So… Is it possible to start a business with no start up capital to speak of, little formal business training, only one client and a pile of sheer bloody mindedness? I think most people would have to say no, or at least that if you were thinking of doing it that way then it may be worth thinking again and maybe doing something else instead. I would have to disagree. Not for any other reason than that I seem to have done it, I certainly wouldn’t advocate it as a business strategy.
Bingojackson design Has come from just this position, its taken a while I’ll admit, but it now exists. The first site built under the Bingojackson name was Trident Environmental about three years ago, since then work has got in the way far too much to go around starting companies. Thankfully my old job didn’t last and I suddenly had the time to sit down and think properly about what I wanted to do.
So after a few months of restful unemployment and a conversation in the pub with a friend of mine I decided to take the risk and start a business. This is a lot easier said than done though. There seems to be as many obstacles are there are people and services to help you, the Job Center Plus alternate between helpfulness and uselessness depending on the day of the week, the banks can be as bad and many companies won’t look at anyone who has no portfolio. On the last point I can understand their thinking and can’t really argue with them but it does beg the question of how anyone ever gets started in the first place? I think I got lucky. My pub friend John wanted a website built and was willing to pay so I made www.adeptaudio.co.uk for him using a borrowed laptop from my housemate. The fee from that paid my hosting fees and domain fees for the next 5 years whilst a fortuitously timed tax rebate bought me a brand new laptop and all of a sudden we’re off and running (or at least jogging sedately) towards an actual company.
Getting the work
I’ve read a lot on this here interweb about how to get clients and how to make sure that the clients you do get are the semi-mythical ‘Good Clients’, and a lot of it has made very good sense, been written by long standing industry experts and and is a valuable read for anyone. However many times it just doesn’t apply to people looking for their very first clients. How do you break onto the first rung of the ladder from nothing? Its not easy, and I wouldn’t even say I’ve really managed to do it yet but there are options.
- Do you have any friends who need a site built? If you do then make them an offer so good they can’t possibly turn you down. Do it for nothing if you can. Having one item in your portfolio is ten times better than having none.
- Do you know anyone who works for a small charity, non-profit organization or social enterprise? If so get onto them. They seldom have a lot of money to pay designers and often don’t have a site and might be willing to give an untried designer a go. It’ll give you that warm fuzzy feeling of doing something nice for someone too.
- There are several freelancer sites such as People Per Hour that match up freelancers and people who have work they need doing that they can’t or won’t do in house. These can be a good way to get a few jobs under your belt before you start going after the bigger clients and competing with agencies much bigger than yourself. Some people even make a reasonable living just from sites like these.
- Have an idea. Build something for yourself, a website for your band, your mates band, get a blog and actually use it, just do anything that you can point at and say ‘I made this’ when a potential client asks what you’ve done.
These are all things I’ve done. And to a point they have worked too. I’m currently working on a website for my band ‘The Gentleman Bastards’, an online shop for a new t-shirt company called ‘The Party’s Over’ and I have a client via People Per Hour. As soon as I finish them they’ll be here on the portfolio page with my other two jobs and I’ll have something to show future clients. Its not easy but it can be done.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should
So should you even attempt to start a company from scratch with no capital? I’d have to say no, or at least don’t do it the way I have. Bloodymindedness only gets you so far before you have to eat something and that takes money, which is something you should have a bit of before you start (I forgot that part and its been a slim couple of months), I’ve never been much of a saver but I will be from now on. You can never say at the start how long you’ll be between clients so save for those times.
Don’t forget your taxes too, put money on one side for tax time or you’ll really regret it come self assessment day. Never throw away a receipt and find yourself an accountant or some bookkeeping/time management software you feel comfortable with and enter everything as you do it. There is nothing worse than leaving it all till the end of the month and then having to spend all day on something that would have taken five minutes if you’d done it at the time. Time is money and you don’t get paid for keeping your own records. I got my first national insurance contribution bill yesterday and it’s made me feel all self employed and businesslike.
The good side of having your own company of course is the fact that you are your own boss. You keep your own hours and as long as the work is done nobody can say anything about it. You have to find time though to learn new things. There is so much I have no idea how to do yet and finding the time to learn it all isn’t easy, not that anyone can ever learn it all, and in a fast moving field like design whatever you learn how to do today will be out of date by the middle of next week anyway, but you have to try. At least its fun.
But I’ve gone on for long enough. I’ll be blogging about the things I do and the things I probably shouldn’t have done here as often as the mood takes me and time allows. Or until I run out of album titles to use as blog posts. In the meantime check out the Seasick Steve album below. Its rather good, I’ve been listening to it whilst I’ve been writing this.