Lessons learned freelancing and goals for the year ahead

A collection of lessons learned from With Jack customers, as well as the goals they’ve set for the year ahead.

I love this time of year. Not just for the mulled wine at the Christmas market, but for reflecting on the year as it comes to an end. I channel that reflection into the coming year—how can I use what I learned? What can I do better?

With that in mind, I asked some of our customers two questions.

  1. What was the biggest lesson you learned this year?
  2. What goal have you set yourself for 2017?

Joe Leech

User Experience (UX) and Product Management Consultant, Speaker and author of Psychology for Designers.

What was the biggest lesson you learned this year?

ABI – Always be Invoicing

Cash flow is the biggest killer of new businesses. It’s no good having a full order book if you haven’t got the money to pay the rent.

Being busy doesn’t always mean you have the time to invoice. It took me a couple of months to realise I needed to be invoicing as often as I can. If a project takes 3 weeks, I didn’t send my invoice until a week later and the client had 30 day payment terms that meant waiting 2 months for the money. That’s no good if there are bills to pay.

Ask for 50% upfront if possible, 7 day payment terms if you can, invoicing every 2 weeks, whatever it is you can do to get paid quickly.

What goal have you set yourself for 2017?

Do less work for more money. Seriously, looking where I can move away from projects that need extensive management and where the team are open to new ideas and ways of working. The hardest projects require the organisation to change a huge amount for them to succeed. Changing an organisation is a long process, especially if they aren’t ready to change.

Josh Angell

Husband, dad, recovering musician, starting a thing → https://angell.io and the #craftcms nerd at @supercooldesign

What was the biggest lesson you learned this year?

Take a leap of faith. For me, I’ve known that I need to move away from the 9-5 agency day job for a while but haven’t had the confidence to. How will I pay the mortgage? What about feeding the family? The car will break at some point, argh! But in the end I realised that all these things just come down to money. And money doesn’t matter. People, relationships, life, love, God—these things matter. So what if we have to change how we do the food shopping? Or can’t afford a new car and just have to fix our current one? There is always a way, and if I fail at least I tried.

What goal have you set yourself for 2017?

Survive and thrive. I open my doors fully in January 2017, so in all honesty I have one main goal for the year, survive but not at the cost of thriving. For me that means still having quality family time, enough personal downtime I don’t go mad and the freedom to work on stuff that interests me. If those things start to slide then why am I doing this? I could just get a job, put the hours in and go back to the OK middle ground.

Alex Older

Front End Developer, Director @wearebluefly, Man behind @webdevconf

What was the biggest lesson you learned this year?

That even working remotely requires insurance! This isn’t an ass-kissing or anything. I’ve never had business insurance until this year (that’s 6 years in business) and I don’t know why I didn’t have it in place sooner. It’s a load off my mind knowing that if things go wrong I’m covered to a huge degree. I didn’t know how big of a deal it was until you start seeing friends and colleagues getting hit because things have gone wrong.

What goal have you set yourself for 2017?

Goal for 2017 is to try and get ahead of the game in terms of trying to run a business. So many things in the business are half complete and shouldn’t be. I’m also now in a much better position to start going after bigger clients as I have things like insurance, etc sorted out should things go wrong (although I don’t want the hassle of VAT!).

Gabor Javorszky

WooCommerce / WordPress consultant, focus on Subscriptions.

What was the biggest lesson you learned this year?

Freelancing is scary, but also a lot more lucrative than I actually thought. When I first quoted my hourly rate I thought “It’s way too high, they won’t accept it”, but didn’t really need them to as I had reserves and the plan was to find a ‘proper’ full time job soon. They accepted without batting an eyelid, so I said “You know what, I’m going to give this a try”. And hence…

The second thing I learned is that I cannot really rely on client’s promises, especially when I’m merely a subcontractor to someone working for a client, because the client’s client might have a management change. They might want to review current projects and contracts, and that could cause cashflow problems for the person I’m subcontracting for. Obviously they’re going to take care of their own needs first, and my invoices will go unpaid for a while. Lesson: have multiple leads lined up. As I’ve just started, this was a stark lesson and I’m working on this, but it’s also December.

Lesson 3: It helps greatly if you make a name for yourself in the industry you’re about to freelance in through other means (such as working for a company in the field) before making the jump. Or if you have other means of income and don’t depend on freelance to pay rent / bills / buy food.

What goal have you set yourself for 2017?

I want to hit the threshold where I need to start paying VAT. Basically I want to bring in a 6 figure income to the company while not stressing about being able to pay bills.

What was the biggest lesson you learned this year?

No amount of money is worth burning out over.

Suddenly, working a few late nights (and a few weekends) turn into a week off sick or a constant hangover from hell. Don’t get me wrong, you should wake up early, work hard and stay focused. But above all else, listen and look after your body. Get 8 hours sleep, eat well and take a few hours to do what you wanna do.

Your body and your business will thank you.

What goal have you set yourself for 2017?

For 2017, our goal is to expand our team and bring on at least two awesome designers or developers to help us design/build incredible projects (for ourselves and our clients). Mikleo’s turning a year old in February and it’d be amazing to celebrate that with a team.

Steve Daniels

Big Torch does graphic design, big ideas and brand identity.

What was the biggest lesson you learned this year?

Everything takes a lot longer than you think it will, and I mean literally everything. That includes tiny things from getting a bank account to bigger stuff like sorting your marketing out or building your network. I think the lesson I’ve learned here is not to hang back when you think you want to try something—because you won’t see the results for weeks or even months.

What goal have you set yourself for 2017?

Although I had a plan for how I’d market myself, I now know that wasn’t quite measuring the results well enough early on. When it comes to marketing, it’s easy to think that just doing marketing is enough. But it’s important to develop a customised sales funnel for your business. That way you can see where you win and lose sales, and what parts of your promotional efforts work (or don’t.)

So for 2017, I’m already working on improvements to the way I track and measure sales. Then I’ll be a lot more sure that I’m spending time and money on the right things.

We asked ourselves one important question…

What do we want out of an insurance provider?

With Jack is the answer