Martin Bean, a web developer based in Newcastle, was working for a legal services comparison site when he was made redundant. On Thursday he was feeling secure in his job. By Monday he was looking for freelance work (and sorting his business insurance!).
Many people don't take the leap to self-employment because there's an element of instability, but Martin found himself in a scary situation despite being employed for a year. Jack wanted to find out how Martin handled this sudden shift and found clients quickly.
You were made redundant and found yourself going freelance without much choice. How did that feel?
It was very scary. I was told there was a possibility of being made redundant on the Thursday. I had to go through a consultation, telling the company of ways they could save money other than cutting my job.
The second consultation was on Monday and I gave them suggestions, but it wasn't enough and they needed to cut. That was it—my job was made redundant. I had a weekend to mull on it. I quickly went onto Twitter to find some work.
Did you get a good response by using Twitter to find work?
Yeah, I got a fair few leads. I put a tweet out saying, "Is anyone looking for a PHP developer? I have immediate availability". Luckily enough I did get a freelance project off the back of that.
You were freelance several years ago. Were you able to tap into your past clients for work or was it a fresh start?
It was definitely a fresh start. I'd been in full-time employment for over a year, so I lost the network and the contacts. They weren't there to jump straight back into and I had to build it back up again.
Were you ever planning on returning to freelance?
Not at that time. I was happy in full-time employment, so it was a shock to be pulled into a room and told, "We're trying to raise investment, but we're not getting it because of the overheads. The overheads are salaries, so we'll be looking at making cuts. Can you see any other way of avoiding it?".
There weren't any warning signs. Nobody ever came in and said they were struggling to raise investment. It was boom, here's some news.
In hindsight do you wish that you had never burned bridges with your freelance work—that you had kept it going on the side or continued networking?
I probably could have done better with networking. It wasn't a case of burning bridges, it was just that those contacts and connections had lapsed with me being employed full-time and not being in those circles.
You had also authored your book by that point. Did you have any financial buffer or other income?
I had savings and I got book royalties every quarter. I was fortunate enough to have savings to fall back on.
After your experience, would you agree that you're no more secure working for someone than you are running your own business?
Yeah, definitely. Probably more so. If I'm running my own business then I know the state my business is in, whereas when you're working for somebody else they can keep it a secret, as my employer did.
I think a lot of people don't freelance for fear of instability, but what happened to you isn't uncommon. Like you said, I think you have more control when you're working for yourself because at least you know where you're at financially. What's your advice for anyone else that finds themselves needing to secure work quickly?
The only thing I can say is build up a profile. Simple things like contributing to projects on GitHub, getting your name out there, social media presences…
I'm quite active on Twitter. Build up followers on there. When I put the tweet out I had a few followers that—even if they couldn't do anything about it—could retweet it and other people would see it who are a more appropriate audience.
Instead of looking for full-time employment again, why have you decided to stay freelance?
I'm not sure. I did have that thought of looking for a full-time role. I think it's because I found freelance work so quickly that I thought, "OK, I'll go freelance for now".
I'm freelancing because I'm getting work in. If I was sitting and waiting for work to come in and there was dead time in my schedule, that's probably when I'd look at getting a full-time role. I'm working on a 2 month contract at the moment, so that's for the foreseeable future.
- Even if you're in full-time employment, continue to build your network. You never know when you'll have to use it.
- Don't be afraid to ask for work. When Martin found himself with no work, he took to Twitter and quickly secured a freelance project.
- Whether you're freelance or employed full-time, have a financial buffer like savings.
- Keep active on social media and contribute to projects to get your name out there.