Freelance Alliance Spotlight: Alex Peterson

What freelance services do you offer?

I specialise in digital user experience design. So designing and building websites that are simple to use, search engine friendly, accessible and that hopefully look great too. Every new project is different so I tailor my services to the needs of the client as much as possible. I’ve worked with many different content management and e-commerce systems so always try and find the best possible solution for each and every client.  ***image3***

Holding on to business is vital in these times so I’ve found myself offering more ‘post-launch’ services such as newsletter marketing, search engine optimisation and general website maintenance.

Every site I build incorporates the latest web design best practices known as Web Standards. Technically speaking it means using table-less semantic markup that ensures websites load faster, are easier to maintain and are accessible to as wide an audience as possible not to mention viewable on many different platforms and devices such as mobiles.

How long have you been freelancing and what did you do before you became a freelancer?

A very fast 18 months have flown by since I turned freelancer. Before then I worked at the BBC for 7 years in various design-related roles, which saw me design interactive services for a wide variety of digital platforms such as the web, interactive TV, IPTV, mobiles and even the big video screens at train stations!

What triggered your decision to go freelance?  ***image7***

I've always known that I'd eventually like to work for myself although my father has his own company and has worked for himself for years so was also an inspiration for me to do the same. During and since leaving university I'd somehow managed to have a steady stream of work on the side, mainly through friends and colleagues. Then one day I realised I had so much extra work coming in that I could probably do this freelance lark full-time.

So the following week I handed in my resignation and did just that. It was one of the most daunting but definitely most exciting times of my career. It was an odd feeling waking up that first day knowing I didn't have a safe full-time job to go to and it was now up to me to get some money coming in. More that enough motivation I can tell you.

Being on your own, are there any difficult gaps to fill, knowledge or skills wise?

The biggest challenge on a daily basis is being generally organised and efficiently managing multiple projects at once. I always worked with project managers who’ve managed timescales and set deadlines so doing this all myself and achieving set milestones has been a challenge.

I’m more of a designer than a developer so the biggest skills gap that I've had to fill is web development. Thanks to continually networking and the Freelance Alliance website I've managed to build up a list of reliable contacts that I can call on if I need a particular skill such as web development, video production, photography or illustration.

What were your goals when you started your business? Have they changed?

When I first started all I was concerned about is staying in business and paying the bills. Nervous times, but I got through them and now everything is ticking along nicely. So I have more time to think about longer-term goals and dare I say it a strategy. I think for every designer variety is important and never to stop learning. But more tangible goals I guess would be to acquire office space and to eventually have enough work coming in to be able to take on staff.

Were there any crisis points early on? Any moments when you wondered if the pressure of making your business a financial success outweighed the benefits of independence?

My first year was surprisingly lucky due to the fact I had a few big jobs come along via people I knew. So those kept me afloat during the freelancing honeymoon period. I think as soon as one becomes a freelancer word somehow spreads and suddenly everyone you know, knows someone that needs a website or logo designing and they pass them your way. When you first start out I don’t think you’re not really able to make the most of the benefits of independence - I had visions of long lunches and wandering around art galleries but that never happened due to having my head down monitoring cash-flow and minimizing expenses!

What are the best mistakes you’ve made? (i.e. those you’ve learned valuable lessons from.)

There have been many valuable lessons such as trying not to take on too much work, risking burn-out and not being organised enough and managing my time well and subsequently pulling 14 hours days for weeks on end. From a financial perspective not keeping my eye on my cash flow and sinking into my overdraft. The other part to that problem would be expecting clients to pay on time – if it’s not in the bank it doesn’t count.

***image8*** What is your most triumphant moment so far?

Launching my biggest and most successful project to date for an online tailoring company (www.cadandthedandy.co.uk). It was a very unique and demanding website to design and build but one that has reaped rewards ever since by generating a lot of interest and further work. But generally speaking, the single fact knowing that I can survive on my own two feet is quite a triumphant feeling alone.

Looking back on your freelancing career now, is there anything that you would do differently?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I'm all one for learning from one’s mistakes. I'd enforce stricter hours and deadlines and project manage a lot better. I think my social life has suffered a bit since working for myself but it’s all been in a good cause. I’d possibly have charged more and not tried to be over-competitive just to win the work.

What things do you find personally rewarding and satisfying as a freelancer?

Updating my portfolio with new examples of websites that I’ve designed and built is always good and not to mention the unique feeling of being self-sufficient and one’s own boss.

What are the rewards, risks, and trade-offs? ***image11***

It's rewarding enough knowing that people are paying me to do something I enjoy and would probably do in my spare time anyway.

There are obvious risks such as not being self-motivated or organised enough, but over time and with hard work can be overcome.

A major trade-off is not directly working with other people. After years of working in a lively and buzzing studio with like-minded individuals the quiet spare room can take some getting used to. But that’s where facebook and twitter come in!

What have you been working on recently?

The variety of work that comes in is unbelievable and I never know what job is around the corner. I recently launched websites for a small independent cinema, make-up artists, wedding singer and car window tinting business. So the contrast in work is definitely there. In fact, I’ve just got off the phone with a professional body-builder and personal trainer who would like a new website.

To see more of Pixel Air's work and to contact Alex, see his Freelance Alliance profile.

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24th July 2009

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