Talking Shop is an interview series where we talk to freelancers about freelancing. In this interview, we talk to Alex Magill, a designer based in London, United Kingdom.
Tell me about yourself and what type of work you do.
Alex: The easiest answer is: I’m a designer. My main focus is trying to make sense of websites for people. In addition to that, I do branding and corporate identity.
How long have you been freelancing?
I’m coming up on five years now. I worked in-house for many years and got about as far as I could with it. I took four months off, traveled around the world, and didn't know what to do when I got back. Freelancing seemed like a logical solution, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Do you feel like you’re hitting your stride?
I do, but I say that every year. Then you work a bit longer, and feel like you’re hitting a completely new stride, then the stride you hit a year ago feels like you were just learning. I’m pretty sure that if you ask me the same question in a year’s time, I will say that I’m only just hitting my stride then.
What’s your end goal? Do you still want to be doing this in another five years?
This is something that I’ve been wondering about lately. For ages, I thought I wanted to run a design studio — grow it, hire people, all those sorts of things — and now I realize that I don’t want that.
I have so many great people I really enjoy working with, but my favorite part is bringing in my expertise when it’s needed. So, my end goal at the moment is more of what I’m doing, making it more fun, more lucrative, more valuable to me and my clients.
Do you have a typical routine?
Yes! A lot of the joy of freelancing is that you can start your day any time you want, finish any time you want, but you can get into some really bad habit of just not starting on time. I find that impacts on my actual creativity and ability to do my job.
Now that I’ve been doing this for several years, I tend to get up at the same time, put clothes on, and then ideally go for a walk. That gives me the sense of leaving the house coming back to the house. It’s like a mini-commute. I try to keep a bit of structure to my day. At one point, I kidded myself that getting 12 hour days was really good, but, when I look back, I see that the work I produced was not always that great and, in the days that follow it, my productivity just falls through the floor.
What’s been the biggest challenge of being a freelancer?
I always thought the biggest challenge of being a freelancer would be finding the work. I’ve been really fortunate in having a really good network, so there’s always been work. It’s like the old Tarzan movies where he swings through the jungle — he grabs a vine, lets go of the vine, and there's another one there.
“My biggest struggle is taking a step back and thinking before grabbing the next vine that comes along.”
I’ve been working to be more strategic about the work I get. That, for me, is the biggest challenge to being a freelancer.
What is one of the biggest lessons you learned recently?
Charging for time is a mistake. When you charge by the hour, you and the client are constantly at odds. You’re charging for a number of hours, so you want to maximize them, while the client is being charged for that number of hours, so they want to minimize them.
When you switch away from that, suddenly you’re talking about what’s actually valuable to you both. Instead of charging for a website, you flip that conversation around. What are you trying to achieve? And what investment are you willing to put into that? We have now decoupled what you’re expecting from a specific deliverable, so we can look at the best way of achieving that.
Where do you hope to be next year?
There’s a great phrase that goes: “More better work.” I think one of my biggest hopes is that I will have more time around a project to be more thoughtful, which means planning out three, six months, a year ahead. It’s about not necessarily doing more work, but really good quality work.
You can visit Alex Magill’s website at definitionfour.com/.