for it, but yes it’s something I would strongly recommend.
Paul: So yes, I have got Professional Indemnity and Public Liability. Please don’t ask me the difference between the two, I get confused. Marcus which is which?
Marcus: Professional Indemnity covers you for basically being rubbish.
Paul: So that was an important one.
Marcus: That is the really important one in what we do.
Paul: The other one is if you set light to their building or something, isn’t it?
Marcus: Yes, it’s more a case of if when you are having a meeting you knock over a cup of coffee and burn someone badly, it’s that sort of current public liability.
Chris: If you pour orange juice onto your laptop would that be covered?
Paul: Alright, no that wouldn’t apply because it’s my own.
Marcus: Neither of those would apply. It seems that everyone that we’re going for to work with at the moment is asking for more and more. Because it’s expensive. Especially in America.
Paul: I’ve just not covered America. I just can’t afford it.
Marcus: Yes, it’s a lot of money. We have quite recently walked away from an opportunity. I didn’t think it was anything particularly Headscape shaped, but they insisted on a level of PI cover alongside the budget they had which basically made it nonsensical. So its like, ‘If you want us to pay for an extra three or four million pounds worth of PI cover, it would mean half of what we charge you would go towards paying for that’. Because it was like a five year ongoing contract. So it just didn’t make any sense. But just going back to proposify, it’s a really good thing apart from the fact that you can’t actually update. I can comment but I can’t make changes. If you could track changes in it, it would be brilliant.
Paul: I actually don’t want clients being able to do that in my situation. But I know that in yours, you often liaise and work together and go back and forth over proposals and that kind of thing.
Marcus: Well I separate a proposal as a proposal and then if we get a go ahead then we’ll put a contract together. Merging the two. But it’s the contract element of it, you often have to share.
Paul: Yes I do understand that. But for my purposes, it’s spot on and does exactly what I want. It’s really good. But these things mount up. You are paying x amount for proposify, you’re paying x amount for freeagent and all these other little tools that you end up using over time. Your money for google apps and all other aspects so that’s where you need to keep an eye on what you are spending and what your expenses are and make sure your rates cover those kind of things.
So I think that’s probably time to move on. We’ve covered a load of stuff, there is so much more you could talk about on this stuff, but we have all season and so we will get into some more of these things further down the line.
But I do just want to mention the other sponsor at this point. The entire season is being sponsored by the lovely people at Lynda who have got over three thousand on demand video courses about business, creativity, technical things, that kind of stuff. It’s a great place to learn new skills whether it be ‘I want to get better at photography’ or ‘I want to be a better negotiator’ for somebody running a business, or ‘I want to be a better at running projects or wrapping my head around Agile’ or any of these kind of soft skills that suddenly when you set up a business you find yourself responsible for.
They’ve got great quality videos with really good presenters. Stream thousands of video courses on demand that you can learn at your own schedule. And I’ve just realised something really important in the middle of this.
Marcus: Oh dear, you’ve forgotten something haven’t you?
Paul: No, no, quite the opposite actually. I am in the middle of doing this video course and it’s just driving me nuts, right. Just getting the technical aspects of recording video right. The lighting doesn’t always look right and the sound – bleurgh. I’ve been trying to learn Final Cut Pro as well and you kind of go from YouTube video to YouTube video trying to understand how to do this. I need to do one of these courses on Lynda, that’s what I need to do. Sit down and do a proper course on it. Sorry, that’s beside the point. It suddenly popped into my head. ‘Yes that’s the answer! I know what I need to do!’ Because I know they have got courses on video, so that’s great. So you can learn at your own pace which you can watch bits of the video and come back to it whenever you want. That kind of thing.
They’ve got unlimited access for a flat fee and have got ten days free trial when you use the url Lynda.com. So thanks to them for supporting the show, and thanks hopefully to them for solving my video problems for when I get around to watching it.
Right Marcus, do you have a joke for us?
Marcus: I do. Obviously after having such a good one last week I felt that it would be wrong to have another good one. Thanks to Ed Ross who normally sends me jokes I can’t use they are so bad, but this one just about gets over the line.
What is a traffic officer’s favourite type of song?
Paul: … traffic officer’s favourite type of song? I don’t know. What is a traffic officer’s favourite type of song?
Marcus: A power bollard.
Paul: That’s terrible.
Paul: I know Ed. I used to be good friends with Ed when I used to live in Portsmouth. That is a good joke for him.
Marcus: Yes it is. He sends me them quite regularly.
Paul: You just ignore all of his jokes. Aww Ed, we love you.
Marcus: Send me more, better quality. I need more jokes! More jokes please!
Paul: But we also need more questions as well to go on the show. So if you’ve got any questions about any aspect of designing for the web—I don’t even know what I am talking about these days, I am getting all these things mixed up—any aspect of running your own web design business then please email me your questions at email@example.com. Marcus’s jokes go to Marcus at firstname.lastname@example.org and next week we’re going to be back and we are going to be talking about winning those initial clients. Now, we’ve touched on that a little bit on this show, but we are going to dig into a lot more detail about how to win your clients and how to build your reputation and all those kind of things that we’ve skated over this week, we’re going to go into a lot more detail next week. But for now thank you Chris for coming on the show. It worked really well, hearing you go through the process as well, so it’s much appreciated.
Chris: No problem.
Paul: And yeah, Marcus, thanks for being here too.
Marcus: My pleasure as always.
Paul: We’ll do this again next week, so speak to you then. Bye-bye.
Links mentioned in the show
- Chris Sanderson
- Anna Debenham
- UK Freelance Rates Calculator
- tom’s planner
- Quickbooks online