After rising through company ranks and learning the trade, going freelance can be an attractive proposition, especially with so many opportunities in Bristol and Bath’s thriving tech cluster. However, there are many things to consider when weighing up the decision, and it’s a dilemma that requires much careful thought.

Tech recuiters ADLIB spoke to Joe Leech, Strategic Commander of UX (User Experience), about his recent decision to go freelance, and the advice he can offer to others.

Firstly, Joe, please give us a brief overview of your career path and how you got to the point where you were confident going freelance.

joe_leech-freelancerJoe Leech: I’m a UX consultant with 12 years’ experience in the industry. My first job was with Sift, a local digital agency, in 2003, which followed my MSc in Human Computer Interaction. I started in UX before it was widely known, so a big part of my job was front end coding which I had to teach myself.

Following Sift, I spent 9 years with UX agency cxpartners in Bristol, before making the jump to freelancing last month.

“Knowing there were people out there who would want to work with me, or would recommend me, gave me the confidence to make the leap”

 

The number one thing a freelancer needs (well after being able to do the job you’re hired for) is a strong network – the work comes from your network. I never consciously ‘networked’, but I always tried to build strong working relationships with people and stay in touch. It was knowing that there were people out there who would want to work with me, or would recommend me, that gave me the confidence to make the leap.

I had plenty of reservations – not having a reliable income, and knowing that I had to spend part of my time looking for work really preyed on my mind. I had a three-month notice period, which meant I couldn’t line things up before I handed my notice in. Typically, most UX work is agreed 4-6 weeks before it starts.

How did you manage the transition, and how does the reality of being self-employed match up to expectations?

JL: I was really worried about the transition. Everyone told me I needed six months’ salary in the bank and that work always falls through. I heard loads of horror stories.

“I wanted to have time in between client projects to work on my own stuff”

 

The reason I made the change was that I wanted to have time in between client projects to work on my own stuff. My first book, Psychology for Designers, was published 18 months ago, and I’m currently working on book number two. I also enjoy speaking at conferences, and have a little startup project of my own in the pipeline.

The reality is I didn’t need six months’ salary, but cashflow is and will always be a challenge for freelancers. As for the free time, I do have more – I don’t have the same responsibilities I had in my job, so I can plan my time rather than someone else doing it on my behalf.

What advice would you give those considering going freelance?

JL: Spend time – at least three months before you make the jump – reconnecting with old work colleagues and clients. Let them know your plans. Doing this got me my first few pieces of work.

For every project that you get, there will be two you don’t, so it’s about making sure you have work lined up.

Stay on top of your accounts. Get a good accountant and use something like FreeAgent to invoice, and invoice as soon as you can. Having a full workload is different from having the money to pay the rent – you have to actively ask in order to get paid quickly!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Joe. You can follow @mrjoe on Twitter and visit mrjoe.uk for more info.

ADLIB are recruiters in the technology sector, with permanent roles and short-term contracts on offer. Whatever your next career step, why not check out our latest opportunities?

If you fancy a spot of networking, check out Bristol Media’s events calendar and James Barlow’s Monthly Freelancer Meetup. Freelancers may also find the guide to working from home effectively useful.