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I am looking for more people who would be interested in taking part in Freelancer Focus please see this post for details if you are interested. I am also interested in design case studies too.

Freelance DesignerFreelancer Focus is a regular feature, where freelance designers are invited to answer a series of questions about themselves and freelancing. This week James Young (pictured left) is the freelance designer in question. If you would like to take part please read my previous post. Any designer or illustrator can also take part in Design Case Studies.

1. Your name?
James Young

2. Where are you are based (Country/Area)?
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

3. What type of work do you do? (design for print, web, multimedia etc)
Web/UI design and xhtml/css web production (front end design and build basically), mostly for agencies in the Leeds area but also deal with some direct clients too.

4. How many years had you been working in the design industry before you went freelance?
4 years

5. How long have you been freelancing?
Since Jan 1st 2007 – Just finished my first full year being properly self employed.

6. Why did you decide to go freelance?
Couldn’t stand the idea of working for someone else any longer. Was a big decision because I was in a job and in no danger of really going anywhere with it but not worrying about security. However, it was 3 hours commuting a day to do something I wasn’t enjoying at a truly uninspiring company.

7. How did you market yourself (find design work/new clients) in the beginning – (online portfolio/brochure/direct mail/email/phone etc)?
I guess I was really lucky, I read all the time on freelance forums and blogs that the best way to market yourself is word of mouth and by contacting past clients or people you’ve met in passing who are in agencies and this is what I did.

I certainly didn’t have the “pull” of some of these big name designers who leave an agency to go freelance and take a range of big name clients so I mailed everyone I knew who was in the design industry and told them I was now freelance and give me a shout if any work ever needed doing and luckily hit the ground at a canter and haven’t looked back since.

I keep in touch with a number of recruitment agencies even when I’m unavailable because it’s always good to keep your name fresh in their minds so they’ll call you back if something comes up. It might not the right type of work for you but it’s easier to say no to something than miss out because they don’t call!

It’s also important to make sure your portfolio link is up to date and ready to send to a potential client or agency straight away (or tell them the link if they call you)

8. How do you market yourself (find design work) now?
I don’t really market myself at the moment other than the occasional call or email to recruitment agencies. Most of my work these days is repeat bookings from clients who have been happy with my past work.

If you’re new to freelancing though, writing a blog is a useful marketing tool if you write about things related to the industry you’re in and is a useful way of generating traffic. Don’t forget the word of mouth though, send a christmas card at the start of december to all the clients you want to work with again (don’t bother with those who you had a bad time with!)

9. How did you decide what to charge? What was the process?
I actually got some great advice from a good friend who used to own a large agency and has since set up again on a smaller scale and he told me not to mess around with small, low paying jobs because you’ll get into the habit of undervaluing your work.

Pick a rate that you’re comfortable charging (a reallistic rate in Yorkshire for good designers is about £25/hr or £200/day for example) and stick to your guns. I did that and while it’s difficult turning down these clients who come to you and always seem to sign off their mails “we’re on a tight budget” I’ve been much better off financially and with much less hassle dealing with people who want a champagne website on a beer budget.

10. Do you work from home/have an office/work inhouse at design agencies?
I am based at home (the commuting was one of the big reasons I left full time work) but I do travel to clients if needed. I prefer to travel to them to take a brief if it’s a bigger project and then work from home.

11. How do you organise your workload, do you work long hours?
I don’t work long hours, I feel sorry for freelancers when you see posts on design forums saying they’re working 80-100 hours a week. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve put in the time in the past if a project has run close to a deadline but I think so many clients and agencies don’t spend enough time at the initial briefing stage planning out work/projects and how long they’ll take then expect you to spend your nights and weekends working on it because they didn’t plan it out properly.

Normally I work from about 9am to 5.30-6pm these days and I don’t bother with weekends. There’s enough stress in the world and I don’t need more of it! Again, it’s a confidence thing, especially with freelancing, my contract specifies a maximum of 8 hours a day so if clients want to overrun a project then at least I get a lot of overtime!

12. How much holiday do you give yourself?
I don’t have a specified amount of holiday, last year I took about 4-5 weeks off. It really depends though, last year 2 of those weeks were because we got married although probably I’d look at taking a similar amount of time off. Life is too short to spend behind a computer!

13. How do you keep up to date with what is happening in the industry?
Usually forums, mainly http://www.qbn.com and then following links.

14. What blogs, magazines, podcasts etc do you subscribe to?
I don’t think I subscribe to any design related ones any more. I used to do but found I wasn’t really reading or listening to them. Now I listen to the arseblog (arsenal) footy podcast once a week and read national geographic.

15. How do you generate ideas/what techniques do you use to stimulate creativity?
I’ve recently got back into sketching rough layouts rather than having the idea in my head then forgetting them. As for inspiration, I’ve got my “inspire” bookmarks folder. I usually check out places like http://www.w3csites.com and the excellent Patrick Haney flickr set of sites http://www.flickr.com/photos/splat/sets/981332/

I like to take photos and get out and about but in reality, if I’m stuck with a design block, I don’t tend to get out.

16. What about the business side of things, accounting, invoicing, bookkeeping, how do you manage it?
I’m just looking for a decent accountant to do my first years worth of books at the moment so I can cut down the amount of tax I’m going to have to pay!

I try to keep my invoicing simple by working to a day rate or at least half a day, then you end up with more money and fewer small invoices for an hour here and there. I must say in terms of invoicing, you can’t beat http://www.blinksale.com. I’ve used before when I did work on the side and I’ve upgraded to one of the paid services so I can send out more invoices and it’s well worth the money.

For bookkeeping, keep any and all receipts for everything, even things you might not think are business related. You might be able to claim (as I am going to) that those new trainers you bought were for a client meeting so you can write the cost off your tax. Keep it simple though, I have a folder for invoices, a folder for expenses and a folder for stuff from the inland revenue.

Do get an accountant to look at your books though, if you work from home, you should be entitled to cut a percentage of your mortgage or rent out as a business expense. The same with other household bills. A decent accountant should be able to tell you what is what though. Not to mention of course the cost of hiring the accountant will be tax deductable.

17. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone starting out freelancing?
There are several small bits…
Be confident when talking to clients and agencies.
Be confident in your own skills and work.
Be organised, both when doing work for clients and keeping records of everything.
Set a rate/price for your work and stick to it. By all means negotiate a rate for a longer term project but be careful of projects overrunning!
Use a contract for all your work! I’ve included a couple of useful documents in a blog post on my site here if you need them http://www.welcomebrand.co.uk/blog/freelancing/useful-resources-for-freelance-designers/

18. Would you ever go back to fulltime work?
Not if I can help it!

19. Any thing else you would like to add?
I think I’ve waffled on for long enough thanks…. 🙂

20. Where can we see some of your work (URL)?
http://www.welcomebrand.co.uk