2021 has been another year of general chaos, but fortunately my business hasn’t been too badly affected. I’ve also spent some time improving my business, which I think will stand me in good stead for 2022.
Things I did for the first time
Minimum charge: I often receive requests for small amounts of one-off work – sometimes an hour or less. I’ve realised that these tend to not be worthwhile, especially if I don’t know the client already and am therefore taking a risk as to whether I will be paid. So as of November this year, I’ve introduced a minimum charge of 2.5 hours for most clients.
How I work document: I realised that I was explaining my processes to every potential client, so I put everything down in a How I work document. Writing a document forced me to think about everything I need to discuss with a potential client, and I now send it as part of my response to every initial enquiry. So far I’ve received positive feedback (easy to read, professional, clear) and it helps filter out anyone who wouldn’t be a good fit for my business.
Pair programming: Some of my clients have in-house or external developers that I work alongside, and this year I spent some time pair programming with one of them to debug some particularly difficult problems (e.g. intermittent bugs that only surfaced once a year). This was a really useful experience, and demonstrated that ‘two heads are (usually) better than one’.
Things I’ve changed
Increased rates: I received feedback over the course of the year that I wasn’t charging enough for my services. In April I increased my rates for new clients (and again in November), and I’m in the process of increasing them for existing clients. I now have a ‘price increases’ template that I use to monitor the prices I’m charging to each client and a timeline for increasing them.
Initial consultations: I’m stricter about initial consultations – introducing a time cap (initially one hour, later reduced to 30 minutes) and making it clear that they have to take place remotely. The reason for this is that I was getting a lot of enquiries from people who took up large amounts of my time which wasn’t charged for, such as travelling to in-person meetings and asking me to produce detailed specifications without any guarantee of paid work. I’ve found that restricting free work to 30 minutes focuses minds and puts a limit on the amount of my time that can be lost if a potential client doesn’t give me any paid work.
Stopped hosting websites: I used to host websites for some of my clients, most of which ran WordPress. I reviewed this service in 2021 and realised that I couldn’t continue to offer a high level of service at a price that made it worthwhile for me. I offered each client a free migration to another provider (Mythic Beasts), and as of December I’m no longer hosting any websites other than my own.
Things to improve for 2022
Form a limited company: My business has grown to the size now where the overheads of operating a limited company would be outweighed by the benefits of incorporation (e.g. limited liability). I’ve also had potential clients say that they can’t work with me because their procurement rules don’t permit them to contract with sole traders, and it’s easier for me to change the structure of my business than to persuade people that their procurement rules are overly restrictive. On top of that, I might want to hire someone or subcontract work in the future, and a limited company makes this easier.