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Work hard, get paid. It’s that simple

It has been just over a year since I decided to leave my job and go self-employed as a web developer. Over the last year I have certainly developed new skills, I have met so many new businessmen and women and have gained a few new clients along the way. I’m really happy with where I am, but there is one thing I’m not happy with, and one thing a lot of people do not like talking about.

Before I left my job at the digital agency in Newcastle I had put aside some money and had some long-lasting and new clients lined up for some really exciting projects ahead. If you know me, then you’ll know I’m a very hard worker and I am very dedicated to my job. I spend day and night reading, researching and speaking about the industry I work in: the web.

After gaining two degrees at university and gaining 5 years industry experience, I’d like to think I am a very knowledgeable person when it comes to the web. I know all about how people use and interact with it, how it performs on certain devices, what it looks on certain devices, and how to determine how easy it is to use when browsing and purchasing items. I also know how we can make it better for the future by using all of the available technology we have.

There are thousands of us working as self-employed designers and developers, all competing to get that next job. Each of us spend time trying to impress business owners by getting together great portfolios, showing our knowledge through correspondence and writing impressive proposals and quotes. Getting the job is the hardest part some might say, but is it? I’m sure a lot of those designers and developers will agree with what I am about to write.

One small, but important part of working together

I have many great working relationships, and I know I do a good job with the people and businesses I work with. It all comes down to the fact that I really do love client work. Because I work on my own, it means I can give my client 100% of my attention. I only normally work one project at a time, with small jobs in between but nothing that steers my focus away from a project. I give my work everything, I’ll advise on what I think is best, but at the same time will take into consideration my clients thoughts and ideas to see how we can use them throughout the project.

I live a working life like everyone else. I wake up on time, I get to my desk 30 minutes early to action any important emails, I have my regular breaks, I work long hours to meet deadlines and most of the time work late and at weekends to meet client needs and requirements.

If you work for yourself or have your own business then you’ll know that you have to become your own everything! Marketing your own business, organising staff or people based around your business, chase proposals and quotes, attend meetings, attend networking events, answer calls and emails. And one job role that I have become very familiar with this year is becoming your own accountant.

Money is not the be all and end all, not for me anyway. However, it is the main reason we all get out of bed on a morning, whatever day it may be. Without money we couldn’t survive, the world wouldn’t tick. Money has been around since the start of time and paying your own way in life is crucial.

It really makes me sad to be writing a blog post which focuses on such a subject, as I’d much rather be writing about the future of “our web” but here I am. I feel I have to very careful whilst writing this, as I could potentially upset a lot of people, but in my personal opinion its a very serious matter that really needs a line drawing under it.

I work self-employed, albeit as a Ltd company. The only person I have to look after is myself and my own bills. At the moment I don’t have any children, pets or anyone who really needs to rely on my income. In a way I feel extremely lucky because over this past year I have endless problems getting paid off clients I have worked with. Most of those clients are people or businesses who have come and gone as the projects were just one off but some of those clients are people I know and are local.

I prepared myself before I left the digital agency by saving some of my money and giving myself a little bit of a business start-up fund. This would give me some stability if I was ever put in the position where a client wouldn’t pay for some time. Over the 13 months I have burnt up almost £3,000 of my start-up stability fund due to unpaid invoices, unfortunately this seems to be the ugly truth of being a self-employed designer or developer.

In the past thirteen months I have worked with clients both large and small. I want to quickly talk about two of clients on complete opposite ends of the scale. One of them is a company based in London, a very big name who owed me a reasonable size invoice and one a very small local company, who owed me a very small invoice.

I met the larger more established client twice, both times for meetings in London which were a cost to me. The meetings both went well, the work was scheduled in correctly and I followed my instructions and process as normal. I must mention that I took an up front payment for the work which is also a normal procedure for me. The work started, the development was carried out and the work was complete successfully. The website was then signed off and launched.

Two and half months on, I have still not received the final payment. Reminders have been sent, emails have been sent and all of the excuses in the book have been given to me. I was assured many times that “The invoice is with the accountant and should be paid shortly”. In the mean time I had to put up with paying out two months of my own bills, yet again eating into my own funds and business stability. What would happen if I had 2 children to feed? Do I let them go hungry? Do I let them go to school without a new uniform? I would hate to be in that position, but some people are. I eventually received payment by bank transfer after threatening legal action to the company.

The second client was a very small company, no bigger than 5 staff members. I had gone through the exact same procedure as I do with any client, which is meeting the client, gathering information about the project, planning and then getting to work. Again payment terms where spoken about and agreed, I was paid up front and I went ahead to start designing and developing.

Again, the website design and build was very successful, the client was happy and the project was signed off. Again, problems occurred upon invoicing. I had excuses that the company hadn’t been to the bank yet to make payments, that the invoices were in the accountant’s pile and that they had other outgoing invoices as well as my own. I’m not so sure some of these companies have heard of online banking, I did suggest that as well.

So, what have I done to try and overcome this problem?

  • Spoken to other freelance designers and developers
  • Seek advice from close friends who own businesses
  • Tried to apply written contracts to new clients (Some like the idea, some really don’t)
  • Tried to help clients by splitting costs into monthly payments
  • Used accountancy software to send out payment reminders (Which are normally deleted and ignored)
  • Tried to force charges on late payments (This kicks up a good fuss)
  • Spoken to legal teams about the problem (Which then costs me for advice and consultancy, losing even more money)

I’ll admit it, this has most certainly helped things, but why is it something additional we have to deal with on a daily basis just because I’m someone who is self-employed? The answer is simple, it’s reality and I’m no stranger to it. Writing this post is not going to fix this problem for me or for fellow self-employed designers and developers.

The reason I have written this post is not just to share my experience but to make my clients and other people’s clients aware of the problem we have. I know for a fact it’s not just me. A good friend of mine who is also a developer has visited my home several times over the last year to use my scanner. Spending his own evening times to scan documents as proof for legal action over well-established companies because of overdue payment.

How you can help us as someone employing a designer or developer?

  • The initial meeting should involve everyone who is involved in the project. People becoming involved half-way through the project is going to cause problems.
  • Note down important dates including payment dates as well as design and development completion dates.
  • Outline payment terms upfront. This includes payment amounts, payment methods, hourly rates and so on to avoid anything unexpected.
  • Communicate with your designer or developer regularly.
  • Have the funds already available.
  • I myself know invoices can sometimes be forgotten about. Please don’t ignore overdue invoice notifications and emails.
  • If you’re struggling to pay please talk to us, we can probably come to some arrangement.
  • Do not employ someone knowing you cannot afford to pay the amounts due

Each client who has worked with me over the years knows how much I appreciate rapid on time payments. I am quick to thank them and show my appreciation by working to a high standard, being well organised, giving advice and most importantly meeting my deadlines.

I hope this post will help and support both employers and fellow designers and developers, and I hope it kicks up some discussion on Twitter. I look to forward to any comments and if you have any advice or suggestions for me, I’m all ears. Thank you.

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