Category Archives: Freelancing / Business

23 Jul

First month in Brighton

 

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It’s been a month since I moved to Brighton from Birmingham.

I know the city well, having gone to the University of Sussex back in the mid-90s. However, I’ve never had a ‘proper’ job here, so I was keen to jump into the creative / freelance world as soon as possible.

1 ring - fresh pot of coffee, 2 rings - free cake or cookies, 3 rings - event, 4 rings - drinks, 5 rings. If someone is using a phone in The Mess? Endless rings until their phone call ends.

Bell ringing guide at The Skiff, a co-working space in Brighton.

Co-working space

Joining the Skiff was a great decision. It’s know for being one of the cooler and more social co-working spaces (and also one of the more expensive) but it’s been well worth it.

I pay £99 + VAT per month to use the space 2.5 days a week, although they seem fairly laid back about how you use those. It’s all self-managed, so it’s up to each member not to use it more than their membership level allows.

I’ve also met some great people through their fortnightly Friday beers. Free booze and a chance to meet other Skiff members from 5pm has meant a couple of boozy nights out and getting to know my office mates.

 

Chamber of Commerce

I purposely did not get involved with the Chamber of Commerce in Birmingham. Having interviewed various organisers in the past I felt it was aimed at “men in suits” and the more traditional business world. However, my pre-move research into the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce branch showed they were embracing the creative vibe of the city and doing some relevant and interesting events.

Within a week I’d attended the “new members” event, where I found out that anyone can host a bitesize learning session. I’m definitely considering hosting an infographics workshop in the future. I”m also in conversations with the Chamber organisers to help visualise their most recent survey results.

 

Change in Attitude

I don’t know if it’s the weather, the proximity to the beach or the general Brighton vibe, but I’m a LOT more chilled out here. I’m still getting things done, and staying on top of work, but I’ve lost that feeling that I have to work every minute of the day. I’m still working early mornings, but I’m far less likely to work into the evening. Instead we’re doing things – like walks on the beach, swimming at a lido in Lewes and Pokemon hunting!

 

Creative Vibe

Presuming Ed coffee shop - frontage with face of Bob Dobbs


Coffee shop – Presuming Ed, Brighton

Don’t get me wrong – Birmingham is a GREAT city. However, anyone who’s visited Brighton will know it’s an incredibly vibrant, creative and inspiring place. From the art shops on the beach (like Castor and Pollux), the alt coffee shops like Presuming Ed and the bohemian and vintage shops in the North Laine I’m finding inspiration on every corner.

I’m already noticing a change in the colour choices in my work, as I go for more wider palette but with more muted tones. I’ll be interested to see if this sunnier climate will affect my work long term.

 

 

 

15 Apr

Is Agile design the answer to ‘free pitching”?

For several years I’ve been testing and trying different pricing structures for my freelance design work. However, one area I’ve been looking to explore is agile pricing.
The problems I’m hoping to solve are:
– new clients asking for ideas as part of a ‘pitch process’
– scope creep kicking in and pushing the project over budget, with no clear grounds for me to increase the price
– addition of new items
– blurring between the various stages so unclear when I can resort to my “I charge more for changes in this stage” caveat

What is Agile?

If a project is agile, it is broken down into “sprints”, each of which has a defined and tangible deliverable, in my case, a wireframe, image or report. With a tangible outcome, we can also attach a pre-agreed price to that ‘chunk’ of work.
Each section is priced up during the sprint before it – to allow for changes in scope.

The Positives

– setting a price for each ‘sprint’ (including initial consultation) will mean I am paid for any work I do, even if the client takes it no further.
– currently my initial suggestions are made with a single pre-defined outcome based on quote price, this allows for more flexibility as we (the client and I) explore the project.
– it is an easy entry point for clients not 100% sure about working with me
– we can easily discuss and price-up changes that arise during each sprint
– if it’s not working for either party and the project does not reach completion, I still get paid for the work done – often not possible to quantify with a flat rate job with one outcome

The Negatives

– it is an unusual approach for design work and might confuse / deter clients
– charging for ‘ideas’ may put some clients off from the outset
– as with hourly – clients may be unwilling to enter into a project with an unknown final price. The solution here may be to offer an estimate or even a Max price.
What are your thoughts? Do you, as a designer, use this method?
13 Apr

Relocating as a freelancer

 

I’m about to relocate 3 hours across the country from Birmingham to Brighton. To my American readers that may not seem very far (I know people who’ve moved from New York to LA), but it’s still a big deal to me. I’ve been talking about moving for about 3 years and I’m not going to lie – the main reason it’s taken me so long to actually do it, is my business.

 

I’ve been extremely lucky to have worked with some great people in and around Birmingham. It’s a big city strong communities in the digital, arts, heritage and local authority fields. I’ve done interesting projects and had great feedback, and so word has spread and I now have clients all over the country.
However, this hasn’t stopped the concerns.

– Will my current clients keep me on, once I’ve moved?
– Will my current cheerleaders (my network in Birmingham) continue to spread the word about me?
– How easy will it be to meet new people, and potential clients, in Brighton?
– Will my freelance business take a hit after I’ve moved?

 

Here’s my advice:

Keep people informed
Current clients – Back in December I emailed my largest clients and let them know I’d be moving. Word was starting to get out and I wanted to assure them that I would continue to be available for future work. Several of them messaged back, wishing me luck and saying they’d continue to book me in the future.

New clients – Since deciding to move I’ve had several new Birmingham-based clients come on board. I’ve been up-front with them about the relocation and assured them that I’ll still be available (apart from on my move day!)

Via my website / social media – I’ve kept more public discussions of my move under wraps until a little closer to me leaving. I was concerned that it may put people off contacting me about new work.

 

Find a co-working space
Joining a co-working space will be a great way to meet new people, both socially and for work purposes. Brighton has several to choose from but I’ve settled with The Skiff, which seems to have a laid back vibe and a digital/tech-heavy membership. It also means I get membership to the Wired Sussex network, which means more people and access to jobs and projects forums.  I’m planning to visit the The Skiff 2.5 days a week, and will work from home for the rest of the time. Hopefully with a cat.

 

Find other communities
I’ve used meetups.com to find relevant groups in Brighton, and joined them. I”m not even there yet and my diary is full of things to get along to, when I land. These are a mix of work-related and personal interest groups.

 

I’ve also volunteered myself to help revive Brighton Hacks and Hackers which should be a lot of fun and great way to meet people.

 

Lurk like crazy
Social media has been great and tapping into the Brighton scene from a distance, although it was been more successful for my social life than my work life, at the moment. I’ve:
– set up a Brighton Instagram account  – no posts yet but following a lot of bars, pubs, cafes, magazines + venues.
– made a Twitter list of creative and digital organisations and people across the city

 

Save up
I’ve had a good couple of years and have managed to save some money in my business account, so I can pay myself and keep my things running for 5/6 months. Hopefully it won’t come to that but it means I won’t have to take any old job that comes along and I can actually spend some time enjoying my new life in Brighton.

 

 

Comments disabled but let me know your thoughts via Twitter

 

08 Apr

This week: waiting waiting waiting

w/c 4 Apr 2016

 

It’s all about waiting this week.

 

 

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MOVE DATE

I’m in the middle of selling my flat in Birmingham and relocating to Brighton, on the south coast. As with any move there is a huge list of things that need to be done – not the least is packing. However, I’m still waiting for my move date so I can’t really start tackling most of that list as it could be a few weeks away.

Also knowing a move is coming I’ve cleared the decks a little work-wise, so I’m now spinning my wheels a little. I know it’s going to be hectic once we get the dates so I’m trying to enjoy the downtime while I can.

 

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SURVEY PROJECT

Last week I was approached by a professional organisation to quote for a 4-page infographic report due end April. I sent over a few ideas and some figures and am now keeping my fingers crossed.

I’m due to hear back this week and and keen to get started as soon as possible if I’m successful.

 

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CAR RETAILER CHAIN

A blast from the past this one! A former work colleague contacted me through Facebook to ask about my infographic services. They’re keen to add this communication format to their portfolio, but had no strong ideas of what they wanted to do.

This is quite an unusual situation for me, as I’m usually working with a clients data or information. In this case, I’m pulling from my journalism background to help develop a series of small infographics to be seeded over social media.

Again, a few ideas were sent over .. let’s hope it comes off as I’m really keen to work on this one.

05 Apr

Freelancers: pricing structure options

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My role as a freelancer means I work on a wide variety of projects. From one-off infographics, to long-running research projects. I’ve found that there is not a single perfect pricing system – instead I make a decision on a project-by-project basis. I will ask myself:

– is there a defined outcome / product?
– have I done anything like this before?
– how easily can I estimate the hours I will spend on this?
– is there a risk of ‘project creep’?
– could there be ongoing work?
– how long will the project last?
– who is the client? How well do I know them?
– does the client have a set budget?


noun_tag_15204Total Project Cost 

I will quote a total project cost if there is a single, defined outcome that I can easily scope. There must be little risk of ‘project creep’ or clearly set boundaries for stages within the project.
– Pro – set price for the client so they’re more likely to agree
– Pro – beneficial for me if the project is completed within my budget
– Pro – project management made easier due to set hours / budget
– Con – I could lose out financially if the project runs over


Hourly (unlimited) 

I will quote hourly if the project brief is still being defined or has the potential to change in scale. If the project is ongoing work with many elements I will quote hourly.
– Pro – I am paid for the work I do – so I will never lose out financially
– Con – clients get nervous if they don’t know the final amount. An estimate is sometimes needed

noun_alarm-clock_317Hourly (maximum price)
This has been a successful combination of the 2 previous pricing structures. I will invoice based on the hours worked, but the total will never exceed the value stated in the quote. This works if I have some idea on the scope, but there are some uncertainties.
– Pro – client more likely to agree as they know the maximum price
– Pro – In most cases I will be paid for the all work I do
– Con – if the project runs over significantly I could lose out financially

noun_checklist_373700Project BuilderThis structure works if there are multiple ways of presenting the information with sets of images. The client is given a list of potential options with a price-per-item. They can pick and choose items from the list to match their budget.
– Pro – client gets flexibility
– Pro – client has early editorial input
– Pro – flexible if client already has strong ideas
– Pro – pricing per graphic means I am less likely to lose out financially

Retainer

A client may wish to sign you up for an extended period of time, agreeing to pay you a set amount each month, for a set amount of hours based on your hourly rate. This is different to a full time contract as multiple clients may have you on a retainer. Note: I do not currently have any clients using this pay structure.
– Pro – client has an expected invoice each month
– Pro – I have an guaranteed income each month
– Pro – potential to be paid for hours not worked
– Con – difficulty / reluctance to charge for hours over the monthly allowance
– Con – client may not realistic understanding what is achievable in the monthly allowance


 
31 Dec

5 Big Things of 2015

It’s been quite a year! Here are a few of my highlights from 2015.

 

My Route

My Route touchtableWithout doubt, the largest project I’ve ever worked on.

My Route was a heritage project looking at the history of the Stratford Road in Birmingham through the changing businesses.

I was commissioned by Sampad to design a touch table to allow the users to explore a map of the road, and find stories through audio, image and video content.

This involved working with partner organisations over many months before the final project was complete.

Next stage:  I’d love to work on something similar again – I found the heritage/tech/design crossover particularly interesting.

 

Tableau

Computer Arts top 30 studios Tableau dashboard

I’ve been using Tableau since 2010 but it’s only recently that I’ve actually turned it into a service I can offer clients.

Tableau is a tool that allows you to create quick charts and dashboards with your own data. It’s incredibly powerful and has helped me with many of my own projects in the past. I am now working with a few clients, using Tableau to present their data and create interactive tools for their websites.

The key point for me was working on a ‘for-fun’ project (left) showing the top 30 design studios in the UK. It’s incredible how useful working on personal projects can be, especially if they are a success. This one has currently had over 4000 views and the magazine loved it!

The next stage is to tighten up my Tableau process. I need to develop a defined workflow, as I have for infographics and data design.

 

Training / Consultancy

Training graphic

The training side of my business has grown considerably this year. During 2014 I was delivering courses to local councils and arts organisations interesting in learning more about infographics and data design.

During 2015 I delivered a training day at the European Research Institute in the Netherlands (with more training to come in that country) and 2 training days at the Press Association for 2 different organisations.

I have realised that there is need for a consultancy service – allowing me to work with organisations, helping them sort their data and build infographics.

The next stage for me is to really develop the consultancy side of my business.

 

Music Journalism Book

Music Journalism Book Caroline Beavon 2015 started out with me wrapping up the final edits of a music journalism distance learning book/module for the Open School of Journalism. I’d spent most of November and December writing this, and was so pleased to finally see the finished version in print late 2016.

I was a broadcast journalist for several years (including 5+ as a music reporter at Kerrang! Radio), before moving into infographics design. Writing this book was a great excuse to dig back into my memories and relive some of those moments.

The next stage is for me to turn a version of this text into an ebook (with permission from the School) and sell it on Amazon. That’s a job for 2016.

 

Planning a Relocation

BrightonAnyone who knows me will know I’ve been yearning to move to Brighton for years. I was a student there and always said I’d move back when I could afford to. Well, I’m, not sure WHO could afford to live in Brighton but I’ve decided to make a go of it anyway! My apartment in Birmingham sold quickly and now I’m on the hunt for something down there.

The next stage is to find an apartment in Brighton and set up shop down there! Hopefully my current clients won’t notice too much of a change in service – and for the London ones, I’m even closer. Plus, Brighton is a cool, digital and arty city, and I hope it will bring about more customers.

26 Nov

Thank you to …

I know as Brits we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but it seems as good an opportunity as any to send out some THANKS of my own.

I’ve been running my own business for several years now (after a career change brought on by redundancy from my job in commercial radio) and I still have to pinch myself today when I think about all i have achieved.  Yes, I work hard, yes I’ve been savvy, but I could not have achieved what I have without the support and kindness of the people I’ve met along the way. The people named below have gone above and beyond in supporting and promoting my business in their respective worlds and in some cases, teaching me invaluable skills.

Thank you to each and every one of you.

 

Paul Bradshaw (Twitter)

 

When I left my radio gig in 2009, I immediately signed up as one of the first students at Birmingham City University‘s MA in Online Journalism. I was looking to shore up my online skills, social media, blogging etc and planned emerge the other end most likely “doing web stuff” for a radio station or newspaper.

Little did I know that I was about to be pulled into the world of data journalism – an area that would shape the job I do today.

Course leader Paul Bradshaw was (and still is) incredibly influential. Not only did he teach me some seriously handy skills and introduce me to a whole new area of journalism, he continues to recommend me for work today. Paul and I still work together today on data projects and the occasional training session. I must also give mention to the “Bradshaw Effect’  -when Paul retweets something of yours, you know about it!!!

 

Andy Mabbett (website)

It was Andy’s invitation to speak at Brewcamp back in 2000-and-something, that threw me headlong into the world of local government comms. I gave a brief talk about my infographics and data work, and was introduced to a handful of people who would go on to be some of my biggest clients and recommend my work to their colleagues. For the last few years local government has been one of my biggest client sectors.

Andy is always supportive and friendly, as continues to share my name throughout his network, leading to a host of new work even today. It is much appreciated!

 

Dan Slee and Darren Caveney (website)

Dan and Darren were two of my first clients during their time at Walsall Council. I met them at the Brewcamp event I mentioned above and immediately they approached me about some work. Both Dan and Darren have not only hired me directly, but they have pushed me in front of their significant networks and directly led to a massive amount of work.

Both Dan and Darren have been incredibly supportive, and I thank them no end of their ongoing kind words and mentions.

 

Pete Jackson (IEWM)

I enjoy working with Pete Jackson. His constant enthusiasm about the design work I do for IEWM is motivating and his willingness to experiment and tackle new approaches is wonderful for a designer. He’s one of life’s genuine ‘good guys’ and is always approaching me with new opportunities and ideas, which have allowed me to expand my skill set and explore new areas.

 

Lara Ratnaraja (Twitter)

Lara is one of those people who seems to know everyone. Incredibly well connected, and liked, Lara is a force to be reckoned with. Lara’s links with the arts /culture world, and invitations to speak at various events, has really helped me move into this area. Lara has celebrated my work and helped me forge some fantastic links in this sector. I’ve worked on several of Lara’s own projects,and her introduction to the guys at Sampad has led to a fruitful and ongoing relationship.

Which brings me to …

 

Sampad (website)

What can I say about Sampad? I’ve provided graphics for their annual reports for several years, but it was my work with them on the My Route project that I am the most proud. From my first conversation with Clayton Shaw, he was keen to bring me in to help develop an interactive touch table – and 2 years later, we did it!.  As the largest piece of work I have ever worked on, and a totally new area for me, My Route was a dream project, and Sampad were a dream client. They were open minded, creative and willing to experiment with new technologies. Their enthusiasm for my work is always encouraging and the opportunities they have given me have been second to done.

 

I could go on – there are more people who have hired, praised, supported, recommended, celebrated and promoted my work. There are also people in my personal life (my smarter and weirder other-half Danny Smith and my family) who have been unerringly supportive along the way – I cannot thank you all enough.

15 Jan

If you needed any more proof that I am a data visualisation and productivity nerd …

In order to keep track of the various projects, I use an Excel spreadsheet. This calculates project hours, rates etc.

The spreadsheet breaks each day down into 30 minute blocks, into which I paste a coloured block and code – which helps calculate the running totals.

As well as being useful – it also generated this bonus visualisation!

I started this in Oct 2013 – So now, I present, my work diary from Oct 2013 – Dec 2014.

 

2014 work viz-01

28 Feb

UPDATE – courses, quickies and connections

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I’m constantly pleased to see the number of organisations thinking about visual communication.

Over the last 6 months I’ve been busy with a series of “Influential Analysis” training courses for Understanding Modern Government, where I have been (hopefully) inspiring people to rethink how they communicate information both internally and externally.

Organisations attending the public courses, or booking in-house sessions, include various NHS trusts, Lincolnshire County Council and even the Department of Transport – all of them equally open and welcoming to new ideas for communicating their data.

I’ve been working with the brilliant Ian Taylor, from Flying Binary who is now taking over the courses. It’s been great working with him, and I’ve learnt a lot. I’d recommend signing up to the next public course if you’re battling with your data.

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screenshotOn the subject of training – I’m testing out an interesting new half-day workshop at Coventry City Council next month. This is a variation of my full-day Data Visualisation training course, but instead of delving into the theory, I’ll be spending 3 hours guiding them through the process of building an infographic from scratch.

I’m interest to see how this is received. I am always preaching that tools like Piktochart allow anyone to create “something” visual – but does it allow them to make something good? With my guidance, I hope so.

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I’m also keen to turn my focus back to my design work – which is my real passion. I’ve had a few long running projects on various back burners and these are now springing back into life.

I’m currently working with Lara Ratnaraja on a data-visualisation for the CATH (Collaborative Arts Triple Helix) project.

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This sees 3 sectors …

  • higher education institutions
  • small-medium enterprises
  • cultural organisations

… working together on a range of really interesting projects, and we want to show those collaborations on a data diagram for the project report. We’re dealing with around 50 organisations, so the trick is to make sure the full complexity of the project is demonstrated, without the chart appearing cluttered.

I’m planning to use RAW to generate an alluvial diagram (above) – but I need to have all the organisations grouped and categorised before I start. The organisations have received the groupings list today and we’re just waiting to get final approval on the copy.

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screenshotIt was also nice this week to receive a “quickie” request – in short, to create an infographic for a PR agency in Germany within 24 hours.

I don’t want to tempt fate (the graphic is currently with the client for approval) but the agency are pleased with the image, and glad I managed to get something turned around so quickly. I’ve normally shied away from this kind of work, but there is definitely a market for these “emergency infographics”!!

They provided all the information, which I shaped and edited down into a structured form that could be transformed into an A4 infographic.

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 Whether you’re after in-house data visualisation training, a data visualisation or something quick  – drop me an email – caroline at carolinebeavon.com

21 Feb

Information Designer for Hire: what to expect

Whilst organisations may have had experience working with graphics or branding designers in the past, the process to develop an infographic is very different.

screenshot

 

Ask any graphics designer who’s been asked to convert a 20 page report into an image, and chances are they’ll tell you that designing an infographic requires a whole new set of skills. I think of myself as a designer-meets-journalist-meets-number cruncher – as the content needs editing, selecting and crafting, and *then* designing.

Your input is vital to the success of the project – you know what you want and you know your industry – it’s up to you to point out the important information and decide on your message.

Here is a run down of the process structure I use:

[toc]

Initial Decision

So you’ve decided your company needs an infographic.

You may have a strong idea of what needs communicating (ie you’re end of year finances, a new process or a summary of your work) or you may have simply heard the word, and feel you should get on board.

Knowing what you want communicating (the concept as opposed to the specific content) is important and will save you time . It’s also worth thinking about a few key things, as they will be useful to know at the start of the process:

  • what are you trying to communicate? You can read more about this here
  • who is your audience? age, knowledge, gender, nationality
  • is this for online, print or both?
  • what is your deadline?
  • what is your budget?
  • do you have the information, or do you want me to source it?

You will be asked more questions as the process goes on but these are a good starting point.

Initial Contact

Normally via email or social media asking about prices and timescale

Much of my work comes in via email, Twitter or Linkedin – with a client contacting me with a tentative query about costings. It’s such a new area of design that the pricing structure is an unknown – and few designers (including myself) put prices on their websites. (This is because every job is different. Pricing is based on final output, amount of research required and how quickly you need it).

I’m usually happy to give a ballpark figure but always ask for more information before giving an official quote.

Many designers quote by the hour – I quote per job. I find this puts everyone at ease (including myself). Of course, I have contingency plans in place if the project spirals out of control through changes by the client – but these are explained fully with my initial quote.

I’ll give a full and detailed price quote once we have completed the next stage, the initial discussion.

First Discussion

An opportunity for us to set out initial ideas, and discuss the project in great depth

Your initial conversation with your infographic designer is key. It may be held face to face (my preference) or over the telephone. It’s your time to explain what you want, or be honest and say you don’t really know *what* you want. Make sure you have as much information as possible to hand.

Treat it like a first date – find out as much as you can about each other, the process and how each other works. From this you can decide if working together is right for you.

I may do some rough sketching (on an iPad) whilst we are talking, so we can make sure we understand each other.

Full Quote

 

Once I have a better understanding of the job, and we have worked out the basic aims and objectives, I will send over a final quote, before starting any work. You will be asked to sign a New Job Agreement form, which quotes the price and details of what the quote does (and doesn’t) include.

Depending on the size of the job/length of time it will take, I sometimes ask for 30% or 50% upfront.

First Drafts

A series of draft ideas to show you some options of layout and theme/styling

One we’ve had the initial discussions I’ll spend up to a week (depending on the amount of work you want) developing a series of options. Here I’ll be exploring 2 areas:

  • content layout
  • styling  / theme / concept

I will usually send 2/3 very different images (by PDF or image file), each one showing a different layout and theme, but you can mix and match if you prefer. Of course, you also have the option to scrap all 3 options, and offer feedback or guidance as to why you don’t feel they’re right.

These will not be fully completed images (the themes often develop over time) so I’d ask you to be prepared for some changes in the future and any temporary placeholder content in the image.

One you’ve selected a content layout and theme I will start work on the final image.

Work In Progress

An opportunity for you to see a part-completed image, and make sure you’re happy with the direction

As I said above, this is a collaboration, so I will be checking in with you as I design the final image. This could be for several reasons:

  • if I shift dramatically from the original image
  • if I want to confirm you are still happy with image
  • to avoid the disappointment of you not liking the final image

I may send whole images, or part of images to make sure you’re happy.

Final Proof Image

The final image – before spell-check and final tweaks, for you to approve

Once I’ve worked up a final image I sent it over for you to review. This image may still have typos, spelling errors and require more precise tweaking, but I always leave these until you are is 100% happy with the image (no point pixel-checking content that may change!)

You will then be asked to confirm the content, make any final changes (if major changes it will lead to further charges) and run it past their team (if necessary).

Proof-reading / final tweaks

I employ a proof reader to check final images in terms of spelling mistakes, statistics and grammar issues. If you stare at an image for so long, it’s easy for errors to slip through the net. I also ask you/your team to check the final information as well – the more eyes the better.

Once I’ve made any changes I will tidy the image up, make sure everything is aligned etc and prepare a final files for you (depending on their requirements)

Final Image

Final image is sent over and once you have given it the final OK, I will invoice for the full/balance amount.

 


03 Nov

5 key elements of a freelance career

I was recently invited to speak to BA students at BCU about enterprise – and specifically, how I managed to forge a freelance career for myself.

Having retrained (I used to be a commercial radio journalist) I think there are 5 key areas I focused on to make it

GET ALONG WITH PEOPLE

People have to be the main focus of your freelancer career – you work alone so you have to generate all your work yourself.

Social media is a brilliant tool for finding new contacts and maintaining those relationships. I keep an active Twitter account (3 actually, but that’s for another time). I make sure I regularly share interesting links AND reply to people, so my account isn’t just broadcasting. I certainly don’t talk about my own work all the time, although I will tweet when I have a success (i.e. a piece of work doing well in an awards) or about things I am working on. I have regular conversations online and try to be engaging.

However, it’s very easy to rely on social media and never leave the house. As a freelancer you need to be getting out to see people. Talk to people in your field, and look for meetups and groups you can go along to. It’s great to have someone else to talk to, especially as you’re probably on your own all day.

However, don’t fall into the trap of *only* hanging out with people in your field – remember, they’re not likely to employ you (unless you can secure sub-contract work from them). Who are your potential clients? Where do they hang out? If you offer a valid service to different business sectors, offer to talk about your services to them  – but don’t just promote yourself, promote the general benefits to them. You’ll be amazed how much work will come your way.

I am eternally grateful to Andy Mabbett (aka @pigsonthewing) for inviting me along to speak at Brewcamp over a year ago. Brewcamp is a local Government comms meetup, where very forward thinking people look for new ways to help councils. I was initially sceptical of the benefits, but that 20 minute talk has led to a host of work and a real reputation in this sector! Thanks Andy!

MONEY

There is a very active campaign right now to protect interns and young people from exploitation in the work place. However, I’ve always believed that there is too much focus on money. I always recommend students get  job to pay the bills (bar work, waitressing etc) and spend their free time working for little/no pay in the area in which they want to work in the future.

So, forget, “don’t work for free” – it’s all about “don’t work for nothing”.

Working for a business can increase your employability no-end by

  • giving your actual experience
  • teaching you new skills
  • meeting new people
  • boosting your reputation

A year ago I decided I needed to learn a little more about how design agencies work – I was doing more and more design work but with no formal arts training I was lacking those practical skills. I spotted an intern opportunity at a local branding agency, Orb,  who were looking for a copywriter one day a week. I spoke to them, explained my situation and they agreed to let me work as a copywriter whilst sitting with the designers to see how they did things!

I did this for 2 months before my own work took off and I had to move on, but I learnt a huge amount about how agencies work.

BE FLEXIBLE

You have to be flexible. This is a useful skill to have, wherever you work – especially as offices are now merging jobs and roles as they cut back on staff. if you’re working for yourself you have to do everything.

When I first left BCU I used my social media and blogging work to pay the bills whilst I worked to build up my other line of work – this was not only  financial necessity, but kept me sane! You’ll get more work if you’re already working. I was also DJing regularly at the Actress and Bishop in Birmingham.

It was being invited by Paul Bradshaw to help teach at his Online Journalism module at BCU that opened up a new area. It’s not only nice to get out of the house but learning now to present and teach has give me a new set of skills, and give me another reason to keep up to date with the industry. This led to more teaching work from Dave Harte (on his MA Social Media course).

If you’d asked me 3 years ago if I wanted to teach, I would have said no, but embracing this has give me more opportunity – corporate training is now a big part of what I do and wouldn’t have been possible without my experience teaching at BCU.

If opportunities present themselves, think “how will this help?”.  Always be open to doing new things but do watch out for the Jack-Of-All-Trades pitfall – when you have too many areas of interest, no-one really knows what you do and you’re not considered an expert in anything.

KEEP MOVING

I’m at the stage now where I know I’m going to need to add some new skills to my repertoire, because the industry is changing and clients want new things. For example, I’ve had a spate of clients recently asking for infographics that they can modify themselves, with others asking for animation. In order to keep my clients and stay on top of my game I will have to learn new skills. Luckily there are lots of resources online for training (Youtube is a goldmine) but I am also looking into formal training. The hardest part is finding the time to do it.

Make sure you’re up to date with changes in your industry – there is no excuse with social media and blogs – follow the right people, read the right articles and stay one step ahead. I use an RSS reader to keep an eye on all the major blogs and websites in my field and I always keep an eye on Twitter and Linkedin.

HARD WORK

You will underestimate how hard you’re going to have to work – trust me.  Be prepared to say goodbye to your evenings and weekends at times. When you’re starting out you’d be foolish to turn any work down – say yes and then work out how to get it all done. If that means working round the clock, or calling on friends to help, then so be it!

Do remember to pace yourself. There will be days when you find yourself with nothing to do. You have 2 choices here, depending on your situation.

If you have a lot of work on, but are waiting on a client, for example, so can’t do anything – enjoy the day off. You never know when your next one is going to be so enjoy it. I’ve been known to have a Saturday on a Wednesday, do my big shop, go to the cinema, meet friends for lunch. Enjoy it!

If you’re not that busy, a free day is a great opportunity to boost your exposure – write a blog post, get involved in some discussions online, go and sit in a coffee shop and make sure tell your contacts where you are through social media. It’s amazing how many people will swing by and see you – and who knows, it might lead to some work!

Make sure you use your time smartly – I am not ashamed to say I have a cleaner. I also have someone to chase my invoices for me, because  I was spending a lot of time emailing and calling clients, and I was really, really bad at it. Now I employ the virtual assistant company Lulaberry to do this for me! I also employ a proofreader, the brilliant Editorialgirl as this means my work is spotless, and again frees up time for me to focus on the more creative side of things.

31 May

10 Ways I Stay Productive

As a freelancer it’s very easy to fall into bad habits – working from home, lots of different projects and being my own boss means long days of low productivity, and no clear division between work time and free time.
Since I left my “proper” job in 2009 I’ve been trying a host of ways to get things done – these are the things I’ve learnt work for me.

1. Find Your Work Hours

It’s taken me a while but I’ve found I am super productive early in the morning – irrespective of how tired I am. I had several years working on a radio breakfast show so getting up at the crack-of-dawn doesn’t terrify me, but the point is – find your optimum working hours. I know people who prefer to work in the evening or overnight … whatever works for you, make sure you stick to it

2. Go to Work

One of the perks of working in an office is the division between hometime and work time. I miss the walk to work, those few minutes (in my case) to prepare for the day. Even wearing work clothes changes your mindset.

This is lost when you stumble from bed to sofa in your PJ’s.

Eventually I plan to have a home-office, but for now I have a rented desk not far from where I live. I’ve also found co-working spaces, sneaky corners in coffee shops and other locations really handy.

In short, don’t work jn the room where you live.

3. Reboot in-between tasks

This is something I’ve only recently discovered, and is good for both me and my laptop.

I reboot my computer when I change projects. My jobs tend to be very varied, infographic design one minute, and planning social media training the next – so it’s good to have that mental refresh.

Plus. I’m often dealing with big files and my laptops not a robust as it used to be – so a reboot is a useful way to stop it grinding to a halt!

4. Next Task Approach

This is a trick I leaned during my time working for Think Productive. Don’t make endless to-do lists of tasks that can’t be done because they depend on something else happening first. Ie: No point adding Book Plane Tickets to my todo list, when you haven’t Booked Holiday yet.

I only have tasks I can achieve on my list, and replace them with the next doable task when it’s completed!

5. Keep a separate project list

As well as a todo list, I also have a list of all my current projects, and the stage they’re at. I use a great Ipad app for this, called Sticky Notes. It’s essentially a series of pages with digital post-it notes. I have 2 pages:

Post_it_structure_planning.PNG

Page 1 contains post-its of 4 colours

Each post-it contains my Job Code, job title and the price I’ve quoted for it.

  • PINK – currently working on
  • GREEN – confirmed projects but not currently working on
  • YELLOW – awaiting initial meeting
  • BLUE – random projects I need to decide on

This page helps me manage my workload – I like to have 4 “currently working on” with between 4 and 8 “confirmed but not currently working on”.

Page 2 contains a host of those projects that I’ve been contacted about, but nothing’s come of them yet. I keep them there to chase up when I get a moment, or can refer to if they do spring back in action.

6. Filter and Auto colour emails

Whilst I use Sparrow on my Iphone, I try to do most of the email management on my PC. where I run Postbox. I have 2 main email addresses, with a few random ones too, so it’s a good place to see everything together.

As with most email systems, you can set up filters. Whilst I heavily use filters for social media notifications (and have a regular email reminder to check the folder every few days) the most useful thing helps me deal with those “bacon” emails that come in, ie software updates, service announcements and other content that isn’t spam, but isn’t vitally important right now

I’ve simply built up a filter that turns the text of these emails (in the inbox) pale grey. They’re still there, and I’ll tend to check and delete a few times a day, but they’re in the background when I’m focusing on work.

7. Turn of notifications

I’m a pretty heavy social media user but only recently have decided to turn off all notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Instead, I allow myself to check these accounts whenever I want, so that Social Media and Email Tension doesn’t build up. I’m getting a lot more done and am more relaxed about having long stints of working, knowing I can check them whenever I want.

8. Check email on the hour every hour

I try (although I do fail at this often) to only check my email every hour, on the hour. It’s an easy time to remember, and means I can focus on work for an hour before it comes round again. I have Postbox open at all times, with notifications turned off, and simply switch to that window to see new messages. It takes a second if there’s nothing in there, and with filtering and colouring (as above) it’s easy to see the important emails first.

9. No meeting days – 3 a week

I’ve learnt that I much prefer having a full day to work, without having to dart out for midday meetings. To this end, I try to keep at least 2/3 days a week free from all meetings. On a Sunday night I’ll check the next 2 weeks and add all-day calendar events to the days with no meetings – with the intention of keeping these free.

Similarly, I prefer meetings first thing in the morning or last thing in the day – it means I still get a good few hours to get stuff done!

10. One collection point – Evernote

Evernote

I’ve spoken at length about my love for Evernote. It’s getting better with every update. I use it as my central management system – where I send everything.

As emails come in, I’ll smart-grab sections of text (WIN-A) instead of forwarding emails and archive the email.

I go through my RSS feeds twice a day in the Feedly app – and save a bunch of images and articles into Evernote

I store all my briefsheets (single documents I use to store information about individual projects, including those bits of text from emails)

I also send all my draft images there, and email the client from within Evernote.

Have a free months trial of Evernote Premium here

23 Apr

Moseley Exchange – a new way (for me) to work

moseleyexchange

 

Since I started working for myself, I’ve been on a hunt for that *perfect* place to work.

I tried the various coffee shops around Birmingham (read my findings here) but working in a coffee shop 5 days a week is not financially viable. (In order to stay in a coffee shop guilt-free all day you’d need to buy at least 3 drinks and some food  – totting up a daily spend of around £10.) Plus all that coffee isn’t good for you.

I experimented with a bunch of other locations and blogged about them here

I hunted for a small office/office share in the Jewellery Quarter, but the places were either too expensive  or lacked vital services, like running water or wifi.

So I decided to return to a previous haunt of mine, Moseley Exchange, a co-working space in this leafy-suburb of Birmingham.

I’ve blogged about this place before, where I raised a couple of queries about the etiquette of a shared space.

So far so good.

  • quiet – oh so quiet. I am constantly plugged into Spotify so don’t hear the general office noise, but  conversations/phone calls are kept short and meetings held in the adjoining lounge. 
  • self-conscious productivity – at home I may stick on a TV show whilst I work – but I just wouldn’t do this at Moseley Exchange
  • Journey to work – I’ve always missed the walk to work – it sets the start and the end of the day
  • Set working hours. I’m glad Moseley Exchange isn’t open longer or I’d fall into the same trap as at home – working slowly and for longer periods of time. With an opening time of 9am and closing at anywhere between 6pm and 8pm, it means I can have a solid work session. Plus it’s a really big deal if I have to put my laptop on when I get home
  • Free tea and coffee. requires no explanation

The plan is that when I buy a 2-bed place, I won’t need Moseley Exchange as I’ll convert the second bedroom into an office – but we’ll see how I get on!

07 Feb

The Oldest Intern In Town

20130207-103838.jpgRecently I took the decision to become an intern.

I spotted brand agency Orb were on the hunt for a creative copywriter intern, and thought it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Now, I’m not your run-of-the-mill intern. I’m 37 years old, for starters. I’ve been working as a journalist since 2000 and now specialise in information design and social media/online content.

So, why be an intern? – I hear you ask.

Good question.

Despite my experience in journalism, I have no formal experience in working for a design agency – and as most of my work nowadays is infographic/information design, I thought I’d gain a lot from seeing how the big boys do it.

Specifically, I believe I need to boost my skills in
1. understanding a brief quickly
2. presenting ideas to a client (without spending hours on completed designs in the early stages)
3. monitoring time / pricing structure

I’ll spend one day a week in the Orb studio copywriting – but as it’s a small office, and the whole team are involved in the project process, I can see how work develops every step of the way.

Some of you may think I’m taking the opportunity away from someone younger, who needs a start in this business – I say, I’m starting out in a new industry, my need is as great as theirs.

Some of you may have a major beef with the internship process – that it’s slave labour and exploitation. You may know my thoughts on this. In this case, I’m being paid for my time (a basic wage, but fantastic considering the opportunity).

Has anyone else done an internship later in life? How did it work out?

31 Dec

New Year Resolutions – Social Media and Blogging

I’ve decided to group this years New Year Resolutions into several categories

Social Media

Health and Well-being

Productivity

—————————————————–

I use social media a lot, but sometimes it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole and become distracted with ineffective activities.

As someone who is trying to build a freelance business, I need to be more focused in my online actions.

So, this years New Years Resolutions are:

  1. Rethink my social media presence
  2. Blog more regularly
  3. Comment more
  4. business branding

Rethink My Social Media Presence

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

As a freelancer working in a range of fields, and having changed careers radically in 2009 (from radio to digital content) I think it’s important to keep track of social media presence, and if necessary, have separate accounts for separate interests. I’m aware that some people I’ve connected with have NO interest in certain areas of my life

  • This means I sometimes hold back on  posting
  • There is the potential to lose some people along the way

I have recently set up a series of accounts purely for my infographics design work

I will then occasionally retweet these to my main account as well, if of wider interest.

But do I need to go further  – should I separate personal and work accounts completely? Do I need a social media presence for other elements of my work?

The New Years Resolution

Conduct a social media audit

  • what accounts do I use
  • what do I use them for
  • what works well on the various accounts
  • do I need to stop using anything? (might be knocking on your door, Pinterest)
  • set up new accounts if necessary

Have you done anything similar? What are the pitfalls? Any advice?

Blog More Regularly

WordPress (Photo credit: Adriano Gasparri)

WordPress (Photo credit: Adriano Gasparri)

I’m always telling people to blog more regularly  – “you don’t need to write a full article” I say, “just pull together an idea and get it up there”.

It’s a great outlet for showcasing work, knowledge, for sharing ideas and connecting with people – and as a freelancer it’s always good to be visible.

The New Years Resolution

I’m going to take my own advice and revive this blog with more ideas and thoughts.

I’m going to do what I promised months ago, and start blogging for MyJQ – a Jewellery Quarter hyperlocal blog in Birmingham

Put more ideas on my design blog (although I’ve not been too bad at doing this recently)

 

Comment More

Even though I do get excited when someone comments on a blog post of mine, I am woefully lazy when it comes to commenting on other peoples. Maybe it’s because I do most of my article reading on my mobile, and it’s difficult to comment via mobile. Maybe I’ve been put off by the few times I HAVE commented and either being attacked, or the website has crashed and my well crafted comment has been lost in the ether.

The side effect of thinking about commenting, is that I will read the article fully, not skim it, and take in the information.

The New Years Resolution

Consider commenting on every article I read, and if I have something to contribute, do it!!!

 

Business Branding

Now I have a cbviz website, Twitter account and Facebook page – it might be a good idea to tie them all together with a logo and some business branding.

I am critically close to the end of my business card stash and have just set up a business bank account, so all in all, it’s a good time to get some new stationery printed off.

The New Years Resolution

Design a logo – apply to Twitter, Facebook, other social media accounts and website

Get business cards printed

All content (c) Caroline Beavon 2020