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February 26 2014

14:24

January 06 2014

21:44

7 Vital Elements of a Good Web Design Portfolio

How do you show prospective design clients what you can do? The best way to show clients what you can do is to show them what you've already done. Direct them to your online portfolio. If you're a new freelance web designer, creating an online portfolio is one of the very first things that you need to do. As soon as you complete a project that you can be proud of, you can start to build your portfolio. If you're an experienced freelance web designer hopefully you already have a portfolio. However, don't make the mistake that many experienced freelancers make and let your portfolio sit untouched for months--or even years. Your portfolio should be a changing online document that always highlights your very best work. portfolio2 On Vandelay Design Blog we share many examples of what a good portfolio should look like. Here's one post with 50 Awesome Portfolio Websites. Here's another post with 25 Beautiful Portfolio Website Designs. While looking at the portfolios of other web designers can certainly give you some good ideas, it's also helpful to have a checklist of elements you should include on your own portfolio. That's what this post is for. This post lists seven vital elements that every good web design portfolio should include.

December 30 2013

15:59

What You Need to Know Before You Expose That Bad Client

If you’ve had a bad experience with a client, you may have thought about using your blog or social media to shame them.

The practice of client shaming seems to be growing. Just in the past month, I’ve seen at least four blog posts and social media complaints about companies who did everything from not paying the freelancer to using the freelancer’s work without permission. And let’s face it, it some cases making a client’s transgressions public can feel pretty good to a frustrated freelance web designer.

Of course, there’s the popular Clients from Hell website that could also be fueling the trend. While the clients are not identified on Clients from Hell and the stories are posted anonymously, I always wonder if clients ever read it and recognize themselves.

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While the decision to publicly expose a bad freelance client is a personal one, you should be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of doing so before you decide to do it yourself.

In this post, I share three reasons why some freelancers choose to expose a bad client publicly and three reasons why you might not want to do it yourself. I also list five alternative to going public with your client problems.

If you liked this post, you may like How to Evaluate Prospective Clients and Choose the Best Ones.

3 Reasons Why Freelancers Expose Bad Clients

Personally, I don’t recommend publicly shaming a bad client in most situations. My own opinion is that shaming is usually unprofessional and can easily backfire. That being said, I also understand why some freelancers do it.

Here are three of the most common reasons why a freelance web designer or developer may choose to vent publicly about a bad client:

  1. Puts pressure on the client. Some freelancers hope that the pressure from publicly shaming a client will pay off–literally. They want to embarrass the client into paying them the money they are owed. Sometimes the tactic works, but not always.
  2. Warns other freelancers. This is the altruistic reason why a freelancer might shame a client–because they don’t want others to have the same bad experience. This could be a valid tactic when you believe a client has behaved in a fraudulent manner.
  3. Feels good. The plain truth is that venting publicly can feel pretty darn good to a frustrated freelancer. Getting “even” by exposing the bad client may even feel like a form of justice.

You’ve just read some of the reasons why freelancers decide to expose a bad client. You may feel tempted to expose a bad client yourself, but hold on. There are some definite negatives to calling out a client publicly.

3 Reasons Not to Expose a Bad Client

commercial or legal concept, selective focus on a part of gavel

Venting about a client in social media or on your blog may feel like the only solution to your client troubles. But, in some cases, exposing a troublesome client could actually bring on even more problems than it solves.

Here are some negative results that you should consider before you expose your bad client in public:

  1. Ends relationship. Calling a bad client out publicly is almost certain to end any relationship you have with that client. So, it’s not a good strategy to use if you want to do business with that client in the future. Also, remember that what you put online is there for a long time. Even if you delete it, someone else may have made a copy.
  2. Could have legal repercussions. In some cases, companies have sued people who shared negative content about them on social media or blogs. The article, 5 Easy Ways to Get Sued for Social Media or Blogging, from Deb McAlister on the blog Marketing Where Technology Intersects Life has some good information. So, unless you want to be sued, be careful about what you say.
  3. Scares away prospective clients. Many freelancers don’t think about this, but publicly shaming a client can scare away other clients–and not just the bad ones. A potential client may wonder if the company you are shaming had a justifiable reason for not paying. Or, the prospective client may think that you are a troublemaker.

It’s a good idea to take these reasons into consideration before doing something rash.

5 Alternatives to Exposing a Bad Client

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Fortunately, there are some alternatives to publicly humiliating a client who doesn’t keep up with their end of the bargain. Here are five of them:

  1. Pester them. You have their email, their phone information, and maybe even their Skype address. If they are seriously late with their payment (usually over 60 days late), or if they are using your work without paying you, start to ask for the payment often. You can contact them at least daily using one or all of the above methods of communication.
  2. Charge in advance. I’ve always recommended collecting at least a partial payment from new clients before beginning work. Due to how common the problem of non-payment has become, many freelancers have adopted the practice of requiring clients to pay for 100% of the project before work begins.
  3. Small claims court. Depending on where you live and where your client is located, you may be able to take a non-paying client to small claims court. The advantage of a small claims court is you don’t need a lawyer. Dollar limits for small claims range from $2,500 in Arizona to $25,000 in Tennessee. (See this chart at Nolo.com for more information.)
  4. The Freelancer Payment Protection Act. The Freelancer’s Union is supporting a bill to help freelancers and other independent works get paid. From what I’ve read, the bill would only apply to freelancers in New York–but it could also pave the way for national legislation.
  5. Use an attorney. It’s expensive, but if you are owed a great deal of money suing your client could be worth it. Just make sure you have good documentation (such as a written work agreement or contract) documenting your grievance.

Your Turn

Personally, I’ve never shamed a client. In fact, in all my years of freelancing, I’ve only had one client who didn’t pay me for the work I did (because they went bankrupt).

What are your thoughts on exposing a bad client? (Please don’t leave any client names in the comments.)

December 20 2013

15:52

How to Rock Your Business Phone Calls

As a web designer, how do you feel about business phone calls?

Your answer probably depends on your personality. Some people love to talk on the phone. Others dread phone calls.

If you’re busy, an unexpected phone call can disrupt your day. If you’re a bit on the shy side, talking to a client on the phone may make you nervous.

Love them or hate them–business phone calls are an important part of running your web design business. That’s not going to change any time soon.

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Fortunately, regardless of whether you love business phone calls or hate them, there are some steps you can take to make your business phone calls go more smoothly. In this post, I share five of those steps. If you liked this post, you’ll probably also like 5 Communication Tips for Freelancers and Designers.

Step 1: Schedule All Client Calls

Unexpected phone calls can be a real nuisance. Here are just some of the disadvantages of getting an unexpected phone call:

  • Interrupts your train of thought. Interruptions can cause you to make mistakes. They can cause you to skip steps in your development process. They can even cause stress. You can read more about the adverse affects of interruptions in the news story, Even Brief Interruptions Spawn Errors, published on ScienceDaily.
  • No time for preparation. Another reason unexpected phone calls can be bad is that you have no time to prepare. A client may call you out of the blue and ask a question that you really don’t have any answer for. Even worse, your lack of preparation may cause you to give a wrong or incomplete answer.
  • Can cause stress. For some of us, receiving a sudden call can be stressful. Not knowing what the client wants or whether they are upset can contribute to that stress. In some cases, an unexpected call on a busy day can lead to overtime or even a missed deadline.

These disadvantages are why I recommend that freelance web designers and other freelancers encourage clients to schedule a time to talk on the phone. Usually, email is adequate for scheduling calls, but if you handle a large volume of client phone calls, you may need to consider scheduling software like Bookeo or EZnetScheduler.

If a client really needs the ability to contact you whenever they want to and will not agree to schedule a phone call, you should charge an extra monthly fee for that convenience. After all, they are basically asking you to be “on call” for them.

Step 2: Be Prepared

Having your clients and prospects schedule their calls with you gives you a chance to prepare for the call.

When they schedule an appointment, ask them to give a brief overview of the purpose of the call. Here are some common reasons why clients and prospects request a phone call:

  • They want to discuss additional projects.
  • They need your professional advice.
  • They want technical support for a project.
  • They want to involve you in their company’s regular team meetings.

Knowing what the meeting is about gives you the chance to do your homework and present yourself and your web design business in a positive light. You’ll also discover what type of involvement you need to have in the meeting. For some meetings, such as a regular team meeting, you may only need to report your progress and identify any problems you have. For other meetings, such as when they want professional advice, you may need to conduct the meeting yourself.

Step 3: Use an Agenda

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If you’re expected to conduct the meeting yourself, it’s a good idea to prepare an agenda. Your agenda doesn’t need to be anything formal. A simple outline is usually good enough.

Having an agenda keeps the meeting on track and reduces the amount of wasted time.

Once you’ve created your meeting agenda, it’s a good idea to send it to your client. If the client will have more than one person participating in the meeting, ask for the names of the other participants and send them the agenda as well.

Distributing the agenda in advance lets the client know what you think the meeting is about. It also gives them a chance to add a topic to the meeting if they see that you’re not covering everything they want to discuss.

Step 4: Listen Carefully

Listening is an important part of any relationship. The freelancer/client relationship is no exception.

In fact, if you do all of the talking on your phone call, something is wrong.

Here are some guidelines to help you pay attention to what your client or prospect is saying:

  • Take Notes. No matter how good your memory is, the odds of you accurately remembering everything that was discussed during the meeting is slim.
  • Ask Questions. Too many freelancers fail to ask questions when they don’t understand something the client says. It’s better to ask now than be sorry later.
  • Send out meeting minutes. I often send the meeting minutes to the client for their agreement. This is their chance to say, “I agree” or “I do not agree.

Remember, phone calls aren’t the only way to have a meeting with your non-local clients and prospects.

Step 5: Consider an Alternative to a Phone Call

A young couple talking to each other via online video chat.

Today’s technology offers many alternatives to the telephone when it comes to meeting with long-distance clients. Here are just a few of those alternatives:

  • Skype IM or Video Chat. In addition to providing the capability to make VOIP phone calls, Skype also gives you the option to instant message with your contacts or to have a video call.
  • Google Hangouts. Many freelancers don’t realize that you can schedule a private meeting using Google Hangouts for up to ten people.
  • Web Conferencing. In addition to the tools listed above, you can use a specialized web conferencing tool such as GoToMeeting and Cisco WebEx . One advantage of web conferencing is that many tools allow you to share visuals and even your computer screen with participants.

Your Turn

How do you manage phone calls? Do you schedule calls, or do you take them as they arrive?

December 18 2013

16:06

Should You Use a Job Board to Find Your Next Web Design Gig, Yes or No?

Nearly every freelance web designer knows that the best jobs are those you find yourself through networking and marketing your web design business. The best jobs are never advertised.

However, networking and marketing can take a lot of time. It can take months, or even years, before your efforts pay off and results in new business. What’s a web designer to do in the meantime?

The truth is that most freelance web designers, like many other freelancers, start out looking for freelance work on the job boards. A job board is an online site dedicated to listing freelance and sometimes full-time openings.

Job boards aren’t always the best place to find work, but they are an obvious place to start looking for work and a search there can sometimes yield quick results. Some freelancers enjoy quite a bit of success in finding work through a job board. Others prefer not to use them at all.

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In this post, I’ll list some positives of jobs boards and some things you should watch out for. I’ll also provide some tips for getting the most from your freelance job hunt on the job boards.

If you liked this post, you may be interested in our list of 23 Design and Development Job Boards.

What’s Good About Job Boards

Job boards make finding work seem easy. All of the jobs are neatly listed and it seems like all you have to do is browse through them and apply to the ones you’re interested in. Once you get the gig, some job sites even bill the client for you.

The important thing to remember is that not all job boards are the same. There are many different types of job boards including:

  • Professional society job boards. Many professional societies have a job board as a service to their members. The jobs found on this type of job board are often of a higher quality. Also, the pool of candidates is limited to the members of the society. If you belong to a professional society, check to see if they offer a job board.
  • Career services for alumni of your college. It’s easy to forget about college job boards, but many colleges offer job listings and placement services to their graduates. While some of these jobs are geared towards the entry-level professional, others are fairly high in quality. Check to find out whether your alma mater has job listings.
  • Micro job boards. A micro job is a small task that can be done very quickly, usually for a relatively small amount of money. These simple tasks are often done online. There are whole job boards devoted just to matching those who have micro job tasks to be done with those who are willing to do them.
  • Bidding sites. Bidding sites list available freelancing gigs to a pool of available freelancers. Freelancers are encouraged to “bid” on each gig. The person who listed the job gets to choose which freelancer he or she will use for the gig. Selections are occasionally based largely on which freelancer has the lowest bid.
  • Niche job boards. A niche job board primarily lists jobs in a specific field. Once in a while, such boards also include jobs in related fields. For example, a job board geared to web developers might occasionally have programming jobs.
  • General job sites. General job sites are open to anyone and anyone can post a job on the board. Usually, the employer pays to advertise their job. Jobs advertised on this type of job board can range from manual labor to highly professional positions and anything in between.

The very fact that there are a lot of job boards out there is a good thing. It means you have access to more potential gigs. To find opportunities, be sure to select the job board that is right for you and your needs.

What to Watch Out for on Job Boards

search jobs using internet- detail of webpage

Job boards often get a bad rap, and sometimes deservedly so. On some job boards, the pay for the gigs listed is so low that you wonder how anyone could possibly afford to take the work. Others have a bad reputation for not providing good support to freelancers.

Here are some questions to ask when choosing a job board:

  • Does the job board take a percentage of the payment?
  • Is there a cost to sign up for the job board?
  • Does the job board pit applicants against each other on the basis of cost?
  • What type of support can you expect from the job board?
  • Does the job board have a good reputation with other freelancers?

The answers to these questions will help you to rule out job boards where you might not have a good experience.

Tips for Job Board Success

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If you decide to look for work on a job board, the following seven tips will help you find work:

  1. Read the Terms of Service. Make sure that you understand how each job board operates. Read the fine print, including the Terms of Service and any other instructions the board may have.
  2. Look for fees. While some job boards charge the person employing the applicant, other job boards charge the applicant. Knowing about any fees upfront avoids unpleasant surprises later.
  3. Polish your resume and portfolio. Even though using a job board might seem like an easy way to find web design work, you still need to put your best face forward.
  4. Pay attention to your profile. Many job boards require you to fill out a profile. It’s important that your profile is thorough and professional. Your profile is the first impression of you for future clients.
  5. Have a set price you will not go below. This is a good rule any time you look for freelance work, but it’s especially true on job boards where you might face pressure to lower your rate.
  6. Read the each job description thoroughly. Many applicants do not read or follow the employer’s instructions. That’s a sure way to make a bad impression and it usually means they don’t get an offer.
  7. Expect to apply for a lot of jobs. Since job boards are such an obvious place to find freelance work, the competition for gigs on job boards can be quite fierce.

Your Turn

What do you think? Should you use a job board to find your next web design gig?

Do you use job boards to find web design gigs? What tips would you add?

December 10 2013

15:53

Social Media: Finding the Balance Between a Waste of Time and Necessary Networking

Ah yes, the all too constant struggle of networking with social media. It’s one of those necessary evils that everyone, from job seekers to freelancers to name brand companies, have to rethink constantly. This is why it is one of the most commonly discussed topics across multiple industries. We all know just how important social media is, and most of us continue to struggle between making it a successful marketing avenue and a waste of time.

As a freelancer who has struggled with wasting hours on social media and completely ignoring it for a month (or more) at a time, I have learned a few ways to help me narrow this gap between the two extremes. Now, have learned how to better focus my efforts with social media. It’s still not perfect, but I am on the road to tightening down my efforts and am already seeing results. And for those of you social media skeptics, even when I was only flailing along with social media, I gained enough clients through my exposure via Twitter and Google+ that I haven’t had to search for clients since I became active in several social platforms.

If you are a business owner, freelancer, or even an individual simply looking to build up a strong network in your search for a career, you may find the following tips to help you better take advantage of the benefits that social media has to offer. Hopefully, some of the resources below will help you greatly reduce the time-suck trap many fall into with social media. Use your own experience in combination with these tips, and like me you may find clients knocking down your proverbial door.

So, take a look at the following 10 tips and resources and get ready to re-adjust your social networking plan into one that will waste less time and build more positive results for you and your business ventures.

Schedule Social Media Time

This is one tip that I still struggle to maintain. Yet, it’s advice that social media experts give over and over again. One of my, and I’m sure others’, biggest problems with social media is letting it interrupt other daily work tasks. This is why setting aside a half hour, an hour, or any other necessary block of time for social media can be so beneficial. You can even schedule social media time every hour or twice a day. Just find what amount of time works best for you and stick with it. Keep out of all of your accounts except for during that scheduled time. Having a certain time set aside for social media keeps you focused and, consequently, more productive.

Don’t forget that some social media tasks may require a bit more time. For instance, scheduling posts ahead of time (see the next section below) may require a longer time slot than, say, responding to comments. And weekly you may need to set aside an extra block of time for catching up just in case you have extra activity that week. In the following tips, you will find quite a few resources for helping you cut back on the extra time you need for those tedious social media tasks.

Sign Up with an Auto Post Service

There are lots of different resources both free and paid that will save you mega-time on daily or weekly posts. The extra benefit of these services is that you can schedule your posts for the month at a single time, and then essentially forget about posting until the beginning of next month. You can either go with a service that only posts for one platform, or one like Hootsuite that will take care of your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and other social media pages. I have found Hootsuite very easy to learn, and it comes with free and paid account options. SocialOomph is an excellent one that is free for Twitter. With a Premium account, you can also incorporate Facebook and LinkedIn, auto-post your blog posts, conduct emails, and more. You may want to try Post Planner if your focus is on Facebook and Twitter, since it allows you to scan what is popular in your niche and even allow you to share other’s posts in your scheduled updates.

Use Paid Promotional Options

There is a huge misnomer floating around that social media is a completely free method of marketing yourself online. However, between time-saving resources and now the promotion options provided by the top social media platforms, you really need to set aside at least a small budget for social media marketing. Facebook’s Promoted Posts are really the only way to ensure that your followers are ever going to see your updates in their news feeds. LinkedIn has Sponsored Updates, and Google+ even now allows for posts to stretch across both columns in the news feed – for free!

Now, of course, you shouldn’t pay to promote every single one of your posts. However, the really important ones you should definitely promote, and this should be on a semi-regular basis, like once a month. Promoted updates are also a good idea if you feel like you simply need that extra burst of exposure every now and then, even if you don’t have a truly groundbreaking announcement to make.

Download Mobile Apps

Make sure to have mobile apps of each social media platform you use. The purpose of apps is not so that you can waste even more time on social media, although the social media platforms certainly love this. I have found that having the apps on my phone makes it easy for me to catch up on some networking while waiting – in line at the bank, in line to pick up my kids from school, at the doctor’s office.

All of the main social media platforms now have free apps. And there are also some great apps for managing several sites from your phone, such as Hootsuite. Eliott Marrow provides an incredible list of social media apps on the Jeff Bullas blog that definitely are worth checking out.

Filter Spam from Relevant Contacts

Many Twitters users have an auto-direct message feature that goes out every time someone follows them. This is just one example of a spam-like message that warrants no need for a response. On Google+, users have the option of emailing contacts when they share a post. And Facebook of course emails you every time you get mentioned in an update. Some of these direct contacts you will certainly want to follow up on to keep your contacts happy. Plus they are a more productive way to remain active on your accounts, as opposed to just browsing through a news feed and responding to random posts.

However, they will require filtering, especially if you have multiple accounts and lots of contacts on each. On Google+, for instance, don’t worry about commenting on every single shared post. Sometimes you may just want to +1 it. The same goes with Facebook, simply Like an update unless it really calls for a comment. Just practice making that judgement call in the amount of time it takes you to glance at your email preview or notifications and keep moving.

Use Software and Apps for Finding Shareable Content

Personally, I don’t do a whole lot of sharing of others’ content, which isn’t exactly the best practice. However, I am a writer so have an overabundance of my own content to Tweet and share daily and weekly. If you don’t have your own blog or a ton of your own work to share, then a great way to find content to use in your auto-post service is with an app made specifically for this purpose.

An excellent tool for finding content across multiple channels of social media based on hashtags is Tagboard. It makes finding content fast and easy, and it’s also a great tool to use for getting involved in conversations in your niche (i.e. building connections in real time). Another great one is Swayy. This tool drops the most interesting or relevant content into a single platform, which you can then immediately share via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

One note to make: even if you do schedule content once a month or so, it doesn’t hurt to save a bit of time on the front end. If you finish scheduled tasks during your social media slot with time to spare, then you can always browse for content and save it a document for your next month’s content. Of course, if the content is timely, you are better off just sharing it the moment you find it, but many niche content can be reshared months after the first publication and still garner lots of feedback.

Spend Less Time Finding Images

We all know how vital images are for making posts stand out in a news feed. My biggest drawback to including images is how long it can take to find them. Of course, when you are in a huge hurry, you can just use the auto-thumbnail selection when posting links to Facebook or Google+. But a large image does draw a lot more attention.

You can save time finding creative commons images (those pictures that the author has marked free to share) with tools such as PhotoPin or Compfight that allow you to search creative commons Flickr images by keyword. If you have trouble finding images in the right size and don’t have a clue as to how to use an image editing tool, Smush.it is a very quick and easy way to quickly reduce your image size and resolution to improve load time.

Quickly Manage Twitter Followers and Un-Follows

Twitter is one social media platform that is highly effective for gaining exposure and building a network but also can be one of the greatest time-wasting sites. What I found to be the hardest part to manage on Twitter was my followers. There simply is no quick way to look at your followers and follow them back. This is where a Twitter tool becomes very necessary.

One of my greatest time-savers has been Tweepi. This cool, free little tool allows Twitter users to very quickly follow back other users and to even un-follow the ones that are not following you back – among other very helpful time-saving Twitter tasks. Another great social media tool that provides follow and unfollow help along with analytics and more is ManageFlitter.

Track Results

To really know if you are spending the right amount of time on the right activities in social media, you will need a way to track your results. Thankfully, there are plenty of free resources available for quite the robust tracking. Google Analytics is probably one of the most popular free tracking tools. It does take some time to really learn, but the good folks at Google have provided plenty of help for you to quickly get your analytics up and running.

Klout is another excellent way to not only see how influential you are across various networks but also to see what niches you influence. Plus, you get lots of cool discounts and freebies, called Klout Perks, when you reach certain milestones.

Socialbakers’ Analytics Pro helps you see what actions have given you greatest growth in your social media networking. But this isn’t the best feature. It also shows you what content is the most interesting for your connections – and what gets them involved the most. It works for tracking Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and while it isn’t free, Analytics Pro does offer a free trial.

Eliminate Time on Irrelevant Social Media

Not all industries benefit from the same social media sites. For instance, I have found that Google+, LinkedIn, and especially Twitter are my greatest sources of relevant connections. Facebook and Pinterest are simply voidless time-sucks, and YouTube and Flickr take too much time with little results. You may find that MySpace, Pinterest, and Flickr are your greatest sources of helpful connections. Or maybe Facebook is the only one that is worth your time.

However, this does not mean that you can simply ignore the rest. You simply need to put almost all of your time into those sites that provide you with the best results. The other ones you can simply fill out your profile and check on your notifications to make sure you haven’t had a prospect contact you. At the very least, make sure you have a full profile on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, even if none of these are relevant to your industry. The reason is that signing up on these big four make you more visible, both to prospects who just happen to only have an account on one of these sites and to Google and other search engines.

Have you learned some ways to help you spend your time wisely on social media tasks? Please share below!

Social media cloud photo credit: daniel_iversen via photopin cc

December 09 2013

16:34

Should I Charge for That? Don’t Forget About These 7 Crucial Project Tasks

The client snarled, “there’s no way I’m paying extra for that.” He was referring to the time I would need to research his rather complicated project.

Have you ever been challenged by a client for including certain tasks on your invoice?

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Pricing services is one of the most difficult tasks most freelance web designers face. Not only are there many different schools of thought on how to price web design services, clients sometimes fuss about work we bill them for.

Most freelancer web designers realize that they shouldn’t work for free or on spec. But many have questions about what activities they should bill to clients.

In this post, I list seven common project-related tasks that clients often question. For each task, I discuss whether a freelancer should bill the client.

If you liked this post, you may also like 12 Realities of Pricing Design Services or 5 Tips for Handling Pricing Objections.

The Pricing Problem

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What aspects of a project should be billable? Should you charge for the time you spend on an estimate? What about the time you spend on the phone with a client? Should a web designer charge for technical support provided after the project is completed?

There are many differing opinions about what a freelancer should include in their price. Some bidding sites actually track what a freelancer does on their computer and use that information to calculate how much money the freelancer receives.

What to include on the project’s bill can also be an issue when the freelancer provides an itemized invoice. The client may feel that they can lower the price of the project by removing what they view as an unneeded part of the project from their invoice. My client above was a prime example of that kind of thinking

Successful project completion requires many different types of tasks, even if their importance or relationship to the project isn’t obvious to the client.

Task #1. Estimates

Developing an accurate project estimate is the first step to project success. The more accurate and more detailed your project proposal is (which usually becomes your work agreement when the client accepts it), the better your project is likely to be.

Yet, the process of developing a good project estimate is time-consuming. From personal experience, I know that it sometimes take several hours to put together a good project proposal.

Should you charge a client for that time?

I actually know of some busy freelancers who do charge a fee to prepare a project estimate. Charging for estimates can separate serious prospects from those who are just shopping around for the lowest price.

Many other freelancers, however, provide free project estimates to qualified potential clients. The choice is yours.

Task #2. Research

You’re an expert at what you do, but you don’t know everything. Clients sometimes want special features on their websites that you don’t normally provide. Sometimes those features are so unique that you need to do some research to learn more about them.

When this happens, should you charge the client for the time you spend on research?

Some clients don’t think so. Their reasoning is that you will use what you learn on other projects, so the research isn’t really specific to their project.

However, some requests are so unusual that it’s unlikely that you would ever receive a similar request from another client. Also, meeting one client’s special request doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to take your freelancing business in that direction.

Task #3. Meetings

Meetings are another one of those tasks that many clients do not want to pay for. Truthfully, some projects work out fine without any meetings whatsoever.

However, other clients schedule regular meetings with the freelancers they hire. This may be a personal preference on the part of the client. In some cases, when large groups of freelancers and employees are working together, meetings are a crucial means of making sure that everyone is on the same page.

Meetings, however, can take a lot of your time. That’s probably not time that you want to give away.

I always recommend that freelancers ask how many meetings are required when they define the scope of a freelance project. It’s better to find out that the project requires meetings before you start. Too many unexpected meetings can mean the difference between a profitable freelance project and working below minimum wage.

If you find out a freelancing project requires regular meetings, you have two options:

  • Raise your quote for the project.
  • Charge an hourly fee for the time you spend in meetings.

Task #4. Tools

This task isn’t actually a task, but more of an expense. I’m referring to special tools that you purchase especially for a specific project.

The tool could be software that you buy, access to certain sites, and many other special purchases that you wouldn’t ordinarily make for your business.

Often the client doesn’t want to pay for such tools because you will keep the tool after you finish the project. However, if it is a tool that is absolutely required for the project it’s my opinion that the client should absorb the cost.

Task #5. Phone Calls

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Some clients will never call you. They prefer to interact primarily through email, and that’s fine.

Other clients make the occasional call when it’s really necessary. That’s fine too.

Once in a while, you’ll get a client who loves to talk on the phone and will call you for every little thing. That’s not fine at all.

Whether the client really needs help or is just lonely, the result can be the same: constant interruptions and hours spent on the phone.

Here are four tips for handling excess phone calls:

  1. Avoid being on call. Make clients schedule appointments for phone calls through email.
  2. Refer them to email. Stress that email is the quickest way to get a question answered.
  3. Limit phone hours. Many freelancers schedule a short time each day when they accept calls.
  4. Bill an hourly rate. For extreme cases, you may have to bill the client an hourly rate for time spent on the phone.

Task #6. Changes to the Project

Scope creep can make or break a project. Scope creep refers to changes to the project or additions that were not included in the original project description.

Scope creep is one of the many reasons why you should have a contract or written work agreement. Make sure that your contract is specific about the work that will be included in the project. Add a phrase that states that additional work will require additional charges.

Some freelancers also include a statement about the number of revisions that they will perform as part of the project. My contracts, for example, include one round of minor revisions.

Of course, if the changes are to correct a mistake that you made, then you need to take care of it as quickly as possible.

Task #7. Technical Support

Do you continue to answer questions about your freelancing work long after the project is finished?

Some clients expect that you will make minor tweaks to their website and answer questions about it forever. They don’t expect to have to pay for this support either.

Unfortunately, most freelancers can’t afford to provide unlimited free technical support. While it may seem like a good idea when you first start freelancing, once you’ve built up a significant client base the demands for support can overwhelm you.

The solution is to state in your contracts that support is provided free of charge for a limited time (maybe 30 days). After the specified period of time, state that the client can purchase an extended support package for the monthly fee of $xx.00

Your Takeaway

At the end of the day, freelancers need to earn a profit. If they agree to perform too many of these so-called nonessential project tasks at no charge to the client, they may find that their business is in trouble financially.

Ideally, a good contract should specify which services are billable and which (if any) are available at no extra cost to the client. The alternative is to not mention these services, but raise your prices to cover the cost of doing them anyway.

In the comments below, share how you handle billing for the various tasks we’ve discussed in this post.

December 05 2013

14:53

13 New Social Tools for Your Web Design Business

Is bigger always better?

Nearly every web designer knows about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest. And it’s not a bad idea to have a presence on those sites.
woman in office pointing at plasma panel with social media

When it comes to social networks, the newest players are smaller and more exclusive. Some are invitation only. Others are niched–available only to members of a specified group. Most of them are mobile-friendly. They may even leverage other social media platforms.

Today’s new social media sites may become the giants of tomorrow. Witness the rise of Pinterest. For that reason alone, it’s worth checking these new tools out. But I think that you’ll agree with me that your web design business will benefit right now from the use of some of these tools.

13 New Social Tools

Here are some new social tools that web designers and others may be interested in (in alphabetical order):

  1. BeFunky. This Instagram competitor is both social media and a software app. The easy-to-use tool lets you modify your photos using wide variety of built-in filters and overlays. When you’ve got your photos just the way you want them, use the tool to share them on Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Twitter. There’s also a BeFunky gallery where you can display your best images. A basic account, that limits your resolution, is free. Paid premium accounts are also available.
  2. Bloomfire. This community-based tool is all about sharing information. It uses a collaborative approach to gather relevant and accurate information to the needs of businesses. It’s also not free, although they offer a free trial. Technically, the company refers to their product as a knowledgebase, not as social media site. It also integrates with many established social networking sites. This type of paid sharing site may well be the future of online social communities.
  3. Branch. The purpose of Branch is to foster high quality conversations. As opposed to the typical status updates found on most social media sites, I suppose. The platform makes use of other social media tools, most notably Twitter. To participate in a conversation on Branch, you have to be invited. However, anyone can see a Branch conversation. A Branch conversation can be embedded into a post, such as this one found on a post at FastCompany.
  4. Flipboard. Did you ever wish there was a magazine designed just for you. This mobile-friendly app lets you aggregate your online favorites from your social networks in a simple, yet compelling magazine format. It’s a great new twist on social bookmarking. Designed for a mobile environment, your Flipboard will run on your iPhone or iPad. However, Flipboard recently announced that magazines created through Flipboard can be seen through most web browsers.
  5. new-social-media2

  6. Ghost. Ghost is an open source blogging platform that launched in 2013. The concept is to make blogging and journalism easier and more accessible. It’s mobile-friendly. It’s free, and it’s designed to compete directly with WordPress. Before you ask yourself whether we really need another blogging platform, consider that all current platforms started somewhere. And Ghost has some pretty big names behind it. If you currently design themes, you’ll want to keep an eye on this.
  7. Inbound.org. This site is niched. The niche is content on inbound marketing related topics such as SEO, content marketing, and social media. You can see a graphic illustrating the Inbound.org topics here. It was created by one of the founders of SEOmoz and one of the founders of Hubspot. It works in conjunction with Twitter, and in fact, you’ll use your Twitter account to create an account and sign in.
  8. Medium. Medium is a new collaborative writing platform founded by some of the same folks who originally created Twitter. It’s also a very elite platform, with in-house editors. Like many of the new social media networks, Medium falls into a gray area. Users and others wonder, is this an online publication or social media? Of course, we shouldn’t expect new social sites to fit into the old mode. Take a look at Medium if you’re looking for a different way to present your ideas.
  9. Nextdoor. What if there were a social media network for your neighborhood? Well, now there is. This network is limited to those who live in your neighborhood. Personally, I love the idea of empowering neighborhoods, which this social network has the potential to do. Getting to know your closest neighbors is also not a bad idea from a business perspective.
  10. Social network, media and marketing

  11. Pheed. This free mobile social microblogging platform was launched in 2012. It allows users to share a wide variety of information including images, videos, texts, audio, and more. In fact, it can aggregate all your social media in one location. You can also purchase content through Pheed. Proponents of Pheed tend to like either the slick and easy-to-use interface or the ability to promote and sell content. It also has the reputation of being popular with teens.
  12. Sgrouples. Sgrouples has two main strengths: its ability to create groups and its strong commitment to privacy. In fact, their commitment to privacy is a big part of their online brand. They even feature a Privacy Bill of Rights on their site. You can use the platform’s group feature to connect with clients, colleagues, or prospects as well as friends and family. The tool includes personal cloud storage for each user as well as the ability to aggregate content from other social sites.
  13. SlideShare. Having been founded in 2006, SlideShare’s not exactly new. But most people still don’t realize its social media applications. Designed to create presentations, those presentations are increasingly being embedded in blogs and making their way onto other social media platforms. Maybe that’s because SlideShare partners with most social media platforms. The user base for this tool is large, with over 51 million viewers a month. It’s also being used by everyone from the White House to NASA.
  14. Thumb. Did you ever need to know what others thought of a piece of artwork, music, or even clothing? If so, the mobile social site Thumb was designed for you. The goal of Thumb is to allow people to ask questions and get quick answers. When you log in you are immediately given the opportunity to ask for an opinion or give an opinion in various categories. Art, Design & Photography is a category. You can also participate by voting (thumbs up, thumbs down, or neutral).
  15. Vine. This new mobile social tool from the owners of Twitter allows you to create and share short videos. So far, video length is limited to under seven seconds. Once a video is created, it can be shared. Finished videos can be posted on Vine, Twitter, or Facebook. This social tool was recently updated. The good news is that Vine is still free.

Your Turn

Did I miss any of the newest social media networks or tools? Have you used any of these new social sites?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

November 29 2013

15:11

How to Handle Your Unhappy Client in 5 Easy Steps

Most freelance web designers dread the unhappy client. Yet, eventually most of us will have to face one. Maybe that’s why there are so many posts out there about bad clients.

After all of your hard work and attempts to meet your client’s demands, the last thing you want to hear is that the client isn’t happy with the fruit of your hard work. You may even fear that the client won’t pay you.

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Is there anything you can do about an unhappy client?

Yes, as a matter of fact, there are some steps you should take when your client is unhappy. In this post, I share five steps that you can go through to find out whether you can “fix” your relationship with an unhappy client.

Step 1: Review Your Web Design Agreement

Your first step is to look at your contract or work agreement. Review it carefully, paying extra attention to the scope and terms.

Situations like this are one reason why having a contract is a good idea. To learn more about web design contracts, read the post 5 Things to Include in Your Web Design Contracts.

As you read the contract, make sure that your completed web design actually meets the original scope (description of work) defined in your work agreement. If it does not, make a careful note of where the variations are.

Next, compare the reasons why the client is dissatisfied with the actual scope. Are they asking for new features? Again, make a careful not of any differences.

Finally, review the terms of the agreement. Did you meet the stated deadlines? Did you deliver the work in the manner specified?

As you review the agreement, also look at any phrases that the client might have misunderstood. Make a note of these too.

After you’ve completed a careful review of your work agreement, you’re ready to move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Admit Any Mistakes

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If you did notice some areas of the scope that you did not fulfill, part of the problem may be yours. Don’t beat yourself up if this happens. Instead, stay calm. Everyone makes mistakes once in a while.

If the mistake was yours, admit it to yourself and to the client as soon as possible. Offer to fix the problem and do it quickly. If you’re gracious about it, most clients will understand.

However, if you’re sure that you didn’t make a mistake with the project, then you need to move on to Step 3.

Step 3: Point Out Changes

It’s not unusual for some clients to change their mind about what they want during the course of a web design project. The client may not even tell you that they’ve changed their mind until after you’ve turned the project in.

Sometimes the changes a client wants are minor and easy to implement. Other times they take a significant amount of time and effort. While you may be willing to make minor changes to a project, you should charge extra for large scope changes.

Now is the time to pull out your original agreement with the client and your notes. Point out what you both originally agreed to and mention the difference you discovered.

Here are some tips to help you approach the client about scope changes:

  • Stay calm. Don’t approach the client in an angry or upset fashion. Refrain from name-calling and accusations. If you are upset, don’t contact the client until you can do so in a professional way.
  • Listen carefully. Make sure that you have a clear idea of what the client actually wants and needs. You don’t want to make changes that aren’t really needed or wanted and you don’t want to misunderstand the client.
  • Don’t assume the worst. The client isn’t necessarily trying to rip you off. The problem may simply be that the client doesn’t realize how much extra work it will take to make the requested changes.

Once you’ve discussed the changes with the client and you’re sure that you understand them, you’re ready to discuss the cost of those changes

Step 4: Ask for Additional Money

American Currency, American Dollars.

The client should expect to pay additional money for a large scope change to a project. I usually insert phrases in my work agreements like, “additional work will be billed at $xx.00 per hour” and “this quote only includes one round of minor revisions.

Even without those phrases, you should still ask for more money. As long as your contract had a detailed description of scope of work and the client is clearly asking for things that are not included in that scope, you should be in a good position to negotiate for more money.

After you and the client agree on the cost of the changes, you should redo the contract or create a new one. Treat very large scope changes like a new project. Create a new contract listing the new scope and terms and get the client to sign off on it.

Step 5: Some People Can’t Be Pleased

If you’re sure you didn’t make any mistakes and if you’ve handled the matter as professionally as possible, things should go smoothly. Your relationship with the client is probably “fixed.

However, there are always a few clients who won’t negotiate. Here are some possible reasons why:

  • They could be accustomed to dealing with salaried employees. They don’t understand how important your time is or why you have to protect it.
  • They could be embarrassed and not want to admit that they’re wrong. Some people have to always be right, even when they’re wrong. Such people are always hard to do business with.
  • The may have misunderstood the original contract. In my profession, I’ve even dealt with a few clients who didn’t bother to read the contract before they signed it.
  • They might really be trying to take advantage of you. They’re in the minority, but such people do exist and sometimes they hire freelance web designers.

Whatever the case, know that you’re not the problem. They are. Some clients can’t be pleased no matter what you do.

It may be time to cut your losses and fire the client.

State firmly exactly what additional work, if any, you’ll do for them. If you haven’t been paid, emphasize that you expect to be paid according to your original agreement. Repeat this as often as necessary until you get paid. Then, refuse any future projects from that client. In the long run, you’ll be better off.

Your Turn

How have you dealt with unhappy clients? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments.

November 26 2013

15:08

10 Ways to Say “No” to Bad Clients (How to Refuse Bad Projects)

We freelancers are well aware that there are bad clients out there. There have been plenty of posts describing how to identify a bad web design client or a bad web design project. We’ve even mentioned bad projects on this blog in this post for new freelancers. There are also plenty of posts encouraging freelancers to say “no” to bad clients.

However, there aren’t too many posts that explain how to turn bad work offers down. And turning work down is harder than you might think (as any freelancer who has ever accepted a bad project will tell you).

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For one thing, we’re not used to turning work down. Everything about our business is geared towards finding clients and bringing them on board. Also, if you are accustomed to working in a traditional corporate environment, you’re probably not used to having the freedom to say “no” to a client or a project.

In this post, I provide ten ready (and truthful) responses you can give when you’re asked to do a project that’s not right for you. (Because, after all, you don’t want to spend too much time on projects you aren’t going to work on.)

Response #1: I’m Too Busy

Have you ever accepted work you shouldn’t have even though you’re already too busy? I know that I have.

It’s easy to say “yes” to a project when you should say “no” when you’re busy because:

  • You may not take the time to really think about the project.
  • You may not research the client.
  • You may be feeling overly optimistic about your business.

If you’re busy, avoid answering an inquiry too quickly. Try to put the prospect off until you know you will have time to really consider what they are asking of you. Try saying something like:

“My schedule’s pretty full for the rest of the week. Can we discuss this on Monday?”

If you’ve had time to really consider the prospect and their project and you feel it isn’t for you, remember that being busy is a legitimate way to turn a project down.

Response #2: I’m Not the Best Freelancer for the Job

Sometimes you will be asked to do work outside of your freelancing specialty. It may be work you don’t know how to do or work you don’t have any interest in doing. You may be tempted to accept the work just to keep the client or prospect happy.

Don’t do it.

Almost every time I’ve accepted a project outside my specialty, I’ve regretted it. The best way to handle this is to let the client know that you don’t do this type of work. You can also use Response #6 and refer them to another freelancer.

Response #3: I Never Accept a Client without a Contract

NO sign painted in yellow on a the asphalt. Toronto, May/2010.

This statement weeds out a lot of bad clients right away. You should make it a practice never to do work for a new client without a contract or work agreement.

If a prospect refuses to put your agreement into writing there’s usually a reason for that. 9 times out of 10, that reason isn’t a good one.

Response #4: I Never Start Work without a Down Payment

New freelancers are sometimes hesitant to ask a client for money before a project begins. However, there’s really no reason not to ask for a down payment. Professionals in many fields (including web design) already ask for prepayment.

When combined with a contract, a prepayment is nothing that a client should be afraid of. A prepayment shows good faith on the client’s part. I also make the prepayment one of the terms of my contract–as in, the work can start when the prepayment is received.

Having this policy also tends to weed out a lot of bad clients. If they hesitate to make a prepayment, they may not really be committed to the project. They may even be planning to rip you off later.

Response #5: I Charge (Ridiculously High) Amount

Personally, I don’t recommend this response. However, I’ve seen it discussed in blog posts and on forums. So, it is worth mentioning.

The main problem with this approach to saying “no” is that the client might agree to pay the ridiculously high amount. If they do, then what will you do?

Before using this approach, ask yourself if the additional pay is worth taking on a potentially troublesome project. If it is, at least you’ll be well compensated.

Response #6: Refer Them to Someone Else

It’s a good idea for freelance web designers to build a network of freelance professionals whose skills complement your own. That way, when a client asks you to write web copy you can send them to a competent writer. Likewise, if they need some programming done, you can point them to a good programmer.

Ask your contacts in related fields whether they would mind if you occasionally sent work to them. Also ask them whether they would mind referring any clients who need web design work to you.

Response #7: I Never Work for Less than $X

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This is another response that tends to filter out the bad clients. In particular, this eliminates those who are trying to get by with paying very little.

Using this approach is simple. When you quote a price to this client, they typically respond by trying to get you to quote a lower price. That’s when to say:

“I never work for less than $X”

End of story. Then, it’s up to the client to decide whether they want to pay you what you’re worth.

Response #8: What You’re Asking For Isn’t Possible

You’ve probably been asked by a client to do something that really can’t be done. There are typically two reasons why something can’t be done:

  • The tools don’t support it. For example, a client may ask you to design a website and request that the website users smell fresh-baked cookies each time they access the site. With current technology and tools, this isn’t possible.
  • There’s a legal or ethical problem with doing it. For example, a client may ask you to design a social media platform exactly like Twitter. Well, of course there’s a legal problem with making a site that duplicates another site.

Either way, you need to be honest with the client. If tools don’t support what they are asking, let them know. If there’s likely to be a legal problem, they need to understand that as well.

Response #9: No Response

What most freelance web designers don’t realize is that no response can be a way of saying “no.”

Typically, I respond to all serious requests for projects. But some requests seem a little spammy to me. The sender may address me generically (as though they have sent out a bulk mail) or the request might seem a bit like a scam.

I tend to ignore spammy or scammy inquiries, and you can do the same.

Response #10: I’m Sorry, I Can’t Help You

Don’t forget that you don’t have to give an elaborate reason for saying “no” to a prospective client.

You may be going through a personal crisis that you don’t want to share, but that will keep you from working. Or, it might be too inconvenient to draft a longer response (such as when you’re traveling).

One of the perks of freelancing is that you can say “no” to work that you don’t want to do, so don’t be afraid to exercise that perk.

Your Turn

Have you come up with another way to say “no” to web design projects you don’t want to do? Share your responses in the comments.

November 21 2013

13:37

15+ Step-By-Step Public Speaking Tips for Web Designers and Freelancers

You may think that as a freelance web designer you don’t need to worry about public speaking. What you don’t know is that there are plenty of speaking opportunities for web designers. Here are just a few of them:

  • Meetups
  • Professional organizations
  • Client presentations

With all of these opportunities, public speaking is great addition to your marketing arsenal. It’s also a good way to establish yourself as an expert in your field.

Beautiful business woman is speaking on conference.

The fact is that giving a talk in public is good for business. Yet many web designers have no idea how to make a presentation.

In this post, I’ll take you through the public speaking process and give you tips to get you through each step–a total of 16 tips in all.

Getting Ready

What you do before your speech is almost as important as the speech itself. Preparation is 90% of the effort. If you’re not prepared, your audience will be able to tell.

Here are five tips to help you prepare for your speech:

  1. Know your topic. Choose a topic that you are already familiar with, but don’t stop there. Spend some time catching up on the latest changes and trends for your subject matter. If you will be demonstrating a software tool, spend some time with the software.
  2. Organize your speech. Don’t try to speak off the top of your head. Even if you are very comfortable with the topic, you need to organize your thoughts. It’s too easy to ramble or lose your place if you don’t. An outline of your main points is a good way to get organized.
  3. Prepare visuals. Presentation software like Microsoft PowerPoint or SlideShare can help you add visuals to your presentation. A benefit of using visuals is that it takes the focus away from you. You can also use the presentation software to create handouts for your audience.
  4. Practice. It’s a good idea to run through your talk several times before you present it. If you can do it in front of a friend or family member, that’s great. If not, try giving your speech in front of a mirror. Be sure to time yourself to make sure that your presentation is not too long or too short.
  5. Dress appropriately. You want to convey a professional appearance, but not appear overdressed. If you are a member of the organization where you will make the presentation, you may already have an idea of the right things to wear. Otherwise, ask.

Once you’ve prepared your speech, you’re ready to give it. The first step in giving a speech is the opening.

Breaking the Ice

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It’s the night of your presentation. Plan on arriving at the location a little early so that you can visit with members and make sure that any equipment you need is set up properly.

Don’t worry if you’re a little nervous. That’s normal. Traditional advice says to picture your audience in their underwear to overcome stage fright, but that doesn’t always work. A better tactic is to pick two or three spots (such as pictures) on the back wall, directly behind the last row, and give your talk to those spots. The audience won’t really know that you aren’t looking at them.

The first thing you need to do when giving a speech is engage the audience. Here are three tips to help you break the ice:

  1. Humor. Telling a joke is the traditional method of warming an audience up. This works great if you’re good at telling jokes (keep it clean, of course), but not everyone can tell a joke effectively.
  2. Location. Another method of warming an audience up is to comment on the location. For example, if you’ve travelled away from your hometown to give the presentation, comment on how much you like a local attraction.
  3. Weather. If you’re totally at a loss on how to open your presentation, you can always make a few comments on the weather. Nearly everyone in your audience will be able to relate to your reaction to rain, heat, or cold.

Once you’ve got your audience’s attention, it’s time to move on to the main portion of your talk.

The Body of Your Speech

As you move into your main topic, remember the following:

  1. Stay calm. Sometimes the transition between your opening and your main topic can be difficult. Remember to stay calm. Breath slowly and regularly. Don’t speak too quickly.
  2. Use notes. You don’t want to read your speech verbatim, but you also don’t want to forget what you were going to say. I recommend using an outline of your main topics.
  3. Not too long. Make sure that your speech is not too long. If there’s not a clock on the back wall, ask someone to silently signal you when you have five minutes left.
  4. Break it up. If you’ve been assigned a fairly long time slot, break it up with visual aids and handouts. If you can think of ways for the audience to participate, that’s good too.

Once you’ve completed the main portion of your speech, you are ready to wrap it up.

In Closing

Mixed group in business meeting

The closing can be one of the most important parts of your talk. Sometimes it is the main thing that your audience remembers about your presentation after they leave, so it is important to plan it carefully.

Here are four elements to include in your closing:

  1. Summary. Your summary is simple. Just list the main points that you just made in your presentation.
  2. Call to action. If you would like the audience to do something (such as buy your product), ask them to do it.
  3. Questions and answers. Set a limited amount of time aside at the end of your speech to answer any questions that the audience may have.
  4. Thanks. Last, but not least, thank your host for inviting you to give your talk. Thank the audience for spending the time to listen to you.

Learn More

Public speaking is truly a skill that improves with practice. The more often you speak in public, the better at it you will be. With practice, you will also become more comfortable preparing and giving presentations.

There are several ways to gain experience as a public speaker. Here are two of them:

  • Toastmasters International.
  • This is an international organization dedicated to improving the public speaking skills of its members. Once you join, you will be given opportunities to speak in public and also receive constructive feedback.
  • Community College. You can also take a public speaking course at a local college. You will be assigned an instructor who will teach you the basics of public speaking and who will grade your presentations.

Your Turn

Have you added public speaking to your skillset? If so, how has your freelance business benefited? Share your thoughts in the comments.

October 21 2013

20:35

A Comprehensive Guide to Effective Portfolio Websites

The web/graphic design industry is highly competitive. With so many designers out there competing for clients it can be difficult for freelancers and independent designers to find enough work to stay busy and to pay the bills. The level of design ability and experience doesn’t always correspond with the amount of success in running a freelance business in the industry. There are plenty of talented designers that struggle to find enough clients. Likewise, there are plenty of freelancers with lesser design skills that are more effective at running their business.

One of the keys to success for most freelancers is their portfolio website. Most potential clients will visit the website of a designer before hiring him or her, and often times the portfolio site is actually how the client finds the designer in the first place. Essentially, the online portfolio acts as a salesperson for the freelancer. An effective portfolio site can be invaluable to a freelancer, so it’s important enough to warrant plenty of time and attention for designers who are looking to be able to land more clients.

In this article we’ll take an in-depth look into the topic of portfolio websites. We’ll start by looking at keys to effective portfolio sites. Then we’ll move on to look at the options for creating your own portfolio site. And we’ll finish by providing some tips for getting more exposure to your portfolio site. If you’re interested in getting more out of your own existing portfolio site, or if you’re planning to create your first one, the details covered in this article should be able to help.

Keys to Effective Portfolio Websites

Simply having a portfolio site where you show off your work is not enough. In fact, even having a great-looking portfolio site isn’t enough. In order for the site to be effective it must bring in new business. Simply looking good is nice, but looks alone will not produce any revenue. So with that in mind, let’s start our journey into the topic of portfolio sites by first discussing what will actually determine the success and effectiveness of the site.

Clear Purpose

Not every portfolio site will serve the same purpose. Some freelancers use their portfolio as a way to get attention for design agencies with hopes of landing full-time employment. This can be a very effective approach for finding a job because a well-designed portfolio site is a great advertisement for your skills. Other designers, however, will use the portfolio site to land new clients. Most portfolio sites would fall into this category, and we’ll be approaching this article to provide information for designers that fall into this category.

It’s important that you consider your purpose before creating your own portfolio site, because it should be a driving factor in decisions that are made throughout the design process. If your purpose is to use the site to land more clients you want to be focused on creating a site that will do just that.

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Shows Only Your Best Work

Your portfolio site doesn’t need to include work samples from every project that you have ever designed. In fact, it should only showcase your best work. If it is early in your career you may have a smaller number of items to showcase, but that is ok. As your skills develop and improve the quality of your work has also improved, so those projects from a few years ago may not be the most accurate representation of your current skills.

Kyle

You also may want to leave out projects that show design trends that look outdated. You may have had a client a few years ago that wanted a particular style that was trendy at the time, but now it looks dated. If that is the case, avoid showcasing this item in your portfolio.

If you’re coming across the problem of not having enough work to showcase in your portfolio, which is a common issue for new designers, there are a few options. First, consider showing more details from each project. For example, if you are a web designer, instead of simply including a screenshot of the homepage from your best web design project, include multiple images. Use a close up to show a section of the design in full size. Show other pages from the site in addition to the homepage. If you also did a custom logo, icons, or other custom graphics for the site, showcase these in detail as well. By showing more detail and a broader view you can showcase only a few projects and it will still give the visitor a good idea of your quality of work.

Another option if you’re struggling with not having enough work samples would be to do some design work for fictitious businesses. You can demonstrate your skills by designing something that isn’t intended to actually be used in the real world. I would recommend mentioning in your portfolio that it was just a personal project and not for a real client, and I wouldn’t recommend taking this approach at all unless you don’t have other ways to get items for your portfolio.

An alternative to creating something for a fictitious business would be to offer your services at a discount or for free to an actual client for the purpose of having something from the real world that you can use in your portfolio. And one last option would be to design a template or theme that you can sell. This way you would be getting something that you can add to your portfolio, but you could still make some money from it by selling it at a marketplace like ThemeForest or Mojo Themes.

Includes a Call to Action

If you want your portfolio site to be effective at helping you to land new clients you’ll need to lead visitors to take action. Usually this will involve encouraging visitors to contact you through a form on the site. Some designers and agencies entice visitors by offering a free quote or estimate. The visitor then enters some information about their project into the form, which is a great lead generating system for the designer.

Make sure that when you are designing your site you consider how you will include the call to action. Some designers use a button with a call to action that links to their contact page or to a page with a free quote request form. Other designers will include a small form right on the homepage somewhere. And other designers will come up with a creative way to lead visitors to the action that they want.

WerkPress

Easy to Navigate

Usability is important for any website. If you want visitors to be able to check out your work sample, find information on your services, view testimonials and case studies, and fill out a form to contact you, they need to be able to easily navigate the website. Many designers want to create a portfolio design that is truly one-of-a-kind, something that will really stand out to visitors. Unfortunately, sometimes this leads to navigation that is difficult to use. You certainly don’t have to avoid creative designs for your portfolio site, but make sure that you are not sacrificing usability in the process.

Is Seen by Your Target Audience

A portfolio site can look great, include all the relevant information, and have a really effective call to action, but if the right people aren’t seeing the website it really won’t matter. The ideal visitor for your portfolio site will be someone who is looking for the type of services that you offer. Most designers love to browse portfolio sites for ideas and just to see what other designers are doing. There’s nothing wrong with have other designers as visitors to your portfolio, but ultimately you’ll need to get the right visitors as well if your site is going to be effective at helping you to land new business. Later on in this article we’ll go into more details about some specific things you can do to get more exposure for your site.

Includes Testimonials or Case Studies

Testimonials from past clients can be very effective at encouraging visitors to consider hiring you for their own project. Gathering testimonials from your clients is a good habit, even if you don’t use them all on your website. Every time you end a project with a happy customer be proactive and ask if they would be willing to provide a testimonial for you. Keep them all somewhere handy, and when you’re working on your portfolio site you’ll always have some testimonials available. If you haven’t made an effort in the past to keep track of testimonials, take some time to go back and contact a few of your past clients to ask for a testimonial. When you’re displaying on your portfolio site in can be especially helpful if you can include a photo of the client along with their testimonial. The photos help to make the testimonials feel a little more real and personal to most visitors.

In addition to testimonials, another option is to include more detailed case studies. Instead of just showing the visual design work that you did for a client, a case study will provide some context and details of the project. It may include information about the client and the challenges that they were facing with the project. The case study will show how you approached the project, your solution for the client’s challenges, and the end result. The most effective case studies can show how your work directly impacted the clients. Ideally this will be something measurable like a percentage of revenue growth or traffic growth through the redesign of their website.

Tone

Shows Your Unique Skills and Abilities

One of the problems with portfolio websites is that there are just so many of them. There are countless designers out there, and in order to get a potential client to contact you about their project you will need to stand out from the crowd in one way or another. The most effective way to do this is to communicate the skills, abilities, and experience that make you a great choice. Simply offering the services in need isn’t enough. There has to be some reason that the visitor should contact you instead of just moving on to the next portfolio.

MintTwist

There are countless different ways that you can go about accomplishing this. The case study approached mentioned above is a great option. If your work has had real, measurable impact on your clients that is a great selling point. If a potential client feels that your work will have a positive impact on their bottom line you’ll have a much better chance at landing the project.

Options for Creating a Portfolio Website

Now that we’ve covered the keys to having an effective portfolio website we’ll move on to talk about the different options for creating your own portfolio site.

Custom Design

If you offer web design and development services, chances are you will probably design your own website. It just makes sense that a web designer would design his or her own portfolio. However, not all designers do web design. So if you mostly design logos or for print you may need to hire someone if you want a custom design.

Custom designs are preferred for a few reasons. One of the most important is that your portfolio site will need to represent you, and many portfolios showcase the creativity of the designer through the design of the portfolio site itself.

The downside of custom designs is that they take time and/or money. A lot of designers wind up neglecting their own site because they get busy with client work and don’t have time to work on their own site. But if you’re looking to get more business out of your portfolio site you may have some down time in your schedule until you’re able to build up that client work.

Customized WordPress Theme or Template

Another option that many designers choose is to use a template or a WordPress theme as a starting point for their portfolio site. If you’re using a template it’s possible to customize it to give it your own touch so that it has a unique look. Starting with a template can drastically reduce the amount of time that you spend on the site when compared to the time requirements for a custom design. And for designers that don’t offer web design services or that do not do their own coding, templates may be necessary.

There are a lot of good options out there, especially when it comes to WordPress themes. If you’re looking for quality portfolio themes the first place I would recommend is ThemeTrust. They have a number of different themes available for portfolio sites, and they all look great. They typically use an elegant minimalist style that works great for portfolio sites. This style is also a good choice if you plan to customize the theme because it serves as a nice starting point.

Here are previews of a few of the themes from ThemeTrust:

Hardy

Hardy

Hayden

Hayden

Hero

Hero

Another quality option is the Genesis framework from StudioPress. It’s general in nature and not geared towards portfolio sites, but it is an excellent framework that will give you a solid foundation that you can build on. Many designers use Genesis as a framework for all of the client sites that they design. There will be a bit of a learning curve if you haven’t used Genesis before, but once you get some experience with it, Genesis can prove to be a very valuable resource in your own work. One of the great things about Genesis is that the license allows for unlimited use, so with a single purchase you could use Genesis for your portfolio site as well as for an unlimited number of client projects.

ThemeForest is a popular marketplace where you can find hundreds of different portfolio themes. As a word of caution, the quality of coding and customer service that you will get from a purchase at ThemeForest can vary drastically from one seller to another. Be sure to do some research before making a purchase. You can read comments left by other users to see how responsive the seller is to customers.

One of the reasons that a lot of designers are choosing to use a template, or at least to start with a template and customize it, is that you can buy a high-quality template for less than $100, and in many cases less than $50. When compared to the amount of time that you would need to spend on a custom design of your own, a template can make a lot of sense financially.

Hosted Options

Aside from a custom design or a template, another option is to go with one of the many different options that offer a hosted portfolio. Each of these options is a little bit different in terms of the specific features, but typically you will pay a monthly or yearly fee that will include web hosting and you’ll either be able to choose one of their templates or they’ll provide some system for designing your own site. Here are a few of the leading options.

Behance ProSite

ProSite from Behance costs $11 per month or $99 per year. They’ll host your site for you and you can use their drag-and-drop editor to create the design of your site. Or, if you prefer you can code the HTML and CSS for the site.

ProSite

Dunked

Dunked is a new option that just launched within the past few months. You can create a site with limited features for free, and paid plans start at $49 per year. With Dunked you won’t create your own design, but you will be able to use one of the professionally-designed templates that they offer.

Dunked

Virb

Virb will host your site for $10 per month. You’ll be able to choose from their selection of professionally designed templates, and you can customize some elements of the template to suit your own needs.

Virb

Getting Exposure for Your Portfolio Website

After you’ve got your portfolio designed and online the next step is to actually get it in front of people. This can be the most difficult part of the process, so we’ll cover a lot of details in this section with tips and suggestions for getting your portfolio site noticed.

Create a Quality, Unique Design

If you have a portfolio site that looks great you can get a lot of traffic and links as a result. There are countless web design gallery sites out there (examples: CSS Mania, Best Web Gallery, SiteInspire, CssDsgn) that exist for the purpose of showcasing great web design. You can submit your site for consideration and if it gets approved you can get instant exposure and links. The traffic that you get directly from these galleries will mostly be other designers who are browsing the galleries for inspiration. Despite the fact that these visitors don’t fall into your target audience this can still be a helpful thing because it can be a way to get valuable links to your site that will eventually help for search engine optimization. Also, many of the sites that get showcased in these gallery sites will also be showcased on various design blogs as a result, leading to even more links and traffic.

In order to get links and traffic from gallery sites and design blogs you’ll need to create a design that is very high quality. So take your time and don’t rush the design. When it comes to submitting your site it can be a time consuming process to find the various galleries and to fill out the submission forms. If you don’t mind spending a few dollars to save many hours of your own time you can pay for a service like GalleryRush or the CSS Gallery List.

Daniel Filler

Include a Blog

One of the best ways to get traffic to your site is to include a blog. If you’re using WordPress as your CMS the blogging functionality will already be included, so it doesn’t need to require a lot of work to get it set up. Blogs are great for building traffic from search engines and also from social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

If your approach with the blog is to use it to attract clients you should consider the types of keywords and phrases that your target clients will be using for searches. Then you’ll want to write blog posts on these topics and include the keywords and phrases in your page titles. For example, if you offer blog theme design services you could write blog posts with titles like “how to start a blog”, “how to build a blog”, and “how to find a blog designer”. Since this is a very popular and broad topic there will be a lot of competition for the top search rankings for these phrases. You may want to consider blog posts that target specific industries or niches. Blog posts like “how to start an online jewelry shop”, “characteristics of good church websites”, and “examples of good travel websites” may not reach as large of an audience, but you may be able to achieve higher search rankings while attracting some very targeted visitors. Of course, somewhere on these pages you’ll want to include a call to action for the visitor to contact you.

Blogs are also great for building traffic because they tend to attract links. If you make an effort to publish content on a regular basis to your blog you should be able to attract a decent number of links over a period of time. You can include social sharing icons and buttons on your posts that make it easy for readers to share the link through their social profiles. The are also several design-oriented social networking sites where you can submit your links. Some of the best of these sites include The Web Blend, Design Bump, Design Float, and Design Newz.

Each blog post that you publish will have the ability to attract new search engine visitors. Most of the visitors that reach your website will not enter directly through the homepage. If you have an active blog on the site most visitors will arrive to a specific post, either through a search or a link from another site. While not every post that you publish will be a big hit that brings floods of traffic to your site, with some consistent effort you can certainly build up a blog that attracts more visitors than your portfolio site could without the help of a blog.

Write for Other Blogs

In addition to publishing blog posts at your portfolio site, you can also get some exposure and links by writing posts for other blogs. Many blogs accept guest post submissions in exchange for an author bio that can include a link to your own site or blog. This is a good way to gain exposure in the industry and to start to build some links to your site. The links can lead to some click-through traffic to your own site, and they can also help for SEO if the links are coming from blogs that have some authority.

You can find plenty of blogs to write at simply by visiting a directory site like Alltop or by doing a search for design blogs. Many blogs will have a link in the footer or sidebar that says “write for us”, “contribute”, or something similar. Always look for these pages first before filling out a contact form as they may give you all of the information that you need to submit your blog post.

By writing for other design blogs your writing will mostly be seen by other designers, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t help you to land more clients. The links that you build through those guest posts can help to improve the search engine rankings of your site, so they can indirectly help you to reach more potential clients through better search rankings.

Another option aside from writing for other design blogs is to write for blogs in other industries. For example, you could pick a specific industry and write and article that would be relevant to that audience as well as to the services that you offer. You can write a blog post of tips for non-profit organizations on how to have an effective website even with a limited budget. That post might be published by a blog that covers topics related to running a non-profit organization. It would be a good fit for the blog’s audience and would allow you to reach an audience that might lead to some new clients. Another example would be if you write a post for a photography blog about how to sell photos online. Some of the photographers reading the article may be interested in selling their photos from their own website, and they may contact you to inquire about your services for helping to accomplish this. There are all kinds of possibilities, but you’ll need to use your creativity to think of some ideas for good posts that could help you to reach the right audience.

Build it to be Search Engine Friendly

When it comes to search engine optimization, I tend not to obsess over the countless factors that play into the rankings, but I do aim to create websites that are search engine friendly. Your site should make it easy for the search engines to crawl the site and to know what your site is about. Using clean code is a good first step. In today’s environment you’ll also want to set up a Google+ account an incorporate Google authorship into your site’s coding. You’ll also want to use effective page titles, and use subheaders correctly.

Link to Your Portfolio from Your Social Media Profiles

Social media and social networking sites can be a great source of traffic for your portfolio site and your blog. The first step is to make sure that you have linked from your social profiles to your site. Most social networks allow you to link to your site from somewhere in your profile, so take advantage of this opportunity. You probably already have several social profiles, and you can always create profiles at other sites as well.

In addition, you can share links to your blog posts and to new portfolio items through your social profiles. For example, whenever you publish a new post you can tweet a link to the new post, and also publish it to your Facebook profile or page. You can encourage visitors to share your posts by including buttons and widgets on your blog posts to make sharing easy.

Offer Free Resources

Another way to gain some exposure and to build some links to your site is to offer free resources to other websites. This is especially popular in the design blogging industry. Many design blogs give away free resources that their readers can download. This includes things like icon sets, vector sets, Photoshop files, website templates, textures, and more. If you’re willing to use your skills and your time to create some free resources you can contact some blogs to see if they would be interested in publishing your free resource.

This is another approach that will mostly put your work in front of other designers, but it can help with building links to your site. Again, you can customize the approach to get in front of a more targeted audience if you’d prefer. As an example you could create a basic template/theme for a photography website and offer to give it away at a photography blog. Some of the photographers that download the template/theme may want to hire you to customize it, or they may want to hire you to create a completely custom design for their own site.

Pay for Advertising (AdWords, Facebook)

So far we have mostly looked at approaches to get exposure without spending any money. While they may not cost you financially, they will require your time, which is also highly valuable. Another option is to pay for some advertising. When going this route you’ll want to be very careful. Set up your campaign so that it won’t spend more on a daily basis than you can afford, and also do plenty of testing and tracking so you’ll be able to know which advertisements are working and which ones are not bring in any business.

Two popular options are AdWords from Google and Facebook ads. Both can be effective even with very limited budgets, and you can set up the campaigns to target very specific audiences. For this reason they can be good options for designers who don’t want to break the bank. You can also start and stop your ads, so you can run them when you need some new clients and then pause or stop the campaigns when your workload picks up.

Conclusion

The portfolio website is one of the most important assets for any freelance or independent designer. Take your time with designing and setting up your portfolio because it could pay huge dividends done the road. With the right approach you can get enough exposure to your portfolio that most of your work will come from clients that are contacting you, meaning you won’t have to do any aggressive selling or chasing of clients.

If you have any tips of your own regarding effective portfolio sites, please feel free to share in the comments.

October 07 2013

06:30

Best Practice: How to Make Your Business Card Work


  

We all love articles that show cool and amazing business cards. They are creative, well-designed, and inspire us to do better with our own cards. The problem is; do they work? Do people keep them, share them with others, but most importantly — do they encourage clients to call you?

September 04 2013

02:55

A Freelance Web Designer’s Guide to Offering Freebies to Generate Leads

Advertise here with BSA


free-1

Many experts and gurus recommend giving away a product or service to attract leads. Offering freebies is a marketing strategy that has really taken off to the point where most of us are now inundated with free offers. In fact, not a day goes by when I don’t find a free offer in my email inbox or through a popup window on a site I’m visiting.

I used to get really excited about free offers, but now that it seems like everyone is giving something away it’s gotten so that I mostly just ignore over 90% of the free offers that I run across. Free doesn’t mean as much as it used to.

Many web designers have jumped on board the giveaway bandwagon. This is especially true for those designers who have a side gig that involves selling WordPress themes or apps.

In this post, I’ll examine the strategy of using free offers to attract business. We’ll look at what works, what doesn’t work, and I’ll explain how you can make sure that your free offer reaches your target audience.

How Free Offers Fall Short

free-2

Sadly, one of the reasons free offers are not as successful as they used to be is because there are so many of them. Unless I’m already familiar with the product or the source of the free item, I don’t have time to research every free offer that I see. So, unless the offer grabs my attention or it’s for something I already want, my first tendency is to ignore it.

It’s hard to believe that the market for giving something away would be so competitive, but it actually is. If you spend any time at all on social media, you’ll notice that many of the posts shared are about giveaways. It’s not at all unusual to find posts with titles like “X Free Smart Phone Apps” or “X Free Themes.”

Freebies may be popular, but does giving something away lead to a paying client?

Here are some other problems with freebies as lead generators:

  • Doesn’t reach target market. So many free offers are made to everyone who happens across a website. There’s no attempt to try to reach those who might actually be potential clients.
  • Attracts bargain hunters. Sadly, there are people who are just looking to get as much as they possibly can without paying for it. They have no intention of buying anything from you. Ever.
  • Freebie isn’t representative of what you normally offer. If you something that has no relevance or value to your prospects, it’s unlikely that you will leave them with a positive impression.
  • Freebies need to be promoted. It’s no good having a free offer that no one knows about. You will have to share it on your website and through social media. This takes time.
  • It can be costly to produce something to give away. It costs money and takes time to create something of value. If you’re creating something to give away, you won’t get paid for it (at least not directly).
  • People place less value on something they didn’t pay for. There’s a little psychological truth that people perceive value based on cost. If something is free, it may be perceived as being less valuable.

Those are the downsides of giving something away. Now let’s look at the positives.

Free Offers Can Still Work

In front of Brandenberg Gate. Berlin, Germany.

With all the negatives associated with giving away freebies to generate leads, you might think that you should stop doing it. In my opinion, you’d be wrong.

Giveaways can still generate leads. In fact, a free offer can be a very effective strategy. You just have to be careful about how you do it.

In a way, offering something for free is a sort of gamble. Fortunately, there are ways to stack the odds in your favor.

Here are some tips to make the most of your free offers:

  • Target your offer to those most likely to become clients. If you have a targeted email marketing list or a newsletter for prospects, that might be a good place to offer your freebie.
  • Place a limit on your offer. When something is perceived as being scarce or limited, it is often looked at as having more value. Rather just putting a free offer on your website forever, consider offering your item free for a limited time and then charging for it.
  • Consider a free trial. If you sell apps or have a subscription service, a free trial can be a good way to generate interest. This is especially true if the prospect must enter payment information in order to activate the trial.
  • Make sure that your offer has genuine value. Many free offers fail because they are for things that most people would likely never want. For example, who would want pens or a mug with your company name on it? These items are best saved to use as thank-you gifts for existing clients.
  • Consider your brand when choosing a freebie. Many freelancers forget to think about their brand when they choose a free premium offer. However, whatever you offer will likely be associated with your business and therefore become part of your brand.
  • Look for endorsement from influencers. You want your free offer to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Influencers and thought leaders can help. If you offer your freebie to an influencer or thought leader in your field to review, they may endorse it.

After looking at the positives and negatives of offering a free premium, you may find that you are seriously considering it.

Learn More

Are you preparing to dive into a marketing campaign that involves giving something away? Here are three more resources to help you make sure that your marketing efforts are successful:

  1. From Peter Caputa on HubSpot, How to Write a Whitepaper That Will Capture Leads. One popular freebie that many marketers give away is a white paper or eBook related to their field. This well-written article explains exactly what sort of content you should put in a free white paper and how you should write it. Although the post is written about white papers, I feel the tips would also work for a free eBook.
  2. From Stacy Karacostas on StartupNation, From Free to Fee…The Right Way to Use Freebies to Make More Sales. This thoughtful post gives five rules for offering freebies. It also explains why each rule is important. This is worth a read if you are trying to use a giveaway to generate leads for your business.
  3. From the AppsGeyser Blog, Give Away Your Android App For Free – 8 Reasons Why You Should Not Charge For Your App. Another popular freebie is smart phone apps. This post is very pro-freebie (it’s from a company that converts web content to an app), but makes some valid points. I suggest looking at the points and deciding whether the benefits are important for your freelancing business.

Your Turn

Giving away free items has always been somewhat of a controversial marketing strategy.

What’s your take on freebies?

Have you given something away in order to attract clients? How did that work for you? Share your answers in the comments.


Advertise here with BSA

September 02 2013

05:34

Tips and Tools to Help You Protect Your Online Reputation

Your clients talk. They talk about all kinds of things. They talk about their business. They talk about their likes and dislikes. And sometimes, they talk about you and the work you did for them.

Word-of-mouth can be a powerful marketing force if it’s positive. Unfortunately, sometimes word-of-mouth is less than helpful. Sometimes information about your design business that is incorrect or misleading gets spread around.

The Internet has transformed word-of-mouth into a major force that can reach around the globe. Clients from halfway around the world can post comments and share information that influences clients right in your own town.

online-reputation

What are your clients and prospects saying about your design business? It could be important to know. Online reputation management is one way to manage and monitor what is said about your design business brand. In this post, I’ll share seven tips for monitoring your online reputation. I’ll also share seven tools to help you monitor your online reputation.

7 Tips for Monitoring Your Online Reputation

It’s important to know what information is being said about you online. Sadly, many businesses don’t find out about negative comments until it’s too late. Your design business doesn’t have to be one of them. You can take steps to monitor and manage your online business reputation.

online-reputation3

Here are seven reputation management tips:

  1. Set up alerts. There are a number of tools that will notify you if your business name is mentioned online. It’s a good idea to make use of one or several of these tools. Make sure your alert is thorough enough. It should include your business name, your name, and the name of any products that you have.
  2. Be reachable. Often people leave a negative comment (or review) because they are frustrated and feel that they can’t get help for a problem they are having. If you can keep that frustration from occurring in the first place, you have a lot fewer complaints. Make good customer service a priority.
  3. Respond promptly and appropriately. If you do happen to notice a negative comment, respond quickly and appropriately (preferably privately). For example, if a client tweets or posts that they are having a problem, instead of being defensive ask how you can help.
  4. Don’t overreact. One of the biggest mistakes a company can make is to respond to a complaint or negative comment in anger. Another mistake is to try to retaliate against the person who posted the complaint. Flame wars do nothing to help the problem and tend to draw attention to the negativity.
  5. Build a positive online presence. Blogging, press releases, positive testimonials and case studies all serve to bolster your online reputation. With a positive online presence, even if there are a few negative comments out there they won’t be the only thing that a prospect finds out about you.
  6. Watch yourself. Many companies are their own worst enemy. They engage in behavior that could potentially embarrass their business or they share inappropriate materials online. Reports of this sort of behavior often get passed around and can be hard to get rid of.
  7. Get Help. In extreme cases, especially when defamation, slander, or malicious intent is involved, you may need to get help from a professional. An attorney can help you if you need to take legal action.

Many of these steps can be taken even before any problems occur. So, don’t wait until there’s a problem to start managing your online reputation.

7 Reputation Management Tools

A women holding flower petals blowing in the wind.

It’s easier than ever to find out what others are saying about you online. In alphabetical order, here are seven tools (some free, some not) to help you monitor your online reputation:

  1. Alerts (Google and Yahoo). Both Google and Yahoo let you set up an alert that will notify you when certain phrases are published online. You’ll receive an email when the phrase is used. This is a free service from the search engines.
  2. Buzz Bundle. This tool combines social media management and reputation management. You can track your own social media mentions and even monitor competitor information. There are three editions available including a free edition. A free trial is also available.
  3. SocialMention. This helpful free tool lets you search social media for your name, business name, or any other phrase. You’ll find discussions as they happen. Use the advanced search for more accurate results.
  4. SproutSocial. Here is another tool that lets you monitor and analyze what is being said about you online and who is saying it. There are three levels available and a free trial. One nice feature is that training is included at all paying levels.
  5. Technorati . This free tool tracks and ranks blogs and posts. It can also find posts that link to your blog. If you have a blog, it’s a good idea to claim it on Technorati and check to see what sites are linking to it.
  6. Trackur. Founded by a well-known reputation management expert, this is a premium social media monitoring tool with four levels of service. Find out what is being said and who is saying it. A free trial is also available.
  7. TweetBeep. This tool is specific to the Twitter social medium platform. It monitors Twitter and notifies you quickly if your name, product, or company is mentioned. There are four price options including a free version.

This is just a sampling of some of the tools that are out there. There are other tools and even specialists that can help you do much more.

Learn More About Reputation Management

There’s more information available about you online than most of us realize. That’s one reason why it’s important to monitor and manage your online reputation. Even small business and solo professionals need to be careful.

Here are three posts that can help you learn more:

Your Turn

Do you monitor your online reputation? How do you go about doing it?

Share your tips and any tools you use in the comments.

August 19 2013

18:35

6 Branding Basics that Web Designers Can’t Ignore

Does your web design business have a brand?

Even if you haven’t put much thought into branding your web design business, your clients probably already have an opinion about your business. You may even already have a reputation for doing a certain type of work. That reputation is one of the branding basics that you should manage.

Branding is important for web designers. Not only must you develop a recognizable brand for your own web business to stay competitive, but often clients expect branding help from their designer. If you can’t help your clients with branding, they’ll find someone else who can.

That’s why it’s important for web designers to understand a few basic principles about branding. In this post, we’ll describe six basic branding principles and explain how they relate to web design.

branding

Branding Basic #1. Relevance

Your web design brand needs to target your potential clients. (Likewise, a client’s brand should target their potential clients.)

You want your clients to understand how your business relates to their needs. You want them to understand the value that your web design business offers to them. Potential clients also need to understand how your web design work is different from the design work of other web designers.

In order to create a relevant brand, you first need to understand your clients and potential clients. This means doing some research. Talk to existing clients and prospective clients to discover what they already believe about your web design business. You may even find that you need to change pre-existing opinions about your business.

Making your brand relevant to your prospects is sometimes called positioning. (Although, not everybody agrees on the definition of positioning.)

Relevance is only one aspect of branding that designers need to be concerned about. Appearance is another aspect.

Branding Basic #2. Appearance

branding-appearance

Image by: scui3asteveo

Appearance is usually the first thing that many web designers think about when the topic of branding comes up. Appearances includes such features as:

  • Business Logo
  • Website Design
  • Color Scheme
  • Images
  • Fonts
  • Business Cards and Stationery

Obviously, web designers can provide a lot of assistance to their clients when it comes to appearance.

When it comes to your own website, appearance often determines a prospective client’s first impression. That brief first impression determines whether the prospect stays on the website, or quickly moves on.

While appearance is an important branding factor, it’s not all that there is to branding.

Branding Basic #3. Content

Content is another important aspect of branding. This is particularly true if your website or your client’s website contains a blog.

Remember that blog posts are likely to be indexed higher in the search engine results and are also likely to be shared on social media. So, what you publish on your blog may be what draws potential clients to your website. Everything that you publish is a reflection of you and your web design business.

Since your website content represents your business, naturally you want to publish only the highest quality content. However, well-written content on your website is not helpful if you’re not consistent.

Branding Basic #4. Consistency

A brand should be recognizable. One thing that top brands have in common is that their potential clients know who they are after reading (or hearing) just a word or two or by glancing at a logo design.

Everything about your website should reinforce your brand–from the design to the content to the font used. The same is true for client websites that you design.

Consistency is just one of many good reasons why website designers and content strategists should work together. If you are inconsistent, you’ll create confusion instead of a powerful brand.

While it sounds simple, it can be difficult to maintain a consistent tone for a website and for its content, particularly as time passes. You want to be flexible enough to meet your client’s needs, but consistent enough so that your brand’s message is not diluted.

Another aspect of branding that you need to be concerned with is your business reputation.

Branding Basic #5. Reputation

brand-reputation

Your reputation can affect your brand’s effectiveness.

Reputation has to do with how others perceive you. While it might seem like you can’t control your reputation, how you act and what you say greatly affects the opinion that others have of your business. If you say your business stands for a particular value while behaving in a way that is inconsistent with what you say, then your brand may be damaged.

To build a good reputation, pay attention to your client’s needs. Deliver what you promise. Always turn in your best work. The branding message you are trying to convey should match the way that others think of you.

Trust is the primary goal of building a good reputation. The more that prospective clients trust you, the more likely they are to do business with you.

Of course if very few prospects have heard of you or if prospective clients have a heard time finding you, then having a good reputation with a handful of clients doesn’t help much.

Branding Basic #6. Presence

Another important part of branding is establishing a presence for your brand. Prospective clients can’t do business with you (or even form an opinion about you) if they can’t find you or don’t know about you.

Here are three ways you can build up your presence:

  1. Advertising. This can be an effective way to increase your presence, but many advertisements are too expensive for the beginning web designer. If you do advertise, make sure that the medium where you place your advertisement targets your prospective clients.
  2. Social Media. Social media is a great and inexpensive option for building an online presence. There are many social media options available. One danger with social media is the temptation to behave differently than the brand you are building. Don’t forget your brand message.
  3. Community Involvement. Getting involved in the community is a good way to build your presence. Your community participation should be directed to your prospects. Giving a presentation to a local business organization is one possible example of community participation.

branding-presence

In general, it takes time to build a strong presence in your target market. It’s important to realize that it could take weeks, or even months, before you see any results.

Learn More About Branding

Here are four great resources to help you learn more about branding:

  1. The Art of Positioning Your Brand and Why You Can’t Afford to Screw It Up from Jim Joseph on Entrepreneur. Jim provides an excellent general explanation of what brand positioning is. He also explains why positioning is an important part of building a brand.
  2. Why B-To-B Branding Matters More Than You Think from McKinsey & Company on Forbes. While this post is not specific to web designers, it has a good discussion on how to differentiate a business. It also explains the relationship between branding and purchase decisions.
  3. How to use a website to strengthen a brand from Dan Rajan on Web Designer Depot. This is an excellent post on branding for web designers. Dan lists and describes some very specific website elements that contribute to branding.
  4. 3 Effective Ways to Build a Strong Brand Identity from Venchito Tampon on Search Engine Journal. This post on branding is a bit more content-oriented, but should still be very helpful to web designers who want to learn more about how to brand their own website or to help a client with branding.

These are just a few of the many helpful articles about branding that are available online.

Your Turn

Is your web design business branded? Do you help clients with their business branding?

July 01 2013

04:51

4 New Free and Low Cost Ways to Measure Social Media Results

Do you use social media to market your design business? Are your social media efforts working? How can you find out?

Six or seven years ago, these were very difficult questions to answer.

After all, back then social media was a relatively new phenomenon. Facebook wasn’t available until 2004. LinkedIn was founded in 2003. Twitter was just getting started and Google+ didn’t yet exist.

Back then, an accurate method for measuring the effectiveness of social media participation was hard to find. If you were able to find a tool that worked, you could expect to pay a lot for such information.

Fortunately, things have changed. Social media has matured. And along with that maturity comes the ability to measure your social media results. While you can still pay good money for high quality social media analytics, there are now a lot of tools available to measure results at very little cost to you.

In this post, I profile four new tools designed to help you measure your social media results. If you like this post, you may also like 6 Ways to Use Social Media Successfully as a Designer.

measure-social-media
Image Source: Skakerman

Twitter Analytics

Recently Twitter began rolling out a new analytics feature that lets you analyze the effectiveness your individual tweets. The feature used to only be available to paid advertisers, but as of the time of publication the feature was free to all Twitter users.

To access the Twitter Analytics tool, go to the Twitter Analytics site and use your Twitter user name and password to sign in. The Home page defaults to instructions for advertisers, but don’t worry about that. Click the Analytics option on the navigation menu at the top left of the screen. You’ll see a choice between Timeline activity or Followers. Choose Timeline activity.

Timeline activity analytics basically lets you measure the effectiveness of individual tweets. For each tweet you can measure how many times other users:

  • Retweeted it
  • Favorited it
  • Replied to it
  • Clicked through to the story

So, if you’re wondering what your Twitter followers are really interested in, now you can know for sure. If you’re trying to brand your design business through Twitter by sharing relevant materials, this tool can be really handy.

The same view also displays about a month’s worth of mentions, follows, and unfollows. So, if you’re upsetting a large percentage of your followers, you can tell right away.

Google+ Ripples

Google-Ripples
Image Source: Phillie Casablanca

Ripples is a recent Google+ tool that lets you examine the reach of your Google+ posts (material that you share with others on Google+). If you’re like me, you totally missed this free feature that measures the reach of the material that you share on Google+.

Here is what you need to know about Google+ Ripples

  • You can only use the Ripples tool for information that you have shared or reshared. You cannot use the Ripples tool for material that you simply gave a +1 to.
  • The tool does not track comments unless there were reshares. It’s possible to get a lot of comments on a Google+ post (indicating engagement), and not get any reshares and so not trigger the Ripples tool.
  • Google+ Ripples only shows public reshares. If your share was reshared on a limited basis, that reshare will not show up in the Ripples too.
  • You can also use Ripples to show how post popularity spreads over time.
  • If the post was not reshared, the Ripples option will not even show up on the drop-down menu.

To use the Ripples tool,

  1. Go to your Google+ profile to see the posts that you have shared.
  2. Hover your mouse over the upper right corner of a post to see an arrow that leads to a drop-down menu for that post.
  3. If the Google+ post was reshared, the Ripples option appears last on the drop-down menu.
  4. Select the Ripples option to open the tool.

Ripples is especially helpful if you’re trying to see who was interested in a particular Google+ post. It’s also a great way to find out what material elicits the most response. Best of all, it’s free.

Klout

When Klout first came out, it was somewhat controversial. It seemed to be little more than a popularity contest. People voted you up and down in certain categories. Their judgment may (or may not) have been valid. There were also were those who worried that Klout could be easily manipulated.

If you haven’t looked at Klout in a while, though, it’s worth revisiting. Klout has matured a great deal in the last year. Klout can now measure engagement across six different social media platforms. Those platforms include:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • Foursquare

Klout was started to measure social media influence. It assigns users a score between 1 and 100, with the higher scores being more influential. While the exact algorithm used to calculate your Klout score is unknown, there’s a lot more to Klout than just your score.

The other information available at Klout is quite helpful. Of particular interest is the ability to compare your social media presence across several platforms over a 90-day period.

If you click Network Breakdown in the top left of the right column on your Klout dashboard, you will see which social media tool gets you the most interaction. For example, my own breakdown shows that 76% of my interactions occur on Twitter, 15% on Google+ and 8% on LinkedIn. (I’m actually quite proud of those numbers, because I’ve been making an effort to increase my presence on LinkedIn and Google+ over the past year. A year ago, those numbers might have been quite different.)

Plus, answering questions on Klout can boost your visibility in the Bing search engine. You can read more about how Klout affects search results in this post on The Verge from Casey Newton.

Pinterest Analytics

Pinterest
Image Source: StockMonkeys.com

Pinterest is another social media tool that has added a lot of new measurement tools.

Since Pinterest is visually oriented, designers might want to pay particular interest to the recent addition of Pinterest Analytics. This is especially true if you are using Pinterest to promote your design business.

Pinterest Analytics is designed to help you track how your website is being shared on Pinterest. It’s surprisingly full-featured, considering that it’s included for free in Pinterest as long as you set up a Business Page.

To use Pinterest Analytics, you first need to verify your website. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Upload a file to your server.
  2. Add a meta tag to your index file.

You must also switch to Pinterest’s new look to use Analytics.

Once you’ve verified your Pinterest account, you will have access to Pinterest Analytics. With Pinterest Analytics, the information you can track the following Pinterest information concerning your website:

  • Number of pins
  • Number of people pinning materials
  • Number of pins being re-pinned
  • Number of re-pinners
  • Number of times your pins are viewed on Pinterest
  • Number of unique visitors to your pins
  • Number of times visitors click through to your website

You can also track the most recent pins, the most re-pinned pins, and the most clicked pins.

As you can see, that’s a lot of information. So, if you use Pinterest, don’t ignore Pinterest Analytics.

Your Turn

What free tools do you use to measure social media? Do you use any of the tools we’ve discussed in this post?

Share your tips and experiences in the comments.

June 24 2013

03:30

How to Get Client Testimonials for Your Design Website

You have a great design portfolio. Your About page is wonderful. Your call to action is fabulous. But something is missing from your website and because it’s missing you aren’t getting as many new clients as you should be getting.

That missing element is testimonials from your clients.

You see, prospective clients love to hear from others who have used your services. Even in the wake of numerous fake reviews scandals, legitimate client testimonials still make a difference.

Put yourself in the prospect’s shoes for just a minute.

Your prospect plans to invest in your web design or web development services. They have a budget, but they need to get the best services they can for their money. And they can’t afford to buy the same service twice if things don’t work out. Naturally, they’re cautious.

Finding out that someone else has successfully used your services is often just what they need to finally make up their mind and hire you.

In this post, we’ll talk about client testimonials. I’ll explain how and when to ask for them, introduce some testimonial gathering tools that may help, and describe some testimonial pitfalls to avoid.

If you liked this post, you may also like Foundations of Customer Service for Freelance Designers, a post which explains how to keep your clients satisfied.

testimonial

How and When to Ask for a Client Testimonial

Many designers are hesitant to ask for a client testimonial. They may be afraid that the client is really unhappy even when they seem happy. They may feel that asking for a testimonial is bothering the client.

Most clients, however, are happy to say a few nice things about your business when asked.

Most designers miss opportunities to ask for client testimonials. Here are some clues that it’s a good time to ask a client for a testimonial:

  • The client praises your work in an email or on the phone.
  • You notice positive comments from the client on social media.
  • A particular client is doing a lot of repeat business with you.
  • A client leaves a positive comment on your follow-up survey.

Tick placed in awesome checkbox on customer service satisfaction survey form

A client will be more likely to give you a testimonial if you make it easy on them. For example, suppose you receive the following email from a client in response to a completed project:

Dear Designer,

Great Job!

As always, your work was fantastic. We love the way you translate our ideas into user-friendly design. Plus, we can count on you to deliver on time, every time.

Signed,

Your Client

Now, that email would make a great testimonial just the way it is. All you need to do is ask the client if you can quote their email on your website and attribute it to them. There’s really no extra work needed on their part.

Respond with something like this email:

Dear Client,

Thanks so much for your kind words. I enjoy working with you.

I was wondering, could I have your permission to quote you on my website? If you don’t mind, I’d also like to include your About page photo with the quote.

Signed,

Your Designer

As you can see, you’re doing all the work here. The client has already written the testimonial in the body of their email to you. All that’s left for them to do is say “yes.

Of course, if you are uncomfortable contacting clients directly, there are also new tools that can automate the process and make it easy for you to ask for testimonials.

Six Testimonial Gathering Tools

The software world has also made some strides towards making gathering testimonials easier. There are now tools available to help you gather client testimonials. Many of these tools also track your client satisfaction.

Here’s brief rundown of six different testimonial-gathering tools (in no particular order):

  1. Client Heartbeat. This tool basically provides a way to measure client satisfaction through periodic surveys that you design especially for your business. Client Heartbeat provides a statistical analysis of the survey results, which includes an activity feed that can show you when a client shares a testimonial. You also have the option to compare yourself against others in your industry. There are three different pricing plans available as well as a free trial.
  2. Testimonial Monkey. Testimonial Monkey invites your clients to leave feedback and rate your service. This tool integrates with Facebook and Twitter as well as through a customized widget on your own website, so that you can easily share the same testimonials in all three places. The tool also works for e-commerce sites. You control which testimonials are published. There are three separate pricing plans as well as a free trial.
  3. propers. This tool collects positive social comments about your brand from Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn as well as from email. When you sign in, you see recent mentions of your brand in various social media. You select the ones you want to include on your propers page by dragging them. The basic propers plan was free at the time of publication. Propers plus is available for a low monthly fee.
  4. GC Testimonials. GC Testimonials is a little bit different from the other tools that I’ve included in this section. This is a plugin that lets you gather and add testimonials and client photos to your website. One feature that I like is the checkbox that requires the client to give you permission to publish the testimonial on your website. As of press time, this widget is free.
  5. WordPress Testimonial Engine. This tool is another WordPress plugin designed to help you manage your testimonials. The tool allows you to categorize testimonials by the various products and services you offer. The look of the published testimonials can be customized. At the time of publication, the plugin was available for a low cost. I did not see a free trial offer on their website.
  6. LinkedIn recommendations. Any list of testimonial gathering tools isn’t really complete without including the LinkedIn recommendations tool. This tool lets you contact clients, colleagues, and peers and request a professional recommendation. Currently, the LinkedIn recommendation only appears on your LinkedIn profile. The tool is available with the free version of LinkedIn.

Whether or not, you decide to use a testimonial gathering tool is up to you. But there’s no denying the importance of getting real testimonials from your clients.

Don’t Overlook the Power of a Video Client Testimonial

Video testimonials are brand new, but they are already showing signs of becoming a powerful persuasion tool.

If you have a good relationship with a particular client, consider asking them to record a video testimonial for you.

Ethical and Legal Considerations Surrounding Testimonials

Remember to follow ethical and legal standards when collecting client testimonials.

You may be tempted to pay for a testimonial or to create a fake testimonial. If you’re thinking about this, the bottom line is: don’t do it. You’ll undermine the very trust you are trying to build up.

Fake testimonials are always unethical, and in countries like the United States posting an untrue testimonial is actually illegal.

Client testimonials are considered endorsements and as such fall under the same Federal Trade Commission regulations as reviews. At the SBA.gov site, Caron Beesley explains how to use testimonials in her article titled Using Testimonials, Endorsements and Online Reviews in Your Marketing – How to Ensure You Aren’t Breaking the Law. According to Caron’s article, the three main points to remember are:

  1. Tell the truth. Endorsements must be truthful and not misleading.
  2. Claims must be typical. If a client claims something that most clients won’t experience, don’t use it.
  3. Disclose material connections. You must disclose it if you paid for the endorsement or if products and services were given out.

If you have additional questions about the laws where you are and how they might apply to your design business, consult your legal professional.

Your Turn

How do you go about getting client testimonials? Do you have any tips or favorite tools to add?

Share your answers in the comments.

June 22 2013

11:57

Solutions for Creative Brand Marketing

Advertise here with BSA


There are only so many various methods for getting your company out there in the world. To be recognized among a global audience is spectacular, if you can manage to keep people interested. Running your own website is a challenge and branding is the key ticket for natural marketing. People who are able to associate with your website are more willing to share it around and jump on board.

In this brief article I would like to share a few different resources for creative branding. All of these ideas are more geared towards marketing, which can take a lot of time and practice to get it right. But when you start landing new interested people it is definitely worth the time. I hope that these resources may provide a good starting point for webmasters looking into brand marketing.

24 Hour Print

In the latest craze of online printing services we can find 24 Hour Print. This is a beautiful product with a truly honest turnaround time – one day for your product orders. It really is fantastic! I have been impressed with not just the design, but also the quality of their products. After going through some of the examples it is clear that you may select from a wide range of print marketing materials.

24 hour print printing services online internet shipping

With enough money you can have same-day business cards shipped right to your office. This is a brilliant strategy because you are paying for the expedited services while also managing your own overhead costs. The design work should be done ahead of time so that way you have branding which is already recognizable. If you want to get into deeper ideas why not purchase design brochures or bumper stickers?

Online Portfolio

Does your company have any products or designs to show off? It may be worthwhile to setup a small online portfolio on websites like Carbonmade. This is a brilliant open community for designers to setup their own portfolio of creative works. But it can also be used by companies and other businesses, too.

By generating an online portfolio you will have time to practice this branding. You can see what works and what doesn’t. Plus you’ll have the fun time of rooting around for older projects worth posting on the site. And then when people search your company name in Google, you can expect quite a few search results.

carbonmade portfolio website online theme projects internet

Targeted Advertising

The final big point you might want to try is webpage advertising. This means you would pay an agency or network a fixed price to run your ads on a website or group of sites. Many Internet marketers will swear by Google AdWords which is a fairly common solution. But it also requires a bit of planning to get your ads placed on the right websites.

Each payment is done by click, and you invest a certain amount of money into your AdWords account for this service. Then people are driven to your website and may check out other stuff online. It is a great marketing plan because you can directly implement the graphics/branding of your website into the advertisement.

Final Thoughts

The Internet is a large place with a whole lot of people. It can be tough to draw in crowds interested in your website. But just keep in mind how various marketing endeavors often end up running themselves with enough traffic. If you truly believe in your product then keep at it! Others will notice your determination and it will provide a lot of benefit to the community.

June 10 2013

03:30

The Best WordPress Plugins for Growing Your Mailing List

If you’re looking to build any top of business online, growing a mailing list should be a priority. However, with so much spam and unwanted email in most inboxes it can be a challenge to convince your website visitors to subscribe to your list. Fortunately, there are some really effective tools that can make your list building efforts exponentially more effective.

If you’re a WordPress user there are a number of quality plugins available that have been created specifically to help with building a mailing list. In this article we’ll take a look at some of the best plugins that can turn your list building frustrations into success.

Looking for hosting? WPEngine offers secure managed WordPress hosting. You’ll get expert WordPress support, automatic backups, and caching for fast page loads. Visit WPEngine.

PopUp Domination

PopUp Domination

PopUp Domination is probably the most popular WordPress plugin specifically created to help with list building. A big reason why this plugin has become so popular is simply the fact that popups can be very effective for getting visitors attention and for getting them to take action. Of course, there is a downside. Popups can sometimes become annoying to visitors, so you’ll need to consider your specific audience to decide if this could be a good option for your site. Fortunately, PopUp Domination includes loads of features, including the ability to limit how frequently your visitors will see the popup, which helps to avoid annoying them, and you can even choose to show or not show the popup on specific categories and pages.

PopUp Domination includes a variety of different templates to use as starting points for your popups, and some customization is possible. In my opinion, the pre-made templates from PopUp Domination are better looking than the default templates from other popup plugins.

I’ve personally used PopUp Domination for several months on this blog (only on specific pages and categories) and I’ve also used it on some client’s websites as well. I’ve found it to be very effective at significantly increasing optin rates. The reason it is no longer being used on this site is that we chose to use a notification bar to promote our newsletter instead, as we felt the notification bar is a bit less intrusive to visitors. However, if you’re looking to maximize optins from your site you should consider popups.

Viral Optins

Viral Optins

Viral Optins is a new plugin with some really interesting features. Like PopUp Domination, it allows you to create popups, but you can also create other types of optin forms as well. This includes forms for your sidebar are for within page/post content.

But what really makes it unique is the viral aspect. After someone has subscribed to your list they are given a unique URL that they can share with their friends. If they refer a specific number of subscribers through their unique URL they can get access to some sort of bonus or exclusive content.

So, for example, if you are already using an e-book as an incentive for people to sign up to your list, you can also offer them another bonus like an exclusive interview or a special report if they refer a set number of people to your list. Of course, you can control all the details, so you can set it to require 3 referrals, 5 referrals, or whatever number you want.

With so many people being active on social networks like Facebook and Twitter they can easily share their unique URL with their friends, which means more subscribers for you, and a free gift for them. This type of exponential growth makes it possible to build a large list very quickly.

Pippity

Pippity

Pippity includes a lot of the same features and functionality as PopUp Domination. Some people prefer the look of the popups from PopUp Domination and others prefer those from Pippity. Like PopUp Domination, Pippity gives you extensive control over your popups and where/when they are shown. You’ll also be able to do A/B testing to determine which popups get the best conversion rates so you can maximize the impact.

Hybrid Connect

Pippity

Hybrid Connect is another plugin that allows you to easily create optin forms to be used on your website or blog. You can create popups, forms for sidebars, forms to be shown in post/page content, squeeze pages, and more. It comes with more than 30 templates that you can customize to suit your needs. Hybrid Connect will also perform split testing, and it will then automatically eliminates the forms that aren’t converting and instead uses the more effective ones.

OptinSkin

OptinSkin

OptinSkin takes a bit of a different approach than the other plugins that we’ve looked at so far. Instead of creating popups, OptinSkin creates forms that will be shown within your page/post content. One cool feature is that you can set it to fade in, which will draw the attention of visitors without having the same annoyance factor as a popup. With OptinSkin you can also do A/B testing to determine which forms are most effective. It comes with 18 pre-designed templates that you can customize, or you can create your own custom skin from scratch. The default templates are well-designed and easily customizable.

MaxBlogPress Subscribers Magnet

Subscribers Magnet

Subscribers Magnet is a plugin that allows to to create optin forms and place them at specific locations on your blog. You can add the forms to your sidebar, within post/page content, and you can even create footer bars that will get noticed instantly. One unique feature of Subscribers Magnet is that you can set it to autofill with visitors data (name and email), which can make it that much easier for visitors to subscribe.

Optin Revolution

Optin Revolution

Optin Revolution is another plugin that will help you to create popups. You’ll have full control over where and when your popup is displayed, and you can customize the default templates to suit your needs. Optin Revolution can also do split testing to help you determine which popups are most effective.

WordPress Popup

WordPress PopUp

WordPress PopUp is a free plugin that lacks most of the advanced features found in other options on this list, but it is free and is an option if you are working with a very limited budget. It allows you to create your popups from the WordPress dashboard, but it does not have built in integration for creating forms that will work with the leading mailing list managers like AWeber and MailChimp.

Foobar

Foobar

Although it is not specifically a plugin for increasing optins I wanted to include it in this list because that is how we are using it on this blog. Foobar allows you to add a notification bar to your site, and you can promote whatever you want from that notification bar. In our case we use it to promote our newsletter and the free gift for subscribers, and it has been very effective for us for quite some time.

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