2016 Roundup, Contracting, WordPress Themes, a Different Kind of Project and Plans for 2017

2016 has officially been my 6th year as a full time freelance web designer.

In that time, I’ve dabbled in many different things. I’ve connected with some amazing and inspirational people and I’ve learnt so much about myself, my abilities and what I can accomplish if I put my mind to it.

In this post, I’m going to offload a few current thoughts, past experiences and potentially some plans I have for the future.

So, if you have the time to read on, please do so and I thank you in advance.

I’ve never been a big reader myself so I respect those people that invest their own time reading about other peoples lives, even in a disorganised blog post like this.

So here is my 2016 roundup, for all those who are reading still.

The Present Day

Anyone who works from a home office, especially those in this sector, and especially those creative types like me, will no doubt testify that one of the things you miss the most when you leave the office of people behind is the daily interaction.

You miss the jokes.

You miss the boss coming in unannounced, forcing you to quickly close a few dubious internet tabs. Nothing too dubious of course.

You miss the kettle going off every other minute and downing your 10th cuppa with the office tea addict.

You even miss the daily commute… to some extent.

When you have worked in isolation for a few years like I have (over 6 years now), you start to miss all the things that you used to hate.

The things that permanently distracted you, that slowly wore you down.

I suppose in a sense, you miss all the problems that work used to bring to your life.

I still speak with people daily via instant messenger, Skype, FaceTime and voice calls, but it’s not the same as the face to face interactions you get when working in an office environment.

I worked for 10 years in 2 award-winning digital agencies, in a full time role, starting out in 2001 at a start-up in my hometown of Scarborough (5 years) and then onto a new role with another agency in Harrogate (another 5 years).

I can genuinely say that it only took about 6 months at the start of my career to garner the core skills I needed to fulfill my responsibilities, ones I still rely on today.

The other 9 and a half years was spent exercising those skills, garnering invaluable experience and fine tuning my craft.

I could go on but I’m sure I will lose the majority of the readers if I do so I’ll skip on. Let’s just say,

I was ready to do my own thing after that decade. It was my very own Brexit and for me, I needed change. I needed a new horizon. I needed to leave.

I won’t go into my freelance life now don’t worry, though 95% of the stuff I’ve worked on is locked under NDA’s but I have put up a few smaller projects in my portfolio that give clients a taste of what I offer.

My first full time, onsite contract

This year (2016) I decided to accept my first onsite freelance UI/UX contract in the 6 years I’ve been a freelancer.

The company, Mamas & Papas, is a well known children’s brand who design, manufacture and retail children’s travel systems, clothing, furniture and toys.

It’s a well known brand and so when I got approached by their HR department to fulfill a 3 month contract role they had, onsite in Huddersfield, I jumped at it.

I needed to be stuck on the M62 traffic at rush hour.

Previously, I have always declined contract roles like this.

The main reason for this was simple. I was still recovering from my agency days and the last thing I wanted was a busy commute, early starts and young university ego’s draining me again.

But after years of freelance isolation, self discipline and routine, I wanted it. I NEEDED it! I needed to feel The FEAR again. The unknown. The other side.

I needed to be stuck on the M62 traffic at rush hour.

I needed to have small talk over the water cooler.

I needed to have lunch with people I’ve only known for two minutes and who I’m desperately trying to make like me in order to fulfill this imaginary social standing that clearly I’ve been missing.

So I took the role at Mamas and Papas, after the usual interview grilling from the head of department and a job offering.

In short, those three months did me good.

The work was simple, there was a whole host of inner politics going on, interdepartmental tug of wars and so on.

The usual stuff you find in most large organisations. But all in all it did me good. I loved the commute. I loved the people. I loved the pay.

Most of all I loved the change of routine. I loved not being the boss anymore and being at the bottom of the pile.

I loved the thought that this was just a short term contract and that it may or may not be extended. So exciting. I loved it, can you tell?

I’m hoping to do another similar contract in 2017.

I find it helps your mental state and it gives you the passion to get behind the wheel again and do another 6 years building your own thing.

Only this time, I want to start something.

Build something I can put my name to, that drains all my savings in the short term but delivers real value to the sector and the clients I service in the long term.

I have a big idea, something that I’m planning at the moment and it’s very exciting.

It’s something I can’t talk about yet but just to drop a hint, it’s nothing I’ve done before.

A different kind of project

Without going into too much detail on this post, which would extend it’s length past bedtime, I’ll write up on a different kind of project I’ve been involved in over the last 8-10 weeks.

Here’s a clue. It didn’t pay me a penny, didn’t involve a computer and helped me lose a much needed stone in body fat.

My first part time, onsite contract

I almost forgot. Earlier in the year, I actually worked for a company in Ripon on a part-time basis, working roughly 2 days a weeks onsite over a period of about 4 months.

You can read more about my work for Farmison&Co here.

These onsite contracts show a change in my mindset about freelance work and potentially where I see more of my time going in the future.

The Past 6 years

It will be about 6 years now since I co-foundered a Premium WordPress themes business with a good friend of mine.

Looking back, the first 7 days were a success.

We got featured on Smashing Magazine, a few other popular blogs and magazines and even got a free version of the first theme accepted into the official WordPress themes directory.

It’s a few years now since we successfully sold the business and exited the sector so I wouldn’t know without checking whether the theme is still there and/or still supported.

This time next year Rodney…

This side business took up all of my spare time whilst freelancing so I didn’t have much time left to pursue other projects and personal interests.

I even stopped networking and connecting with those people I got close to in the sector, something I used to enjoy and that I found inspiring.

It’s funny to think, at least 3 contacts I knew, who were starting their businesses at the same time I went freelance are now multimillionaires.

Makes you think doesn’t it. What if that was my idea?

Ironically, one project I was involved in, before the themes business started, would now be classed as one of the hottest startup models around today with the business sector, competition and public awareness being at an all time high.

We should have stuck at that one for sure.

As a benchmark, a similar site launched after us and is now one of the leading websites/services in that market.

It floated 2 years ago at a valuation of nearly £1b and currently has a market cap of £1.35b.

That house in the country would have been one step closer if we swapped shoes with them.

I’ve had a few close calls on projects, all with huge potential, low/no completion and a potentially huge future consumer demand.

We had the foresight, just not the business acumen, experience or skills to deliver. Hell, I’m 34 now so who knows?

“This time next year Rodney…”. Which reminds me, I must clear out the junk in the garage. Oh wait, I don’t even have a garage!

The Future

Well on a personal note, 2017 is looking like the big year for me. I’m getting married and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been with the “little lady” now for over 6 years and it’s time to make an honest women of her.

Work wise, who knows. Certainly more freelance work. I’m also going back into WordPress themes but with a new twist this year so that will be exciting.

I’ve also got plans for a new business that will combine the skills and approach-to-business of both myself and my other half. More on that when it comes off.

How about you?

How has your year gone? I would genuinely love to hear more so feel free to leave a comment. Or even better, Tweet me, email me or even drop me a line.

There’s a beer on the other end anytime you want it.

Gary Hartley

Gary Hartley is The Floating Frog. A seasoned freelance web designer with skills in UI/UX, CRO design, WordPress, branding, PSD-HTML conversions and more. Got a project you need to start or take to the next level? Please, get in touch!