Chris Poel, freelance web designer and owner of USP Networks, explains how his average working day shapes up.
What time do you start? What time do you finish?
I usually sit down just before 10am. I don't then tend to stop for anything and I avoid phone calls, as they tend to be the reserve of people with time on their hands – I wait for the concise email to arrive.
I stop for family dinner with my wife and three-year-old daughter at around 6pm, and after having read bedtime stories I’m back at my desk at 7pm through to around about 9pm. I used to go through to the early hours but now I have a kid I have to be less grumpy, so I try never to go past 11pm apart from on the odd occasion it's required of me.
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What kind of projects do you work on?
Whatever comes along. I don't go looking for work, I’ve been in the business for long enough for it to come to me. This year I created – and now run – an F1 promotional website for Pirelli. I’m also about to relaunch a brand new "The People’s Music Awards" website.
While that goes on I maintain Meetings:review – a video-based news site for the meetings and events industry. Basically, big ones, small ones, whatever comes along. As a freelancer I do get to pick my work, and tend to reject anything that comes with people that phone me every five minutes to check up on how things are going; those customers just aren't worth the hassle.
What does your average day entail?
A lot of work, and answering a lot of emails.
What are your key tasks?
I project manage seven people, up to three projects at a time. I design everything the end user sees and uses. I plan out the site, I source the images and come up with all the ideas and feed it all to the customer in such a way that they get to feel they came up with it all. If I hit a bug I'm straight onto Google to find fixes.
I am in constant contact with all the members of the teams on each of the projects; throwing coals in, directing and fielding their questions. When a site goes down everything tends to be done via SMS or IM between the team. There's normally some mild flapping to get it fixed before the phone rings. But by that stage we’re usually on top of things.
Why did you get into web development?
My dad was a founding member of internet service provider PIPEX, and produced an internet newsletter called "infoHighway", this meant I got to fiddle about with designs and animated gifs. One day, a publisher friend of mine contacted me wanting some websites doing, so I had a stab. I haven't looked back.
What skills do you need?
You need to be fast at everything you do. I chose to work without the commute into London and I tend to find that means you’re expected to work harder, and charge less. I’d say you also need to be a damn good Googler and a very fast typist. Sadly, you also have to realise sooner rather than later that none of your customers appreciate what's involved in producing for the web. They have Word so they believe that websites are easy and should have been done yesterday; that will never change. Just remember not to over promise yourself or your time.
I also know Illustrator and Photoshop backwards, know all kinds of code and can type very quickly… But if there’s one thing you need above all else, it’s a good sense of humour!