Life is About to Get a Lot More Random | March 1, 2005

I’ve really enjoyed working with Message over the last 5 years. Working for a small agency means that you’re intimately involved with every aspect of a project, from the initial pitch to the final roll out. Rather than being another cog in the machine, you’re a valued member of the team and have the ability to shape every project you work on.

However the downside is that you develop a broad but shallow set of Skills. You’ll be a visual designer in the morning and a front end developer in the afternoon. One day you’ll be running a usability test, the next you’ll be making the tea. You get to experience lots of things but rarely get chance to focus on one thing for long. This tends to make you a bit schizophrenic and I still have problems defining exactly what my job is (saving that one for a future post).

Working with the same company for so long, you start to take things for granted. Over the last 5 years I’ve helped develop the way Message do business and manage projects. Projects get completed on time and on budget, clients are happy, as are users. However it’s difficult to gauge what’s good and what’s bad about your process without seeing how other companies tackle the same problems.

Over the last year I’ve been finding it really difficult to keep on top of all my personal projects like running SkillSwap and publishing this site. I’ll come home from a hard days work, and have to start all over again. At times It’s like having a second (and third and fourth) job, except this one doesn’t pay. I’ve been wanting to redesign this site for over a year now and have a folder on my desktop that contains 27 things to blog about, yet I never manage to find the time. There have been at least two really cool personal projects I missed out on doing just for the lack of time.

So I’ve decided it’s time for pastures new. I handed my notice in at the beginning of February and start work as a freelancer when I get back from SXSW at the end of March.

I’ve not got anything lined up yet, but I’m hoping to spend part of my time working as an on-site contractor for other new media companies. I’m really keen to experience working for different agencies to see how they do things differently. Also – after having worked in the same small company for so long – I’m looking forward to meeting and working with new people.

I’m also looking to build up my own list of private clients. Either other web design firms needing to outsource user experience design and front end development work, or direct clients requiring more general web design services.

I’ve no idea how this is all going to pan out. Part of me is really excited about the possibility of working for myself while another part is slightly more apprehensive.

If you work for a company looking for a freelance user experience designer or front end developer, or if you know of somebody who is, I’d love to hear from you.

Posted at March 1, 2005 11:51 PM

Comments

Nick Finck said on March 2, 2005 1:02 AM

Welcome aboard to the freelancer life Andy. I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I have. We should talk in Austin about using eachother’s services, etc. Anyway, congrats on the new change and here’s to your success!

Jason Santa Maria said on March 2, 2005 1:08 AM

Ditto that, congratulations Andy.

Ben Saunders said on March 2, 2005 1:27 AM

Congratulations Andy! I might need some help with something a little out of the ordinary later this year… I’ll keep you posted.

Kevin said on March 2, 2005 2:05 AM

Congrats Andy. I hope you enjoy the life of a freelancer. I know I find it very tempting.

Cheers

Benvolio said on March 2, 2005 2:50 AM

Best of luck Andy - I’m sure in 6 months you’ll be surprised at how easy the transition was.

I recently (about 4 months ago) left my rather cushy job at a web shop - http://www.hothouse.com.au - for greener pastures.

I’m working less hours, I’ve got a tan (surf has been good in Sydney lately), I’m seeing more of my wonderful partner and all my friends and there always seems to be money in the bank when I got to pay bills etc.

What’s more, I haven’t had to go hunting for work yet.

The best advice I can give is, if the weather is good - go outside. If you don’t feel like working - don’t. If you don’t like the sound of the project - say no and recommend 3-5 people you know that would eat it up. If you’ve survived 5 years at Message you don’t have any issues with motivation and actually DOING the work… so do it when it suits you.

If you’re like me - you’ve become a freelancer to a) do the kind of projects that get you excited and b) have a better lifestyle. It’s important to keep that in mind when the job offers start rolling in!

Good luck,
Benvolio

adel said on March 2, 2005 3:57 AM

andy

Its the same in my case - “jack of all trades, master of none”

Here’s wishing you all the very best for the future.

Keith said on March 2, 2005 3:57 AM

Best of luck!

jaffry said on March 2, 2005 4:37 AM

“ …you develop a broad but shallow set of Skills… ”

we hear you man, we hear you. best of luck with the freelancing.

i’m a real lazy, easily distracted, self-discipline lacking bumpkiss and freelancing never really worked out for me.

sigh

testMonkey said on March 2, 2005 4:41 AM

Amen.

I recently did just what you’re talking about doing, and despite the scariness of it all, I’ve quite enjoyed it. Plus you’ve got a ton more talent than I do, so best of luck!

Mike said on March 2, 2005 6:05 AM

Welcome aboard the freelancing train. Unlike you, I was forced to make the plunge into freelancing. With your skills I’m sure you won’t have any problems finding clients or work.

Looking forward to seeing what you get up to in the future.

Ryan Nichols said on March 2, 2005 7:20 AM

My these coincidences lately are frightening. I just left my job of…5 years in a small company to pursue freelancing as well.

I hear ya on the ‘spread too thin’ part as well.

Best of luck, cheers.

Kev said on March 2, 2005 8:27 AM

Best of luck Andy. It’s something I really want to do but can’t yet. Hope it all goes well.

Amit Karmakar said on March 2, 2005 8:54 AM

Best of luck Andy, change is the only constant thing in nature. so good luck and look forward to a lot of exciting posts :)

Reinier said on March 2, 2005 8:57 AM

As a longtime free-lance (web)designer,I somehow doubt that you’ll end up with more (spare) time on your hands, but I welcome you to the club. Life can be hard while free-lancing, but good and… free. Well…somewhat at least ;-)

Matthew Pennell said on March 2, 2005 9:13 AM

Does that mean there’s a job going at Message, then? ;)

Andy Budd said on March 2, 2005 9:21 AM

Thanks everyone for your kind words. I read a report at the start of the year saying 1 in 5 people were thinking of setting up on their own in 2005. From the the above comments, that looks pretty realistic to me.

Ben: Sounds intriguing.

Benvolio : Man that sounds great. Not much surf or sun in Brighton though. You’ve hit the nail on the head about my motivation. I want to be able to pick the projects I’m interested in doing while trying to get more free time to spend on personal projects, getting healthy and hanging out with my girlfriend. I’m not sure if the two are mutually exclusive or not, but I’m hoping not.

dotjay said on March 2, 2005 12:07 PM

1-in-5 people are thinking of setting up shop in 2005? Wow - that’s a lot of potential competition!

A recent chat with someone from the Prince’s Trust told me that only about 20% of the people she meets with who are looking for start-up funding ever get in front of a panel and actually get that funding. That really surprised me having gone through that process myself, and now feeling somewhat strained by self-employment. Just wish I’d had more of the experiences in a small design company that you wrote about.

Anyway, congrats on going the freelance route, Andy. I admire your work and your blogograhics. Good luck!

ChrisJ said on March 2, 2005 2:42 PM

Spread thin. I hear that!

I design the websites, develop the front-end code, do the usability / accessibility research, and develop the back end CMS’s (currently Lotus Notes or ASP). Do back office integration in J2EE or Lotus Notes. Re-develop the CRM system, and also do Win32 application development.

I’d understand more if I were in a small company, but I’m in a County Council! …and I’m not appreciated!

Maybe I should go freelance too! I might earn more than a few slices of mouldy bread, and actually do less work!

Marc said on March 2, 2005 2:54 PM

Congratulations Andy. I’m a hundred percent sure that you’ll be a huge asset to whoever commissions work from you. Just get someone to check your spelling though, will ya? ;-)

vanderwal said on March 2, 2005 3:20 PM

I completely agree with your reasoning and your planning. I think the market is ready for strong role players, or at least I hope it is. I need to get back to getting my hands back dirty and move what I have been doing at night for the last five or six years to the daytime.

I applaud your efforts and wish you all the best. I hope to get to say hi at SXSW.

Kim Siever said on March 2, 2005 4:01 PM

I envy you.

I wish I could just up and leave my job where I have been working on the same website for four years. But with a wife, two children, and one on the way, I can’t be as spontaneous as I’d like to be with my career.

Good luck!

Patrick Cote said on March 2, 2005 4:03 PM

Good Luck!

But a few words of warning (just so you’re ready):

If you’re spread thin now, wait till you start freelancing—then you’ll truly understand what it means to be spread thin.

If you don’t have time for personal projects now, wati till you start freelancing—I’ve been at it for three years and haven’t had a chance to really get to the personal projects I want to.

Freelancing involves tradeoffs, just the same as working for someone—you just have to decide which set of tradeoffs you prefer.

One last thing…take the time now to really get organized—your company website, promo materials, filing system, project management system, etc, etc,. Believe me it will make your life so much easier once you start.

Patrick Cote said on March 2, 2005 4:04 PM

Good Luck!

But a few words of warning (just so you’re ready):

If you’re spread thin now, wait till you start freelancing—then you’ll truly understand what it means to be spread thin.

If you don’t have time for personal projects now, wait till you start freelancing—I’ve been at it for three years and haven’t had a chance to really get to the personal projects I want to.

Freelancing involves tradeoffs, just the same as working for someone—you just have to decide which set of tradeoffs you prefer.

One last thing…take the time now to really get organized—your company website, promo materials, filing system, project management system, etc, etc,. Believe me it will make your life so much easier once you start.

Peter Asquith said on March 2, 2005 7:37 PM

Excellent move, Andy. Looking forward to seeing your freelance career blossom as my skill set gets yet broader but shallower!

Andy Budd said on March 2, 2005 8:19 PM

ChrisJ: Well if you ever need a consultant to help you out, you’ve got my details ;-)

Kim: I have too say that it’s not all that spontaneous as I’ve been thinking about it for at least two years :-)

I just got to the stage where I realized that if I didn’t actively make a change in my career, nobody was going to do it for me. Having a regular income is amazingly conforming and it’s not something I’m giving up lightly. My fingers are crossed that it’ll all work out, but you never know what’ll happen. I may be posting back here in a month or two looking for a full time job.

Tom said on March 2, 2005 9:07 PM

Best of luck Andy! I hope to do the same one day.

Malarkey said on March 2, 2005 10:10 PM

Andy, and now the fun really starts. Before we got ‘bigger’ I worked on my own for private clients (essentially freelance although as a limited company).

The key to sanity is to set your goals (monthly/quarterley etc.), get good proceedures in place for working and when you have met your targets, learn to say ‘no’.

All the best.

(And have you forgotten that not everybody communicates with AIM? ;) )

J. J. said on March 3, 2005 5:08 AM

You’ve got the support (and envy) of a lot of people. Congratulations on following your heart. I agree with others that you will be highly successful. I’ve polished up my own resume recently, but I’m a long way from becoming a freelancing web designer!

Rob McMichael said on March 3, 2005 1:07 PM

Good luck mate, sure you will be inundated with work thanks to your reputation.

Look forward to seeing examples of your projects!

David Gómez-Rosado said on March 3, 2005 4:59 PM

Andy,

I do not want to spoil the party. Just a word of advice from someone who left a high-profile job to start his own adventure:

It is way more rewarding to sell and build oneself… But forget about having more free time. It is the reverse. I take you for someone that takes pride on what he does and that is the big problem: Forget having weekends as you will be your most demanding boss… BUT, that is not the advice (that was a warning). The advice is: LIVE BELOW YOUR MEANS. As a freelancer, you will live highs of prosperity where everything looks rosy and you will tempted to reward yourself… but, you shall have pitfalls my friend.

You MUST have a stash of six to 12 months “expected” salary saved for when the tough times come along. And they WILL come along. Write that on a stone.

Other than that… Congrats and welcome to the club.

kelet said on March 4, 2005 2:09 PM

Enjoy your decision and new work style,Andy!
I’m now is the case of what you said: have problems defining exactly what my job is.Broad working but no objective,which is harm from my future career.
Maybe it’s the time for me to change too:)

Chester Coonen said on March 6, 2005 9:47 AM

You will do fine… I know your site-style for this blog alone has given me soo many ideas, concepts and and better ways to develop my own sites. Thank you! :)

Ethan said on March 8, 2005 1:36 PM

Hey, Andy—that’s stellar news. Congratulations!

Chris Hunt said on March 8, 2005 3:55 PM

Good luck with the freelancing Andy. I’ve been at it since 1997, albeit in database programming rather than web design roles. Two bits of advice…

1) Don’t feel you have to work every hour God gives, because the work’s there today and may not be tomorrow. Remember why you went freelance in the first place.

2) Find a good, small, local accountant. I made the mistake of going with a large national company. They were competent enough, but had no real ongoing relationship with my business - I spoke to a different person every time I called. I’ve got a local guy now that I can walk round to see when I need to. Doing all the tax/NI/VAT paperwork is one of the downsides of self-employment!

Azeem Azeez said on March 8, 2005 5:16 PM

Good luck Andy, im sure with your mad skillz, you’ll be kicking butt in no time.

Mike Stenhouse said on March 8, 2005 6:39 PM

That’s some great advice from Malarkey - learn to say ‘no’. When you’re not sure where your next cheque is coming from that’s really hard, and it’s doubly difficult when you’re offered several interesting projects at the same time. I made the mistake of taking on a few things at the same time towards the end of last year because they all looked really fun but the result was me having to work from 8am to 2am every day for about 3 months! In the end none of them were as fun as they should have been.

The contracting market feels really good right now so I’m sure you’ll be just fine. All the best!