Tom Hirst is a freelance front end developer & WordPress developer based in Leeds, Yorkshire, UK. He recently found some time to answer some of my questions around freelancing, which I am incredibly grateful for.
How long have you been freelancing for?
I’ve been freelancing full time since I left University in 2009. I had a lucky break gaining a regular client pretty much straight off the bat and it all went from there.
What services do you offer?
Mainly WordPress and front-end development, with some Shopify theming too. My bread and butter is offering full front and back end development for any type of WordPress site - there’s not much I haven’t built on the platform over the years.
What did you do before freelancing?
I’ve always freelanced! I’ve never been “employed” so to speak (other than by my company of course!).
Why did you decide to take the plunge?
Working for myself and having my own businesses has always been my goal. I knew I wanted to be my own boss in my late-teens. Being someone who’s always coming up with ideas for side projects (I also run my own clothing line with a friend) freelancing was (and is) the perfect option for me.
How would you describe your first three months as a freelancer?
A mixture of persistence and fortune. I remember doing a lot of learning. Not just technically, but picking up business skills - mainly in how to present myself, my services and how to sell them to people. It was tricky as especially in my local area, people weren’t really willing to pay what I considered to be the going rate. I often found myself thinking about getting a job, but I kept putting myself out there and eventually dropped on a source of regular income from an agency who needed regular custom WordPress themes building from design files.
If there was one bit of advice you could tell your pre-freelancer self, what would it be.
You are good enough. I had a severe case of imposter syndrome at the start.
That sucks, was there anything in particular you did to try and overcome your imposter syndrome?
I just kept doing. Experience was invaluable and my confidence built steadily over time. I find the best way to get over any anxiety is to keep doing what causes it; prove to yourself that you can do it and then you’ve got a back catalogue of proof to reaffirm this.
What mistakes do you see fellow freelancers making?
The main one I see from particularly freelance devs is that they’re not personable enough with clients. Clients are people - there’s nothing wrong with small talk and getting to know them a little better. Make yourself available; let your client know when you work, how to get in touch with you and that a chat on the phone isn’t a problem. Repeat business is king as a freelancer and building a solid relationships with your clients usually leads to more of this! Along with doing a great job technically too.
What one thing have you been doing way more of than you anticipated?
I’d probably say ongoing consultancy without any actual hands-on dev. I find some clients like to get me involved early on with their projects so I can put a technical spin on their ideas when it comes to building them with WordPress.
Have you had to do much marketing to attract new business?
The only marketing I’ve ever really done is via Twitter. I update my availability there once every 4-6 weeks. I have a lot of longstanding clients which keep me fairly busy, so I don’t have masses of time to fill in between, especially considering my side projects. I consider myself really lucky to work with such cool people on a variety of projects.
Can you see yourself working for a company again in the future?
Like most things, it depends. I prefer to work remotely, mainly because it’s how I’m most productive; so I’d imagine that any role would have to be remote. If I really believed in the product or service said company was producing, I’d never say never. If Facebook or Google come knocking I wouldn’t say no ;)
Is there anything else you would like to say on the topic?
I think it’s a great time to be freelance. Especially in jobs where a 9-5, Monday to Friday physical presence isn’t always required. The flexibility it offers both freelancers and their employers is great and I can only see more and more companies using freelancers in the future.