In this, our sixth episode of Positive Chats, Gary Buchan talks to independent internet professional, Ben Pritchard. Ben talks to us about his life as a freelancer and how he manages his time whilst doing this. As well as giving tips on how to network and meet new clients, he recommends vital online tools for other freelancers to use. If you’re interested in the world of freelancing and how to make it work for you while saying no to the 9 to 5, this video is well worth a watch!
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Gary: Welcome to Positive Chats. We are doing something a bit different this time. As you can see, I am not Jon. He will be back soon, probably for the best. In the meantime I am sitting here with Ben who is an awesome guy and we are going to have a bit of a chat about freelancing, how that is different to small and big business, how that works, and he can just tell us how much of an awesome success he is.
Ben: Thanks very much.
Gary: Tell us a little bit about you to start us off.
Ben: I’m Ben. My website is www.IamBen.co.uk. I have been freelancing for the last four or so years doing various bits. Sort of development, design, a bit of anything really that is exciting and internet-based. I don’t know what else…
Gary: Okay, cool. What exciting stuff have you worked on? What is your favourite project in the last few years?
Ben: Oh that’s a great question. I don’t think any of them have been… there is not one that I would pinpoint as being a favourite for anything. But I think anything that you can get done quickly and get paid for…
Ben: … is… as long as it’s a success.
Gary: From a business point of view those are your favourite kind of projects.
Ben: From a person point of view, there is always a project that is a little bit more exciting than something else.
Ben: So someone will say ‘Can you do x, x, x?’ and you think that is a bit more of a challenge or a bit more of an exciting sort of route. I mean there have been a number of those. None of them particularly stick out as being amazing, which sounds terrible, doesn’t it?
Gary: But you do amazing work. I have seen some of the stuff that you’ve done and it looks incredible and your clients had a lot of success off the back of it as well.
Ben: Some of them have, yeah, absolutely. I think that is the key to it. I think as long as they are happy I keep getting paid.
Gary: Because one of the things that we are judged on, a lot of the projects that we do, although our business models might be a bit different, we regularly create this kind of content or web development type pieces. We are judged on success metrics of how well they do in social media, how many links they get, how good the PR traction is from them. Does any of that factor in to your business or do clients just come to you and say ‘Build this for us’ and all the rest of it is their problem?
Ben: I think… yeah, mostly that, but I think it depends who the client is. So for some clients there is no sort of success metric in anything other than they want something online…
Gary: It’s got to be…
Ben: There is just something there that they need for whatever reason. For other clients there is obviously exactly that, exactly the same sort of thing but I kind of tag out after it has been made.
Gary: Okay. So do you have regular partners that you would work with that would pick up the other bit, or is that left to clients?
Ben: It is mostly left to clients, or I will be working for an agency or a client that does that specifically but doesn’t necessarily take on the actual content.
Gary: So you do a certain amount of work that is outsourced from agencies maybe similar to us.
Ben: I think… yeah, absolutely. There was a point where I thought I can’t be everything to everybody, if you see what I mean. There are things that I would just rather… there are things that people do better than I do, considerably, so why do it?
Gary: Just do the stuff that you enjoy doing.
Ben: Just do the stuff I enjoy doing, absolutely, and do relatively well.
Gary: Do relatively well, comfortably.
Ben: Comfortably well, yeah.
Gary: So you are not pushing to grow?
Ben: I was asked this question the other day actually, like about surely the end game for a freelancer is to run an agency. I don’t think that has ever been my end game or goal. I think there have been times over the last few years when I have been busy enough to probably take on someone else. You know, if I could have done I could have pushed and found more work and kept growing I suppose. But it has never been a… I’ve never thought ‘I want to run a team.’ I don’t want to do anything like that.
Gary: There are other challenges involved in that. Some of it is quite boring and tedious.
Ben: I mean I don’t think that is the real reason. I just… I don’t know. I know a lot of people who run agencies and think looking at them it is not something that I’ve wanted. It is not a road I wanted to travel down, if you see what I mean. I think also the reason I did freelance in the first place was I always had the idea that there was a big sort of grand plan in my head for something that would be my opus. Doing freelancing just gave me the spare time to sort of get on with that, if you see what I mean. Except I didn’t really know what I was penning. Difficult in the whole sort of… I think recently it’s come to… I read this great story about Dr. Seuss. Apparently when he started writing he wanted to pen this big sort of great American novel. The Dr. Seuss books were just his way of passing time and getting some money in. But obviously the Dr. Seuss books became his career-defining sort of thing. But they were never meant to be, hence writing them under the pseudonym of Dr. Seuss and getting them out there. I think recently over the last few years maybe I felt perhaps if there is an opus to be had, the great American novel or whatever is going to come out of my head at some point, I should focus on the little bits first and see where they take me and that sort of stuff. So I think ultimately freelancing has given me the space to do, you know, what I would possibly prefer to end up doing in the long run rather than running an agency.
Gary: Okay, yeah. Do you get to pick and choose projects then? Are you quite comfortable turning down work if it’s not… if you don’t think it’s going to be enjoyable enough to work on?
Ben: I first freelanced like years ago, maybe ten or so years ago. A bit longer than that perhaps. And I really struggled and I would take on anything that I could. When you get into a situation where you take on everything you could I think you start taking on jobs and you undervalue yourself and you under… kind of under value how much you should get paid for a job. And you start panicking about work, so everything kind of follows onto the other. This time around when I started freelance again I was kind of aware about trying to value myself slightly better than beforehand, which certainly worked. But I think you still… I certainly still suffered from the whole take on everything and you know, the just in case kind of route. I found that really hard, because you start taking on pieces that you are not necessarily… you don’t enjoy doing and whatever else. I think I have got to a point where I can turn down stuff and I do turn down stuff. I think now I turned down bigger builds whereas beforehand I might not have done. If I think this is going to take a month and a half or six weeks or eight weeks, you know, previously I might have taken it on and thought ‘Ok I can survive for eight weeks, I’ll be alright, I’ll get this done.’ But now that sort of job I would pass on or turn away because it’s just not fun, it’s not profitable. I get caught up in something, and when you are caught up in something for eight weeks you have to turn down everything else. I think… I mean I take on a lot and I am averse to turning down people that I have worked with before, particularly if they pay well and they are really easy to work with. I will just try and figure out a better way to schedule someone in and get on with it.
Gary: That is a problem for agencies as well, understanding the value and how they charge for their work, just as it is for freelancers. It’s a very common problem and there is lots written about it. So do you think you’ve cracked that in terms of… are you charging enough now for what you do?
Ben: It depends who is watching. I don’t know. It’s a really, really tough question, how much to charge. I think it sort of depends on… I started running a time tracker about 18 months ago and tracking every project that I did and figuring out how long it was taking for that and then thus how profitable the job was at the end of it. I sort of came to realize the jobs I enjoyed less… I was making far more money on the jobs that I enjoyed more which was interesting. I assumed because the jobs I enjoy less I am just getting on with whereas the jobs I enjoy more I spend slightly more time thinking about.
Gary: Yeah, prevaricating, tweaking them.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. I think I certainly… I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I think I certainly suffered in the long run with taking more time than I should do on a project and charging someone for how long I should have spent, but spending more time on it because I just wanted to get it right and because, you know… I think trying to get over that somewhat. Like realizing I can’t be a perfectionist for everything because otherwise I will just never do anything other than tweak, tweak, tweak, tweak.
Gary: Yeah. You’ve got to ship it at some point, whatever it is.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. I don’t think anyone has the right balance. I am in a great position that I can be very lean and agile, I can get on with something and I can undercut but still charge… you know I can undercut an agency, but I can still charge something that is fair to me. But you know, again, I am in a position where if someone says that we need this in a week, is it possible, because I don’t work… I don’t have to work seven and a half hours a day, you know. It’s not like I’m in office. I can sit in front of a laptop for 19 hours for four days running and get it done, which puts me in a pretty good position for that sort of stuff.
Gary: Do you find that… even now do you find that a difficult way to live in that you never know what projects are going to drop, especially if a lot of them are these last minute or rush job things, or is there a lot out there in the marketplace at the moment?
Ben: Yeah, it is a difficult way. I think again it comes down to that you never want to turn down work because you never know when you are going to get work again. That said I think there is a considerable amount of work and I think there is enough work to go around for everybody. I think the fact that the internet keeps getting more of a massive force in all our lives…
Gary: Bigger, yeah.
Ben: …there is just more room for this day in and day out with everybody involved. So I don’t think that’s going to go anywhere. I think the one thing we have to be sort of more aware of, particularly someone like me, is people get better writing things to automate the process. If you can write a piece for someone that they can use again and again and again with just replacing the images or whatever else and they can automate it themselves, you essentially have cut yourself out of work. So they need something else that does the same sort of thing. It’s like writing a quiz platform for someone, for instance. They can use it once, they can change the questions and they can get on with it and do it again.
Gary: So do you find networking a really important part of attracting new business?
Ben: Yeah, absolutely, 100%. I think all the business I have had has come from that in one way or another.
Gary: You don’t really do any other marketing? It’s all word of mouth business?
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s mostly going to events of some variety and talking to people and having a drink. Again, how we met through the wonders of alcohol.
Ben: I think it’s quite literally that. So going to an event, having a drink, chatting to people. Generally I talk a pretty good game and then it’s mostly not selling yourself, I think. I don’t think people like to be sold to, particularly at an event like that. If you go to a talk about something and you stand there handing out your business card saying to everyone ‘I’m brilliant, this is great, come and work with me’ people get very sick of it very quickly. I think if you just have a beer with someone and you just chat and you can learn a lot about their business and what they are doing. It is much easier to ask them to go for a coffee or to send them an email and say ‘If you have any problems with what you are doing on x, x, x, that you mentioned last night I can probably help with this or give me a shout if I could be of any use.’ Those people quite often give you a shout, or if they don’t give you a shout they recommend you to someone that they know that is in a similar problem that they can benefit from.
Ben: I think people like to work with, like, people they get along with.
Ben: If you know that that person… if you know you can go for a beer with that person and they seem reasonable and they seem like if something comes up they can speak to you…
Gary: That is one of the things we definitely do. We like to have clients… obviously we have long term relationships with retainers, but we purposely will work with people that we get on with and seek those kinds of people out. It helps us understand their business, it helps them understand ours and when there are problems which there inevitably are in any project you can deal with it sensibly rather than…
Ben: I think that’s it absolutely. And I think people like to know that it can be dealt with sensibly. You know, you are not going to pick up the phone to someone or drop them an email and they are going to go ‘No’.
Gary: So have you got any tips on good networking events where you have picked up business, indirectly maybe?
Ben: Goodness. Specific events, OMN has always been a good one.
Gary: Yeah, on the boat.
Ben: Yeah, Gus Ferguson, on the boat, which is always busy and lots of people that are involved in kind of generic online marketing of some variety. But I think depending on your area of speciality go to events that aren’t what you do, if that makes sense.
Ben: So I am very unlikely to go and get development and design work or whatever else that people might be employing me for if I go to a web developer meet-up, if you see what I mean. I might chat about things that might make my job easier, but very unlikely to get work out of it. Whereas if I… I was quite lucky. When I moved to London I was considering a career change. I hated the agency I was working at beforehand. I think sort of when you are working for someone that tells you what to do and doesn’t take on your recommendations despite the fact they have employed you to be that specialist in an area, it gets very frustrating very quickly. Came to Sunderland, had no real idea what I was going to do in London with anything. But some of my own projects at the time, I was interested in learning a bit more about SEO and doing that sort of thing. I had been reading about it. I had seen the thing for London SEO and it was literally two weeks after I kind of arrived in London. I went along and met a few people.
Gary: Perfect. Another good event.
Ben: It was a great event. It was lovely kind of meeting a whole new batch of people I hadn’t met before. I just turned up and got chatting as you do, if you know what I mean, and had a few drinks. Those people then sent me emails and said ‘Here is another good event you could come to, try this.’ I met a bunch of SEO people and kind of online marketing people and those people were brilliant because they have a particular skillset that’s really useful and really good, but they don’t necessarily have someone that does the bits that I could offer them if you see what I mean. When you know you can have a beer with someone and chat and someone calls you up and says ‘Look I’ve got a bit of an emergency, can you help me with this?’ or ‘Can you do that?’ and I think a lot of the work I’ve got has come off relationships that I have made in those places, particularly with someone… I’ll admit, usually they are in… unless it has been a recommendation usually they are in some sort of a hard place where they have had a developer or they have had a designer or they’ve had an anything that I could offer and that person has, you know, done something terrible or left and something needs finishing. It’s a ‘Can you help us with this?’ Yeah, I can most of the time. Then one thing leads to another.
Gary: This is an interesting question. You do design and development, that’s… I think that is quite rare for people to be good at both. There is this stereotype or image that the design team and the development team don’t speak the same language.
Ben: Right, so that’s why I struggled at the agency I was at before where they had very disparate design and development teams. It was a design agency foremost so they would send over work and go ‘Make the design.’ You would go ‘But that doesn’t make any sense. It’s an e-commerce site and it takes three clicks before you can get to any product. That makes no sense.’ And they go ‘Well that’s what the designers want so make it.’ It was very frustrating. I think I started making websites when I was 14 or 15, like 1994 or 1995 I guess.
Gary: Pretty much as soon as you could possibly do it really.
Ben: Basically. We had a 14.4 modem and I was on BBS’s doing like Ask You Design and all that sort of stuff on BBS’s. You know, we got the internet, we got demon account and I ran hundreds of pounds of phone bills, much to my parents’ horror. The internet was this amazing thing. You could make something in GeoCities. You could put a webpage on GeoCities and it was like amazing in there and I was just tinkering around. I think at the time you know have you Paint and Paint Shop Pro and kind of I have always been interested in design and street art and all that kind of thing, so that has always been something that I found interesting. Then I think the sort of… I did a computer science degree and my dissertation had nothing to do with anything in my degree and I pitched my dissertation and then realized it was quite a powerful… at the time a powerful sort of way to make interactive websites and stuff that did stuff and worked and it was quite exciting. And I think just the two married quite well. You know, it puts you… I think also the reason I learned about SEO and got into SEO and learned PPC and a bunch of other stuff is because when someone wants to do work and they want a piece and they say ‘This is how we are thinking about doing it’ and being able to say ‘Have you thought about doing this? Have you thought about doing that?’ It makes you a much more valuable sort of asset to them.
Ben: So yeah, there are some amazing designers out there and there are some amazing developers.
Gary: Have you got any advice for how designers or developers, whether they are individuals or teams, can work better together? A lot of breakdown around language barrier.
Ben: It’s a lot of talking. I think developers are very precious, they are very precious people. Like no offence if you are a developer, I’m one of you sort of. I think just you have got to understand that someone spent a long time trying to learn something, design or development or whatever else, and no one likes to have their work criticized or slagged off. I think both people have to be open to someone saying ‘This is wrong’ or ‘We need to do this differently’ or whatever else.
Gary: You’ve got to come to it from a position of innate respect.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely.
Gary: But understand that someone has got a completely viewpoint on it.
Ben: Correct. Someone spent quite a lot of time doing it and I think at some point one of you is going to have to compromise over something. It’s a tough thing. I think it’s becoming an odd thing as well. There are some amazing tools for developers now to have not terrible design, regardless of how…
Gary: Not terrible?
Ben: Well I mean if you look at some of the sort of developer-led designs ten years ago…
Gary: They were gauche.
Ben: It’s a horror show, yeah. And I think now, kind of, you can download a WordPress theme, there are plenty of things that will make an alright design for you. You can use Bootstrap and the hard part has been done for you and all that sort of stuff. I think designers need to sort of understand a bit of… particularly as a designer you need to understand UX, user experience, and you need to get on there. I think learning a bit of HTML would probably benefit you considerably in the long run. I think the difficulty is with designers and developers for the most part and massively… I’ve totally lost my track of thought. It’s that we are sort of designers… designers like historically you are not setting up in Photoshop and then you give it to a developer or file it and then give it to the developer and the developer builds it. I think now we are seeing like responsive designs have to be across both things. So you are getting designers going ‘Okay, we will design it in three things to send. This is mobile, this is tablet and this is PC.’ If you don’t understand how the box model works and how flowing works between items on a webpage it is going to make it very difficult for you to go ‘This is what we want and this one, this one and this one.’ I think again, why designers should sort of learn a bit of HTML but also just designing the browser, it’s a lot easier to sort of design straight out in something, even for a small amount. I think that is where if you have a little bit of skills in both it makes it a lot easier. You can cut half the journey out in one go by getting on it.
Gary: Yeah, okay. Do you think it’s a good thing for somebody to specifically want to be able to do both things? Because I find that very rare. There are very few people that do design and development. Normally you get really good developers and really good designers. While they might have done a little bit of what you suggested…
Ben: So being mediocre at both.
Gary: No, no, but being good at both and being able to understand both because they are very different skillsets. One is certainly more arty and the other is certainly more programmatic and scientific.
Ben: The thing is it’s about how long you want to spend learning something else if you see what I mean. As a designer or a developer I think you can learn enough of the other one in order that you can get on with some projects, if you see what I mean. I think there are always going to be small projects that as a developer if you take some time out and learn basic design fundamentals you could just get on and do some projects. As a designers there are certainly a bunch of projects that you could design something pretty and you can make yourself and get on with. But it’s a case of whether you want to do that. I think quite often with everything and the people that you see that do SEO that go ‘Not interested in PPC, I wouldn’t touch that’ and same with PPC, people who do PPC ‘I would never.’ What about SEO? You know it’s much quicker just to send some traffic and I understand I can track it. Both sides have got this great argument but it is such a pig-headed view where you think if you just took a step back and you put a bit of this in and you put a bit of this in you are both going to succeed far, far…
Gary: Absolutely. With both those things you can learn so much about the other channel from doing one, or even just doing a little bit of one.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. It also puts you in a much better place for doing stuff by yourself. I think for me it was always knowing a bit of both meant that I could launch my own projects. I can come up with an idea on Friday night when I’m in the pub and by Sunday afternoon I have got something on the internet that does something and works. You know? It’s really exciting. It’s like Lego when I was kid, you know. You’ve got a bunch of bricks that mean nothing and five minutes later… not five minutes later, an hour and a half later you’ve got a house or a space ship or a dinosaur or whatever else you can conceive in your head. I think having the skills to take one thing to another one is really nice to be able to do it.
Gary: So you would subscribe to the view that rather than trying to be the best in the world at one thing, it’s better to combine two things and be really good at doing the culmination of those two things?
Ben: No, I wouldn’t say that view specifically. I think there are people who are absolutely brilliant. I worked with some amazing designers and developers who I have the most utmost respect for and who are never going to do anything… they are never going to come out of… you know say ‘I can do this, this and this.’ But what they do, they do so well they should keep doing it and do it to the absolute best of their ability. I think that’s great. I think that I’m pretty restless, I think, and it’s nice to be able to just dip into this, that and the other. If I want to launch a PPC campaign I can do it because I kind of know how to do it. Sort of if I want to design something I can. If I want to make a poster for someone I can, but at the same time, you know, if I work with an API I can do that as well. It’s nice to be in that position. That said, there are plenty of times when I will call people and say ‘I’m totally stuck, can you tell me what’s next?’
Ben: Absolutely. You know, but it does give me again a place where an agency can come to me and I can get something done.
Gary: In terms of how that applies to us, I am very much a jack of all trades. I kind of know a little bit about web development and servers and design and user experience and conversion and analytics and social and SEO and content and all the other things that we do, but we have then go specialists who do each piece.
Ben: But don’t you find it puts you…
Gary: But we always encourage people to understand different parts of what they are working towards.
Ben: Totally. And don’t you find as well that once you understand a little bit about something… I mean a little bit of knowledge is obviously incredibly dangerous as we all know. ‘Yeah, I can fix this’ and cue many hours later of pain and trauma. I think just understanding a bit more about this sort of stuff gives you much better insight when you are working with people because you kind of have an idea of how long something is going to take someone. You kind of have an idea of what is involved in order to do this. Particularly in development there is that massive ‘Can you just do this?’
Ben: Yeah. And ‘Can you just…?’ can take… the thing that looks like the tiniest change to someone that has never touched anything like that can take hours and hours and days.
Gary: We will touch on that again in a minute.
Ben: Whereas someone goes ‘Can you just do this?’ and you’re like ‘Yeah’ and it takes 30 seconds. They have a massive budget to just do this.
Gary: Okay. Are there any tools that you would recommend to other freelancers that are good things to use for running the business side of how they operate?
Ben: Yeah, totally. Google Calendar, obviously, is a great one just for making sure I have got everything in. All my phone is there, it connects the GMOs, its simple. I use Trello for a bunch of personal projects and for sometimes… I mean other people… when you are working with agencies in particular they usually have a way of doing it that makes…
Gary: That they want you to subscribe to, they want you to slot into.
Ben: Be on Basecamp or whatever else. So that’s fine for the most part. It does get a little frustrating when you are sort of looped in with their clients and there are thousands of emails popping to and fro which being honest I don’t care about terribly much. It’s sort of ‘Let me know what to do and I’ll just do it and get on with it.’. You know?
Ben: Obviously the obvious thing is Drop Box and that is a brilliant forum, and Google Docs for sharing and collaboration and that sort of thing. I wrote a Work Planner a while back. A friend of mine and yours, Russell.
Ben: Who basically he had a gap need about not organizing myself well enough. I think we were meant to have a beer for about three weeks and I kept saying ‘I can’t come out Russell.’ I had been working about 14 hours a day, 16 hours a day or something ridiculous. He got angry at me and said ‘Just put it in an Excel spreadsheet so you can see your days and you can see what is coming on.’ I wrote a Work Planner that just does that. It has a top view of days. Each day has like seven segments and I can just drop a client in it and it blocks out the whole week or whatever else. I found that very useful, just because it is such a top down thing. When someone calls and says ‘Can you do this?’ or ‘Can you do this on this date?’ I can go ‘Well the next date I can actually do anything is this date.’ That is very useful. I use Harvest for time tracking.
Gary: Yeah, so do we.
Ben: Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it?
Gary: Yeah, very good.
Ben: And Accounts. When I started out, again, I have no real plan and no sort of…
Gary: Because all the ones so far are as you are doing the work these are useful things. But the account side of things is a part of business that you don’t really know you’ve got to do until you get into it.
Ben: Well I panicked really badly. When I kind of came up, doing this sort of freelancing thing, I kind of fell into the freelancing thing mostly because a friend of a friend who was running an agency at the time had called and said ‘We are really stuck. We’ve got 24 hours to fix this and the developer has dropped off the planet.’ I didn’t sleep for 36 hours and just plowed this thing through and got it up and live for them. After that it was a very beneficial sort of relationship for both of us. I did that for a couple of months. I thought I’ve got money coming in and I’ve still got the personal tax return, that is a pain in the ass, but I am going to have to do something anyway. And if I have got money coming in, there is probably a more efficient way to do it. I did the sort of… you know, sent to most people and did a kind of quick Google search and had a figure out and found Crunch who are down in Brighton. I gave them a ring and said ‘How are we doing about this and this? If you are making this amount of money you will save this amount by becoming a limited company, by getting on doing that.’ It was one of those things I was probably trying to avoid because… not being in this company, just tax. I wasn’t trying to avoid it, the hassle just stressed me out.
Gary: So I should call you Jimmy Car from now on.
Ben: No, not at all. Just the hassle, the idea of thinking about… thinking about money is a really stressful thing. Thinking about accountancy is a really stressful thing. I called them and they were so good, talked me through it, set up a limited company and got me on it. It is about 70 quid a month I think, but it takes all the hassle out of everything I do. I login, I can invoice straight from the thing, it has all my clients and any new clients, it lets me add suppliers, it lets me expense stuff. It just does it all online and it’s there and it sends it out. You know, an account handler emails and says ‘You need to do this, Ben, you need to do that, you need to fill in these forms.’
Ben: Like originally I had the world’s greatest account handler, he was such a good guy. He would say ‘Ben I’ve filled in this form for you. I’ll post it to you, just sign it and send it off.’ That sort of stuff is totally invaluable as a sort of freelancer that just doesn’t want to touch this stuff. It’s amazing and being able to pump it out there and off it goes.
Gary: So they do the actual accountancy side as well as you’ve got a system that does your invoicing?
Ben: They do everything. Like invoicing, receipt tracking. You can photograph your receipts and it just goes in the system. Its great and it made it really simple and really… it took the pressure off basically. I think that was my biggest worry about doing anything on this sort of side of things.
Gary: Okay, that’s a really good point for people listening to you.
Ben: It’s a good one.
Gary: Not really anybody quite like you. Something else that might be difficult or problematic, certainly for people new to it, is dealing with contracts. Do you have contracts with all your clients? Do you set them up?
Ben: No, is the nice answer. For the most part I think there is an administration, but for the most part it is a handshake and an email. I like to get everything down in an email and numbers and sort of times and everything else so at least there is some record of it. But again, I think it comes to working with people that you get on with. I think if there is a problem we can probably sort it out. Again, I am one person. You take me to court and you’re not going to get very far. You know? I think that’s it really. I would much rather sort of out and get on with it. That said, touch wood, it has been four years now and we have been…
Gary: Okay, so that was a useless question really.
Ben: Well there is like… there have been a number of jobs over the last four years that have actually completely gone down the shitter as it were and that has been… it has been okay, but obviously it is hard. When you spend two weeks on something or a week on something and then the company folds or they can’t pay their bills or they go into administration or whatever and you send an invoice and then you are like ‘Cool, okay.’ Because it’s not like…
Gary: That stings.
Ben: It does, and I think it’s mostly because you could have been working on anything else and you spent two weeks doing something and it is not like there are other people there to back you up, it’s just two weeks of wasted time. Someone has got the benefit from it because it may have gone to their client or whatever else. But I think it happens and it’s just, you know, you have to take this move. Again, I have had some great months and I’ve had some terrible months. That is the way it goes, right?
Gary: Yeah, absolutely.
Ben: But it’s worth it at the end of the day. I’d rather do this.
Gary: You’d rather have the role…
Ben: I think I would be making more money if I was working for someone else. Maybe I would be earning more for someone else, I’m sure. But I do enjoy the fact that if I want to go to the gym at nine o’clock in the morning I can. If I want to go at 11 o’clock in the morning I can. If I want to go for a beer at 11 o’clock in the morning I can as well. You know what I mean? And I like that. I love the fact that I can go for lunch with people.
Gary: You can do that working here.
Ben: You have a weird job.
Gary: A bit of fun then. What is the worst thing that a client has ever asked you to do? Everyone has seen clients from hell and some of the stupid requests you get. One of our favourites that Jon had several years ago was the client asked ‘Could you move this image half a pixel to the left?’
Ben: Half a pixel?
Gary: Have a pixel.
Gary: And the other one, probably the most common one is ‘Can you make our logo bigger?’ But you must have had some crackers as well.
Ben: Yeah. I quite enjoy when people go ‘Would you be worried about working with…’ and then they say an industry. That always makes me laugh because sort of I am not… in fact, I’ve got quite a lot of scruples when it comes to some things. But if someone said… I’m not going to go where I wouldn’t go, but I am pretty liberal and if you were taking… you know, the Westboro Baptist Church, probably not, depending on how much they are paying. No, I’m kidding, I mean definitely not. But I think I quite enjoy that sort of stuff. If you’ve got a client that is a little bit more edgy that is quite fun as well. Yeah, I have been asked some really dumb things. I think it’s mostly… my biggest irritation is the ‘Could you just…?’ because it’s always massive scope creep and sometimes its irritating, sometimes it’s absolutely fine. But ‘Could you just…?’ is a pain in the ass. I’m just trying to think of some good ones. There is obviously the generic. I think people just like making their stamp on stuff. You have got to realize who you are working with and what they’re like, that kind of stuff. There are some people that I’ve worked with in the past, some that really like just making a mark. Just sort of no matter how good you do something…
Gary: Some that will let you run with it and they trust you to do it.
Ben: I find its usually… again I think with client work in general when you are working with someone that is not managing, that has a budget but they are not managing the company budget, they are usually the best to work with because it is not their money, they don’t have to check the bank account. They just sign it off and they’re done. They just want the work done, they just want it out there. They might change something ‘Could you make this slightly more on brand? Could you do this?’ That is absolutely fine. I think often if you are working with someone that is sort of controlling the purse strings and it’s their money that is coming out, they really want to micro control what is going on. They want to get the most of their money and that is totally understandable, but it can be quite frustrating I think at times. But yeah, it’s like… I read this great story the other day about a chess game, like a free chess game that was developed in San Francisco like ten years ago or something. They developed it and the queen had a little duck that was next to her and as she moved around the board the duck waddled around after her. When they showed it to their boss, their boss was like ‘I love everything about it, it’s great. Get rid of the duck.’ They put the duck there just for that reason because they knew he was going to have to put his stamp on something, so to get rid of the duck was like a line of code. I thought that was great. I think that sums it up as best as you possibly can. Some people just like to get rid of the duck. That’s…
Gary: So do you build ducks into some of your things now, now that you are aware of this are you going to do that?
Ben: I think it depends who the client is. I think certainly when you talk to some clients you think they are going to want to change something on this. I think once you send over something and say ‘How are your thoughts on this? What are you thinking?’ and depending on what they come back with at that point it depends on what you are going to do for that sort of stuff. It might be… I think ultimately just try and do the best thing you possibly can straight away and get it over with. But I am quite happy to… again, working for yourself, it’s nice to be in the position where you can fight with someone if you want to and you can say ‘It’s a really dumb idea what you are doing.’ But then you only have so much fight. There is a point. I am quite happy to fight with people about particular stuff like landing pages and you think you want a landing page for this and you are recommending ‘This is the way you should be doing it, this is going to make the most sense’ and someone comes back to you and says ‘We need to move this here and move that here and we need to put this and we need some more links to this, this and this.’ You are like ‘You are totally defeating the purpose of what you are trying to achieve here, so wind it back and let me explain to you why.’ You can only fight with someone so much before you go ‘You know what? You’re paying the bills, I’m quite happy, let’s just make it and we’ll get on with it.’
Gary: Any thoughts on where the industry might be heading?
Ben: Internet marketing in general, I think everything is going to roll into… I mean it has been happening the last few years. You must have seen this doing what you guys do.
Ben: Like I think everything is coming under a generic PR roof.
Gary: Less so PR from our point of view. I think we are subsuming PR into our…
Ben: That’s what I mean, sorry, as in they are all coming in together into one sort of fold as it were. I think PR are realizing, offline PR, are realizing that they need online and generic SEO companies are realizing that having someone that is a little bit more lunches and phone calls is really good for them as well. I think kind of that whole world is merging. I think the development and design world, I mean it’s not going anywhere. I think there are some amazing tools out there. When I started doing this WordPress hadn’t been sort of conceived at that point. You think now if you want to set up a website, set up a blog, you can register a domain for about eight quid and you can get hosting for absolute peanuts. You can set up a Word Press blog, you can put up a free Cloud Flare sort of thing to cope with your traffic and you can just set up and run. The barrier for entry on any of this is really low. I suppose that is kind of why I have been doing a lot more content work than development and design work, because unless someone wants something really specific, unless they are trying to do something, they just download a theme and they just re-skin the theme and get on with it.
Gary: Okay. Well I think we are going to have to wrap this up now, as fun as it has been.
Ben: It has been fun.
Gary: Thank you very much, Ben.
Ben: Thanks very much for having me.
Gary: Anytime. Maybe we will have you back soon.
Ben: For drinks hopefully because we are out now.
Gary: Well let’s go and get a pint.
Ben: Let’s do it.
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