Happy New Year!
If you subscribe to my Studio Notes you will have read all about my resolution for this year which is: no resolutions! No big changes, no fresh starts, just staying the course under the guidance of my word for 2018 which is HEAL. Not the powerful business word I expected but it already feels so right. Do you do this, choose a word rather than a resolution?
We are kicking off 2018 with another great interview, this time with fellow Squarespace web designer and authorized trainer Max Pete. Max contacted me last year and offered his help while he was transitioning his career to web design. Since changing my business model to only building ten websites a year I no longer outsource elements of the design process so I was unable to work with him, but I admired his initiative! We stayed in touch and I continue to be impressed by his business and personal growth, he is one to watch!
By the way, do you know what my favorite question is? Number 2. I think it's a very important question and not asked often enough when we talk about turning our side hustles into full-time businesses. I am so fascinated by everyone's answers, they are all so different, too!
Coming up: Thursday, February 2, 2018 → Kath O'Malley, web designer partner extraordinaire!
Max Pete aka One Hand Wonder Man is a freelance website designer and digital marketer. Max Pete also specializes in social media management, email marketing, content creation, and paid advertising.
You can check out his work and get in touch with him via his portfolio www.maxpete.co.
1) What is your professional background and how did you get into Squarespace web design?
For the past seven years, I have been working in the music industry. Since I was a kid I have always been in love with music and wanted to be involved in the industry anyway that I could. In college is where I started interning and getting experience on the business side. From there, I found my niche in the industry specializing in digital marketing and advertising. My last full-time job I was a project manager at a record label helping spearhead the marketing for our artists. While I was in this role, my coworkers and I realized that almost none of our artists had any type of website presence. This is where I discovered Squarespace and started building Squarespace websites for the artists under our label since we didn’t have a budget to pay any developer to do this.
After a few months of building these websites, an idea popped into my head that I could actually turn this into a real business and venture out on my own. I always wanted to try freelancing but was scared to make the jump. Also that year my Mum passed away and while that was one of the lowest points of my life, it also sparked some new energy into me and helped me make the jump because I realized how short life was and I didn’t want to regret not trying to run my own business.
That was about a little over a year ago and I have been freelancing ever since specializing in Squarespace website design and digital marketing and advertising.
2) What was your safety net (e.g. a partner, another job, savings etc.) when you first started out and how did that help you?
I honestly didn’t have much of a safety net when I started. I did have little savings in my bank account and had some money put aside, but I don’t think it would have lasted me more than a couple months.
I knew that it was very unlikely that I was going to be making a lot of money when I first started freelancing so I did take a small part-time job and also did odd jobs that I came across. The part-time job lasted only a few months, which was great because I just wanted some supplemental income coming in while I was really taking the time to learn how to grow my freelance business. I also always knew in the back of my head that I was okay if I failed. Yes, I would be bummed out and have felt bad, but I knew that I could find another 9-5 job if this freelancing thing didn't work out.
3) How many websites did you design during your first year and how did your clients find you? Please share three sites you designed during that time.
I’ve done around 20 full website builds in the first year and about 10 or so revamps or just edits to existing websites as well. I really didn’t have a specific niche when I first started so I was going after anyone who needed a website. This actually worked out quite well because I was able to work with clients ranging from lawyers, CPAs, consultants, and musicians. This allowed me to get experience in design for all types of industries and being able to see what works for one industry might not work for the other.
A lot of my clients have found me either through referrals in my network or writing that I have done for various websites. I spent a lot of time this year working on writing blogs in my industry and have been fortunate enough to have written for some big freelance publications as well which has allowed me to get introduced to new clients. I also have tried pitching potential clients, but I don't have as high as a success rate as I do getting referred work to me.
4) Do you have a niche market, or a speciality, or are you more of a generalist?
I would have to say that I am a generalist. Lately, I have been working on a lot of websites in the restaurant industry, but I still like to work with a wide range of businesses. I do realize the importance of finding my niche, and maybe I will someday but for now I really enjoy being able to work across multiple industries and expand my network that way.
Even though I am a generalist, I still like to apply my specific design aesthetic across my client work. For me, I really like the minimal approach which you can see if you visit my portfolio. I really love visiting websites that have a simple approach, but still has a touch of their own style in it which is what I try to convey on all of my designs.
5) What are your five top tips for starting your own business?
1. Treat yourself as the most important client and spend the first hour of your day on your own business – This is one of the best pieces of advice that I have received this year. We all get super busy with client work throughout the day that sometimes we forget to focus on our own business. This is why you should treat your own business as your most important client. The reason being is that we really focus on our client work without focusing on tasks that will help our own business grow. This could include: writing the blog post you have putting off, answering those unread emails, attending a workshop, etc. If you set aside one hour in the morning to work on your own business before jumping into your client work you will start to notice results.
2. Set expectations with clients early – Trust me, this tip will save you a lot of headache. One issue I was going through in the beginning was not setting boundaries with my clients or expectations of when and how the work was going to be done. I found that putting together a little client welcome packet has really helped alleviate this issue. Now all of my clients know my working hours, my timeline for projects, how I invoice, and so on. By letting the client know of all of this in the beginning of our work really has put a hold on the hidden surprises that clients try and throw at you.
3. Escape the 9-5 mindset – This might be the hardest tip to follow and something I still struggle with to this day. One of the reasons I left my 9-5 was because I was tired of having to show up to an office every single day and having to sit in front of a computer for 8-10 hours at a time. It felt too much of a routine that I wanted to escape. Now that I am a freelancer and set my own hours, sometimes I feel guilty if it is 2pm and I am taking some time to go on a walk or read a book. However, something I keep reminding myself is that I left the 9-5 for a reason and I don’t want to bring that same lifestyle to my own business. Yes, I really enjoy the work, but I also enjoy taking breaks as well.
4. Learn from others in your industry and build your network – Fortunately for me, there have been a lot of great examples I can follow in this industry. For example, I owe a lot to Kerstin for the inspiration and just being a mentor to me in terms of what to do right in this business. I also spend time every month reaching out to other developers and just building a network with them. I am a big proponent of collaboration versus competition. I know there are hundreds if not thousands of other Squarespace designers out there, but I don’t see them as competition. I view everyone as an extension of my network because you never know when you might need some help on some work or vice versa.
5. Keep track of goals and daily progress – Since freelancing, I have really started to write down my goals and daily tasks. This not only has allowed me to stay focused, but it also has been great in making sure that every client that I am working with is helping me get to where I want to be. I think as a freelancer or small business owner we sometimes get bogged down with work that we forget why exactly we are doing it. Being able to write down my goals and do daily and weekly check-ins with myself and my business have been really helpful in my growth.
6. (BONUS) Keep track of your expenses, and pay your taxes – If there was one area of the business that I would have to say that I enjoyed the least it would be bookkeeping, however, it is also one of the more important areas of your business. Lucky for me, about three months into freelancing I discovered one of the greatest freelancing apps AND CO which allowed me to keep track of all of my invoices, contracts, expenses, and even keep track of my project progress. If it wasn't for this app, I don't know where my business would be today. If you are struggling with keeping track of your expenses, please look into AND CO.
Also, part two of this piece of advice is to pay your taxes. Seriously, as a freelancer and small business owner, you are in a whole other tax lane than if you are just an employee. Keep track of your year tax payments (quarterly taxes) and if you are really struggling with this, don't ignore the issue, find an accountant. You could be the greatest designer/marketer in the world, but if you are straight in the books, then your business won't survive very long.
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