Relocation to the South-West (Part 3)

Exactly five months ago, I moved to the South West of England after over a decade in Manchester and 31 years in the North West of England. I wrote two posts about this move. Part one explained I was doing it and outlined my rough plans. Part two covered how I was going to achieve those rough plans.

So this part three will review how well the techniques in part two went and give a general review of the situation given its been a reasonable amount of time since the move.

Goals/Work options from part one:

  1. to keep my Manchester agency clients, but to work remotely;
  2. to freelance in-house at Bristol or Birmingham agencies;
  3. or if the right opportunity arose to take on a ‘proper’ job again.

Out of those above options I really wanted option 2 to materialise. Option 3 didn’t quite appeal and option 1 felt like too much of an easy option; for my ego, I wanted to get clients in a new city and prove I was good enough to do that. However, most of my work in the past five months did in fact comer from Manchester clients. I was offered one ‘proper’ job which I politely declined; I worked onsite with one agency in Bristol and turned down another in Birmingham. In early January, I have meetings with some cool Birmingham agencies about onsite work there so hopefully by the end of January/February I’ll have achieved the goal of ‘freelancing in-house at Bristol (and/)or Birmingham agencies‘.

For five months’ effort, to get just one Bristol contract (in December) and one Birmingham offer of a contract (in August) seems like a limited success. That is to say, I would have liked to have been offered on more onsite jobs. So why didn’t that happen?

Well, I think the reason, is that I underestimated how hard it would be to crack a new city. In Manchester, I knew lots of freelancers and full-timers (designers, developers, UXers, PMs) at agencies and finding out about freelance jobs and being recommended for jobs at agencies was pretty easy. Whereas, in Bristol (and I chose to target Bristol much more than Birmingham for a myriad of reasons) I didn’t know anyone; I did manage to set-up meetings with people who were friends of friends with Manchester people but struggled to connect with agencies when I didn’t have a mutual connection.

Another reason, was that I chose to take on a one-person sized office in Gloucester. Ideally, I’d have liked an office in Bristol with some fellow freelancers (to build up some connections) but I struggled to find a suitable one. One I looked at was great but it was a 25-30 minute walk from the station and adding a 45 minute train journey would have made my commute just a little too much for me. Not knowing the area very well didn’t help in this regard to finding deskspace.

So to look at my steps from part two. What worked?

  1. Networking
  2. Hopefully impressing
  3. Beefing up my portfolio
  4. Skills improvement

1 Networking

I feel this went ok. I met with several agencies and I conversed via emails with a few more. I was dis appointed that I didn’t get responses quite a few times to my introductory emails; I don’t tend to send out copy and pasted/mail-merge emails; I try and tailor them to the recipient. Sadly, often if you don’t hit the agency at the right time/get the right person your emails will get lost/overlooked. Unfortunately, the right person at the agency and is often wondering why they can’t find good people but your email never reaches them. It’s just one of those things.

Upon reflection, a better option may be to call the agency up and find out who the right person is to email, but for me, this feels too salesy and after a lot of effort (I personally find phone calls very draining) you can be told to email a catch-all email address anyway. psst: if you are interested in sales; this is a slightly relevant read about selling to big corporations.

2 Hopefully impressing

I did find that once I got to meet someone at the agency in person (usually the Lead Dev or Tech Director) that they were impressed with the work I’d done and the clients I’d worked for. This stage is odd; because at this point there isn’t usually any definite work but it’s crucial to make a good impression anyway so when work does come in that they’ll think of you. Often it can come to nothing but, I still think it’s a valuable thing to do. You learn a lot from meeting people in real life and you get told things you wouldn’t be told on the phone or via email.

3 Beefing up my portfolio

This undoubtedly helped with step 2 but I feel my portfolio still requires improvement. I have a few sites I can show people in person* which really showcase my skills, but I think my online portfolio really needs a revamp to showcase how I work and what I do in a project e.g. how I help the teams I work for as well – as my process. Ideally, I’d like my case studies to capture not just how the project looks but the value that was added by the in my role within the project.

* Some work I can only show in person i.e. I can’t post links/images in my portfolio and publicly display some sites as my own because most of my clients don’t want this. Plus sometimes, walking people through a project is a much better idea.

4. Skills improvement

I didn’t get too much done in terms of skills improvement. I was so busy working on remote Manchester client work and trying to network in Bristol and Birmingham that this step was mostly ignored. I certainly updated some skills (and I would argue my newly found networking skills will be more beneficial than learning another front-end frameworkin the long-run) but I didn’t sit down and learn a JavaScript MVC framework like I set out to. I’m not overly sad about this as I haven’t been approached by anyone actually wanting this type of work (yet).

Although, I did learn to use Bootstrap (as a project required it). I’ve always had a snobby attitude towards Bootstrap and still feel it’s not right for most of the projects I work on but it certainly has some bits that I rate and will reuse.

Next steps

In 2015, I feel the process I’ve set up to find new clients has gone quite well (I’d score myself 6.5/10). I have one client in Bristol which will hopefully lead to repeat work and prior to taking that job I received a fair amount of solid interest from other agencies who wanted to book me. I think it’s early days but I do feel I’ve started to make some headway in a new city.

The next step is to find out more about the freelance scene in Birmingham and to get some freelance bookings there. Getting work in agencies in both cities will hopefully mean better options and less time spent without contracts in the future.

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