Category Archives: Freelancing

Farm report for 8th March 2023

Every Wednesday I run a networking event for freelancers in the digital industries in Brighton, The Farm. Last week, it was in the Battle of Trafalgar pub, which is conveniently close to the train station and some bus routes, and some parking which is free after 8pm.

I’d been working at The Skiff coworking space during the day, so was already in Brighton rather than coming over after dinner. I started the meet at 7pm, an hour earlier than usual.

These are my overview notes from the evening, I like to note down what’s talked about to use on our adverts the following week.

  • Business Intelligence and Python
  • Sorin’s sole traveller app – Yaatrees
  • School strikes
  • Working from home and coworking
  • Digital nomadism
  • Working with Shopify and themes
  • Spreading out what you do
  • SEO
  • History of the Farm group
  • Dynamite Circle – a group for digital nomads and more
  • The Post Office will pick up parcels from your house – great when running a small ecommerce store
  • Looking for SEO work, especially Ecommerce SEO
  • Have you been freelance too long to work for an employer full time?
  • “I have an allergic reaction to the word Swagger”
  • The Farm comes through for work… again!
  • Getting Brighton residents to go to places to the east and west is hard
  • Eventbrite
  • Office workers are getting less smartly dressed since the lockdowns
  • Convincing clients that what you do is worth it, or finding clients that appreciate what you do
  • Finding work through networking
  • Finding niche work through LinkedIn and Facebook groups
  • Wired Sussex membership

Ten regular members came along, and three new people – Sorin who was talking about his phone app for solo travellers, Julian who was looking to meet people who are interested in digital nomadism, and Leanna (whose name I might be misspelling) who runs an online shop and is looking for Ecommerce SEO work.

Finding work through networking in person and online

I spent a chunk of the evening talking about finding work with Leanna, including the usefulness of in person networking and which events locally might be useful to her. I truly think the Farm would be good for her business if she keeps coming as there are a lot of developers in the group who would be willing to refer SEO work her way when their clients need help. We also talked about the First Friday meet ups and whether they’ve returned since the lockdowns, and whether or not it is worth trying the BNI and Chamber of Commerce groups.

Away from in person networking, I suggested checking for LinkedIn groups covering the areas she’s interested in and maybe Facebook groups. We both have the same reaction to these – something approaching dread – but I know both have been useful to friends in the recent past so I wouldn’t rule them out. Personally, I’d start with LinkedIn as I spend slightly more time there than Facebook, which I barely use, but your mileage may vary. Ecommerce SEO is a big niche, so there are bound to be groups around it where you can be helpful and hopefully pick up some work.


“I have an allergic reaction to the word Swagger” was a quip from someone hating the automated documentation system Swagger, I think Haze (in fine form as he’d just landed some new work thanks to another Farm member.)

The idea is you add some extra comments to your code as you are writing it, e.g. you’re writing an API and want documentation so people know how to use it. Once the special comments are in, you have Swagger installed in your system and it can create a mini-website as your documentation for you, as soon as you upload the code.

This is a fantastic idea. When I tried it a couple of years ago, I found I was banging my head against it more than using it. I then tried it with a programmer at a client who had more experience with it and it was a delight. Get your code done, put it on the site, look at the docs and they’ve updated on their own. Magic. Personally, I think Swagger (at least then) needed better docs itself to be really useful.

The person quipping had a problem with it because every API he’s tried where the documentation is in Swagger, the information has been incomplete and the job has been a real problem. Which brings us to the normal problem with documentation: if it is inaccurate (or often, non-existent) then it’s bad, no matter how it’s produced. Swagger isn’t a panacea, you still have to give it good information to work with. It is an easy way to give a little info and get a big result, not magic.

I’m pretty sure Simon Willison has talked about using AI to help write documentation, but I can’t find where at the moment. I’m sure someone is trying to force ChatGPT to do that for them right now.

I am giving (and listening to) a Freelancing talk on Tues 24th

On Tuesday 24th September I’ll be talking about Freelancing at the ‘Achieving Freelancing Awesomeness‘ evening hosted by Freelance Advisor in Hove, along with Kati Byrne and Bex White.

I’ll be talking about making friends with other freelancers to help you get more work in, Bex is talking about managing your time effectively so you can grow your business, and Kati about using social media as a freelancer. There will also be lots of time for questions and answers about the talk and anything to do with freelancing.

I’m very much looking forward to the event and hearing the other talks. If you’re interested you can find out more on Freelance Advisor, or go straight to sign up here.

The event is from 6pm-8pm at Freelance Advisor / Crunch’s office, which is in the ‘Perfumery’ building next to Hove station so it’s a doodle to get to – either train to Hove, or if you’re in Brighton and don’t want to walk it, the number 7 and 7A buses go to Hove station, you’ll need to cross over the tracks to get to the right building.

There are quite a few people registered already, so if you’re interested please get a ticket now.

Getting work offers by being approachable

Today I was called by a potential client. They’d been in touch a few months ago, looking for a PHP developer to help create the website for their new business. I was too busy to help, but had been very approachable on the phone and had talked about the project a bit try to help them find the right sort of developer, just helping them frame what skills they needed in a more technical way to make the search easier.

They’d talked to some other developers, but couldn’t find anyone they wanted to do the project and wondered if I was available. I’m still not, but I did give them some names of people I know through the Farm who might be able to help.

This is the second time this has happened over the last couple of months. The previous time was a similar situation – someone needed help, found me via search or the Farm website, and although I couldn’t work for them, I tried to give them some help. They couldn’t find what they wanted from someone else and got back in touch to see if I had availability.

This is a not useful method of finding work if you’re new to freelancing. However, even when you’ve been going a while and have built up to a full calendar, you still need to know new work is coming in at some point in the future. If you show interest in what a potential client is trying to achieve, even when you know you can’t help directly at the moment, it can come back as work later. The sales work to turn the lead in to a client becomes easier too, as this is someone who has compared you to other people in the market and decided to get back in touch – a much easier person to sell to than someone talking to you for the first time.

Is this foolproof? No, plenty of times the potential client will find someone else they’re happy to work with. Is it worth 5-10 minutes of your time when the potential work comes in? I think so. I get to hear about a potentially interesting project which I might be able to pass it on to a friend who can do it. At worst, it’ll be a daft idea and I don’t recommend anyone. If the project sounds sensible and I refer a friend who does it, they will likely try to refer some work back my way when I need it. If no one is available or the client doesn’t gel with anyone, I get an offer a couple of months later when I might need some more work.

My talk – Being a Successful Freelancer

In November I was invited to give a talk at WorthingDigital about freelancing. James has now released the video made of the first hour, which contains the talk and the start of the Q&A. Sadly the camera could only record for this long, so a lot of the Q&A session wasn’t recorded. If you have any questions or anything to add, please leave a comment or e-mail me at

WorthingDigital are organising a lot of interesting talks, you can find their YouTube channel here.

As a freelancer, should I get an office / desk space?

A lot of freelancers, especially those who can do their work on a computer, start out working from home. It’s cheap and it gives you flexibility, but it can become a drag when work life and home life mix together.

If you find it tough to work from home either because of family distractions, or because you find home life starts encroaching too much on work life – i.e. having to get the washing up done before you get on with your work or marketing, getting distracted by the TV, people coming around to see you because ‘you’re free’ and so on, an office might solve your problems.

Your options: Renting an office, a desk in a shared office, or co-working.

Renting a whole office

If you rent a whole office for yourself, you get to set up the environment how you want. If you have particular needs when it comes to light, noise levels, internet connection speeds, and all the details of the work environment, you may be best off renting a whole office and setting it up to match your needs. This is expensive, so consider renting out any spare desks to other freelancers to help offset the costs.

Renting a desk in a shared office

The most common way to get some work space for computer based workers is to rent a desk in a shared office. This gets you out of the house and around other working people, which can help fend off feelings of isolation and be motivating – I’ve found I tend to jump myself out of not working more easily if I’m around people who are working.

Costs where I live in the south of the UK are around £250-300 a month for a desk in a shared office, usually with a little storage and the internet connection costs included. That represents about one day of work a month for me as a web developer, so you could say to afford it I need to bring in at least one day extra of work, or be one day more efficient at work, when I’m in the office than I was at home.

When I moved to a shared office from working at home, I found I easily got enough extra work done to cover the cost of being in the office. I was less stressed as I had been working out of my bedroom, probably the worst place to work from at home – I found working from the lounge at my previous apartment much better. Moving from cramped conditions to a small shared office and being around other people made me much more productive, and getting to and from the office meant I was getting some extra exercise too. The only downside was I caught more colds, as I would usually go to the office on the bus.

Co-working offices

Co-working, or hot desking, is a way of using shared office space on a part-time basis. You’ll pay a small fee and be able to use the office a certain amount each month. Usually such offices have certain desks set aside for co-workers, and you just turn up and use a free desk. They’ll expect you to bring a laptop to use, although you might find somewhere that has a computer you can use if you don’t have a laptop.

I’m currently using a co-working office called The Skiff in nearby Brighton, I pay £25 a month and can use it for two days of work. This gives me a break from working from home, and gives me a chance to get the advantages of working in a shared office – community and motivation – as well as a break from the four walls I’m used to.

Things to consider when looking for shared office space

  • Noise – are people allowed to play music on speakers? How noisy are people on the phone?
  • How good is the internet connection?
  • How good is your mobile phone connection in the building?
  • What condition is the kitchen / toilet in?
  • Is there a cleaner, or are you expected to clean?
  • How big is the desk?
  • How much natural light is there?
  • How easy is it to block out too much light?
  • If you need a landline put in, how much will that cost?
  • If you want to leave, how much notice do you have to give?
  • How secure is the building?
  • Do you need extra insurance to cover the office?

Make sure you meet everyone you will be sharing with. If you don’t like lots of noise, you might find there’s one very loud person who speaks on the phone regularly that you didn’t meet.

Try to get a trial period, that you pay for, before signing up for a month or multi-month contract. This will let you find out exactly what it’s like to work there without finding you want to back out after a couple of days.

My Situation

I’ve worked from home and from an office. Personally, I prefer being in a shared office, but I currently have a small office at home and due to family demands and keeping costs down, it’s better for me to use that than pay out for a shared office. To give myself a change of scene, I pay £25 a month to use The Skiff on a co-working arrangement. I’ve also been joining the nice folk at the Worthing Digital co-working at Barneys Restaurant which happens every Thursday. Three people from that have signed up for some office space in Worthing as Worthing Coworking, and I’ll be joining them as a co-worker as soon as they have the internet connection switched on, which should be today or next week.

I think I was probably slightly more efficient in a full-time shared office, but a combination of home office and co-working is a good compromise for my current situation.