Freelance Senior Web Developer.
The Etch Spotlight series lets you get to know the amazing talent that makes up the Etch Community. Find out the highs and lows of self-employment, how our members started, and what they like the most about working with Etch. This week, we meet Graham Smith, Freelance Senior Web Developer.
Hi Graham, please briefly explain to the community what you do…
Hi. I’m a senior web developer, specialising in ASP.Net. As a back-end developer, I basically help build systems for Etch’s clients. Generally, there's a front-end person who creates an app that runs the browser and I’m the back-end guy who writes the C# code to run on the server.
How long have you been working with Etch?
A few years! I can't remember exactly. The first project I worked on with Etch I think was in 2013. And in the last two or three years, the work has ramped up by a lot. I'm now working with them quite regularly.
Let's go back to how it all started for you...
I was never the kind of computer nerd kid. But I fell into programming and have loved it ever since. I was supposed to get a job working for British Aerospace when I left Uni, but it fell through, so I had a mad panic where I had no money left and I got the first job I could, which was as a consultant for a company called JBA who make big ERP systems.
I got onto their graduate training program which was an absolute ball! Six months with a bunch of other people fresh out of Uni. I got placed at the automotive division to be a consultant there and learned to do some programming at the same time. It was a great company to work for. Everybody worked hard. Everyone really cared about their work, it was a great culture.
Sadly, after a takeover, they made most people redundant. So, I went on to work for a few firms. As team leader for a software company. As a lead developer at an insurance software house. I wasn't really enjoying it that much, so one day I decided to hand my notice, to have a go at freelancing, which I have been doing now for over ten tears.
What was it that motivated you to go freelance, then?
I wasn’t really enjoying what I was doing at the firm I was with at the time. I was advised to go into management for career progression in my annual reviews, but I didn’t want to do that. So, the only way up, was out.
How did you find yourself taking the big leap into freelancing?
It was quite hard. Because obviously you've got a build up a client base, and that's tough. And it was stressful not knowing where the next job is going to come from. But as I did it for longer, I built up a lot more clients. For a few years now I’ve been comfortable in terms of not having to worry about it. I've seen more work, from Etch and in the Tech industry since the pandemic.
What's been your biggest challenge?
The toughest thing has always been getting good clients. When I was quiet in the early days, I spent ages crafting emails to send to lots of people to persuade them to hire me. I created a website and stuff like that. But none of it worked. All the clients I have now just found me on LinkedIn. And fortunately, when people work with me, they tend to hang on to me.
What would you say are the best bits about running your own business?
Freedom. It's nice getting to choose which jobs I accept. And it keeps you on your toes a little bit because you've got to keep on impressing your client, rather than just doing the nine to five. It makes the work more interesting and more enjoyable.
Also, I tend to holiday more than 20 days a year. I work more hours than I did when I was full time - I could be up until two in the morning because I've got two projects going on at the same time or at weekends and things like that – but I’d happily go on holiday for two weeks around Christmas, two weeks in the summer, and long weekends when times are quiet.
What have been your career highlights as a freelancer?
One of the big projects I worked on was for a new EQ product. I learned a hell of a lot doing that one. With a lot of the freelance work I do, I'm the expert, but with Etch I get to learn a lot of new stuff. They treat you a lot more like an employee that they can nurture and develop. In fact, I often take the expertise that I’ve learned from Etch and implement it in other jobs.
How does working with Etch compare to other agency groups?
The freedom to learn. I’m able to establish solutions through learning. This is one of the biggest differences – their approach to the work. It’s very agile. When I went freelance, one of my biggest concerns was not going on training courses. But with Etch I sometimes learn on the job.
They trust you to do a good job. There's never any blame culture. If there has been a small problem, you feel confident to just put your hands up and say, “oh sorry, that was my fault”. They’ve also got the right balance of always taking advantage of the latest technologies, and not fearing learning something new.
What’s the final thing you’d like to say about Etch?
Everyone’s nice. The freelancers, and the clients too. In fact, I was talking to another freelancer not too long ago and they said:
“One the best things I like about working with Etch are the clients; they’re always really nice”.
But I believe that’s because of the way Etch manage their clients and projects. The project management at Etch is excellent. They manage the expectations of the client really well, and that makes for a great working environment.
James Perrin was speaking to Graham Smith as part of the Etch Community Spotlight series. The Etch Community gives digital professionals a platform to grow, and a place to belong. It is for freelancers, business owners, and fellow agencies looking to grow their business by plugging into a community of top digital talent. Visit The Etch Community for more information.