Freelancing was never a long-standing plan for Robert Kinsella as a full-time job until an opportunity appeared in his lap. Now, he’s been running his website and app developing company for almost a year and a half and has learnt a lot in such a short amount of time. Read Rob’s story…
What is your name and what do you do?
I’m Robert Kinsella, a website and app developer based in Cardiff. I primarily develop bespoke websites and native apps for iOS and Android.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve been freelancing for almost a year and a half now (since April 2019). Freelancing wasn’t really something that I had a long standing plan to pursue. With the work that I do, it was always an option, but it was never much more than a thought here and there. I always felt that I wasn’t quite cut out for ‘selling’ myself or services and actually running a business.
For at least a year before I left my previous role, I knew that it was time for me to move on. I had been working at another agency for for 13 years, most of those as a lead developer, and everything was feeling quite stale for me. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what direction to take – whether to leave development and look for a new, more active role (health and fitness is quite important to me outside work), go to another agency or go to a large organisation. I wasn’t quite convinced with any of the choices. One would mean starting from the bottom again, the other just sidestepping in to the same situation, and the final one being myself as a small cog in a large wheel.
Around a month before I started freelancing, an opportunity came about for me to take on some regular work, so I went for it! I believe that it satisfied my need for a change (the new challenges in dealing with my own accounts, taking on clients, learning to run a business…), meant that I didn’t need to start from the bottom as I would still be doing the work that I always have, and gave me control in the direction that I would want to take things in.
What strategy do you find most effective for attracting new clients?
Early on, most of my work was coming inbound from others that I had previously worked with, as they had become aware of my new situation. I would attribute that awareness simply to a change of LinkedIn status and also word of mouth.
Following that, being based across two different co-working spaces, and attending events across both has helped through expanding my network and the sharing of work. I feel that working alongside others helps with gaining trust quite quickly and has already led to a number of opportunities. As someone that is still relatively new to all of this, the co-working spaces have helped to push myself forward much more in gaining contacts, confidence and knowledge.
What app or social media platform could you not run your business without, and why?
Before starting freelancing, I actually started to move away from social media, slowly deleting the apps from my phone (I believe I was just left with Instagram, but that was on its way for removal!).
LinkedIn was quite important initially, in showing my availability to existing contacts. Without really realising it, I think that Facebook has been quite important for myself with groups such as the Freelance Heroes Facebook group. Being employed for so long, I didn’t really know much about the existence of groups such as these where you can find help from others in similar situations. My use of social media has changed completely. It isn’t so much for personal reasons, but business ones now, which has brought me back to all of the platforms.
As for my actual development, I would say that Visual Studio Code is some software that I couldn’t run my business without. All of my web based work is carried out through that!
Do you research prospects before a call or meeting? If so, what information do you look for?
I tend to try my best to ‘anonymously’ search for prospects before going in to a call or meeting. Whether that is on LinkedIn, searching for an existing website, other social media accounts, etc. I look for a little background on who I will be in a meeting with, or for a little more information on what they do. I feel that the meeting will be more productive by doing this as it can help to prepare me for potential requirements or questions that I may be able to answer and gather examples for.
A benefit of working as a freelancer is that you have more control over picking and choosing who you work with. Researching prospects can help in the qualification of whether they may be a good fit for myself.
What do you do to help maintain positive mental wellbeing?
Exercise! I think that if I had looked more at moving away form development then I would have looked to follow a role in the health and fitness industry. Weightlifting/bodybuilding and a little bit of cycling and running have been long-standing interests of mine. Working as a developer means that most of my time is spend sitting at a desk so going to the gym or being out for a ride/run helps to clear my mind and provide me with other goals to achieve and put some focus in to.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than what you had first anticipated?
I didn’t really have many expectations before starting as it had all happened quite quickly. I knew that it would take a lot of time to get things set up, along with the actual work but I was very keen when starting to set my working hours and keep time for myself. That hasn’t actually happened, and my hours are constantly high!
In my previous employment, I started to work longer and longer hours, which did start to affect me, but working long hours as an employee vs as a freelancer isn’t the same. Those hours are for the benefit of yourself, which is much easier to take.
What are the most common objections you’ve had from potential clients? How did/do you overcome them?
I haven’t had many objections, but the expectations over how much work is involved in creating a good website or app varies wildly. I always like to take the time to explain processes, and help with decisions or potential consequences of those decisions, giving options. By doing so, I believe that the client gets a better understanding of their requirements that should also prevent issues in the future.
Have you ever turned a prospect away? If so, why and how did you do it?
Generally on a first call or meeting you can get a good understanding of whether a prospect would be a good client. If I would not be a good fit for a client based on their requirements then I would be open and let them know that, trying to recommend them to others if I can. I have turned work away if the prospect has not been a good fit for myself. Unfortunately I am not quite strong enough on this side of things just yet, so my usual is to go with capacity issues.
What do (would) you do when a client ghosts you?!
I’ve been lucky enough to not have been put in that situation up until now. If it was in relation to payment, then I think I would look to get outside help. From that point on, I would no longer look to work with that client. I would like to think that by qualifying clients from the start then there would be a good relationship from both sides throughout.
Are your motivations now the same as they were when you started freelancing?
When starting, my motivations were to provide quality websites and apps that are set up well for the longer term. I was not looking to build an empire, just to have more variety in my day-to-day, working with good clients. This is still the same for me now (even though that was only a year and a half ago).
What is it about being a freelancer that you enjoy most?
The freedom in working to my own schedule, not having to time my lunch breaks or ‘ask’ for permission to go to the dentist!
Being employed as a developer also means being chained to your desk. Working as a freelance developer (or freelancer in general) is completely different. There are so many more aspects to what you do, in the running of a business and meeting new people. My days used to be very predictable, but now there is so much more variety to what I do, which is a major plus.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
I think that although there is support around, you are still on your own with the actual decisions and consequences of those. The lack of security in working within a team was something that I initially missed.
I believe that those are initial troubles however, which you will be able to get over, so possibly my main struggle is with taking time off. Since starting, I would say that I haven’t had any actual time away from work. If you aren’t doing client work then there are always improvements to be made on your own business. Being able to switch off can be quite difficult!
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
How rewarding it could be – more to essentially prompt myself in to making the switch sooner!
Being in control of how your business shapes up, the clients that you work with, and having the freedom in when and where you work is a much better fit for me. I initially had reservations with regards to the isolation of working for and by myself, but I would say that I may have met with and worked alongside more different people in the past year than I had from being sat at the same desk for the previous 10 years in employment.
What is your ONE top tip or piece of advice you would offer to other freelancers?
You don’t have to be perfect in all aspects of your business. I can give myself a hard time if I don’t do something (business related) as well as I think I should. I just have to remind myself that I am still learning, and it will be a constant learning process, but a fulfilling one.