Name: Mark Wickman
Based in: Adelaide, South Australia
smarterwork Expert in: Research, Graphic Design, Document Production, Web Build, IT & Software Development, Business Consulting
Freelance since: 1989
smarterwork: Could you tell us about your work. What kind of freelancing do you do?
Mark Wickman: I am an Internet researcher and a programmer, specialising in custom windows solutions and Web applications. For the last few years I have been doing a lot of work for insurance companies here in Australia. These are generally based in Sydney and I am about 1000km away in Adelaide. From time to time I pick up the odd programming or research contract in Adelaide, but the demand here is not very high so I always search interstate and overseas for potential clients first - which is how I came across smarterwork.
SW: Whatís Adelaide like?
MW: Adelaide has a climate similar to Italy or Greece and the lifestyle is wonderful. A bike ride with the kids along the esplanade after work, down the beach on a Saturday, BBQís on Sundays in the backyard Ė very relaxing. We have some of the best wineries in the world only an hourís drive away and beautiful beaches only a short walk (for me) away. I have lived in Europe and the Middle East and I will always consider Adelaide the best place on earth. Unfortunately we are quite isolated too, so the work opportunities are slim and the wages are quite low compared to Sydney or Melbourne (although the cost of living is one of the lowest in the Western world).
SW: How did your freelancing career come about?
MW: I have always wanted to work for myself. I decided to go out on my own around 1988, and the transition was shaky - I had been working as a tour leader in Egypt and toyed with the idea of starting up my own tour company running diving tours to the Red Sea. With my technical background it wasnít long before I had put together a sound business plan, published my own 20-page colour diving brochure and wrote my own software to handle the growing number of bookings. I was starting to make headway and had expanded to running tour operations through Iraq, when ironically, the Gulf war came along and virtually wiped out the business. After I sold what was left, I swore to keep out of travel and stay in technology where things were more predictable.
SW: What appeals to you about working from home?
MW: There are tax benefits and I get to spend more time with my family (I have a baby son who is just 11 months old and the time I get to spend with him during the day is invaluable). There is no commuting and I live near the beach and can go for a nice walk or bike ride if I need to clear the cobwebs from my head.
I suppose I miss having an office a bit, it gives a certain perspective on your business and helps to keep your focus. Working from home can be distracting, but if you are disciplined enough it isnít too much of a problem.
SW: How would you rate smarterwork in terms of finding clients?
MW: Efficient. The jobs and the clients are located in the one central place, when you win a contract you are dealing direct with the client, no middlemen such as with an agency. The smarterwork.com way allows me to have 100% control. I select the jobs I wish to bid on and try to sell myself to the client, not an agency who doesnít know my skills and experience. When a job is complete you receive immediate feedback about how well you did. I find that the feedback keeps me on my toes. I try even harder to please Clients because I want a perfect grading and a good write up, because I know how important a good grading is when it comes to competing with other experts for certain jobs.
smarterwork is a fantastic concept and I can definitely see these types of work exchanges replacing the standard job agencies further on down the track.
SW: Could you tell us a few words about some of the projects you worked on at smarterwork?
MW: Since signing on with smarterwork, I have mainly secured Internet research projects. I believe business is learning to leverage the incredible amount of publicly available information on the Internet to enhance and fortify their short- and long-term business strategies.
I have had a few projects fault-finding and redesigning a number of websites, but I have mainly won bids for research projects. These projects have focussed on locating and reviewing premium websites in the Construction, Education and Healthcare industry, and quite recently a job locating photo-printing websites in Europe. One of my more interesting projects was locating free and low cost content for a client starting a European portal, it gave me an excellent insight to what is available for free to increase stickiness for websites.
SW: What differentiates you from other people doing similar work?
MW: In every business I have had I always imagine myself in the customerís shoes. I try to look at every aspect of my work as if I were them. The best short course I ever did was when I was working in a pub in Londonís West End. The manager sent the staff who had been there a while on a customer relations course and the things they taught us on that course have provided valuable insights into every aspect of my business ever after. In short, I believe that the customer always comes first and I always strive that little extra to please him or her. A satisfied customer is money in the bank.
SW: How do you think the Internet is affecting peopleís working habits?
MW: The Internet is pivotal in removing many barriers that prevented small business working overseas. In the past it was expensive to find business leads and then to work with them Ė phone calls, faxes, personal meetings. Now, through companies like smarterwork, we can locate and then work on jobs cost effectively, not to mention it allows us to work from home.
I actually see the online contracting market as a huge growth industry, not online employment agencies, but work exchanges where serious buyers are put in contact with professionals who have the appropriate expertise.
SW: Do you have any advice for people thinking about going out on his or her own?
MW: Try it part time first Ė donít burn your bridges with your full-time employers.
It took me quite a while to realise that the key ingredients to successfully working as a freelancer are hard work, dedication and being able to recognise opportunities when they arise.
SW: What are your plans for the future?
MW: I will continue to keep an eye on the projects being posted at smarterwork. I may also become a buyer fairly shortly, as I am developing a number of my own web sites.
Although I swore to keep away from travel, I have been putting together a major vertical portal recently for scuba tuition at scubacourse.com and another smaller project to allow web masters to enhance their websites with free content at freesticky.com
Other than that, I am still working on ways to become an overnight millionaire. I know I can do it, I just have to be persistent.
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