First impressions of being a freelance web developer in London

Having moved to London a few months ago, I now feel I’ve experienced enough to form a decent first impression of the place. I can’t profess to being an expert in the London’s web development scene, but I think I’ve certainly got more of a feeling of how it works now than I did three months ago.

Last year, I moved to Cheltenham and spent the year working for digital agencies in both Birmingham and Bristol (Cheltenham is halfway between both y’see). So I have some experience in setting up in a new city.

But first, let me address (by which I mean rant a little) an issue about moving cities. Upon telling friends/family that you are relocating, their first response is often ‘it is a good job you can work from home/anywhere‘. This isn’t really true of all web developers (some yes, but certainly not all).


In my role, companies often expect me to work in their offices and quite often, that is best for the project – you’re near the designer and/or UX people (hopefully) and you can quickly discuss ideas; with responsive web design, this is crucial because sometimes designs created in Photoshop/Illustrator/Sketch don’t translate well to the web… as much as we hope they will. My point, is that it is very important that where you live is close to the (type of) companies you wish to work for. In my experience, companies based in Bristol want to hire Bristol-based web developers and companies in London want to hire people based in/near London.

which brings me to my next point…

London is huge

In the past three months, I have worked in Camden, Canary Wharf, Shoreditch and in central London. I have rented a desk in a shared office in Shoreditch and have worked onsite in those other locations. I have gone to meetings (to try and secure work) in those places too and it takes an age to get there and back. My partner and I decided to look for a home near Finsbury Park station as that was good for her work as well as mine – meaning I am only 30 mins away from Shoreditch, Clerkenwell and central London where I’d guessed all my work would come from.

And that’s fine, most work does seem to come from those places but then, it turns out there is a lot of work to be found in Canary Wharf and that seems to take aaaages to travel to… and it is not a fun journey. While I worked in Manchester, I could easily pop into a client’s offices for a meeting across town because the city centre is so compact but London is so vast that a meeting on the other side of the city can wipe out your schedule for the day – or, at the very least, the afternoon.

The work is different

I had presumed, as in Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester that I would work for digital agencies. Before I got here, I collated a list of the agencies I wanted to work with here in London and the plan was to contact them, set-up meetings and secure some contracts but when I got here I quickly realised that there seemed to be more jobs working directly with clients in their in-house digital departments.

Since arriving in London, I have worked directly with Topshop, Viacom and The Economist. Work that I could not have hoped to achieve whilst living in Manchester mainly because large commercial companies don’t tend to be located outside of London – some are but most aren’t and when there’s 1000s of businesses all located in the same city it is a lot easier to find work.

In this slightly different marketplace, you are a contractor as opposed to a freelancer and other differences seems to be that the day-rates seem to be higher and often the client pays their invoices in anywhere from 7 days to 14 days after invoicing – which is rare if you work with agencies.

Work is both easier and harder to find

A slight contradiction here, because there is lots of work; in digital agencies, in medium-sized companies, in large companies, in government organisations and once you tap into that it’s easy to find work and go from job to job but it’s hard to tap in to because most of the recruiting of contractors seems to be done via recruitment consultants and actually finding out who the right person to speak to at a specific organisation can be quite difficult.

Want to contract at the BBC? Great there’s loads of roles going but unless you know the specific person recruiting for that role you’re not going to get very far – you won’t even know a role is available let alone be able to apply for it and it’s like that for a lot of organisations.

Angular/React/MVC libraries

There seems to be a lot of work for people with knowledge of Angular and other associated JavaScript libraries all across London with some eye watering day rates on offer too. I’m not 100% sure why so many organisations are making what should be traditional websites (i.e. not web apps) that don’t really benefit from a framework like Angular or React but they are and they’re willing to pay a fortune for the pleasure.

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