Over the last 18 months or so, we’ve read some very personal journeys of freelancers from all over the country, talking about everything from the lack of support or understanding to what we do, to the mental health struggles that isolation and uncertainty can bring. This week, we travel to Essex for our 60th Featured Freelancer, whose story is equally personal to the journey he’s experienced. Enjoy…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
My name is Eoin Oliver (it’s pronounced Owen, Mum’s Irish, she can’t spell, Dads English, but he’s dyslexic, so he can’t spell either).
I trade as Square Balloon, I’m based in Chigwell, Essex (it’s always sunny in Chigwell BTW), and I design and develop websites, optimise them for search engines, post on social and do pretty much anything surrounding a website. I also do graphic design, which is born out of necessity for websites, but also from working with a print designer during my early freelance career.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I started my company in 2008, but I didn’t do anything full time then. I initially worked evenings and weekends doing small SEO projects for people. I had always wanted to run my own company, so I always knew that’s what I would do. I decided upon web design when I was working for a FTSE 100 company, travelling a lot in hotels, getting paid very little, and hardly seeing the house I was renting out. So I taught myself web design whilst in the hotels every night.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
I would say my dad supported me in so much as putting me in touch with his accountant, but other than that, I’d say my family were, and still are, very unsupportive and think I should “get a real job”. Mum still thinks I can take a month off work to go to Ireland.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
I have done paid training, read many books, have things like insurance, but I found a lot of support from joining web design meetups and meeting people in the same boat. I would say my network is my main support.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
My customers are AWESOME. I still have my first customer and I give him preferential rates as I believe in remembering where you came from and who helped you along the way. I have never niched into any particular industry, so that’s my next step. I’m going to release a new website and then the niche will be mentioned as part of that so I can start pushing it.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
Honestly, it’s probably because of word of mouth, but I hope they enjoy the service they get, I’m always helpful, always available for a chat, and consider most of my long term clients friends. I would say most of my clients get more than they pay for, as to whether they understand that is a different thing.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? e.g. Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
I work way more hours and if I was employed. I like my freedom, but if I looked seriously at it, perhaps it is less than I thought. I enjoy not having to justify doing things like having a half day to attend to some admin. Being a freelancer is tough, but I’m pretty determined so I’m not complaining.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
Recently I’ve started using Xero and I think that’s pretty helpful. My CRM system is Insightly, which helps me keeps sales leads organised. TeamWork I use for Project Management, although I confess I should look at it a lot more. Freelance heroes is full of really useful advice, so that’s a brilliant resource (many thanks for that). SEM Rush is a great tool, Photoshop, InDesign and PHP Storm are all great, and I build most of my websites in Joomla! so honourable mention for that CMS.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
I always tell people to be prepared for the fact they will still have to subcontract at the start. It’s not a bad thing to subcontract either, I was so resistant at first, and I wanted my own customers.
I always tell people that they will always work for someone else so long as someone else is paying them. That it is long hours, but there is flexibility. And to stand up for themselves.
In my industry be prepared to never stop learning as everything is out of date the day you learn it. But that’s the most enjoyable part for me.
The best advice I had was don’t look for fish, look for fishermen. So that’s the advice I would give to people, find companies that can give you more than one job. And as soon as you think like that, you start to realise that subcontracting is in many ways, a good solution (but not the only one).
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
I have learned everyone needs it ASAP/yesterday, BUT, they don’t really need it yesterday. So you can stand up and they will often come to the table. I’ve learned to stand up with regards to money, and also to charge the right price. And I’m still trying my best to learn how to be good at sales. And I learned to stop saying yes to every request, or at least tell clients it will take more time and cost more. As soon as you start putting figures on all of the demands clients make, they stop needing them quite so much. When you’re doing everything they ask on a fixed price, they will keep asking for things and it will become unprofitable, and a lot less fun.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
I think I enjoy having a dog in the office most of all. Being able to play my own music. And being able to help people, I love the thank yous.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
I guess the stress of not knowing your income from month-to-month, and the fact there is little support if you get ill or have a bad month. Also constantly having to justify my worth to people given there is a minimal barrier to entry in our market, and lots of people are cheaper than me. Now-a-days I don’t miss the low budget customers, but I still feel guilty as my work generates results and I know the low priced offerings cannot be doing the same job I do.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
My ultimate goal is to have permeant and semi-permanent staff to help me out. In terms of my company, one day I would love for all of my employees to have a vested interest in the company, e.g. shares, so that we were all pulling in the same direction, and ideally, my earnings are not so far removed from my employees they believe we are all in this together.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
How to sell! I wish I had joined a company on a contract basis to try and learn. Not to be scared of selling, and not be scared of trying anything.
To connect with Eoin, visit:
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/eoinoliver/ me
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/square-balloon/ royal we