1. Can you briefly tell us a little about yourself?
I started building websites in 1994 while going to college. Initially I built sites for fun, but I quickly discovered that people would pay me to do it and that’s when my freelance career began. After several years of freelance web design I took a development job at a tech startup. A few years later we were all laid off and I was back to freelancing. At 26 with nothing to lose, I decided to see if I could parlay my freelance success into an actual business and founded Agency Fusion in November of 2002, hiring people as the business began to grow. I love the niche we fill as a company, bridging the gap between creatives and technology. It suits me very well personally.
2. How long have you been 100% self-employed?
Yes, I’ve been self-employed since 2002 and was self-employed as a freelancer for several years before my brief stint at a tech startup.
3. What did you do before you took the leap to full-time freelance?
Immediately before founding Agency Fusion, I worked for a tech startup called Ingeo Systems. The company was developing a system to facilitate electronic recording of lien release documents at county recorders’ offices around the country. The technology was pretty cutting-edge and in addition to doing a lot of the development work, I also had the opportunity to be responsible for the user interface design. The company was partnering with Fannie Mae and that gave me a chance to work with some very skilled usability experts there as well as at the American Institutes of Research in Boston.
4. Was it an easy transition and why?
The transition was easy for two reasons. First, my former employer laid everyone off so I never had to make the decision to leave my secure, stable employment. That decision was made for me. I find that for most people, leaving the security of the steady job is the biggest hurdle to going on their own. The second reason the transition was relatively easy is that my former job was at a tech startup. I was hired early enough in the process that I was used to the startup environment where you build something out of nothing. The CEO of the company was a fantastic mentor who involved me in many aspects of the business and that provided a wealth of experience I could later draw upon.
5. Can you briefly walk us through a typical work day for you?
My days are fairly unpredictable. I can have a blank schedule tomorrow and still end up working a frantic 15-hour day. When the rest of my team is completely slammed, it’s my job to pickup the excess. During a typical day I’ll spend several hours on email, hold at least a couple of meetings with team members to assist with something they’re doing or follow up on an assignment I’ve given, spend an hour or so researching and reading, and quite often I’ll squeeze in some accounting.
6. In a typical week, how many hours do you work on the following:
- Client Work: 3-5 hours
- Personal Projects: 0-1 hours
- Blogging: 1-2 hours
- RSS reading: 5-6 hours
- Learning: 5-10 hours
- Other (describe)?: 30-40 hours running the company (finding clients, accounting, managing the team, marketing campaigns, etc.)
7. For you, what do you think is the best way to attract new clients?
Our clients are all designers and ad agencies. The best way for us to attract clients is to connect with them. We need to show them how we’re different from the typical programmer stereotype and that we “get” them.
8. If you had to list several industry ‘mentors’ or ‘heroes’ who would they be?
For me it’s best to focus on what Agency Fusion is doing and follow our own path so I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to be like someone else. We’re doing something a bit different here and it requires that we blaze our own trail and do our own thinking. If I spend too much time analyzing others I end up thinking like others. Having said that, I’ve certainly learned a great deal from others including Todd Hougaard, the former CEO of the tech startup I briefly worked for, Dan Cederholm, author of Bulletproof Web Design, and all of the leading-edge designers and developers who set and promote standards for usability, design, and coding. There is so much inspiring work out there.
9. What is the biggest blunder you see other web design companies do?
“Blunder” may be too strong a word for this but I rarely see web design companies who’ve found the balance between creating a successful business and doing great design. It seems like there are two groups. Those who have the business vision and are all about making money as efficiently as possible. This group often has horrendous design. The other group is in it for the love of the game. They design because they are passionate about it. This group is often missing out on some of the business aspect, though, and could use a bit of savvy in that department. I think there is a sweet spot in the middle but I don’t see many web design companies who figure that out.
10. What is the most under utilized web element/technology in your opinion?
The most underutilized aspect of web design, in my opinion, is usability. While it’s not a technology, it’s an essential part of creating effective websites. I don’t see enough effort made to learn and employ interaction design. There is too much effort made on making a site look good and not enough made on optimizing the user experience.
11. On the flip side, what is the most over used web element/technology in your opinion?
Flash isn’t necessarily “over used” but I think it’s quite often “misused.” I look forward to the day when everyone knows that a Flash intro to a website is a bad idea. The fact that they know they need to put a “skip intro” link in the intro is what puzzles me. It’s as though they’ve almost figured out that people just want to get to the content of the site. Flash is an important technology with immense value, but needs to be used with purpose.
12. Rapid-Fire Recommendations (URL and optional comment):
13. If there was one bit of advice would you have for those interested in creating or growing their web design business, what would it be?
Stick to it. There is a reason most people work for someone else. It’s hard to do your own thing. The benefits are real but they’re definitely earned so during the first few years spend all of your energy working on building the business. Give the business more than it gives you. The payoff will come later on.