The panel was about quitting your job (or coping with a layoff), working as a freelancer, collaborating with others, and what to do if your collaboration starts morphing into an agency. We sought to answer questions like these:
What business and personal skills are required to start a freelance business or a small agency? Is freelancing or starting a small agency a good fit for my talents and abilities?
Is freelancing or starting a small agency the right work solution for me in a scary and rapidly shrinking economy? Can the downsides of this economy work to my advantage as a freelancer or small agency head?
I’ve been downsized/laid off/I’m stuck in a dead-end job working longer hours for less money. Should I look for a new job or take the plunge and go freelance?
What can I expect in terms of income and financial security if I switch from a staff job to freelancing? What techniques can I use as a freelancer to protect myself from the inevitable ups and downs?
How do I attract clients? How much in-advance work do I need to line up before I can quit my job?
How do I manage clients? What client expectations that are normal for in-house or big agency work must I deliver on as a freelancer or the head of a small or virtual agency? Which expectations can I discard? How do I tell my client what to expect?
Do I need an office? What are the absolute minimum tools I need to start out as a one-person shop?
How big can my freelance business grow before I need to recast it as a small agency?
What models are out there for starting an agency besides the conventional Inc. model with all its overhead? Which model would work best for me?
Who do I know with whom I could start a small or virtual agency? What should I look for in my partners? What should I beware of?
If I’m lucky enough to be growing, how do I protect my creative product and my professional reputation while adding new people and taking on more assignments?
How big can my agency grow before it sucks? How I can grow a business that’s dedicated to staying small?
Most clients are good clients, and some clients are great clients. But some jobs are just never going to work out well. Herewith, a few indicators that a project may be headed to the toilet. Guarantee: All incidents taken from life.
Client asks who designed your website.
Client shows you around the factory, introducing you to all his employees. Then, behind closed doors, tells you: “If you do a bad job with this website, I’m going to have to let these people go.”
Client takes six months to respond to your proposal, but doesn’t change his due date.
At beginning of get-acquainted meeting, client informs you that someone has just bought his company.
Client, who manufactures Russian nesting dolls, demands to know how many Russian nesting doll sites you have designed.
At meeting to which you have traveled at your own expense, client informs you that he doesn’t have a budget per se, but is open to “trading services.”
Client can’t articulate a single desired user goal. He also can’t articulate a business strategy, an online strategy, a reason for the site’s existence, or a goal or metric for improving the website. In spite of all that, client has designed his own heavily detailed wireframes.
As get-acquainted meeting is about to wrap, the guy at the end of the table, who has been quiet for an hour and 55 minutes, suddenly opens his mouth.
Leaning forward intensely, client tells you he knows his current site “sucks” and admits quite frankly that he doesn’t know what to do about it. He asks how you would approach such a problem. As you begin to speak, he starts flipping through messages on his Blackberry.
Client announces that he is a “vision guy,” and will not be involved in the “minutia” of designing the website. He announces that his employee, the client contact, will be “fully empowered” to approve each deliverable.
On the eve of delivery, the previously uninvolved “vision guy” sends drawings of his idea of what the web layout should look like. These drawings have nothing to do with the user research you conducted, nor with the approved recommendations, nor with the approved wireframes, nor with the approved final design, nor with the approved final additional page layouts, nor with the approved HTML templates that you are now integrating into the CMS.
Your favorite client, for whom you have done fine work in the past, gets a new boss.
The client wants web 2.0 features but cannot articulate a business strategy or user goal.
Shortly before you ship, the company fires your client. An overwhelmed assistant takes the delivery. The new site never launches. Two years later, a new person in your old client’s job emails you to invite you to redesign the site.
Client sends a 40-page RFP, including committee-approved flow diagrams created in Microsoft Art.
Client tells you he has conducted a usability study with his wife.
Client begins first meeting by making a big show of telling you that you are the expert. You are in charge, he says: he will defer to you in all things, because you understand the web and he does not. (Trust your uncle Jeffrey: this man will micromanage every hair on the project’s head.)
As approved, stripped-down “social networking web application” site is about to ship, a previously uninvolved marketing guy starts telling you, your client, and your client’s boss that the minimalist look “doesn’t knock me out.” A discussion of what the site’s 18-year-old users want, backed by research, does not dent the determination of the 52-year-old marketing guy to demand a rethink of the approved design to be more appealing to his aesthetic sensibility.
While back-end work is finishing, client rethinks the architecture.
Client wants the best. Once you tell him what the best costs, he asks if you can scale back. You craft a scaled-back proposal, but, without disclosing a budget or even hinting at what might be viable for him, the client asks if you can scale it down further. After you’ve put 40 hours into back-and-forth negotiation, client asks if you can’t design just the home page in Photoshop.
One of my happiest memories is the day I quit my job. No longer was I a mere office shlub, meekly thanking life for the cold mashed potatoes it deigned to drop onto my plate. I was somebody now—somebody with a destiny. I was a web designer.
Times being what they are, more and more of us are working at home, not always by choice.
Working from home as a freelancer or remote employee can be fabulous. But if you share that home with a family and kids, creating a productive, professional environment can be challenging.
Natalie is a great writer and as a freelance web designer, wife, and mother of three girls, she knows whereof she speaks.
If you identify with what Natalie has to say, and if you have some home-working tips of your own to share, please tell us how you overcome distractions and deal with deadlines while walking the blurry line between work and home.