Jim Callender of Freelance WordPress Developer UK tells us about web development and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jim Callender: Thankfully, my family is safe and well. We have the basics for life, which I am thankful for every day, shelter, food, and love. We, like all people, have good days and not so good days. We have definitely become more tolerant of each other whilst we have been in lockdown during winter. We have also had small moments of fun and play, which has been so important for us. Our kids have really missed interacting with kids their own age. I have introduced some methods of dealing with stress and anxiety to them using apps such as headspace and calm, which have helped us all.
Lockdown felt like working during a holiday period, where the members of your family were always present, whilst you are trying to put the hours in being creative and productive. Lockdown taught us many things, where everyone had to WFH (work from home) and that sometimes even the small successes were worth celebrating. It certainly wasn’t the peaceful, free zen mode that I am used to.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Freelance WordPress Developer UK.
Jim Callender: My only full-time role was my first job in the digital sector was in 2003. Back then, we coded HTML4 using tables and spacer gifs, everything was fixed, even though the web has always been flexible. Since then, I have self-taught myself writing future-proofed front end code which is accessible, search engine friendly, and great for performance.
I moved to Brighton, on the South Coast of England, which is often coined ‘silicon by sea.’ I networked and learnt from my peers, who I was able to bounce ideas off, not just tech, but from a business point of view. Understanding the basics of running a company and looking professional was key to getting myself noticed and building my reputation.
How does Freelance WordPress Developer UK innovate?
Jim Callender: I was fortunate enough to be awarded ‘freelancer of the year’ for my web development work on the Times Online rebrand, which really got the attention of local partners and other developers who wanted to collaborate with me. Innovating is full time in itself! I pride myself on always looking forward and being an early adopter of new trends and technologies. So much so that how I approach a web development project will vary from one to the next. Suggesting new tools or services that I can integrate into the product build.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Jim Callender: I have always been aware that every business should have a reserve fund for ‘rainy days,’ and a global pandemic was just the example. Initially, when businesses were closed up, and people were establishing remote teams, business was very quiet. However, when bricks and mortar establishments moved their trading operations online – the benefit of digital marketing became very clear. It was essential for all business types. The type of work I delivered was varied – from online art galleries with AI and 3D visualizations, building chatbots, to enhancing eCommerce sites to become more bespoke to deal with Covid guidelines. So in all business has been good. Life as a freelancer is never a steady income stream, there are seasonal fluctuations, however, I am blessed to have 2 -3 great core clients with who I have regular work with.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Jim Callender: As a self-employed individual, I do not directly have any paid team members in my business. I think this would have driven me crazy during the lockdown, worrying about payroll during challenging covid times. However, I hire other highly talented freelancers who I contract tasks out to, such as more back end web development. This works really well, and from a client’s perspective, is seamless. I still deliver all the work. What I have found is to pay extra for more experienced team members to get things turned around quickly and of higher quality. This leads to less stress and strengthens reliability and code quality.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Jim Callender: I approached clients with recommendations of how I can benefit their business, I also sent out regular email newsletters to showcase methods of how going digital can benefit brands and engage new and existing customers. I am a big fan of asana and Trello boards. I use this for web development sprints, as well as more long term roadmaps and business planning.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Jim Callender: Thanks to our reserve funds and ongoing client work, we carried through all the lockdowns without going into the red financially. I believe there was no choice but to evolve and adopt tools that I and other freelancers have already been using for years. Some companies I work with didn’t even have a Work from Home policy. Being small and flexible as a business means there are little monthly overheads, the only products we stock is essentially the knowledge of different code languages in our minds which we write into web pages and apps. So this means even when work dries up, you can keep afloat as the overheads for running costs are minimal.
Your final thoughts?
Jim Callender: Thanks for letting me share my thoughts on working and existing through these tough times. One takeaway I would like to share is benefiting our mind and body from stepping away from the screen. Even if we feel like we have lots of work on, sitting at a desk all day can be very unproductive. Often my best solutions to complex websites are when I am out walking or running. Following a break from the desk, you can come back firing on all cylinders and get the tasks done in half the time!
I have enjoyed doing online fitness using YouTube as my source of daily inspiration for HIIT, yoga, and meditation. Namaste!