Featured Freelancer: Rob Allen, Bid Success

In the 3rd installment of Featured Freelancer, our weekly look behind the scenes of freelance business owners, we visit Bedfordshire, the home of freelance Bid Manager, Rob Allen. Rob has been freelancing for over 2 years, as well as numerous other roles, including being godfather to my youngest son. This is his story (Rob’s, not my 3yr old)…

Rob AllenWhat is your name and what do you do?

My name is Rob Allen and I’m a freelance Bid Manager/Bid Writer working under the company name Bid Success. I also write blog post for NBC Sports, work for an IT services company as their Head of Sales & Marketing, and own my own sports betting website. The only things I don’t do, is have any spare time.

How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?

I’ve repeatedly flipped between being an employee and a freelancer over the last 10 years. I started out looking for a way that I could be in charge of how I spent my working day but as I’ve needed stability, for things like mortgages, I’ve stepped back on the corporate ladder.

What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise against becoming freelance?

Actually I spoke at length with an old business development friend of mine who strongly advised against it whilst I still had a mortgage and plans to have a family. He said the risks were too great (although I know that he started when he both had a mortgage and a young family). On the flipside, my wife (the excellent freelance PA – www.justcalljo.co.uk) has been supportive throughout. She understands what I want to acomplish.

Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?

To be honest, I didn’t. Not because I was averse to them but I suppose I was trying to do everything on a shoestring and as such it was always something put off for another day.

How would you describe your clients and customers?

Everyone who wants to win public sector contracts basically. My clients range from independent web designers to solar power installers, concrete skate park designers to multi-million pound IT corporates. My favourite clients if I’m honest are at the smaller end of the scale. There’s something really satisfying when you help someone win a contract that effectively scales up their business.

Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?

As you can probably imagine, you’re only as good as the success you can bring a client. Over the last few years I’ve averaged about an 85% win rate which keeps people coming back. I also try to work with other freelancers to create a one stop shop for my clients by outsourcing graphic design, printing, etc. This really helps me to tie in with my customers.

Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?

The hours are strange. I’ve spent the last few years writing a blog for NBC Sport in the evenings and that has apparently now become part of my core hours! In fact, one of my customers emailed last week saying “sorry I missed the email you sent last night – I’m just not as committed to my job”. As with anything, when you enjoy it, it really doesn’t feel like work. I can scale the workload up and down though which really helps.

What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?

Just one? That’s just too hard! To reduce costs and focus on opex I’ve really embraced cloud-based solutions for my business. Most notable I guess are:

Weebly – I’ve built loads of websites over the years but I’ve never found a website builder that’s as easy to use and as professional looking as this one. Throw in the ability to email market, mobile responsive designs and a solid app and I’m using it a couple of times a day.

Microsoft Office – Dull you might think but there’s a reason it’s the number one – I especially like using it with its native apps. On my iPhone, I have several email accounts so it’s nice to have a separate defined app just for Bid Success. I also use OneNote fastidiously and OneDrive for all my document storage.

Top CashBack – A lot of people know about this site personally and use it for cashback on their purchases but it also has offers on business insurance, breakdown cover, mobile contracts, IT and the likes of Viking Direct and Staples. I check most of my purchases on it and currently have amassed £297 so it’s not to be sniffed at.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?

Care about the customer. It’s simple to spend your time worrying about your business and your issues but I firmly believe that if you devote yourself to your customer 100%, then profit should be a by-product.  I know of a number of companies who follow this edict and it really is the way to go. Secondly, I’d try to bring some subscription payments into your business so you’re getting regular income to help with your cash flow. Read the four hour work week by Tim Ferriss just to get some perspective. Oh, and floss.

What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?

  1. That I really struggle to prospect for new customers (the hangover from a 20-year sales career I suspect)
  2. That you really can start a business with just a half an idea and a laptop
  3. That nothing comes close to the feeling when you receive your first cheque (the first one I received from NBC is still on my notice board)
  4. Doing something is always better than doing nothing.
  5. That you will still need social interaction in your life – I’m sure Ed can suggest a great solution for this.
  6. That impressing your prospects doesn’t stop when they’re a client, keep going at least until they’re telling all their friends about you.

What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?

In a word – Freedom. Freedom to decide what’s right, freedom to make mistakes, freedom to decide that watching TV with the wife is more important than a deadline.

What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?

I think I’m probably the same as everyone else on this one – motivation. When you work for someone else you can have a bad day and still get paid – no such luck working for yourself. You should refer back to my previous comment regarding subscription services at this point.

What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?

That’s a great question. I set myself a goal near the start of my career that I would win over £100 million of business for the companies I work with by the time I retire. I’m about halfway there now so I’d love to achieve that. I’d also like to score a hat-trick for Spurs against Arsenal. I’m sure I’ll do one of them.

What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?

That I could do it successfully – that way I’d have done it sooner. I’d have also spent time really figuring out what I was good at (being truly honest to myself) and then planned to outsource the rest. Contracts? Outsource. Credit Control? Outsource. Getting out of bed? Wouldn’t it be nice…

To learn more about Rob, visit:

LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com/in/robertjamesallen

Twitter – Bid Success @bidsuccess

Twitter – Football writing @funtasyfootball

Bid Success site www.bidsuccess.co.uk

I’m a winner site www.imawinner.co.uk

Visit our other Featured Freelancers here and, if you’re a UK freelancer, join us in our Facebook group.