Freelancer Focus is a regular feature, where freelance designers are invited to answer a series of questions about themselves and freelancing. This week Nur Ahmad Furlong (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?
Nur Ahmad Furlong or nomad-one
2. Where are you are based (Country/Area)?
Currently I’m living in beautiful Cape Town, South Africa, my city of birth and a place I keep returning to.
3. What type of work do you do? (design for print, web, multimedia etc)
All of the above, though I’m moving more in the direction of consulting on these as well and working towards offering a more strategic solution which involved strategic & conceptual thinking as well. Yes you can sell thinking nowadays :). I think.
4. How many years had you been working in the design industry before you went freelance?
To this point I’ve work about 9 years in design quiting my day job at various stages for different reasons. I recently gave up on working for a boss about 2 months ago but most of the 9 years have been within companies or agencies.
5. How long have you been freelancing?
2 months of full time freelance. Most of that time has been spent trying to get myself together, networking & formalising my offering and my resources.
6. Why did you decide to go freelance?
I keep finding people who run companies just don’t get the fact that you have to follow process, you have to innovate, you have to analyse, research, think. There’s a lot of work being done without thinking and it just keeps getting under my skin. And now for the real reason. I’ve got some serious ethical restrictions which most companies won’t cater for and the ones that have given me the freedom to choose what I work on have not always been the most successful, so I figured being on my own I have more freedom to choose projects which I think are beneficial and have no shadiness.
7. How did you market yourself (find design work/new clients) in the beginning – (online portfolio/brochure/direct mail/email/phone etc)?
I started out by just telling those I know that I’m about to become a free agent, I had a blog which I’m still working on and had a few visitors but began paying more attention to how I write and how I attract visitors which has paid off heavily in the last 2 months.
I finally designed a logo which I’m happy with after 9 years, a logo for myself I mean and have re-designed my blog site.
I started attending a few networking sessions to meet other business people. I did a few free or very low paying projects which received a little bit of attention and sent me a few referrals. Becoming part of the blogosphere has been the main point of focus and commenting on other blogs has helped me come into contact with some really interesting people. I’ve started interviewing some well known bloggers & web people for my blog. Offering to help other bloggers out is a great way of becoming a trusted “blogging friend”. I’ve set up a Logo Design Questions & Answers competition on my blog where the best question will win a Logo designed by me. Basically I’ve tried many methods of getting attention and making valuable contacts and it’s slowly paying off. It’s early days though, I have yet to send out that much needed email newsletter to my database.
8. How do you market yourself (find design work) now?
Well now & then are only a couple of months apart so I’m still working on it and adding new little things to my list of “stunts”,
9. How did you decide what to charge? What was the process?
Well I kinda had an hourly rate for some odd freelance projects I used to do. I just bumped it up a little as my initial rate was really low, in fact my rate is still quite low but hourly rates work best for me, it gives me a clear way of valuing my time and effort. I’m still uncertain what I should charge as I haven’t figured out how much of my time per month I can actually bill for on average.
10. Do you work from home/have an office/work inhouse at design agencies?
I work from my bed, kitchen table, the couch, in my car outside a clients office, just about anywhere I can sit down for more than 2 minutes. I hate not having an office space especially when my little daughter pulls my mouse cable or quickly presses the off button on my laptop but hey, I’m just starting out so I don’t mind too much either.
11. How do you organise your workload, do you work long hours?
This is my main struggle. I have to do lists, I use a hipster PDA (paper based organiser) spoken about extensively on 43folders.com. I check my mail way too often and end up spending a lot of my time blogging and doing research online so this is where I feel I need to stabilize a bit but I’m getting better at it.
12. How much holiday do you give yourself?
2 Weeks ago I went on a roadtrip to another City in South Africa for my wife’s Grandmothers 80th B’day. It was a 12 hour drive with my wife & daughter. I stopped off half way at my favourite place in the world Knysna, with the most stunning natural beauty, beaches, forests, lakes etc. Had some coffee there, checked my mail :), relaxed a bit and continued. The week we spent there I was stuck in front of my laptop for at least half of the daylight hours and many of the late night hours, so it was a holiday but one filled with lots of work as well. At this point I just can’t see myself making a complete break from work for more than a week.
13. How do you keep up to date with what is happening in the industry?
The blogophere is my main source, then I read books and publications and listen to podcasts. In a couple of weeks I’ll be attending an industry (un)conference where I’ll be meeting with lots of like minded peeps and discussing, collaborating & sharing knowledge & ideas with other web professionals. I have a healthy list of RSS feeds I keep my eye on on a daily basis, this site included.
14. What blogs, magazines, podcasts etc do you subscribe to?
Freelance switch, skelliewag.org, smashing magazine, www.ted.com, SXSW, Debbie Millman’s Design Matters, Wikipedia, Treehugger, commoncraft, 43folders, design vitality, wpdesigner.com
I find following blog comments,commenting and actually interacting with other bloggers to be a great source of inspiration and ideas.
15. How do you generate ideas/what techniques do you use to stimulate creativity?
I use a few brainstorming techniques, I try to make sure I know exactly what my objectives for a project are so questioning plays a huge role, I do a lot of looking around online and have a few books & other resources I go to for creative inspiration. I keep collecting “stuff” ideas, graphics, screenshots and I have a huge favourites repository in my firefox which is like a maize of cool stuff which I stumble through sometimes. I’m a hoarder when it comes to cool stuff, articles, anything I think could be of use really.
I try to be strategic in everything I do and to follow a process which weeds out the junk and leads me through the project constraints and along with the projects needs towards the solution. To me Design is a lot like science, there’s definitely a lot of science in it and there are recipes for solving problems. I write and sketch and mess around a lot which helps bring out some otherwise hidden ideas.
16. What about the business side of things, accounting, invoicing, bookkeeping, how do you manage it?
Don’t even ask about this. I’ve bought the sitepoint web design business kit to try to help me work out an approach to dealing with this side of things. Right now my wife helps me keep track of income & expenditure. I’m horrified by this side of things though. I do have some basic templates, proposal documents, a strict project process, project profiler, invoice template etc to keep me sort of organised. I’m still working on this side of things very much though. It’s a profession all on its own.
17. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone starting out freelancing?
Perfect while you move. I’ve witnessed many people painfully trying to get everything perfect and in place before they actually start doing business. This is a weird form of procrastination as far as I’m concerned and though it may seem like the professional thing to do it just doesn’t work. Pick a starting point, a very simple one and get moving, meet people, write proposals, whip up a simple website or business card, just start somewhere even if you don’t have anything first and fore mostly know that even without a single resource you can add value immediately just by knowing what you know. Get moving, perfect as you go.
18. Would you ever go back to fulltime work?
Mmmm,tough one. I won’t say no as I have no idea what lies ahead, I would prefer not to but if I did come across that near perfect fit with a company I’d definitely go for it, in fact I have spotted one or 2 companies I might even target as a long term goal of working for them in some way. I would prefer to work as an external resource though, this short time of “freedom” has spoilt me somewhat. Show me the money!!!
19.Any thing else you would like to add?
Firstly, thanks for this opportunity, meeting people and learning from them is one of the most valuable experiences for anyone trying to achieve just about anything. The “Human” factor is key to any endeavour, if ur a good human the rest will follow, ignore the subhumans out there. One last point on adding value, the best thing you can do is to really help someone and make a difference in their life. A meaningful difference made in one persons life is priceless. If you add real value you got a good thing going. Earning a living while doing this is my goal in life.
20.Where can we see some of your work (URL)?
Well, I’m very much a nomad and my little nomadic creations have mostly gone off to live on their own someplace or other but they do gather around at (flickr) & my personal blog/self promo site www.nomad-one.com