First Month As A Freelance Front-End Developer in Manchester

Thanks to those of you who read and messaged me regarding my first freelance post:

As a result of the feedback, here's a second post, covering my first month and answering the questions you had.

I'd be interested to know a bit about how you got there, how long it took, etc. It'd also be quite useful to know what it looks like from the other side; whether there's anything you miss, whether you'd ever go back, etc.

Great question. I've worked for huge multi-million pound e-businesses as well as smaller agencies and I've always thought about giving freelance and contracting a go. I've been building websites since 1999 and have over ten years industry experience. With that experience I felt that now is a good time to make the move.

It's been an interesting ride! As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the main things that hit me straight away was the loneliness feeling. This has dispersed somewhat over the duration of the month. I've got a lot on and I'm interacting with many different people in a number of different ways. It was funny last night though actually, as this week I've been working from home the whole time and we had friends over. When the door bell went I was like “Ah, wow, people!!!” and I got a bit excited :D

As to, “anything you miss?”. The main one is a guaranteed income. The thought of not knowing when or where money is going to come in from is still playing on my mind. Luckily I've had things come in. I'm trying to remain calm and positive. If work does dry up and I find out freelance life isn't for me, then hopefully I can get my old full time job back, or take on a different full time role again. For now though, it's scary, but exciting and rewarding.

To help with income, a friend recommended I start up on Patreon. So I have:

Help Support me on Patreon

If you can spare $1 a month to help out that would be awesome!

It's great to see people like Kyle Simpson doing well out of this where he currently receives ~$1,000 a month:

Did you start up as a sole trader, or limited business?

I've previously worked on and off as a freelancer amongst full time jobs, so I was already registered as a sole trader. For now I'm sticking with this. It's my understanding that larger companies may not work with you as a sole trader, but there's a way around this by using an umbrella company to act as a limited business as a freelancer. I also believe there's extra paper work and learning required to become a limited business. It's something that I'll look at in the future as required.

What bank and software do you use?

I'm already with Natwest and I like their iPhone App. A few friends are also with them, so I stuck with them. They offer free banking for 18 months and it comes with FreeAgent. My accountant mentioned FreeAgent and again I've had other recommendations so I went with this. All seems to be good so far. Pretty straight forward to get to up and running. There were a few things I wasn't sure about with FreeAgent, but after some Googling got my head around it fairly quickly.

What sort of things have you been up to?

Short answer: LOADS!

Long answer:


As mentioned in my First Week Freelancing article, I've continued my ‘Deep concentration lock down mode’. This has resulted in three articles that have now been accepted and approved:

  • My Front-End Developer Workspace in net Magazine:
  • Another article for net Magazine regarding re-building a Flash website from 2004 for the web today. (Yet to be published)
  • An article for Smashing Magazine where I go over how ground breaking Flash was. I then compare various technologies and examples of how things have changed on the web. A massive thanks to Rachel Andrew for her help and guidance with this. (Yet to be published)


I've been busy prepping slides and notes for my upcoming workshop that I'm running at UpFrontConf.

Please come!

I also have open conversations regarding running workshops at the BBC and Manchester University. Exciting times!

If you'd like me to run a workshop for your business, get in touch.


I had the pleasure of seeing Todd Gardner from TrackJS do a talk on "The Developer’s Guide to Promoting Your Work" I wrote up about this here:

My good friend Paul Jardine, a developer who lives nearby came around and we went for a walk and discussed freelance web developer life. It was great to see another human and get some fresh air.


I'm continuing to run McrFRED, UpFrontConf and digiHike. This can often be time consuming alongside trying to get going as a freelancer. Thanks to Dan, Jack, Alex and the rest of the McrDig team for helping out here.

Special thanks to Jo Frank / Samsung Internet for coming to teach us all about CSS Grid (as well as Mario Kart 64!).

Simon Owen and Jo Frank

And everyone that popped along to digiHike:

HTML5 Banner Ads

I'm reminded of an article I saw (I'm still trying to find it, if you know where it is!).

An expert cocktail maker was asked to make up a simple cocktail. Another customer saw this and mentioned to the cocktail maker, “Why, would you come here and order that…”. The cocktail maker replied, “I may be able to make lots of different cocktails, but if someone asks for something simple… I'm going to make it the best I can”. (Or something to that affect!)

My point is, I'd asked my friend if they had any work for me. They hesitantly replied, "Erm, HTML5 Banner Ads?". By no means am I calling myself an expert as per the previous article I mentioned. But I got the feeling my friend may have felt that I wouldn't be interested in this work.

Right now, I'm happy with anything coming in and if I'm going to do a job, I'm going to do it the best I can. Many years ago I spent days doing all sorts of banners for ASDA, Tesco, Zavvi even some for Disney! It was quite fun and nostalgic putting the banners together. It was especially fun in that I could code them up from scratch using HTML and CSS, rather than using Flash as would have been the case back in the day.

I'm really pleased with the way they came out and happy to do some more.

Need some HTML5 Banner Ads? Get in touch!


A number of people have reached out to me to discuss work, so I've had a number of online chats, email exchanges and face to face to meetings. I'm looking forward to seeing where these lead.

Productivity Hack

One of the things that started to increasingly frustrate me was my email inbox.

I had family, friends, social, ad and client emails all coming into the same inbox. I'm a fan of 'Inbox Zero'. There's various ways to tackle this. Here's some of the things I've done that have helped.


This has by far been the biggest win for me. I use Gmail. In Gmail, click the cog (top right) > settings > Filters and Blocked Addresses. Then further down there's a link to 'Create a new filter'.

In the 'From' section, you can apply multiple email addresses to the same rule by wrapping them in {}.

{[email protected] [email protected]}.

Gmail Filters

Wierdly, the biggest call to action button on this screen is a big blue search button. Instead of clicking that, click the less obvious 'Create filter with this search' in the bottom right. Then 'Apply the label' and 'Categorize as' (as required) and the 'Create filter'.

I now have family / friends emails, social, ads all automatically to fire off through different filters.

In Chrome, I have two tabs always open. One for my inbox and one for the 'Filters and Blocked Addresses'. If an email comes in that falls into a filter, I add it in.

Over the duration of the month my main inbox is now much more streamline, full of important emails. Everything else gets filtered out.


I'm a fan of the book Getting Things Done.

One of things mentioned in the book is regarding the frequency in which you check your email. I know some people who check it all the time, along with anything else. Twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc… you name it, notifications going off in all directions.

I'm also a fan of this audiobook Deep Work. In it, it describes how all these distractions affect you're ability to 'go deep'.

If I know I want to get something done. Take right now for example as I'm writing this post! I go into my ‘Deep concentration lock down mode’.

I'll evaluate roughly how long I think it should take—or if I know I have something else pressing that I'll need to attend to in a certain amount of time—and set a timer accordingly. With no distractions, I get started on the one task at hand.

When finished, or the timer goes off I'll check my emails. If I go to get a drink or go to the bathroom, I'll give it a quick check, but only my main inbox. I then check other filtered inboxes at lunch, in the afternoon or whenever, if it suits me.

Social Media

Wrapping Up

Thanks again for reading folks and following me on my freelance adventure. Do let me know if you'd like me to answer any other questions you may have.

Hopefully see you around.

Cheers, Simon.

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