I have been a freelance web designer for over a decade. I have a great little studio in Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire. I have given lots of thought to how I have built a successful business and I believe that the following are the key reasons.
1. Lone Working and a Good Work Life Balance
In the freelance world the capability to work alone is key. Things you take for granted when you work in an office like having someone to fix your email, or just someone to talk to are no longer there. It is a discipline that I am very used to and it is important to learn to love it, particularly for anyone who has previoulsy worked in a social enviroment. I worked from home in my previous career for many years before I set up my own business, so it is not alien to me but it certainly was once and was definitely a big transition at the time.
Most people think that the hard bit is getting started in the morning when there are so many other distractions. The reality is that it is getting finished that is the challenge – I can quite easily find myself working from 6am to 10pm but I must stop myself because it is not healthy. A good work life balance is vital for the success of every freelancer and it is very easy just to fire up the computer and do a bit more but you have to stop yourself. I try to stick to my office hours as much as I can.
I take time out every day to go for a walk with my dogs, we love to walk by the river here in Stratford upon Avon.
I couldn’t work from home for ever and never see anyone else, it is good to mix with people who are in the same boat. I am a member of three different networking groups and I get different things from each of them. The Chamber of Commerce is great for mixing with people from large and small business and they do some great conferences, lunches and seminars. Having come from a Corporate background this gives me back a bit of that world that I miss.
I am also a member of a women’s networking group that is actually quite good for business networking referrals. It also has a real community feel and I definitely feel part of the family. Each meeting includes a presentation from another member, which means always something new to learn. The thing I enjoy most about this group is the camaraderie and a very good chat. It is not always about business and that is not a bad thing
I get different things from the groups I am a member, not always new business but that is not what it is about. I cannot recommend networking highly enough to prevent cabin fever and to feel genuinely part of someting. It is just a matter of finding the networking groups that work best for you.
3. Work Ethic and Bringing My Business Experience with Me
Before I became a freelance web designer I worked in sales and marketing with a blue chip communications company. During my time there I learned a great deal about business operations, marketing and client care. My job was to lead a team to manage the relationships of the biggest corporate clients in the finance and professional services sectors. My world was focused around ensuring that my clients were happy and that the relationship remained strong.
I bring these ethics to my business and apply the same methodology. Always do what you say you will do and deliver on time without any fuss. Simple really.
4. Listening Properly
I always listen to what people have to say. In life there are those who listen so that they know what to say next and those who listen to gain knowledge. Knowledge is definitely power and by really listening to my clients I am able to understand more about their business, their target market, their competitors and most importantly what they really want. That is the only way I can deliver something that will please them and bring them success.
My client questionnaire is invaluable, there are more ways to listen than just through conversation. The questionnaire process enables me to collect all of the information I need. It can also help the client by placing focus on what they are trying to achieve. For my prospective clients who don’t have a website brief this is the perfect way for them to build one.
5. Checking and Double Checking
Design can be subjective and a client can tell me that that they love a certain website design. I could assume that is because it has impacting images but actually it might turn out that it was the colour that they liked. Double checking and confirming understanding all of the time will ensure that I am completely clear on what I need to do.
Testing my understanding is something I never stop doing, I ask a lot of questions!
6. Always on Time
No lengthy explanation for this one. I never set unrealistic deadlines, I always make sure I can deliver on promises. Complete client satisfaction comes from doing what you say you will do when you said you would do it. Managing expectations and being clear on timescales means I always deliver on time and in 11 years I have never let anyone down. Of course happy clients are the kingpin of a successful business.
7. Always Helping
Ha ha, this can be a funny one, just because I can build a website there is an expectation that I can probably fix Microsoft email issues or even mend a printer! I always do my utmost to help and find myself all too often doing Google searches to resolve issues that are totally unrelated to my business or the service I have provided.
I never say no. I always try to help and to bring answers when people are struggling, even when I have no knowledge whatsovever of their particular software or problem. Thank goodness for Google, just a shame more people don’t know it’s there to answer their questions ?
8. A Clearly Defined Process, A Proper Specification and Timely Invoicing
It is so important to communicate with absolute clarity and without ambiguity, whether that is by phone, email, or the messages that come via my website. I make sure my process is clear on my website and I also include it with all of my quotes, so everyone is aware of how their project will work and progress from the outset. There is nothing better than a defined process for managing expectations.
Then I ensure that the full project is specified in a contract document that is reviewed and agreed by the client. This way I know exactly what I must deliver and the client knows exactly what they will get for their money.
Whilst I love what I do, I do rely on prompt payments otherwise my business would not succeed. I make sure that payments are timed right for the client so they are always comfortable at every payment stage. Equally the process ensures that I am always paid in full by the end of every project.
9. Ongoing Relationships
It is important that I keep in touch with my clients to keep our relationship going and so that they know that I am always there to help. Some clients choose to take out a maintenance contract and so I keep my hand in with their websites; doing regular updates, backups and checking security. Keeping your website fresh helps to ensure that you will never need to outlay a large sum again in the future, a little investment ongoing saves a lot in the long run.
Whether or not clients choose to take out a maintenance contract, I always make sure I stay with them via social media. I try to comment, like and share their posts as much as possible. Every little helps in terms of support and it is a great way to stay in touch.
Stable, reliable, secure and above all easy to use. That is about the size of it. I have build over a hundred bespoke websites with WordPress and it has never let me or my clients down. There does not seem to be anything we cannot achieve with WordPress and so whatever you want your website to be, we can make it happen!
In the end
I am a very experienced freelance web designer and developer and there might even be a few USPs in the list above that are key to my success. I deliver on time, communicate well and ensure there is absolute clarity with every project. When I put it like that it sounds so easy 🙂