Student Success Story with James Dixon

By Brennan Dunn

This is an ongoing series where we share how a past student has been able to significantly grow their freelance business by applying the concepts they learned from Double Your Freelancing. If you feel your story would be a good fit, share why.



James Dixon runs Dialed In Design, a small Drupal-focused web development shop. He founded Dialed In Design four years ago, but has been working within the web for over ten years.

What got you into freelancing? Was it what you expected?

My family built a golf course from my grandfather’s alfalfa farm when I was very young. Something about this resonated with me. Growing up I’d talk about starting my own company, but I lacked the discipline or vision needed to get started.

When I landed my first PHP programming job, some co-workers and I started a secret company on the side, moonlighting after hours. In 2006, we built an early version of something like GoToMeeting or Zoom, but were up against giants like Skype and eventually lost the race.

To help fund our secret project, I took my first contract based job. Fresh out of University making $2,000 creating a website was awesome!

Our startup failed, but was a great learning experience.

Two years later I went travelling to New Zealand and to help pay for my trip I created websites for some of the tour guides I met. Working for myself was such a rush that when I flew home I founded Dialed In Design and started freelancing full-time!

What’s been most challenging thus far?

Freelancing was rough going the first couple of years. Building up a solid client base took awhile, and I was often chasing clients down for money well after invoices were due.

Some fixed bids I placed on projects had major scope creep and burned me pretty bad. There was also a lot more admin and sales based work than I was prepared for initially.

The most difficult part for me currently is managing a large volume of work during busier periods. Lucky for me I have a very understanding wife, but work/life balance is something I’d like more of.

Working towards adopting a weekly billing system and negotiating fairer terms for new projects will hopefully give me back my evenings!

Did you ever want to quit or give up?

The land of freelancing has its share of booms and busts, and we all feel it. The first two winters were very slow and I had to be very creative to support myself and my family during those times. When things were at their worst, I was ready to return to employment, but as luck would have it in both cases things picked up again.

There will always be offers of employment from clients and others. During stressful times there are fantasies of a cushy 9 to 5 job where you can focus on your craft and not worry about everything else that comes with running a business.

For me that’s throwing in the towel. I’ve put far too many late nights and effort into building my business to settle for employment.

What part of Double Your Freelancing Rate has challenged you the most so far?

The most difficult part of Brennan’s course for me was sticking to the Socratic method early on, and running client meetings. It can be tough keeping to a structured format that makes the most effective use of everyone’s time.

Typically you’re working with successful business leaders that run their own show. Being assertive and staying on track can be challenging when you don’t have a natural alpha personality.

What are some big successes you’ve had recently?

While taking Brennan’s free email course, I checked my email eagerly each morning because I was courting some new clients. I managed to sell a roadmapping session before signing up for the full course!

Brennan’s real world examples helped me avoid underbidding on recent projects.

What are some specific strategies, tactics or pieces of advice that helped you grow?

The early successes were fantastic, but studying the material made me realize how much work I need to do on my business. Some things I’m working on are:

  • Shifting my mindset towards making my clients the biggest return on their investment. When I started talking with clients about ways to make them more money it made web development more exciting for everyone. It also demonstrates higher value than our competitors.
  • Roadmapping sessions are now a standard part of my arsenal. I would spend hours of time designing software so I could properly estimate a job and just give away my proposed solutions for free with the estimate. That work is valuable and should be paid for.
  • The course has given me the confidence to double my rate for new clients. Enough said!

What are you most excited about for your business in the next year?

Too many web development shops just do what they’re told, and we’ve been guilty of that in the past. This year we’ve shifted our mindset from building great websites to building exceptional sites that make our clients the best return on their investment.

I’m really excited to be working with our customers towards their goals more actively this year!

Dixon1-web-croppedAn active Drupal contributor, James has been building web sites with Drupal since 2005. With a strong background in web development, he leads projects from the front line.

His passion for open source software drives him to find existing solutions before reinventing the wheel, lowering development costs. He’s active within the open source web development community, which keeps him up to date with the latest web trends and tools. James has worked with a number of web technologies, but focuses on developing websites in WordPress and Drupal.

James received a bachelor of science with an emphasis in software engineering from the University of Victoria in 2006. Afterwards he worked with Etraffic Solutions developing e-learning tools on the web, and developed collaborative research tools at the University of Victoria. In 2010, he founded Dialed In Design.