Life as A Freelance Web Designer in San Francisco

Life as a freelance web designer in San Francisco coverWake Up

One of the greatest things I’ve come to love about being a freelance web designer is being able to wake up whenever you want. My girlfriend, however, does not always find it so great. Shell Ridge Open Space - Walnut CreekMost weekdays I find myself getting out of bed around 9:30am, just in time to catch up with emails and connect with the world before they head off to grab some lunch.

Which is also one of the greatest things ever – sending emails in your pajamas. Being able to work from home has allowed me to explore so much of the San Francisco bay area as well as spend more time on personal skills such as growing, cooking, and affiliate marketing. Being in the East Bay, I spend a lot of my time hiking near Walnut Creek and biking to Berkeley and in other areas.

One of my most common day trips is to Shell Ridge Open Space, I’ll usually make my way by bike and then hike the rest of the way to a hilltop and read a few pages of whichever book I am currently on.

Meeting With Clients is a Breeze

Working from home is great, but sometimes it can be a little tricky when you need to meet with clients. Luckily, being in the bay area there are plenty of places to meet, and some come with a great view.

For the most part, I tend to meet with clients either at their office or at a small coffee shop where we can sit outside and discuss project details. I find meeting with clients in a relaxed environment makes decision making more fluid and less of checking off a list.

I try to make friends with my clients and create a comfortable relationship, and by meeting in public and open spaces it’s a lot easier to get beyond the formal, business only meetings, and learn more about your client and who they are. While knowing your client isn’t part of the job, it sure makes working with them a lot more enjoyable.

San Francisco BART on 24

Photo: NOAH BERGER / SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

I sold my car back when I moved to SF in 2013, and have since gotten around by bicycle and public transportation. BART has become a long lost friend, and one of the only ways I am able to survive in this competitive area. Using BART, I am able to meet clients as far as South San Francisco, Concord, Dublin, and someday San Jose.

Without this, my range would be limited to roughly a 10mi circle around Walnut Creek, which is not much. Taking public transportation to meet with clients is also cost-effective because you can write off the cost of the ticket, making it an affordable option.

Troubles of Freelancing in San Francisco

While being a freelance web designer in San Francisco is mostly fun and enjoyable, there are definitely some drawbacks that come with it.

  • Everything is expensive.
  • Everything has a fee
  • You’re not alone
  • Lot’s of distance to cover

To start off with some of the troubles of freelancing in SF, it’s quite obvious that it’s extremely expensive. Everything you do in the city seems to cost a bit more, and it can be hard getting started when it seems everyone is trying to get you down, even the sandwhich shop.

And if paying more for everything isn’t already bad enough, forget about all of the fees you will encour. I don’t even own a car, and I have had to deal with 3 parking tickets. Free parking is the great white buffalo of the San Francisco Bay Area, everywhere you go it is metered parking, and you know they are circling the block just waiting for your time to go out. (I’m looking at you Berkeley.) Even better than receiving parking tickets, Walnut Creek will actually publicly shame your car by placing a large sticker on your window, notifying any passerbyer that you have unpaid parking tickets.

Other difficulties of being in San Francisco is the amount of competition you will have to face. SF has always been a tech capital of the world, and anything design related is going to be very saturated with qualified artist. The most important part to surviving in SF as a freelance designer is sticking out or networking and getting help from other design agencies.

Some of my best clients have been from referrals of other agencies that just did not have the time to commit to a project. Networking isn’t always that easy though, as the bay area is quite spread out, and if you’re like me and don’t have an automobile, prepare for some long bike rides. Even with BART, a trip into the city from Walnut Creek takes me around 35 minutes. Add the time it takes me to bike to Walnut Creek bart, and then bike to my meeting location in the city, and you’re looking at a 60 minute adventure, and that’s only one way. Luckily, I have never had to venture further than Downtown Market St.

Why WordPress

As a freelance web designer, there are a lot of options when it comes to how to deliver the goods. Some work I have done is simple design mockups, wireframes, or adjusting code. But for me to survive, I’ve been designing and developing sites in full. Without WordPress, I would have never been able to get to where I am today.

WordPress is my other 3 co-workers, and makes large web projects easy. Utilizing WordPress I am able to design and develop sites much more quickly and efficiently than if I were to go at it alone and with Dreamweaver. WordPress is also extremely cost effective, and makes website management a breeze for the client, making the final handover a dream come true.

Currently when I finish a website, I train the staff in the new software, and they are up and running within an hour. Using Child themes and the brilliance that is the Enfold theme, I am able to develop custom page designs, post templates, and let the client fill them in with their content, without destroying the sites design or breaking code. Working with WordPress is great for people looking to get into web design, or have clients that would like to make constant changes, but are not that tech savvy.

Services I Use

There are a lot of services out there to make your life easier, and over the past few years, I’ve worked with quite a handful. Here are some of my favorites services/apps I use in my daily routine.

WaveApps

Waveapps is a great invoicing/accounting service available online, and it makes creating invoices and payment tracking a whole lot easier. Before this, I was creating invoices in google docs and sending them to be paid through Paypal. With WaveApps, creating high quality invoices is easy, and they now have an integrated payment system that accepts credit cards and directly transfers the money into your bank account. WaveApps also features more things such as accounting services and payroll, however I have not dealt with these.

Bonsai

If you’re a freelancer, I’m sure you’ve run into the issue of not knowing how to put together a legal document or how to make one look presentable. Using Bonsai, it’s as simple as following an interactive form and clicking send. With contracts tailored for freelancers, Bonsai is an amazing service and completely free. Before Bonsai, I was sending a word doc to my clients to print and sign. Now I can send them a quick email and have them sign online, making life better for me and my clients.

One Password

The name says it all, One password is a password storage tool that allows you to login using one password, and all of your other sites passwords can easily be accessed. One Password will also automatically ask to save new login data whenever you log into a new site, and fill in the fields anytime you visit again. (assuming you’re logged into One Password). Credit card information and other details can also be saved, however I mostly only use it to save the myriad of logins needed for each website design.

Window Resizer

Window Resizer is a nice little Chrome Extension that allows you to easily resize your browser’s viewport size. This tool is great for web design and making sure all parts of a layout are responsive.

Page Ruler

Another great Chrome Extension for web design is Page Ruler; this extension allows you to measure anything online with a simple grid. I’ve found it to be most helpful in making sure items are aligned and that spacing is the same.

MOZ Bar

If you take SEO seriously, you need to have MOZ Bar installed. MOZ Bar makes it easy to audit a websites SEO and markup. Another great feature is any listing on Google will show the sites stats, making it great for finding niche keywords and places that can be ranked.

Tracking Time

Tracking Time is an application for, well, tracking time. With a ton of features, Tracking Time makes it great for keeping an eye on deadlines and to-do lists. With Project management tools, timers, team members, and payroll all tied in to one app, Tracking Time is great for any freelancer.

Asana

Asana is a web based project management tool, similar to Tracking Time. Asana is more directed towards to-do lists and collaborating with other team members than Tracking Time, but makes getting through a long list more organized and quicker.

Google Apps for Work

For basic necessities, Google Apps for Work is a must for any designer. One of the best features of Google Apps for Work is being able to tie in your domain and use the Gmail services for your sites email service. For $5/m, you can’t go wrong.

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