Freelancing so far

I’m now half-way into my first month of freelancing and I think things are going reasonably well. I have regular work for at least one day a week, plus a few other potential projects lined up, which is more than my initial pessimistic forecast.

I also have dates for my two financial adviser exams, at the beginning of August (regulation and ethics) and start of October (tax and protection). There will be a few more hoops to jump through before I can start trading, but I’m hoping to be up and running by the end of the year.

The biggest challenge I’m finding at the moment is striking the right balance between advertising and controlling the amount of work coming in. I don’t know what my conversion rate (for want of a better phrase) will be, so it’s hard to tell whether meeting ten clients will result in overwork or no work.

All things considered though, I’m much happier doing this than I was at the University, even though I miss having colleagues to talk to.

posted by Paul at 6:24pm on Thursday 23rd July 2015 | Comments Off on Freelancing so far

The long road to freelancing

I’m roughly half-way through my notice period at my current employer, which feels like it is going very slowly. I’ve got one big project to finish before I leave—processing, registering and labelling the Raspberry Pies which we give out to new undergraduates—but other than that things are fairly quiet. Officially my final day is 30th June, but I have some annual leave to take so I’ll actually be finishing on or around 19th June.

Preparations for freelancing are going well though, I’ve spoken to a few people already and have a few other potential leads to chase up in the coming weeks. I’m still looking for more work though, so if you know someone who wants a PHP developer, system administrator or non-executive director, please point them at or (I’m currently trying to find a designer to tart up both sites).

posted by Paul at 9:07pm on Saturday 9th May 2015 | Comments Off on The long road to freelancing

Full time freelancing

Most people will have seen this news already on social media: earlier this week I handed in my notice at the University of Manchester and will be leaving at the end of June. I enjoy working there, but sadly there isn’t enough work to keep me busy, and whilst the department I work in does value highly skilled technical people, the University does not, and this is reflected in the lack of promotional prospects and salaries.

So, as of 1st July I will be going freelance on a full time basis. There are a number of business ideas I want to try, but initially I’ll be concentrating on PHP development and system administration to pay the bills. If you know anyone who might be interested in these services, please do point them at my PHP developer site, which contains all my contact details.

posted by Paul at 10:12am on Friday 3rd April 2015 | Comments Off on Full time freelancing

Manchester Geek Socials

I haven’t posted about these for a while, so here is a reminder of the geek socials I’m running in Manchester this year.

Geek Walks: Monthly walking group which takes place on Saturdays based on an availability poll. We get a train and go to somewhere within an hour’s journey of Manchester, which takes in a wide range of locations. We usually walk for 40-60 minutes on mostly level ground (sometimes longer depending on who turns up, and occasionally there are a few hills) and then finish in a pub for lunch. It’s not a serious hiking group and the walks are accessible to anyone with sensible footwear who can keep up a sedate pace. We set off mid-morning (10:30-11:00am) and return late afternoon (around 4-5pm).

Bletchley Park: Most years I organise a day trip to Bletchley Park, with people travelling either in cars or by train. We set off at around 9am, have a guided tour on arrival, lunch in the cafe, and then spend the afternoon wandering around the park and the National Museum of Computing. We have dinner in Milton Keynes before heading back to Manchester, usually returning late evening (around 9-10pm).

Currybeer: On the first Friday of each month we go for curry and beer in Rusholme. We start at the pub at 7pm and head for curry by 8pm, usually finishing around 9:30-10pm. Sometimes we also go for other cuisines in and around the city centre on the third Friday of the month, though this depends on availability.

All socials are open to anyone who considers themselves a geek (there’s no definition, you might be a sci-fi buff, a Unix beardy, a political geek or something else) and there’s no charge to attend beyond the cost of travel, food/drink and any entry fees (generally the latter only applies to Bletchley Park).

There’s a separate mailing list for each social which you can join via the relevant website. I’m the only person who can post to the lists, and you’ll generally receive 3-4 emails per month about each social (you can view the archives for any given list to see what the traffic is like). Occasionally I’ll post the announcements to other lists, particularly for Currybeer, but I don’t always remember (or sometimes it’s not appropriate) so the official lists are the only ones guaranteed to get every email.

I don’t get anything from organising the socials, other than the fun of organising (yes, I like organising) and attending them, and I’ll carry on doing so whilst I’m in Manchester and there are other people who want to attend.

posted by Paul at 8:03pm on Saturday 24th January 2015 | Comments Off on Manchester Geek Socials

Initial thoughts for Nanowrimo

For those who haven’t heard of it before, National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is an annual event held over the course of November, in which participants aim to write a novel in a month. More specifically, the target is to write 50,000 words (around 1,500/day), which is likely to form the backbone of a novel after many edits and redrafts.

This year I’m keen to run with an idea which has been knocking around my head for a while: a historical novel centred around Julius Caesar’s rise to power, and the civil war which divided Rome and began the transition from republic to empire. In some respects the plot is already written, although of course we can never be certain what happened given that our primary source was penned by the protagonist and is hardly likely to be an unbiased account (chapter 2 of my MA dissertation has a brief discussion of the reliability of sources). There are gaps in the narrative and opportunities for some artistic licence though, and Robert Harris hasn’t done too badly with his trilogy based on Cicero.

posted by Paul at 9:26pm on Wednesday 30th October 2013 | Comments Off on Initial thoughts for Nanowrimo

New job

For those who haven’t seen on social media, I have recently accepted an offer for the position of Software Support Officer at the University of Manchester. The role is new, so I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing, but broadly speaking it involves helping students with final year projects and encouraging them to do collaborative/group work through the course of their degree. I’ll be based in the School of Computer Science, where I spent 4+ years as an undergraduate and postgraduate, so I know most of the staff and my way around the building.

The job involves a pay cut from my current position, but that is offset by a (much) better pension, fewer hours, more holidays and no requirement to travel to London for meetings. Plus I get the benefit of access to the University library, including all the journal subscriptions, which is something I miss from not being in academia.

I’ve no idea where the role will lead over the next couple of years – one possibility is that I might have another go at completing a PhD (part-time) and then see if I can get a lectureship, which would be the next logical step on the University career ladder.

My current job has a three month notice period, but I managed to negotiate that down to 6-7 weeks so I can leave at the end of November, and hopefully start at the University at the beginning of December.

posted by Paul at 5:07pm on Tuesday 15th October 2013 | Comments Off on New job

Another book clearout

Having moved again I’ve now found myself in the possession of books which I either don’t read or have electronic versions for me to purchase. If you want any of the books and can pick them up from me in person (posting is too much hassle), post a comment or drop me an email. They’re all free to a good home, and I’ve linked to the relevant edition on Amazon. Anything unclaimed by the end of September will go to charity or MadLab.

More books to follow once I have got this batch off my hands.

posted by Paul at 12:17pm on Sunday 22nd September 2013 | Comments Off on Another book clearout

Achievement unlocked: House sale

My house sale completed yesterday, so I can no longer tell people to “get orf my land” in a Somerset accent. I’m now looking for a flat in the city centre or Didsbury, on the basis that being in Bury is a crimp on my social life – plus another reason which I can’t mention for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I’m back at my parents’ house, which is a bit cramped but will force me to work out what I actually want to keep from the mountain of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years.

posted by Paul at 10:28pm on Saturday 21st September 2013 | Comments Off on Achievement unlocked: House sale

Solicitors for house sales and purchases

Recently I was asked for recommendations on which solicitors to use for house sales/purchases. I ended up composing a fairly lengthy email, and thought it might be useful to others as well. None of this is legal advice for your specific situation – it’s more a general guide as to how you might find someone to provide you with that advice.

The first thing you need to check is whether your mortgage provider will allow you to use any solicitor (assuming you are buying and borrowing to do so). There are three possibilities:

  1. You can use any solicitor.
  2. You can use any solicitor, provided they are on the lender’s panel or are willing to join the panel.
  3. You can only use a solicitor from the lender’s panel.

If your mortgage includes the payment of legal fees, you will probably have to use whatever solicitor the lender provides. Be very careful about checking first, as otherwise you could end up having to pay two solicitors: yours and the lender’s if they are different firms.

Solicitors I have experience of dealing with for residential property transactions are Peter Robinson & Co (reasonably efficient, but based in Oldham) and AST Hampsons (efficient and open on Saturday mornings) – specifically the Bury branch. One of my friends from university, Gareth Aubrey, also works at Griffiths ings (I haven’t used them, but if you ask for Gareth and mention my name he’ll at least know where you’re coming from).

Whilst you can do everything by post, you might find it more convenient to use a local solicitor near your house or work, as then you can drop off and pick up documents without risking loss/delay in the postal system. Small firms are likely to give you a better service – large firms are unlikely to care about residential property unless you are spending substantial amounts or are an important client who might have other business to send their way (e.g. a CEO who will use them for corporate issues).

Watch out for hidden costs – there are two main types of charges/fees:

Solicitor fees: Pays for the time of dealing with your case. May be paid by your mortgage provider, and will probably be around 1% of the price paid for the property (or about £400-500 if you are just selling).

Disbursements: These are costs the solicitor incurs on your behalf, such as Land Registry searches, CHAPS fees etc. They will be recharged to you at cost, possibly with VAT added. Budget around £500 for this. Watch out if your lender says they will pay for your solicitor – they usually mean just the fees and not the disbursements.

You will have to pay all the costs even if the offer falls through. However, your solicitor might pro-rata the fees if they’ve only completed some of the work, and they shouldn’t charge you for any costs they’ve not incurred (e.g. if it falls through before they’ve started the searches).

Just to complicate matters, there are two types of firms: conveyancers and solicitors. Conveyancers just handle property/land sales and purchases, solicitors are more general but will usually have someone who specialises in conveyancing. There are slight differences in how they are regulated and insured, but nothing of practical significance. You might find a conveyancer a bit easier to deal with as they’re a specialist, but they probably won’t be able to advise you on other services – e.g. if you want to make a will at the same time (though you can use a separate firm for this).

Before you register with a solicitor or conveyancer, call them and ask:

  1. Who their regulator is and what their registration number is. It will either be the Council for Licensed Conveyancers or the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Go to the regulator’s website and double-check that the details you’ve been given by the firm match those on the register. Especially check the branch address details – some rogue firms have managed to get themselves on the register by adding themselves as a fake branch of a legitimate firm.
  2. Who their professional indemnity insurer is. This covers the firm if you have to sue them for negligence – e.g. if they forget to check something or give you poor advice (the insurer will pay as the firm probably wouldn’t have funds to meet the claim). It’s compulsory for conveyancers and solicitors to have this insurance, so avoid any firm which is reluctant to disclose the details of their policy.
  3. How they handle client money. You will transfer your deposit into an account with the firm, so there is a risk that they will go bust before handing it over to the vendor’s solicitors. They should keep the funds in a separate client account with a trust deed that means it can’t be seized by their creditors in the event of the firm becoming insolvent. They will mix your funds with other clients in the same account, but they should have a mechanism in place to work out which parts of the balance belong to each client.
  4. What their fees are, including an estimate of the disbursements. They won’t be able to give you an exact figure as there might be some unexpected costs – e.g. if they have to order extra documents – but it will give you a ballpark figure to see if they are competitive. You may have to pay part of the fees upfront before the solicitor will commence work.
  5. Whether the firm will deal electronically – e.g. via email, allow you to make bank transfers instead of writing cheques etc. A lot of firms are still stuck in the 19th century, and even with more up to date firms you’ll probably have to do some things on paper.

Residential conveyancing is a pretty standard process at the sub-£1m end of the market, so there shouldn’t be a great deal of difference in price between solicitors. If you do find a price differential, make sure that the firms are including all the fees in their quote, as some will leave out certain disbursements or VAT.

When it comes to exchange of contracts, if anyone pulls out after this stage they will have to pay the costs of everyone else in the chain. You might exchange and complete on the same day, which keeps thing simple, and your solicitor should be able to exchange on your behalf – i.e. you don’t have to attend in person.

If you’re buying a property with other people (e.g. a partner) you need to think about how the property ownership is split. Specifically it’s important with regards to what happens if one of you wants to sell (relationship break up, new job etc.), or passes away. If you’re not married, you won’t get any of the default rules regarding inheritance (including the tax-free transfer of assets), and living together doesn’t give you much in the way of rights. There are also potential complications with the difference between legal rights and rights in equity, but your solicitor should explain this in plain English if it applies to your situation. Even if you are married, it’s probably sensible to ask your solicitor about wills, just so everything is written down and agreed with regards to inheritances.

Finally, if in doubt, ask, double-check and if necessary get a second opinion. Solicitors make mistakes and have gaps in their knowledge just like everyone else, except when they mess up it tends to cost other people a lot of money. Also, I’ve found that if you ask the occasional sensible question, you get taken far more seriously than if you just sit there and nod at everything the professional says.

posted by Paul at 3:34pm on Wednesday 21st August 2013 | Comments Off on Solicitors for house sales and purchases

House and business plans

Despite having only been on the market for two weeks, I’ve received and accepted an offer on my house. It’s roughly what I paid for it, so if all goes to plan I won’t have have lost any money and will have effectively rented the property for the best part of two years (cost of interest plus maintenance work is roughly the same as renting a similar sized property). Although I’m selling and then buying – as opposed to at the same time – I’m going to start calling agents tomorrow so I can see what is available in terms of flats in Didsbury/Withington and the city centre.

Work-wise, things have more or less ground to a halt. I still have one day a week free to pursue other interests though, and there are a couple of business plans which I’m trying to get out off the ground whilst I have the spare time and a steady income – i.e. I’m not taking a risk in doing so.

One idea that I’m currently working on is PHP Recruiters, a specialist recruitment agency for PHP developer vacancies. There are a lot of IT recruitment companies out there, but two major bugbears I have about many of them is that they’re not run by technical people and they don’t answer emails promptly – if at all. I often find myself thinking ‘I could do this more efficiently’, and unlike solicitors I don’t need a licence or qualifications to set up an alternative option. I don’t know if there is a market for a technically knowledgeable recruiter, or standalone services such as organising interviews and external interviewers, but the cost of testing the water is only £5 for a domain name and a few hours of my time writing the content.

posted by Paul at 10:02pm on Tuesday 23rd July 2013 | Comments Off on House and business plans