Hop interviews: Dan O'Neill

December 09, 2014

Working remotely is becoming increasingly popular, and it’s great to hear people’s experiences. One such person is Dan O’Neill, web developer and author of Words & Magic. Here’s how he manages the challenges of working for a full time client from home with his own web development work.

What sort of work do you do?

So I’m in the lucky (or not) position to have 2 jobs. I work full time for a large tech company as a windows systems engineer. I would give you my full title but you’d be bored half way through. Its a mouthful. I work almost full time from home for this job. I also have a tiny (i.e. just me) freelance web development company called 26Squared that I work on the side from home too.

For how long have you been working remotely?

I’ve been working from home with my full time job for 3 years now. I wasn’t always full time from home but gradually moved that way whenever I could.

Were you working full-time in an office before?

Yeah, every job I’ve had before required quite a bit of on site work so I was always tethered to a desk. I like the atmosphere that an office can build, but larger companies can be quite different that way. I look after servers in data centres in Japan, California and the east coast of America so I’m no closer in the office than I am at home!

Where do you work from?

I have a home office/library room that I work from. I’ve just moved the home office from one room to another in my house to give me more room. Having a separate space for just work is essential if you have the room - it makes it easier to hunker down and work if you have a deadline, or makes it easier to disconnect from work by just leaving the room!

Do you work remotely all the time, or part time?

Almost full time. With the day job I get into the office a day a week if I can, everyone on my wider team does so we can chat about football, the weekend or whatever. I think this is important - you learn more about a persons tone and mannerisms in person that you can later assign to messages or emails that you might get. With the web development stuff, I work full time from home. Though I like to meet up with certain clients a couple of times over projects. I find I learn more from these meetings than I might just over an exclusive email exchange. I’m not saying its impossible - I work with one client from Kilkenny exclusively over email. That relationship works a little differently though.

Do you have multiple clients / projects?

Apart from the day job, yes, I have multiple projects from a set of repeat clients.

How do you approach managing the time?

Your calendar app is going to become your best friend. Be it sunrise or google calendar or the mac calendar app. One important thing I’ve had to learn to do is make sure I don’t randomly reply to emails while just browsing the internet late at night. You have to set boundaries around what times you’re willing to work. Working from home you can quickly slide outside the boundaries of a 9 to 5, because you have no commute or you’re in the zone working on something or whatever.

What would you say are the best and worst things about working remotely?

The ability to get work done when I need to. The ability to not do any work at all if I need that too! Extra freedom, better work-life balance too if you can get the time management right. The loneliness of not being in a shared office is something that took me by surprise, that’s why all the Irish folks on my team try to meet regularly. One of the worst things is the expectation of all day support. Well you have the ability to do that remotely so why wait until you get into an office.

Do you attend meet ups or conferences to network?

I try to but with a non web dev day job I’d have to take vacation days! I would love to go to some of them.

How do you tend to find clients?

All word of mouth, fortunately, I did some work for some charities, that lead to some other work with some organisations, and then it spread from there. My client list is small but they’re all repeat jobs.

When approaching clients, do you find selling an hourly service preferable to value-based pricing?

Clients definitely I think find an hourly rate easier. I try to estimate how much time I will spend on a project and let the client know how we’re doing as we go along. Communication is key.

Is late paying / non-paying ever an issue? How might you handle it?

Yes, with some work I did for an Irish TV channel, I did 4 hours of freelance work and have still not been paid a year later. I’ve written that off. Luckily that’s been it.

Ever had to fire a client?

Nope, but I wont be doing any work for that TV channel!

Overall, would you recommend remote working?

I know I’ve probably been a bit harsh on working from home but I really enjoy it. It gives me freedom that you’ll never get in an office job!

Thanks, Dan!

If you enjoyed this interview (or if you didn’t), please let me know on Mastodon or email. If you have experience working for yourself and want to add something, do get in touch.