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December 23 2013

17:48

How to Prepare Your Freelance Web Design Business for Change

Are you comfortable with your freelance web design business the way it is right now?

Good. Now shake yourself out of that complacency.

No matter how comfortable you are at present, change is inevitable. If you’re not ready for it, your business will suffer. You’ll lose business to the freelancers who were ready for the changes.

change1

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix. Change doesn’t have to be painful. The fix is to be ready for it.

Prepare your freelance business for change. Become the freelancer who others turn to because you’re up to date.

Even though no one can completely know what’s going to happen in the future, you can prepare yourself for some types of change. In this post, I’ll give you some pointers to help you prepare for the three most common types of change–starting with professional change.

Prepare for Professional Change

The field of web design is constantly changing. If you don’t believe me, look at the web designs that were popular ten years ago. You’ll see that many of them don’t look much like the designs that are popular today. You’ll find that many sites that are popular today didn’t even exist ten years ago.

Hint: You may have to use the Internet Archive WayBackMachine to get a look at those older sites. Alyson Shontell has also compiled a review of popular websites from days gone by on Business Insider in her post, Tech More: Features Websites LinkedIn Facebook What 14 Popular Websites Used To Look Like.

Just this past year, we’ve seen the following web design trends:

And those examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Web design is going to keep on changing and as a web designer you need to keep up with those changes. Some changes will permanently affect web design, others are merely trends. At first, you may not be able to tell the permanent changes from the fads–and that’s okay.

How to prepare for changes in web design

Use these three easy tips to help you prepare for changes that affect your profession:

  1. Read professional publications. Blogs, magazines, and other publications will document new trends.
  2. Join a professional society. Professional societies often provide seminars and other information to members.
  3. Take classes. Make training a regular part of running your business. Aim for at least one class a year.

Prepare for Personal Change

Wheelchair user in front of staircase Barrier

Professional changes are just one type of change that can affect your web design business. Personal changes can also affect your work–especially if you’re not ready for them.

Here are three common personal changes that many freelance web designers face:

  • Relationship changes. Sometimes disagreements with family or close friends are so severe that they spill over into your work.
  • Illness. You, or someone you love, could become sick. You may even suddenly find yourself becoming a caretaker for a sick family member.
  • Financial problems. You could be hit with a sudden unexpected expense that threatens your financial security.

How to prepare for personal changes

Use these easy tips to help you prepare for personal changes:

  1. Prioritize relationships. You can’t control what other people do, but at least you can make sure that you spend enough time with those you care about. A common cause of relationship problems is not spending enough time together. Make sure that you don’t spend so much time on your business that you have no time left for your loved ones.
  2. Be realistic. If you’re sick or caring for someone who is, you may have to adjust your work schedule. You’ll probably have to work around doctor’s appointments and procedures. There may be good days and bad days. Try to negotiate more lenient deadlines. You may even want to consider going part-time during this crisis.
  3. Save money. It’s easy to spend everything you earn. There’s always something we “need.” However, money in the bank gives you a lot more options when a crisis hits. Hopefully it will never come to this, but in a worst-case scenario you may need to live off your savings for a while. So, remember to save a portion of your income when things are going well.

Prepare for Changes in Circumstance

hole in a roof due to storm or decay

Many changes are neither personal nor professional. Plus, they usually affect a broad group of people. And, you often have no real control over this type of change.

Some examples of changes in circumstance:

  • A storm blows through the area where you live, damaging property. Your roof blows is damaged and needs to be replaced.
  • The government implements a new tax. The tax means that you’ll have less disposable income.
  • The cost of living increases. Your grocery bill and other bills increase significantly

As you can tell from the example, this type of change is often unexpected. Yet, these types of changes can still affect your business.

Although you can’t always change your environment, you should still try to prepare for changes to it.

How to prepare for changes in circumstance

Use these tips to stay on top of changes in circumstance:

  1. Keep up with the news. While some people avoid the news (because much of it is bad), most news outlets will report on upcoming changes that affect a large group of people.
  2. Save money. Once again, personal savings can help protect your business as well as your personal finances.
  3. Change what you can. Adapt to the rest. If you can control a change, do it. If you can’t control the change, you need to figure out how to adjust to it.

A Final Word on Change

This post has focused mostly on negative changes. That’s because negative changes are the most likely to threaten your freelance web design business. Most of us are afraid of negative changes because we know that they are likely to hurt.

But remember, not all changes are bad. Many changes are neutral. They will have no affect on you whatsoever. Other changes are actually good for you. Good changes may even help your freelance business.

So, don’t be afraid of change. Just be ready.

Your Turn

How do you prepare for change?

April 01 2013

13:00

Marry Your Client to Win the Game – Get Your Gold Client VIDEO Series

How nice would it be to see your web design client return to you.

How nice would it be to hear your web design client say wonderful things about you.

It would be very nice, I can only agree with you…but I am sure you’re not doing your best to make it happen.

What do I suggest?

I suggest you to do more than what you would normally do.

What is it?

Well, as the title of this article says – Marry Your Client.
What happens then? Keep on reading!

Marrying your client is actually about how much of a difference that extra mile can make.

And by the way I am not on my own.
Ask anyone, who is successful and they will tell you – going that extra mile made the difference.

“The man who does more than he is paid for, will soon be paid for more than he does.” ~Napoleon

Marry Your Client To Win The Game

Believe me – it works!

Even Freelance Switch Writes About It.
And their readers are totally supporting this idea.

MarkImportantDate

Question: “Do You Take That Extra Mile?”

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20:51

March 27 2013

13:35

We’re in .Net Magazine’s Top 10 New Agencies Awards!

I couldn’t be more excited and honored to be included in this years .Net Magazine Awards. We’re up for Best New Agency thanks to all of our great supporters!

.Net Magazine is one of our favorite magazines and the best in my opinion for the latest in our industry news and practices.

We’d love it if you could cast your vote for us in the Best New Agency category at the bottom. Regardless of your vote, we hope to continue to produce more great work for you and our clients and sharing our process and learnings with you along the way. You can read more about us over at our .Net Magazine Profile post.

Thanks all!

December 18 2012

13:22

How to get clients (and make your dreams come true)

This guest article was written by Adam Clark of Bottlerocket and our interactive developer at Brian Hoff Design. Give him a warm “hello” on Twitter while you’re at it.

Ok, so I don’t really know how to make all your dreams come true. Neither do I know much about getting clients. However, I have had some success in the later and I think it’s directly attributable to three things. But, before we get to those things, a little background.

Most of the designers and developers I talk to would love to freelance, but few of them actually do it. This is true for a number of reasons, but I think the biggest is a fear of the unknown. And those unknowns seem to be mostly related to clients and money.

Getting clients is not an exact science. I can’t tell you that every time you do x and y, you will get z. But you can create an environment that fosters growth and attracts clients.

It’s like growing a garden. You have to be constantly planting, watering, weeding and nurturing in the present in order to reap a blossoming client roster in the future.

What that means is that it will take time. We tend to think of it more like sod. Just roll it out and we’re done. But it takes a lot more to get clients than hanging an “open for business” sign on the door.

After three years as a business owner and freelancer, it has only been this year that my business has really taken off. And that’s directly attributable to all the watering and planting I did in the first two years.

Three Things

As I mentioned above, I think there are three things that account for my success this year. I think they can help you as well.

Be good at what you do. It seems obvious, but I’m shocked how many times I see freelancers put out subpar work and then wonder why the floodgates of success have yet to open. I know this, because I used to be that person. I didn’t work hard. I didn’t know much about what I was doing. I was a hack. And most of my projects ended in stress and frustration. That’s a sure recipe for failure.

In order to get clients, you have to have value to offer. It takes time to figure out what this is, but you will never build a steady stream of clients unless you’re good at what you do.

Get a mentor. When I started out on my own, I found a great mentor (Adam Houston) who coached me through the process. He gave me advice on what to charge, how to manage all the ins and outs of running a business and helped me get my first clients. This is critical. I don’t think Bottlerocket would exist today if it weren’t for him.

Finding a mentor can be scary, but one of the greatest things about the web industry is how willing people are to help each other. Reach out to people. Ask for help. I guarantee you will find someone willing to coach you.

Go to conferences/meetups. This third step could be called “Investing in relationships,” but I find one of the easiest ways to do that is to attend conferences and meetups.

Sometimes conferences can seem like a waste of time, but it completely depends on what you expect to get out of it. I never go to a conference expecting to learn a new skill or trick. Sometimes that happens, but if so, it’s just a bonus. Let’s be honest, most of what you hear in a keynote from a famous speaker can be found on that speaker’s blog, in a past talk or in an article he or she’s already written. If my only goal was to “learn new things,” I would rarely attend conferences.

I go to conferences and meetups to meet people. And not for networking. I’m never trying to make contacts for some future gig. I’m just genuinely interested in meeting the people I interact with on Twitter and whose blogs I read on a daily basis.

But building and investing in relationships pays off in a huge way. First, you’re more visible to your industry peers. Second, people work with people they like. There’s a lot of psychology behind this that I don’t really understand (here’s an interesting book on the topic), but the fact remains, people are much more likely to hire someone they’re friends with than someone they’re not. So the more you put yourself out there and meet people and develop friendships, the more chances you have of working on fun and existing projects with those people.

At least 40 percent of the work I’ve done this year has come from relationships I built during 2010 and 2011.

In Sum

Doing good work, finding a mentor and investing in relationships have a residual effect. It’s like a snowball that gets bigger and bigger as it rolls down a hill. There are, of course, many other things you can do to get clients, but these three are what have been responsible for the majority of my business’s growth.

Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut. If you go out and plant a bunch of seeds today, you won’t wake up to a lush garden tomorrow. But if you do the watering, planting and cultivating (quality, mentoring, relationships), over time you will reap the reward of a steady stream of clients.

August 21 2012

21:32

Are You a “Lifelong Learning” Freelancer?

Advertise here via BSA

classroom

As freelancers, we often have to go above and beyond to make sure we stay on top of our game. We work on the weekends to get through client work and we work late to make sure we send out invoices and pay the bills. We have to do everything in our little corporation of 1. Am I complaining? Absolutely not, but I do recognize being the sole person to take on every single role in my business has its drawbacks.

One of those drawbacks is making sure I stay current with things going on in my industry. Some industries don’t have things that change the scope of work and how it gets done often while others have things that change practically overnight. How is a freelancer supposed to stay up with all of these changing things?

My solution: dedicate yourself to being a “lifelong learning” freelancer. You may have heard of the term “lifelong learner” before, but as a refresher, a lifelong learner is one who dedicates a significant part (or their entire life) to constantly learning new things. How does this relate to freelancing? Well, without being too blunt: a freelancer who doesn’t constantly learn new things and improve themselves as well as their business could see their business fail when they don’t keep up with changing times.

You may be saying to yourself “but I already keep up with new things in my industry,” and it is great and all if you do, but do you make a habit out of it? Do you learn things that maybe aren’t the newest and best thing, but maybe something old that can help you improve your business? Do you only learn what you have to learn to stay current without really looking for new things to learn?

So how can you start your quest to become a lifelong learning freelancer? Well, there is no right or wrong way to start learning, you just have to jump in and start learning something new. However, to help you get started, below are a few ideas that I use to help me continue my love of learning.

Find resources that frequently publish news and trends

You may already do this, but start looking for websites that publish current events or feature content that is relating to new and emerging trends in your industry. Follow the sites on Twitter/Facebook and/or subscribe to their RSS feed so that you can keep up with the types of topics they are covering. The key is to start watching for patterns and reemerging topics.

For example, over the last two years, responsive web design has really made its way through many of the industry sites I follow. This showed up on my radar of things to learn because it was constantly featured in just about every site (and still is). I added it to my list of things to learn.

Chat with people in your industry

People are a huge source of information and learning. Since all of us freelancers tend to be secluded working feverishly away on client work, most freelancers appreciate the casual conversation with other freelancers to share their stories and tips on their work. Strike up a conversation with someone you find influential in your industry and ask them about how they learn new things. Not only will you find that they are more than willing to chat about themselves, they are also more than willing to help you grow as a freelancer as well.

Take some time out every day/week to learn something new

Is your list of things to learn is growing faster than you can mark things off? An easy solution that you can quickly turn into a habit is set out a certain amount of hours a week, a certain time every week, or some other type of schedule that works best for you to learn something new. I aim for an hour every single day to read up on topics that continually pop up in my Twitter feed (see first tip above).

Who says you have to learn something freelance related?

I’m a firm believer in learning anything and everything you have an interest in. I am also a believer of keeping your mind sharp. Just because it may not benefit your freelancing doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take the time to learn it. For example, my boyfriend is a college (American) football expert. He can tell you every player of every team of every major college football team out there. Me? I am still trying to learn how the game of football works.

Does football help my freelancing career in helping me land projects? Not yet at least, however, learning something new all of the time helps keep your mind focused, sharp, and keeps you in the habit of learning something new. Remember the phrase “if you don’t use it, you lose it?” Don’t lose your ability to learn!

Everyone learns differently, and everyone has their own way of learning new things. The best way to become a lifelong learning freelancer is to dedicate yourself to always learning something new, be it through the tips above or through your own methods. Learning new things will not only improve your freelancing, but helps you grow as a person as well.

In what ways do you work to learn something new every day/week?

July 26 2012

13:15

July 18 2012

12:04

Taxes Suck: What entity should you operate in

In the past 4 years, I’ve went from a sole proprietor, skipped over an LLC and became an S-Corp. But how do you know what entity to become? When’s the right time to switch? I’ve had the pleasure for the past 2+ years of working with an incredible, forward-thinking CPA, Jason Blumer and team, and thanks to him having been doing smarter business and saving money. I’ve asked Jason to guest write an article explaining when’s the right time and why you should be a certain business entity.

I have to say that taxes suck.  As someone who runs a CPA firm that prepares taxes for creative professionals all over the country, I pass out a lot of heartache because of the suckiness of taxes.  Most of the confusion is centered around what type of entity they are in, and how that affects their personal taxes.  Let me try to clear it up.

We try to walk creative professionals through three steps of understanding what entity they should operate in and how that will affect their taxes.

First Step: Sole Proprietor

Operate as a sole proprietor.  This is the easiest business to operate in and the easiest to set up.  Just wake up one morning and say “I’m in business” and you are a sole proprietor!  You don’t even have to keep a separate bank account or accounting system (though you should).  This is for someone operating on the side.  As a sole proprietor, you will pay the most in taxes (called self employment tax) and will file a Schedule C on your personal tax return.

Second Step: LLC

Next, most creative professionals ask if they should become an LLC (limited liability company).  Maybe.  If you are still a single owner (meaning you don’t have a partner) then becoming an LLC won’t make any difference to your tax situation.  That is, you will still file a Schedule C on your personal tax return and will pay self employment tax.  You are still in the highest possible tax bracket.  Sucks.  So why become an LLC?  Because becoming an LLC can limit your liability.  But do creative professionals need limited liability?  Maybe.  Now we are getting into legal advice, which I can not give (because I’m not an attorney).  But I can give you some basic advice.  As a sole proprietor (from the First Step above), everything is exposed if someone wants to sue you.  That is, they can take your business assets and your personal assets.  But if you become an LLC, only the assets of the LLC are exposed.  Your personal assets (your home and car) are no longer exposed to anyone that may want to sue you.  Do you need to limit liability?  I’m not sure, but I would say you are potentially in more danger of liability issues if you do development (as opposed to design).  You probably won’t get sued because the logo you designed was ugly.  But if you screw up building an online proprietary ecommerce cart, then that may affect the sales of your customer.  Consider that, and seek out an attorney if you think you need to be an LLC.

Third Step: S-Corp

You may want to consider moving to an S Corporation if you are making more money and are now operating your business full time.  As a general rule, if we see your bottom line profit getting to around $75k to $80k per year, then you are a good candidate for becoming an S Corporation and saving a lot of taxes at the same time.  But beware, a LOT of requirements go along with operating within an S Corporation.  You will need a proactive CPA firm (like us) to help you manage all of the needs of an S Corporation.  The ONLY reason to move into an S Corporation is to save taxes.  It is a complicated move and is not for the light-hearted.  Many requirements (like payroll, operating a corporate set of accounting records, balancing distributions with salary, etc.) will confuse the crap out of you if not careful.  So, again, only make this move if you expect to save taxes.  As perspective, if you are making $150k in bottom line profit, you could potentially save over $10k per year in taxes.  Pretty sweet.  You’ll pay some of that to the CPA firm to help you manage this, but it shouldn’t be anywhere near $10k per year.  After paying the CPA firm, you’ll net a lot of cash in your pocket you can go buy some burritos with.  Now tax savings can be tasty.  Wurd.

Let me know in the comments if you have more questions about this complex matter.  I’ll try to hook you up, unless it becomes too complicated or too specific to your situation.

Jason M Blumer, CPA.CITP is the Chief Innovation Officer of Blumer & Associates, CPAs, PC. He wears flip flops and jeans, says “dude” a lot, and often works in coffee shops with headphones blaring the latest Bloomberg podcasts (though he  doesn’t understand most of it). Jason is an “out of the box” creative thinker. His daily duties include consulting, process design, blogging, marketing and business development, innovative thinking, coaching, practice management, and acting as a change agent. Jason is the founder of the THRIVEal+CPA Network, a creative consultancy for global CPAs. Jason is also a Strategic Partner with the Design Thinkers Group (US), a global service design consultancy.

May 08 2012

15:15

Hey Designer, get it right!

Having run my business for merely three years I’ve learned a hell of a lot of things, changed many, stumbled often and learned many new secrets along the way. Come closer to your monitor, I have another secret to share:

Get it right – the first time! Clients often ask Designers if they can update them daily, bi-daily, or other timeframes that suits their craving. Designers, stop doing this. For good reason, I promise.

Designing is a process – a process that often adapts and transforms along the way. During this process, I’m sure I’m not the only designer that hates how it looks in the early stages. If I’m not proud or feel the decisions I made are the right solutions, why show the client? I can guarantee if you aren’t happy the client won’t be either.

It makes them nervous. A nervousness that leads to unnecessary changes early on which halts the entire system’s process. Great discoveries are often made through refined decisions. If clients are stopping them before they take shape, they take the steam out of the process and the designer. Not to mention the other effects nervous client syndrome results in (ticky-tack changes; endless phone calls; mockups over your mockup using MS Paint – you know what I’m saying). Setting the tone and exceptions early on is important to long term project success.

I’d be a liar if I sat here and told you I get it 100% right every time, every day, but you’d be amazed how a client respects your decision making and opinion if the first showing is something you can stand behind, support and feel confident presenting. As designers we have this unique ability to see beyond the process and into the final results. Clients often need to see to believe.

April 30 2012

13:00

Why Does Google+ Bring More Business To People Than Facebook?

This is the link to the original article creator of this site, if this message appears to another site than 1stwebdesigner - Graphic and Web Design Blog - 1stwebdesigner is a design blog dedicated to bloggers, freelancers, web-developers and designers. Topics focus on web design and inspirational articles. it has been stolen, please visit original source then!

Google+, sometimes abbreviated as Google Plus or G+, is a social network developed and maintained by the tech giant Google. The network was released in beta to the public 9 months ago, by the end of June 2011. The full release came in September. While the network was supposed to be a strong opponent for Facebook, it was never even close to it. The fact that many people use it today is entirely based on curiosity and mostly on Google’s name and powerful brand and not because it brings something new to the business. Or is it…?

Google estimates the social network will have around 400 million users by the end of this year, while Facebook approaches a billion. Twitter only has around 100 million users while LinkedIn with 30 million users more than the micro-blogging platform.

But while Google’s last addition to its huge portfolio doesn’t bring many new things to the table, it is a powerful tool and it is arrogant to ignore it as it incorporates great features. Actually, after closely studying and researching behaviors there, it seems Google+ can actually be an influence on your business and bring you more clients than initially expected. This might be because of the more professional look and feel G+ has in comparison with Facebook, or just because some features are better developed. While G+ will probably never reach Facebook’s success, the truth is that it doesn’t even need to – quite frankly, their niches are different.

1. Communicating with targeted potential customers

Google+ incorporates a service called ‘circles’ which allows users to define the feeds displayed on their home screen and who can see them. Privacy settings also allow users to hide the list of members in their Circles. Everything is done quick through a drag-and-drop interface. Specific content can be sent out to targeted groups or individuals instead of everybody in your network. This means that the content you deliver will only reach the people you want to.

Image by Magnet 4 Marketing dot Net.

G+ Circles mostly replaces the typical “Friends” list you have on Facebook and allows you to define your own groups. The default Circles are Friends, Family, Acquaintances and Following. A definition of the “Following” circle would be “People who don’t know you personally, but whose posts you find interesting“, according to Google. Quite like Twitter I would say.

This function makes the platform valuable because it allows everybody interested in your services, posts or updates to follow you and stay in touch.

2. Easily reaching prospects

If you have a company, then you are also in need of clients. They are the ones bringing in the profit and allowing us to continue. If something is crucial, then reaching out to them is it. Moreover, the need to communicate with prospects and potential clients is very important, as it might as well be the difference between landing a huge project or failing miserably at maintaining your company on the lifeline.

The platform allows G+ users to connect with these people and more others, including influencers and people in their respective industry. This happens first because of what described above – everybody can follow everybody’s updates without needing a friend request to be accepted. This element is quite similar to the one on Twitter, where you can follow everybody you are interested with and interact with their content. You might ask yourself why use G+ when there is Twitter. Well, firstly, G+ does much more than just allowing you to follow people. And secondly, the user’s database is to be four times bigger on G+ than on Twitter by the end of this year, according to estimates.

Image by CubaGallery.

G+ also allows you to share information with only the right people, instead of sharing it with everybody who follows you. This is something Twitter does not allow you to.

Finding people on Google+ is also really easy thanks to the powerful search function. But more about this later.

3. The professional environment

Maybe the main difference between G+ and its bitter rival Facebook is the professional and business-like environment. Although possible for them to register, 15-year-old high-school drama queens simply don’t find G+ interesting. The same with Justin Bieber male fans from all over the world. Google Plus is clearly for people interested in doing business. In this matter it is quite similar to Twitter and LinkedIn. It just attracts the right crowd.

Basically this means on G+ you will in most cases find only people whom you have something in common with, have a company, are part of the same industry or share the same interests. And this will only get better with more and more people registering and being active on their G+ accounts.

4. +1 and the search function

Google added a +1 button few months after the beta release of the service and this only improves the experience. A +1 is similar to the “Like” on Facebook. But while the “Like” doesn’t mean much more than an ego-booster, a +1 helps the user much more beyond personal fulfillment. The more +1 an update gets, the higher the chance to be found through a Google search will be. And with Google still being the most powerful search engine in the world (and will remain like that for many years to come), this is a strong feature nobody else can offer. Linking the two services was probably the smartest move of Google+.

Image by west.m.

Users can get a lot of exposure thanks to the +1 buttons, which are available in everything that can be shared on the platform, including images. And while the feature is already incredible, bear in mind that Google Plus is still in its early development phase and improvements are likely to come.

5. The showcase features

Although Facebook allows you to do this as well, the capability of turning your G+ profile into a showcase portfolio is really well developed. Google Plus not only allows you to make it a visual portfolio, but also to make it in a written format like a classic CV. Again, some similarities can be drawn with another service – LinkedIn. You can say G+ gets the better out of two worlds.

Not only the pictures can be used in order to create a visual impact, but the “About” section is much more complex than on other platforms. It contains a big range of materials, links and details about where you’ve lived and how can you be contacted.

6. Google+ Hangouts

A strong feature Facebook and the other social networking platforms lack is the video chatting capabilities. Well, just for your information, even the US President used G+ Hangouts for a press conference several months ago. This allows you to communicate with up to 10 people on your network instead of asking them to call you or contact you on Skype or other service. You have everything under the same roof and gives Google a strong advantage over its competitors.

Bottom line

Google Plus has always been an underdog to Facebook and, in the beginning, even to Twitter and LinkedIn. But it seems people found the good in it and start using their accounts much more often. And while individuals still try to get a grip of it, companies and freelancers already use it to its full potential and land clients and projects through it.

Until next time, what is your experience with G+? Why it is exactly you use Google+ instead of letting go of it like many others do? Have you ever landed a gig on Google Plus?

April 13 2012

14:00

4 Tips to Retire Like Warren Buffet

This is the link to the original article creator of this site, if this message appears to another site than 1stwebdesigner - Graphic and Web Design Blog - 1stwebdesigner is a design blog dedicated to bloggers, freelancers, web-developers and designers. Topics focus on web design and inspirational articles. it has been stolen, please visit original source then!

Like with any life changing decision, there are pros and cons to the decision to work for yourself. One such con is the responsibility to handle your retirement by yourself. If you aren’t careful as a freelancer you could be setting yourself up for financial ruin later on down the road. The burden of establishing your retirement fund rests entirely on your shoulders. In this post I hope to offer insight into different retirement planning options that can establish a safe financial future for freelancers in any industry.

1. Save Early

The most important thing to keep in mind when planning for retirement is that the earlier you start saving money, the more comfortable your retirement will be. You should begin making contributions to your retirement as soon as possible so more interest can accrue. In order for me to illustrate the importance of starting early let me give an example:

Freelancer A and Freelancer B are both 20 years old and make $55,000 per year. Freelancer A read this article and decided to start making contributions of $5,000 per year to his retirement fund starting that year. Freelancer B unfortunately did not read this article and bought a car instead. Five years later, B decides he should probably start contributing to retirement, at $6,500 per year. They both want to retire at age 65, and can both secure interest rates of 5%. By age 65, A has $798,500.78 saved up, whereas B only has $785,198.53. Notice how Freelancer B tried to compensate for missing those five years of saving by increasing his annual contribution by $1,500 each year and still came up short compared to A? Interest adds up fast.

2. Save and Don’t Spend

Image by svilen001

The next tip may seem obvious, but watch your spending. Mint.com has received a lot of good press, and that’s for a reason. Seeing how you are spending your money graphically can really help you see just how much money you are wasting. I was taking a look at where I was spending money, and I used to spend way too much money on coffee and restaurants. It’s incredible how much money you can add to your retirement fund if you cut out impulse buys and other unnecessary spending. Let me provide an example:

If a freelancer really likes Subway and eats a $5.00 sandwich there three times a week and also loves Starbucks and gets a $4.00 cup of coffee there three times a week , that adds up to $27.00 per week, or $1404.00 per year. Now imagine if this hardworking freelancer only ate out and had coffee once per week instead; the freelancer only spends $468.00 for an annual saving of $936.00. Again, with a 5% interest rate over 45 years, if that $936.00 is put to your retirement fund each year it comes out to $149,479.35 by retirement age, and that is no chump change.

Ultimately, there’s two ways to spend money. Investing it or wasting it. Live within your means, and invest in your future. Don’t waste money on things you don’t need, except for on occasion. That said, be sure to reward yourself a little bit if you land a huge contract or accomplish something big; it’s good for morale.

3. Choose Investments Wisely

Image by svilen001

In order to actually accumulate interest on the money you put aside for retirement, you will need to invest it. There are a wide variety of investment opportunities available to freelancers, and they can be as conservative or risky as you’d like. As with anything else in life, higher risk investments have potential to yield much greater returns in comparison to conservative investments, but are you willing to stake your retirement on an investment? I’m not the person to answer that. The decision is yours. Here are some options you have for retirement investing:

IRAs

IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) are often misunderstood. IRAs should be thought of as a collective investment account for retirement. Essentially once your money is in your IRA, you can invest it however you’d like. This includes stocks, mutual funds, CDs, annuities, and bonds among others. The IRA is basically an umbrella account that decides how your investments will be taxed. There are different types of IRAs available, and it is up to each individual to decide the best option for their circumstances. Here are a few options:

The Traditional IRA:

The Traditional IRA allows you to defer taxes on payments made into the IRA until you withdraw the money when you retire.

The Roth IRA:

The Roth IRA is another type of retirement account, but instead of paying taxes upon withdrawal, you pay taxes on your contribution.

The SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) IRA:

The SEP IRA is great for freelancers, because it is a retirement plan that works for self-employed people. It allows your business accounts to make pre-tax contributions to your personal retirement account. You as an individual cannot make contributions personally, however. Of course, taxes will have to be paid upon withdrawal. These accounts are often used to supplement either a Roth or Traditional IRA.

Now that I’ve covered three of the main types of IRAs that might interest a freelancer, I will discuss some investment options within the IRAs. Keep in mind; you will want to diversify your investment portfolio to minimize risk. Make different types of investments. Own some long-term stocks, some microcap stocks, and a few CDs (Certificate of Deposits) instead of just a lot of long-term stock investments for example. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, because if that basket drops you will have a hard time retiring.

Personal Stock Investing

Stock investing can be very risky if you’re not very familiar with the stock market and how trading works, but don’t let that scare you away. It is worth learning about. Generally, if you decide to invest in mature companies that send shareholders nice dividends, your risk will be significantly lower than if you were to invest in a microcap company in hopes that it will be the next Apple or Google. Whichever route you take, cut losses before they get too big and take profits when you can. Be disciplined and don’t “marry” a stock, or you will lose a lot of money.

One thing I want to caution readers on is a common stock manipulation scheme called a “pump and dump”.  Promotion companies are paid by sleazy companies to tout their stock ticker through emails, phone calls, and mailers in order to create more demand. As any economics course will teach you, where there’s more demand and less supply, prices increase. As the prices increase in what is known as the “pump”, insiders and more experienced sell shares as the price per share reaches a peak. With big time selling, the supply goes up and the demand goes down. This is known as the “dump”, and it in turn decreases the share price significantly; sometimes even in a matter of minutes. This causes inexperienced investors to lose all of their initial investment, and leaves them confused. Please do not buy a stock that you read about in an email unless you know exactly what you are doing, even if it looks really appealing. It is almost definitely a scam.

Certificates of Deposit (CDs)

CDs are generally a safe investment to make because they are FDIC insured up to $250,000. With CDs, you put a principal payment down, and a bank offers you a fixed interest rate until the maturity date. At the maturity date you get your initial investment back plus interest. You get to decide when the maturity date is when you make the initial deposit. The longer the term length of the CD you pick, the higher the APY (Annual Percentage Yield) will be. You can withdraw your principal at any time, but you will lose accumulated interest. If you can avoid touching your money, CDs will offer better returns than savings accounts in the long run.

Bonds

Bonds offer many options, from treasury bonds to corporate bonds; it’s wise you do a lot of research to fully understand the different possibilities. Essentially, a bond is an offering from a company or entity that allows investors to finance a project. It’s like a loan from an investor to a company or entity. Rating agencies help individual investors to decide if a bond investment fits within their risk tolerance. Investors require a higher return for riskier bond purchases, so the riskiest bonds will have the highest yields, but also the highest chance of defaulting.

Mutual Funds

A mutual fund is a large pool of money collected from many individual investors and managed by professional money managers. The nice thing about mutual funds is that they allow individual investors to gain access to a highly diversified portfolio that is managed by a financial professional, so it can be fairly safe. There are different mutual funds with varying levels of risk, so again, it comes down to how much risk you are willing to take on. There are many funds out there. Some of the more popular ones imitate the major stock indexes, like the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and NASDAQ. Stock indexes give a close representation of the movement of the entire stock market. Research any mutual fund you are thinking of investing in very carefully, and decide if it fits within your risk tolerance level.

ETFs (Exchange-Traded Funds)

ETFs are securities that are designed to follow an index, but are tradable like a regular stock. ETFs offer great diversification, but they also allow you to short sale, which is essentially betting that a stock will decrease in price instead of increase. Be careful with short sales, as they are very risky. I recommend doing a lot of research on short sales and practicing them with virtual money before actually taking a short position with real money.

4. Establish Goals and Meet Them

Retirement starts with planning. Your first step is to establish how much money you will need to survive after you retire, and then you have to figure out how much money you will need to save each year to reach these goals. Retirement is not something you should procrastinate on. Get on the ball. Plan and contribute early, or you will not have a smooth retirement. Here are some tools I recommend to help plan for retirement and keep track of goals:

Mint.com – Mint is a powerful tool that provides graphs of how your money is spent. It will help you monitor and reduce unnecessary buying. It will also allow you to easily track the balance of your retirement accounts at all times.

Google Advisor – Google Advisor is a nice little page that Google set up to help users easily find the highest interest rates available on CDs and other accounts.

Bankrate.com – Bankrate has calculators to help you decide the amount per year you should contribute to your retirement funds in order to retire with the amount of money you want to have. It would be easier to use the calculators on this site than to try to figure the calculations out by yourself, because Bankrate’s calculators use the most recent rates for its numbers.

Disclaimer: The author is not a financial professional, and you should do your own due diligence while looking into retirement options. Be sure to talk to a professional financial advisor to help plan your retirement. This is not something that should be taken lightly.

April 10 2012

11:00

7 Mistakes that Force Potential Clients to Dislike Your Portfolio

A portfolio is a collection of documents, works, progresses and basically everything you’ve done and want to show off. The point of a portfolio is to assist you in the process of presenting your skills, knowledge and experience. A portfolio has the aim of showing who you are in a short but detailed form. It’s important to always have a portfolio as you never know what kind of job opportunities you may have in any unexpected moment. That doesn’t mean you have to create one and carry 5 copies of it with you — instead, you can always keep it online!

Anyone can create a portfolio but online portfolios are mostly used by IT workers, such as designers and developers. This group represents the biggest part of portfolio-owners on the internet. In this article we will try to explain the key points of any successful portfolio and analyze the mistakes made which really drive clients from your online portfolio.

Your Domain Name

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This is the most basic mistake which can be made. If you consider yourself a professional, you must keep the domain name professional as well. The best idea would be using your name and surname as the domain name as it’s neither too personal nor crazy or strange. It will only say that it is your personal page, and that’s exactly what you want to achieve. The bad part may be the unavailability of the domain name.

In 2011, 300 million websites were created and each of them used a unique domain name. If finding suitable domain name is an issue then you should think about other possibilities as well. You may reduce your name or surname to one letter only, or, you may use a common word like “studio”. While no-one will judge you for using any extra word in your domain, it’s not a good practice to use a word like “studio” in your domain name if you actually don’t own a studio and work by yourself. It may make clients think that you are trying to portray yourself as bigger than you are. You may also use words which represent you or anything that may come to mind, but be sure not to let your imagination invent some strange and creepy names!

Bad Domain Pick

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It is a very bad practice to use adjectives in your domain name, especially the ones which would describe yourself. It is the client’s job to decide whether your designs are really amazing and you are a “talented designer” or you aren’t. You shouldn’t think for your clients and impose your ideas to them.

Good Domain Pick

While we already said that using adjectives in domain names isn’t a good idea, I should admit that Visual Idiot has done an amazing job choosing a domain name. It’s actually his nickname which makes him popular in the design community. It would be strange using the word idiot in any domain name, but, you’ll immediately forget about it as the site loads. The stunning work VI has done will make you admire him and his skills. I can actually say that his domain pick is perfect and it doesn’t make him appear in a negative space at all.

Suggested Reading – 6 Must Read Tips Before Registering A Domain Name

Layout

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Another key element which makes a big difference is the quality of your portfolio layout. The first impression matters much, that is why you should always try impressing your clients from their first moments being on the website. Your layout must be the one which will impress your potential clients. You can’t convince someone that your work is amazing and they should hire you if your own website lacks quality. A visitor won’t ask or seek for the prices you offer, or your portfolio if your website won’t have at least a decent look. Minimalism is totally accepted in your designs but you shouldn’t confuse minimalism and simplicity. You don’t want your site to look poorly designed and lack basic functionality. Your website’s quality should never be second rate to your work.

About Yourself

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People like to know as much as they can about someone they may hire for a job. Before it goes deep into communication and several mails, it is very good to let your visitors know you from the beginning. This doesn’t mean you must post everything from your medical cart to parking fines.

You shouldn’t go too deep into personal life stories, but you should at least provide your name, and details about your professional studies and experience. Obviously this information shouldn’t be located in random places and the best location for it would be an “About” page. There have been several discussions on how to create great About pages so that your visitors won’t leave, at least not because of a poorly written About page.

Two More “Obvious” Mistakes

  • Live-Chat - These services were invented with the purpose of helping customers on e-commerce websites where instant help is needed. In theory, live-chat widgets can be present on your website, it’s actually an unnecessary element, but it depends on the specifics of your website. A team, or a medium-large design studio could implement live chat if they have the right person and time to answer all the questions which may occur, however, if you are a lone freelancer there is no point implementing this time-consuming feature as all the questions could be asked by using the contact form and your job is not answering live chat questions.
  • Inefficient Use - Another mistake you may be doing is using your portfolio inefficiently. I do not want to say that you should squeeze juice out of your portfolio — what I want to state is that you shouldn’t confuse it with a blog or other personal website. Everything has it’s aim and you shouldn’t mix two different things into one. Your thoughts about Joe’s shoes shouldn’t be near your work examples and your CV. You can always set up a blog on your website, but it should be a different page/category. While this is admissible, you shouldn’t talk about Joe’s shoes on it either. Why? Because most of your eventual clients are not interested why Joe has chosen sneakers instead of boat shoes. I can say that having a blog on your portfolio website won’t hurt you if the discussion and posts are work related. 

Conclusion

To sum up, a great portfolio consists of 4 basic parts: domain name, layout, information about yourself and the structure of your page. Each part of it must be well thought out and planned. You don’t want to miss something which you may regret later. Every small detail should be taken into consideration because your portfolio is how you present yourself to strangers. These strangers may want to hire you, and the ultimate goal of a portfolio is to showcase your work, and get more work. In case you need someone to have a look at your design and give you some feedback, you can always ask for some on Dribbble, Forrst or ConceptFeedback!

April 09 2012

11:00

Tips to Find Balance Between Personal and Paid Work Before Life Rips You Apart

I am sure all of us have a lot of work to do during our freelance workday or even during the full-time agency job. But I am also sure that most of us have side projects as well. While some can be beneficial for your pocket and experience, sometimes you just want to develop your own tool, write a blog post or design something for friends or do some pro bono work. After eight hours of work, it is highly unlikely that you want to continue doing the same thing at home, so the question is how to manage doing both while still remaining motivated and focused on the goals. Moreover, if talking about what catches our attention all the time – money – personal projects are not usually the ones that put cash in our pockets.

If we look at the issue from the other perspective, it’s easy to spot designers or developers who only focus on client work and forget side projects entirely – even if they would actually like to create something on their own. While working more and more for money, the time for side projects is less and whereas this helps us grow in the business and drives our career forward, it doesn’t allow us to experiment with our ideas and achieve success on our own. And let’s face it, it doesn’t make us excited and motivated either.

Image by onetwo.

Finding a balance between personal and paid work is a crucial skill designers and developers need nowadays, therefore in this article we will cover some tips on the issue and, hopefully, by the end of it you will know which way to take from now on.

The importance

We covered why both concepts are important for us, but let’s explore the topics a bit more.

Working full time is not only important for paying the bills (although this might be the real reason behind it), but also for our careers. Having a lot of experience in the industry can only be an asset and will drive you forward whenever you need – it will now and then even land you that dream job if you are good enough.

But the downside of it is that you don’t really create anything for yourself. Everything you work on goes to a client who uses it and besides being able to show it off as your work, you will never get close to that project again. Doing work for others is not always going to make you enthusiastic and will in most cases only be work for money. The lack of real enthusiasm will kill your motivation at some point in time and we all know this is not beneficial.

Your client work may suffer because you don’t dedicate time to personal projects. Now I am not saying this is the case all the time, but the thought behind it might be:

Why work on each pixel to be perfect when the client will not notice anyway, and I will not be able to use the work afterwards?

There are lots of debates about this on the web and I will not take part in them; the only thing that I can assure you of is that working for yourself will always end up with better results.

People who are dedicated to a cause or a project often deliver work at a better quality. Money is not always the most important factor. I know lots of designers who would give up their non-exciting jobs for being able to work on something they like for the minimum amount of money they need. And I know some of you think the same.

On the other side, spending way too much time working on personal projects or pro bono work is highly unlikely to bring you the money you need to survive, much less tuck some away for new gear. It will keep you in better spirits, but on the other hand money is important too.

Image by atconc.

The bottom line is that while we need clients to pay for our work and keep us financially happy, we also need side projects which keep us enthusiastic and excited. This is the balance all of us need to reach.

Finding the balance

If you are a freelancer, there will be times when there is no time for side projects at all. We are all aware of them. And it is totally understandable! I do not think doing both every day is the solution. Paid work has to be prioritized and finished first. If you aren’t ahead of schedule, don’t think of side projects.  This is my rule, I don’t start personal projects if the work I should have done is not finished. Case closed!

There is no problem in putting paid projects back in the queue, if the deadline is not approaching fast, so you can work on something personal. But doing too much of this can get you behind schedule and this creates problems, as work projects need priority in most cases.

There is, however, time for side projects whenever you are ahead of schedule. If there are no deadlines you have to meet in the near future, you should have enough spare time. Some tips to find the right balance could be the following:

Check the finances

Client projects are the ones bringing you the big bucks. They pay the rent, the bills, the holidays and the taxes. They have to be your main focus, I can’t stress enough about how important this is. If you know that by the end of the month you need a specific amount of money, work for it. That is your goal for the month.

Working on your personal projects can also be considered kind of a vacation from the client work. You may even find yourself feeling relaxed while working on something you enjoy. If you think it relaxes you, do it in the afternoon – use an hour or a specific amount of time before going to sleep. This way you have something to look forward to every morning. I have a better suggestion though…

The 1/7 rule

There are seven days a week, five working days. Using one of them for personal projects is something I personally enjoy doing. This will help you focus on your client work and make you look forward to the specific day when you take on your side projects. Working on them will be like a holiday for you – as they will allow you to relax.

Image by Elphie17.

This method might be better than the first one because you will make a clear differentiation between personal and paid work. Monday – Thursday only paid work and Friday side projects, for example. This means four days when you work entirely on your paid projects, then one for the rest. I think it sounds quite fair.

Instant inspiration

Sometimes you might get hit by instant inspiration, which doesn’t happen too often. If the deadlines for the client projects aren’t looming over you, then move on to your side projects and work there. Afterwards, use the allotted time for side projects to get back on track with the paid work. This way you ensure that you deliver quality projects both for your clients and for whoever it is you are working for when working on extra projects.

We talked a lot about side projects. When talking about doing something you enjoy this doesn’t necessarily mean designing. You can maybe blog, take pictures, learn to cook or something else. Working on side projects doesn’t mean doing the same type of work as you do between 9 and 5, but doing something that relaxes you and keeps you motivated and focused. The bottom line is that whatever hobbies you have, you can combine them with working on your full-time job and still end up doing both properly.

Conclusion

I’ve heard many people say side projects are a waste of time, as they do not always bring you good money. It’s not always about money. Actually, once you have the minimum financial success you need in order to live a decent life, it is not about money anymore. Personal satisfaction is very important in our lives and if you don’t aim reaching it, you career will suffer too.

If you are open-minded you will notice side projects can only be beneficial to your career and you will start finding time for them in your schedule right away. None of us is so busy that we don’t have time for personal projects anymore. Time can always be found, all we need is the will to do it.

Until next time… how do you combine your side projects to the paid work you do? Do you have a better way or some other suggestions on the topic?

April 04 2012

11:00

An Interview with Lea Alcantara: One of the Best Female Web Designers in the World

Lea Alcantara is a web designer who runs her own business at  Lealea Design. She was listed as one of the 50 best female web designers in the world. Her article series on The Art of Self-Branding  got a lot of recognition from web designers world-wide.  She also gives occasional talks on branding.

Lea, please introduce yourself to our readers.

Hi, everyone! I’m Lea, the creative principal to Lealea Design where I craft digital experiences for clients, big and small. Additionally, I host the ExpressionEngine podcast, teach interface design at my local university, and do the occasional conference talk about personal branding.

When people hear the word “brand”, they often think about big companies like Coca-Cola and Apple, which are corporate brands. You’re talking about something different: personal brands. What is a personal brand?

A personal brand is essentially the perception you project to others. It’s a summary of all you say, touch, and do.

Why do you think that it’s so important for freelance web designers to develop their own personal brands? What difference does it make?

A freelancer’s livelihood is based on their personal brand, their reputation — business is about building relationships and people want relationships with human beings. Having a personal brand helps you communicate to others clearly what you’re about and that in turn, helps attract the right clients.

The first part of your method is pretending to be an amnesiac and trying to figure out who you are. There are two steps in this: defining who you think you are and then asking others to reveal who they think you are. Can you explain how to do that and why it’s important?

In my article, the Art of Self-Branding, I go through a word association exercise: write down three adjectives, the first three adjectives you would associate with yourself. Next, do an informal survey of the people in your life — personal, professional, casual — and ask them to associate adjectives with you as well. Ask them to be honest, good and bad. When you’re complete, put the data into a table that ranks them in terms of relationship and years known.

Once done, you can weigh the responses based on those types of relationships and how people perceive you depending on how intimately they know you. It’s so important to do this because there’s so many different types of personas we project to people depending on our relationship with them. It’s a way to see what’s common among everyone no matter how long or well they know you, what’s different, and also a gauge to see how your own perception of self matches along with others. It’s also a wake-up call in case there are some flags you need to address.

The second part of your method is about dealing with the information that you’ve gathered through your self-discovery and research. You say that once you’ve “regained your memory”, it’s time to “Recycle, reduce, recover, reuse”. Can you explain how to do that and why it’s important?

Our entire lives we’ve been building our personal brand. The environmentalist analogy is simply trying to see how you can reflect on all the choices you’ve made in say, your wardrobe or your home decor or your past design projects. It’s important to use that since it’s what you’ve been building to establish your identity in a natural way. Then, you can compare that to your adjective table and see how to align these items to create a design system for yourself.

The third part of your method is all about honesty. What do you mean by honesty and why do you place such a big emphasis on it? Can you explain how to be honest when it comes to branding and why it’s important?

I put big emphasis on it because if you try to stray from your real values and personality, then you will come off to everyone as awkward and fake. People can spot someone “trying too hard” a mile away.

Also, when you’re really honest about your goals and values, then you’re able to really focus on the right type of clients and work, which will pay off in the long run. We don’t want every client under the sun; we want the right clients who give us fulfilling work and pay us well.

You emphasize a lot that when it comes to branding, it’s extremely important to be consistent. What do you mean by consistency and why it’s so important?

This all harkens back to honesty, as well. Consistency is delivering, day-to-day, the quality of work and professionalism that is expected of you (and then some). If you’re all over the place, it shows a lack of focus, and a lot of clients will be put off and worried about reliability. It comes off dishonest.

Lea, would you be able to recommend great resources on personal branding that would be valuable for web designers who would like to gain deeper understanding of this subject?

I’d encourage everyone to visit my one-page site:

Art of Self-Branding – it has links to tutorials and articles on the subject of branding.

I also wrote a recent article  at .net magazine that talks about it a bit more, too.

Last, but not least, if you could only give one piece of advice to a web designer who wants to create a powerful personal brand, what would it be?

That a personal brand isn’t built-in a vacuum. If a personal brand is built on the perception of others, it’s really a team effort of building relationships with family, friends, colleagues, clients, employers, and peers.

You need them to help discover your personal brand. You need them to help promote your personal brand. There’s a lot you can do to help communicate your brand, but in the end, be as genuine, helpful, and kind to others… the rest will follow.

Thank you very much, Lea!

March 31 2012

00:00

How to Avoid the 6 Clients that Could Hurt Your Business

As freelancers we have a love/hate relationship with our clients. Without them we would be penniless, but at times they can make our work unbearably difficult. How do we handle the clients who don’t pay us, take all our time, and make our job harder than it needs to be? In my career I have worked with hundreds of clients and thankfully most have been amicable. But, every once in a while, one will come along that takes the wind out of my sails and this can potentially hurt my business if I let it. Knowing how to handle these unmanageable clients has helped me avoid potentially toxic situations.

These 6 client types top my list. Have you worked with any?

1. The Indecisive Client

Indecisive-Clients-Avoid-Clients-Hurt-Your-Business

Image by cobrasoft

Indecisive clients change their minds part way through the project. They add services and expect you to jump through hoops to get the work done. This client expects you to discard what you completed and start on an entirely new project while adhering to the same timeline. Back to the drawing board!

Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • Pad your initial quote with some extra time. Every one of my projects has taken longer than I initially expected. It’s just the nature of the job.
  • Work out every detail before starting the project. Craft an agreement that states exactly what the client will expect with additional time billed at xyz / hour.
  • In your contract, include the number of revisions and a statement that breaks down the fees for any rush job, cancellation, or additional request.

2. The Expectant Client

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Image credits

Did you ever work with a client who wanted Cadillac-type work on a Wal-Mart budget?

We are freelancers, not a subsidiary company of Donald Trump.

I like to work within my clients’ budgets. Some hail from startups or a bootstrapped situation and I am perfectly fine working with them as long as the rate makes sense for both parties.

But, if a client expects a “song and a dance” for little to no money, you can say “no”. Unless you are bartering your services for more exposure, or you are giving to an organization as a charitable contribution, you should be paid for your services.

Tip: Get the budget and payment agreement out of the way first. If you let a relationship progress before you talk budget, you will be more inclined to do the work for a lower rate. Beware of clients who do not openly discuss rates.

3. The Obnoxious Client

This is the client who took one web design course in college and thinks as a designer you are not doing the job exactly right. Or it’s the client who will never be satisfied with your work because she wants the results of a million-dollar agency on her meager budget.

How do you deal with these clients? Be patient and don’t take it personally. Sometimes people are insecure and they need to inflate their egos to feel better about themselves. Do your best job and kindly separate yourself from their negativity once the project is complete.

Tip: If you are not confident in your services, your clients will not be as well. You don’t have to be the “top dog” in your industry to give your clients an excellent product. Be confident in your level of expertise and you will attract a higher quality of leads who will appreciate the value you offer and pay you accordingly. I have first-hand experience with this.

4. The Insistent Client

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Image Credits

In the beginning of my freelance writing career I had a client who wanted to work with me on her content even though the project was outside my comfort zone. After looking over the subject matter of the work, I decided the project was not right for me since the industry was out of my expertise and the client needed an expert on the subject. The client insisted that I work with her so I took the job anyway. I spent hours on the phone gathering the details of the project and a lot of time researching this particular industry so I could become familiar with the copy. Once the project began, I sensed the client changing her mind and she no longer wanted me to write for her.

Here are some lessons I learned from dealing with this type of client:

  • If you feel the job is outside of your skillset, do not take it. No amount of money is worth it because an unhappy client creates more problems in the end.
  • You are self-employed and do not work for a company. You have the right to turn down a contract if it does not suit your needs.

TIPS:

  • Accept money upfront, especially if extensive research is involved. The percentage will depend on the project.
  • Gather as many details about the project beforehand as possible. Many of my clients fill out questionnaires and sign an agreement so both parties are aware of what is required before we begin.
  • If you are applying for freelance jobs, don’t let dollar signs influence the bulk of your decision making. If you can’t supply your client with excellent work, pass on it or hand it off.
  • Gather a network of trusted professionals you can access when a project is outside of your scope of knowledge. The people in your network will also send clients your way when the project is better suited for someone with your skillset.

5. The Talkative Client

This client will email you in the wee hours of the morning and chat with you on the phone about everything from his dog’s name to where he wants to take his business.

Some projects will require more client communication than others but it’s important to set the time boundaries before you begin the project.

  • Add your time commitment into your price quote.
  • If you sense the client will be a time-sucker, add some money to your quote to make up for the extra time.
  • Limit communication or charge for it separately.

I tend to err on the side of “free” communication for my clients because I want them to feel like they have an open door policy. When I feel clients are taking more of my time, I will nicely tell them I am busy and will get back to them as soon as I can. Train your clients to respect your schedule just as much as you respect theirs.

6. The Magician Client

I call this client the “magician” because he disappears once a payment is due! No contact; no correspondence; no request for further work; no explanation.

You spend hours designing a client’s website or writing copy and communication is going well. But once you request payment…

  • Client is missing and out of touch
  • Client mentions a family issue and tries to push off payment and is unreachable
  • Client provides excuses and hopes you will eventually give up asking for money

I had one client who paid for partial services and owed me a final payment. I sent email after email and received word that she would send a check in one week. The week passed and I never received it. After numerous emails, she gave me an excuse about hardships she was facing. I offered my sympathy and told her I would be expecting payment. After more time had elapsed, I threatened to take further action. I received my payment days later.

Even with contracts, it’s hard to fight payment issues. Most of the clients are out of state or out of the country and fighting it in court is almost more headache than it’s worth, especially if you are only dealing with a few hundred dollars. If the situation escalates out of control, threaten to complain about their business whether on social media or any other media outlet., but only in extreme cases.

Assess this on a case by case basis. I had one client with whom I worked for a few years and her business went under. She owed me a lot of money but I haven’t escalated it because we had a good business relationship. Do everything you can not to escalate the situation, but know that you have options should the issue warrant it.

Here are some tips:

  • Maintain steady communication throughout the project
  • Communicate by phone – Clients have a harder time saying “no” on the phone.
  • Request 25%-50% payment upfront.

Prepare for the Worst

The best way to prevent working with these clients is to learn from your mistakes and prepare for the difficult clients within your contracts.

Your contract should include:

  • The scope of the project
  • Deadlines and deliverables
  • A detailed description of your services
  • Revisions and fees for additional work
  • Terms which include upfront payment, cancellation fees, etc.

It’s OK to turn down a project if something doesn’t feel right. Over time, you will develop an instinct about a client even before you submit a contract.  Remember that you are hiring the client too.  In the beginning you may need the money, but once you start building your business, choose your client similar to how they would choose you.

Your client is your customer and your goal is to please them. Do everything you can within your limitations to give them your best work. If all else fails, communicate that your working relationship is not beneficial for both parties and chock it up to experience. Hopefully no money is lost and you can move on from the negativity.

Have you worked with any of these clients? How did you resolve a client conflict?

March 29 2012

17:00

How Ruben Gamez Turned Bidsketch Into A Successful Online Business

Ruben Gamez is the solo founder of Bidsketch , an online proposal software website for web designers.  In only a year and a half, he managed to take Bidsketch from  a humble side project that he started while having a full-time job to a full-time business that allowed him to quit his job and enjoy the freedom he has always desired. How did he do that? Today, Ruben shares his story with 1WD readers.

1. Ruben, maybe you could start by telling us more about Bidsketch? What it’s about and how does it help designers?

Creating proposals are one of the most effective but painful things designers have to do. In fact, even though it’s one of the best ways to get clients, some designers will skip this step because it can take so much time. I created Bidsketch to be the fastest (and easiest) way to create professional looking proposals. The reason it exists is to cut down on the time it takes to create a proposal.

“I assume that in order to build something like that, you have to know a lot about web design and freelancing. What is your professional background? What were you doing before Bidsketch took off?”

Years ago I was a freelance web designer and became pretty good at building relationships and getting referrals to get work. I eventually got a job managing the web development department for a company because I grew tired of always having to find new client work.

Managing the web development department I was often in charge of hiring outside design agencies so I was exposed to a lot of different proposals from the client’s perspective. It was a great learning experience since I was able to see how companies decide to hire a design company and what sort of proposals were the most effective.

“Did you plan to turn Bidsketch into a successful business from the very beginning, or was it a side project turned into an unexpected success?”

Bidsketch started as a side project so I didn’t expect that it would grown into something that I’d be doing full-time. In a year and a half it had grown to the point where I was able to quit my job. I had modest goals so this was a complete surprise to me but I’m very grateful for how things turned out.

“How did you come up with an idea for a Bidsketch? Why did you think people will be interested in something like that?”

I started thinking about building Bidsketch when a friend of mine came to me for advice about how to deal with proposal request from a client. I explained what I knew about it and tried to find him a template online and found a really old-school downloadable app that helped people create proposals. I tried it out and it was pretty bad and not something that would appeal to a designer (since it was meant for corporate sales teams).

After that I checked the Google Keyword Tool which tells you how many people are searching for a specific term and found that it was something designers needed.

I knew people would be interested in something that would cut down on the time to create really nice looking proposals because it was something that I had wanted when I was a freelancer. It was also something I had heard many people complain about in the past so when I also saw that people were searching for a solution I thought a product made perfect sense.

“You had a good job in a place where you worked for nine years. Why did you decide to engage in entrepreneurial pursuits? Why build a business when you already have stable income from a decent job?”

I had a job that gave me a paycheck but I was no longer doing what I enjoyed doing. Over the years I had been promoted to where I was a senior manager. I took the promotions because they meant more money which many people do. Unfortunately, more money meant more responsibility. I had no longer had freedom or flexibility which is really what’s most important to me (much more than money is).

“You had to invest a lot of time, energy and money into Bidsketch long before you were able to see the returns. What made you feel confident that you will be able to pull this off? Did you have doubts and if so, how did you deal with them?”

I had many doubts throughout the entire process. Even now that it’s a relatively successful product there can be days where I have doubts. I think most people that have a business feel like this from time to time but rarely talk about it.

I’ve found that talking to people that understand what it takes to build and run a business helps. Early on, I almost gave up on the idea because I was having trouble getting feedback from people on web design forums. Luckily I emailed a friend who gave me some great advice and convinced me that I should keep going.

“You built a business while working in a proper day job. How on Earth did you find enough time and energy to do that? Do you have any advise for people who would like to build a side business while keeping their day job?”

It wasn’t easy that’s for sure. I basically worked from 8pm to 12am most nights and worked every weekend for a few months. The problem was that I was trying to do too many things by myself; I was doing the design, programming, marketing, and blogging, which was exhausting.

Eventually I decided to get help and start over by outsourcing parts of the product. I didn’t have a lot of money so I couldn’t outsource everything, but the with that approach I was able to move much faster which was super motivating.

So my advice to people that are doing something on the side while working full time is to get some help. You don’t need a lot of money and you don’t need to be some expert in outsourcing. Anyone can visit a site like oDesk and post a project to get some help.

“You managed to quit your job eventually when Bidsketch took off. How did you know when was the right time to do it? What would you advise people who are running side businesses in regards to quitting their day jobs?”

I lowered my expenses as much as I could before I quit by doing things like selling my car and getting rid of several monthly expenses. I talked to my wife to make sure she was comfortable with the idea. And once I had enough to cover our living expenses I decided to quit the job. I felt comfortable doing so because every month I saw revenue growth.

I think that people often say they’d like to quit their job but often don’t do the things necessary to make that happen. First, you have to take action. Launch a product, it doesn’t have to be something big, just start making money on the side. Also, I think it’s important to think about ways to lower expenses and cut the major expenses (think about car payment instead of eliminating your daily latte).

“As much as most people hate their jobs, they do provide a sense of financial security, since you know that the paycheck will come at a certain time of a month. Wasn’t it scary for you to say goodbye to this?”

For me it wasn’t scary because I had was already earning money on the side and it kept increasing every month. So while there are no guarantees, earning money from a product where people are getting real value is much more secure than having a job in my opinion. With a job, you have one paycheck and many people in the company can decide you’re not needed for any number of reasons. If you think about it, it’s a pretty risky situation.

“Was the transition from the world of traditional employment to the world of entrepreneurship difficult? What are the key differences in mindset of a successful employee and a successful entrepreneur? What habits should employees who want to become entrepreneurs drop and what habits should they adopt?”

My transition was mostly easy since I was mentally ready for the change. Working on a product and earning money on the side before quitting the job let me get used to the differences slowly.

One of the key differences in mindset have to do with time management I think. When you work for someone you’ll get paid no matter what you’re doing. When you’re working for yourself, spending 2 hours fixing some HTML bug in IE is probably not the best use of your time. There are many tasks that need to get done but it’s important to think about which are the important ones that can only be done by you, and which ones are worth spending a few bucks to have someone else do them.

If money is tight you’ll have to do more things yourself, but that’s the perfect time to start eliminating tasks that truly aren’t necessary. Every productive minute counts and you want to focus on the things that move the business forward.

As far as habits go, I think one of the more important ones has to do with letting other people do the work. I know I’ve said it a couple of times already but it truly is important to stop trying to do everything yourself; there’s simply too much to do.

Other than that, I feel it’s important to make sure that your goal is to help your customers be awesome. For example, I focus on making my customers be awesome at growing their business. I do this by making it easy for them to create proposals that impress their clients and win projects for them. This is literally how I think about things. By taking care of your customers, you’re helping your own business in the process.

“What are the key things that you would do differently if you would have to start all over again, with a day job and an idea for a business? What were the main lessons learned?”

I think I would’ve started sooner. I took too much time to actually start doing something to move me forward and launch a product. It was something I thought about for a long time but never took action. It took me being very unsatisfied at work to push me towards action. Unfortunately, most people fall into this trap. It’s especially bad when people are comfortable at work because they’ll likely never take action.

I made a lot of mistakes in the process of building and launching a product but was still able to make it work. I learned that persistence is unbelievably important. We’re all going to make mistakes, we just need to keep moving forward.

“Last, but not least, is there anything you would like to say to our readers who have day jobs or freelance careers, but who would like to explore entrepreneurship?”

Start with something small and have modest goals. If you’re curious or have some doubts, try it out on a small-scale and see how it goes. Even if it doesn’t work out you’ll learn a ton in the process. More importantly, once you start making money on the side you’ll see how your mindset changes.

March 04 2012

10:00

Things to Consider When Estimating for a Website Development Project

Do you sell website development services? If so, then you are well aware how difficult it is to keep projects in scope during the website development process. Oftentimes website designers price website development jobs according to the specs initially presented by their client. Unfortunately, the client doesn’t always know everything that he needs/wants until after the project has already been scoped. This leads to website development companies either eating costs or having to have very difficult conversations with customers in order to get paid for the additional functionality and features that clients request during the development phase. I like to refer to this as “scope creep”. This article is going to talk about how we can avoid scope creep OR be prepared to deal with it effectively when it inevitably occurs. After you’re finished reading this article my hope is that you will be better prepared to estimate your website development projects.

Website Development is a Tough Business

Building a website takes a lot of time and effort. The client doesn’t always realize just how much work goes into it. If you don’t properly set expectations and price things accordingly up front, inevitably there will be scope creep. The client will keep requesting things that weren’t scoped for during the proposal process. The client will also continue to put in requests long after the website has launched, which again, if not scoped for up front, will lead to some uncomfortable conversations or even worse, you eating costs. We don’t want that. Here are a few reasons why it’s so tough to estimate costs for website development projects:

  • Customers aren’t comfortable with what goes into building a website. This lack of knowledge leads them to think things are easier than they may actually be.
  • Customers can’t visualize a website prior to it being built therefore their needs change throughout the project
  • Oftentimes customers ask for more rounds of revisions than were scoped for because as the process unfolds they are continuing to look at other websites for ideas
  • Customers think that if they see something on another website that it can easily be incorporated into their website
  • Customers don’t realize that they will need additional support after the website launches. They don’t like to pay for that up front, but then they ALWAYS come back with email requests asking for changes once you’ve completed your end of the agreement.

5 Steps for Making Estimating Website Development Projects Easier

website project proposal

Now that we know the reasons why scope creep occurs during website development projects, we can start to focus on how to do everything possible up front to avoid it. Here are 5 steps for making website development estimating easier. Start step 1 after you receive a request to build a website.

  1. Create a standard list of questions that can be semi-customized for each customer. Customize those questions for your current proposal and send them over to your prospect before you even have a phone call with them.
  2. Meet with the customer to review their responses to your questions and to dig deeper into their needs.
  3. Create your initial proposal and submit it to the customer. Schedule a meeting immediately to walk the customer through the proposal.
  4. Set customer expectations based on the initial proposal. Collect changes to the scope of the project based on the initial proposal and your expectations setting conversation.
  5. Finalize the proposal and begin work.

Great, so we have a plan for how we are going to go about estimating for a website development project, but the steps above lack critical details in order for you to actually follow them. So let’s dig into each step in more detail.

Create a Standard List of Website Development Questions

Having a standard list of questions that you can send off to a prospect who’s asking for a website development proposal from you will help you get answers to important elements of building a website. It also forces the person requesting the proposal to think through the project up front. You can always refer back to their answers throughout the process if there is ever a need to do so. This critical first step also allows you to make step 2 much more effective. If you skip step 1 and go right into a meeting with the customer then that conversation is going to take much longer than it needs to. Be prepared for step 2, complete step 1 first!

Some initial questions might include the following:

  • How many web pages do you need for your website?
  • Who is responsible for creating the website design, architecture, and content?
  • How many decision makers will have to approve the website before it launches?
  • What’s your timeline for the project?
  • Who will be hosting the website?
  • Do you have an internal IT person who can update the website after it has launched?

There are a lot of other questions that would probably be valuable to ask up front, but this list will definitely get you started. Once you have these answers you can move on to step 2.

Have a Face-to-Face Meeting with the Customer

Having a face-to-face meeting with the person or people who are going to be decision makers for this website development project is critical to the success of the project. They must get to know you, and you must get to know them. Website development can become contentious at times, when you have a better understanding of the players involved, and have taken the time to build a relationship with them, most of the issues that come up can more easily be resolved.

website estimate

Now, just because you must have a face-to-face conversation with your customer doesn’t mean you have to be there in person. Use tools like Skype, FaceTime, etc. to facilitate these meetings if you’re not in close proximity to your customers. A side benefit is that your use of technology will probably impress them. It may be that you must have more than one meeting. If that’s the case then doing so via Skype will be much easier. Once you’re satisfied that you have as much information as possible about the project it’s time to create your initial proposal.

Create an Initial Website Development Proposal

It’s time to create your initial website development proposal. I say “initial” because proposals for website development almost always change once you’ve had a chance to review them with your customer and set expectations. Basically what you need to do is take all of the information they have given you, match that with your recommendations, create a long list of assumptions, break it down into a few areas of focus, and put pricing behind each area of focus. Areas of focus might include:

  • Design, architecture, and content development
  • Website Build
  • SEO
  • Hosting
  • Post-Launch support

The key here is to give your customer enough information so that they understand just how much work is involved, but not so much that it overwhelms them or provides them with too much to nitpick. I usually like to pad hours for website development projects as customers inevitably ask for a reduction of costs, without cutting down on the tasks. Once you’ve put the proposal together, reviewed it, and are OK with it, go ahead and send it off to your contact. Be sure to request a meeting ASAP. Don’t let too much time go by without walking the customer through it.

Set Customer Expectations

During your proposal review meeting, you absolutely have to start setting customer expectations. You do so by explaining each area of the proposal, explaining what it includes and also what it does not include. You want to make sure that everyone is clear as to what is covered and what is not. I even recommend that in some areas where you did not include something, but you can foresee it becoming an issue future-forward, that you bring it up during the call. Explain to them that although it’s not covered in the proposal, you think they should consider including it OR simply remember that if they request it after you’ve started work, you will have to submit a change order to the project costs.

Another thing to be sure to openly discuss during this meeting is change orders. You can be honest with them. Explain to them that in your experience website builds often have scope creep. Cover the reasons why that is. Let them know that it’s OK to change the scope as long as they are all comfortable with the fact that when the scope changes, they should expect your budget to change as well. If you get your customer comfortable with this process up front, then they will be prepared when you send them an updated budget or change order.

Setting customer expectations is the single biggest step in this entire website development proposal process. Those who do it well will experience much less pain moving through the website development process.

Finalize the Website Development Proposal

Here it is… the final step in winning a new website development job. Finalize your proposal. Take everything that was discussed during your initial proposal review meeting, incorporate it into your proposal and finalize it. Be sure to put in a list of “assumptions” based on what was discussed at the meeting. If your customer said they are providing all of the content, be sure to state that. If they said they do not need post-launch support, include end dates for the work. The biggest thing during this step is to just be smart and think it through before you finalize your bid. If you do that, then you should make things much easier on yourself once you start work.

Website development is a tough business. We all know it far too well. Things can go South quickly and people can lose money even quicker. If you follow the steps we’ve outlined in this article you will be doing everything possible to minimize that risk. Start your website development projects off right, follow the steps above, set customer expectations, keep open lines of communication, and you should be just fine.

What do you think? What’s been your experience when it comes to estimating website development projects? Do you have any other tips that might help all of us when we are scoping work? Please leave your comments below. We can’t wait to hear them.

March 01 2012

10:00

1stwebdesigner’s Life #5 – Sales Increase and Crap Site

Hello everyone :) Here we are again with a few more funny things to share.

First of all, I want to say that we’ll be improving this section and our funny content a lot, and the good part is that we won’t be limited to comic strips anymore (tip: how often are you pinning stuff?). Needless to say that after a whole week of working hard you deserve those funny moments.

Today our strips will talk about crazy clients ideas and a misunderstanding over wireframes.

I’m pretty sure you have been requested to do a crazy .gif or a malicious script. So how to deal with it?

And you remember that client who thought that those wireframes were the whole website, even after you explained that a wireframe is a concept validation tool?

Well, let’s laugh at this then!

Sales Increase

Crap Site

So, what would you do?

Annoying scripts… Are they forbidden?

Ok, in that case of the strip, it’s totally forbidden. But actually I can see good uses for scripts that at first look like a desperate attempt to get back to the web  of the 90′s.

First you have to tell the client where you are allowed to use intrusive scripts, and truth be told, by default you aren’t.

And the big question is: when are they allowed?

It’s easy, dear Padawan. Only use them when intrusive scripts give user valuable information, or help them to use your stuff.

Let’s try a few examples:

  • Replace scrollbar with your own good-looking arrow styles (thanks GMail!) – It’s ok when you have galleries, for instance. It’s not ok just to give your website a stylish look (because once wasn’t enough, THANKS Gmail!)
  • Messages when user try to close window – It’s not ok just to give user a last chance to come back. Nobody but you likes this (but only on your own site, huh?). But it’s useful when you have unsaved data, like what WordPress does when you’re editing a post and accidentally hit close.
  • Window resizing – It’s only allowed when your app needs its own defined space, and you should open a new window. Otherwise it’s pretty annoying when my 50 tab window gets resized.
  • Window shaking – No excuses. Please, don’t do that.

Can you think of other annoying scripts that could be useful in some cases? Share with us :)

Wireframes are ugly

Sorry to say, but they are. And it’s not your fault, their purpose is just to quickly provide a proof of concept and save you time and resources by changing things before everything is done.

But clients don’t really get that, huh?

Well, my tip is, don’t ever try to make them look pretty. Actually, it’s better if you can do it with just paper, then the client won’t get confused thinking that it’s “the website”.

With your sketch in hand that actually looks like a sketch , it’ll be way easier to get clients attention to what is important at this point, look at where things should be, what is missing, if the work flow is good.

Do you have your own way to deal with this? How about sharing your secrets with us?

Big changes ahead!

As I said before, we’ll be reformulating our funny department, so stay tuned because we’ll make improvements soon :)

Oh, and if you have any comic ideas to share, or any other cool stuff you have in mind, just use the pretty field below!

February 23 2012

21:00

Grand Slam Freelancing: Tips Learned From Top Tennis Players

In the professional tennis world, competition is at a whole new level of intensity than we’ve possibly ever seen. Unlike previous generations of greats, there is no longer just one or a few region(s) dominating the game. The landscape of today can see anyone from any country, despite not having a strong history of top elite players, having a legitimate shot at having a player take home one of the four Grand Slams, the top spot on the season ending rankings, winning the World Tour Finals, or capturing Davis Cup supremacy.

Now this global landscape of talent popping out everywhere, and everyone competing for the same goal, is exactly how the freelance industry has become. It’s actually quite funny considering that many bigger name companies would always say that outsourcing their work projects to someone from another country was never even a consideration, are probably making up most of the names who do this now as a regular practice.

So let’s take some time to see what the top tennis players in the world are doing to stay on top, and how you can apply their methods to your freelancing.

1. Not having a Signature Weapon/Skill will Leave You Flat


*Image Credit: digitalnoise

Look at the careers of two current young players considered to be as good as, if not possibly better, than everyone else, but is simply missing that one undeniable attack to get them over the hump. These players being Andy Murray and Caroline Wozniacki. Both are talented players with great all around games, but that doesn’t translate over into dominating the ATP and WTA respectively. Andy Murray has reached Grand Slam finals multiple times only to lose, and Wozniacki made it to the top of the WTA rankings only to not be able to win one Grand Slam during her reign.

What can Freelancers Learn from This:

We all, for the most part, come into freelancing with the idea that offering as many skills we have some good level of skill in will provide the most revenue. Funny thing is, that is as far from the truth as thinking all clients are nice and pleasant. The truth is to have a successful freelancing career with plenty of room for growth, you have to first niche yourself and be awesome at it. Then add other skills your’e comfortable with to add some side revenue.

2. Plan Properly for Your LONG Season


*Image Credit: Digitalnative

Saying the tennis season is long is an understatement. The season starts at the very beginning of January, and ends in the middle of November. During this time there are constant back to back tournaments going on, so this is no easy grind. Once you also add in the unpredictable events, like last year’s US Open for example, it becomes clear how well these players handle it.

What can Freelancers Learn from This:

Unlike our full-time employed counterparts, there really isn’t a lot of downtime associated with freelancing as many would hope. There are probably plenty of stories about freelancers going years without vacations, missing plenty of quality time with friends and family, and of course the crowd favorite, staying up all night to finish some project with a crazy deadline of like yesterday. A good way to fix this is proper planning, and understanding your own limitations. Working nonstop will only end up burning you out so you end up losing more time than you would have, had you taken some time off to recharge. Make sure your schedule includes daily breaks, and monthly day(s) of pure relaxation.

3. Backup, Backup, Backup, and Backup some more


*Image Credit: adamwilson 

Ever look at a tennis match and not see the players with at least five other racquets in their bags? Even though there is a top-level racquet stringer on board at the events? There is an easy answer to this, it’s because they always have to be prepared! Anything can happen on the court, and a racquet could pop a string at any moment. Getting your racquet restrung by someone other than whom you’re accustomed to may mean they can’t get it exactly how tennis pro’s specifically like their racquet, which may cost a match.

What can Freelancers Learn from This:

If you are not backing up all your files somewhere, then you are just asking for disaster. Anything can happen! Nobody ever knows when suddenly the app you’re in will crash, or you’re going to have sudden serious computer problems, or anything else that may lead to you not being able to access your files. So make sure to BACK UP EVERYTHING THAT IS NECESSARY!

4. Have a Great Supporting Cast


*Image Credit: hewy

Doesn’t matter how anybody looks at it, behind every incredible player is some pretty darn good coaching to match. It is impossible for any player to get the top of the sport without having a strong coaching staff there to help improve their game throughout the duration of their playing career.

What can Freelancers Learn from This:

No this doesn’t mean go out and email everyone in your industry who you view as successful asking for advice or to be your mentor. It just means network and form genuine bonds with others in similar professions. Each person can learn and grow from the experiences of the other, and maybe you’ll luck out and be in good with someone you’ve always highly respected or is in good regard in their professional community for their talent.

5. Practice


*Image Credit: Daniel Dionne 

Any tennis player who has made it to the professional level definitely had to learn this lesson back when they were a rising junior. This lesson being that constant practice is the only way of ever being able to reach the top, no shortcuts, just a constant practice routine.

What can Freelancers Learn from This:

In this high pace life of freelancing, there really isn’t enough time spent emphasizing the importance of setting aside some time to better your skill set and hone your craft to a higher level. It’s understandable considering how fast things change in the web industry, add to that the workload, or lack thereof, that may be affecting you. Despite all this, only positive results come from just simply practicing and learning regularly.

In Short

There a lot of things that can be learned, and applied, from tennis players to your freelancing life. Both for the most apart are solo gigs that when it’s time to actually put the work in there really won’t be anybody but yourself to praise or blame. So remembering the tips discussed above can take you to new heights in your freelancing career, or help you get that strong kickstart to finally make progress in a positive direction.

February 20 2012

21:00

How to Overcome the Bad Moments of Your Career Like a Boss

There are lots of web design resources out there and learning all the skills you need is not a problem anymore – everybody can do it. But some of us (or better said, most of us) encounter the same logistical problems now and then during our freelance careers. Being able to create high quality websites is not enough anymore. Freelancing is a total challenge as you also need to be able to manage yourself, your work and your problems.

Even if most people consider the motivational articles a waste of time, they actually offer solutions to problems more important than color theory, typography or web usability. The inner problems can stop freelancers from finding the right balance between work and personal life and, at some point in time, can even force them to retire or change careers.

The issue with having bad moods or difficulty getting into a working mood is that it seriously affects your results. It can make you miss deadlines, deliver poor-quality products and even break agreements before being done with them. If you are interested in being efficient, then this article is targeting you. If you don’t know how to be, then pay attention to this advice

Lack of motivation


Most of us have a goal in life. It can be a job you always dreamed of having or something that will bring you lots of money. It’s totally up to you. When you’re still going after the goal, you motivated are most of the time . However, when there is nothing more to achieve (or no more goals to achieve), lack of motivation appears very often and damages your work. Working in the same position for a long time may also be another why you lack motivation.

Let’s face it, few of us would work if we didn’t need it to survive. Sometimes it just gets boring to work, it’s highly unlikely that it you aren’t nodding your head in agreement yet. The good news is that there are many ways ways to cure a lack of motivation.

Image by DonnaGrayson.

Steve Jobs said it himself: “Stay hungry, stay foolish!” By always wanting more, there is always enough motivation. Regardless of where you are right now, always wish for more. This way you will always work in order to achieve that goal you set for yourself. You also need to find a balance between work and personal life. Having too much free time can affect your productivity while spending too much time at work can damage the relationships with your family and friends – and maybe even more importantly, your health.

Lack of clients


If you work freelance, you are most probably delivering the work and finding clients. This can be overwhelming and with no work there is no money. It is something every freelancer is afraid of, especially the ones who are inexperienced.

Some solutions could be saving money for back-up. Lack of clients might be something all of us will encounter sometime and it is very good to have some savings. Not having clients is worse than getting fired from your 9-to-5 job, because if you get fired there, you are probably entitled to some kind of financial aid; there is no such thing while you freelance (it might, however, depend on the country). Therefore always be wise and have some money for the rough periods.

Another good way of solving this problem is maintaining contact with several clients. Having your income come from only one client is dangerous, but working with more at the same time is likely to feed you for some months to come.

As I always say, when you deliver a project make sure to check on the client once or twice afterwards. Make sure you maintain a good relationship with your former clients, otherwise there is no chance you will ever get hired by them again. However, if you convince them you are more than just “the guy who designs websites”, they will even further recommend you to their clients.

Family issues


Let’s face it, none of us are working machines. We provide good results based on external factors (skills) and internal ones (inner behaviour, trust, confidence, motivation etc). Both are important. If we have problems at home, how will we be able to focus on work? Our relatives and friends have a huge influence on us and one of them being sick or going through other difficulties is surely going to damage your motivation and self-belief. Any issue you have at home will affect your work life more or less.

I know it is something very difficult to work with, but making a clear difference between personal life and work will solve these issues in the end. However, this is not something you will achieve very easily. It might as well be the most difficult problem you will encounter during your freelance career. While clients and motivation come and go, family problems usually just come and will only disappear after long periods of time.

Image by auroneurotica photo.

Talking to your family about your work might help. Letting them understand what you do and why you spend so much time on even small projects, but also telling them that their behaviour affects yours and the monthly income will probably solve the problems you have. By trying to show you are the busy boss you will not solve too much – but you will do it by talking. Communication is important in today’s reality.

Fights with bosses


Although not all of us have a boss on paper, all of us have one, even freelancers. If the client is the one paying  you, he is most definitely your boss. You probably won’t last long at an agency if you’re always arguing with your boss. Bosses are usually disregarded by employees, but having a good relationship with them will help you along the way. Web design agencies work usually as a team and having a weak link in your team will decrease the chances of success.

Sometimes it might be just too difficult to agree with your boss. Most of the time in this case it is easier to just try following their advice – even if it is something you do not agree with. In the end, you can always hold them responsible for your poor work if they just push ideas down your throat.

I, however, prefer to use dialogue. I always prefer to communicate before making any major decision. And most of the time there is a reason behind someone being my boss – so I respect that. Remaining frustrated is never going to solve your disputes with your bosses, so try to free yourself and follow his advice. And let’s face it, it’s never nice to have a boss who wants to take revenge on you for something.

Difficult clients


We all encounter, at some point in time, the so-called “client from hell”. People who only know the basics at best and think they know better than us  – this is when we start calling them clients from hell – when they think they know better.

Image by Filippo Venturi.

It is very difficult to work with them because they will do everything to convince you they know better. And while they pay, there is not very much you can do other than try to discuss things with them. Some of them can even get aggressive and instead of just giving some feedback, actually force you to do something. It is very difficult to maintain a good relationship with this kind of client. Although some say communication works, I doubt it. These people are not willing to listen. They just want a product, know how they want it to be and that’s it.

In my opinion not dealing with this type of client at all is the way to go. When you feel one of your potential clients might be a difficult one to work with, just avoid him. It might sound weird – we are all designers and look for work, but we need to avoid these guys. Well yes, it is weird and it shouldn’t be like that, but think that some of them don’t even pay. Some of then will knock your moral down to the ground. After working with two or three of those, you will need a break. It is not worth it. Drop them and move on!

Bonus: lack of inspiration - a whole article about it.

Bottom line


Freelancing is something very challenging and now and then you will encounter these difficulties, but the quicker you get past them, the quicker you will be able to get back to work and earn some money. As said earlier, all these motivational articles are good for you and your work process in general, although in the beginning they might seem like a waste of time. If you find yourself surrounded by all these kinds of problems, it is best to even spend some money and buy books about how to solve them – there are hundreds of them out there and they can’t do any harm.

Until next time… which of these problems do you encounter most? How do you solve them?

January 28 2012

21:00

Use Join.Me to Train Staff and Collaborate with Customers

Do you manage a website or a blog? Do you build websites for customers? If so, then you know all that’s involved in getting your staff up to speed with tasks that need to be accomplished for the website. You know what’s involved in showing customers how their project is coming along. It’s a lot of work… especially when most of the time your staff is working remotely and your clients are miles away. In this article we are going to show you an online tool that can help make your life much easier. We will go over what it is and what it does, its benefits, how you can use it to make your life easier, and show you how to use it!

What is Join.me?


free screen sharing tool

Join.me is a screen sharing tool. Join.me easily allows users to share what’s being done on their screen with others. Screen sharing tactics help your listeners understand what you’re talking about by providing visual support to back up what’s being discussed. It’s a great tool for collaborating with staff or freelancers. Need to train a client on a new piece of software or show them progress on the website you’re developing for them? Done. Join.me is a quick and dirty tool that allows you to share your screen with anyone at any time. It’s definitely worthwhile to know about, especially for those situations where you didn’t take time to set up some of the more complex screen sharing software programs and you just need to quickly share your screen with someone. Hop on join.me within seconds.

How to Use join.me


The reason we are profiling join.me over its competitors is because of how easy it is to use. It takes literally less than a minute to start sharing your screen with someone. The first time I heard about join.me I was on a weekly conference call with my client. He was trying to explain something to me, but couldn’t quite put it into words. All of a sudden he blurted out, “join me”. I’m like, “I thought I already had… we’ve been discussing this for 20 minutes”. He said, “no, no go to join.me and enter this code”. I did. Seconds later I was looking at his screen. It was pretty incredible how quickly we synched up like that.

To start a meeting simply:

  • Click the “Share” button (you will have to download the software upon the first use)
  • Send the conference code that pops up to anyone you’d like to join you
  • Your attendees simply input the conference code in the “Join” text box on Join.me
  • Let the screen sharing begin!

It really is that easy. It takes seconds to get started.

Train Staff with Join.me


Many website owners outsource some aspect of their website development or upkeep to freelancers. Others work with staff who may not be in the same office. Join.Me is a great tool for website designers to use to explain projects and tasks that others need to complete for their website. For example, say you need a design element of your website updated, but your designer works remotely. You call her to try to explain what you want done to the website and where on the site it should be created, but it takes awhile for her to visualize exactly what you’re trying to tell her. Now think about that same example but along with you verbally explaining what you want accomplished, you can couple that with visually demonstrating to her what you want done and where it should go on the website. You can do this easily with join.me’s screen sharing technology.

Collaborate with Customers with join.me


Not only can join.me be a great tool to use internally, but it can also be a great way to collaborate with customers. Obviously getting face time with your customers is critical, but for a lot of us, customers aren’t always located nearby. Therefore tools like join.me can come in very handy when you need to demonstrate something online to someone who’s not in the same physical location as you. Say you’re building a customer a website and she wants to know how things are progressing. You could just email her a link to the DEV site and let her navigate around. We all know how that usually turns out… 13,353 questions come back about why “this link isn’t working” or “how come you used red here instead of blue”, etc. Instead, why not invite her to join you on join.me and show her around the site yourself?

By using join.me with customers you can answer many of their questions and concerns before they even ask them because they can get both a visual and verbal explanation of what you did and why you did it. For me, using join.me with customers is a no brainer. It doesn’t take any extra time, and in fact probably saves time in the long-run. It also creates a more valuable experience for the customer, which only benefits your relationship with that customer in the long-run.

Benefits of Using join.me


As you have probably gathered from the information above, there are a lot of great benefits to using a free screen sharing tool like join.me. Here are a few more:

  • It’s quick and easy to use
  • Multiple people can view your screen at once
  • Setup is simple
  • There is no setup for viewers
  • You can access a conference call number that you can send folks who are not in front of a computer
  • It’s FREE
  • It’s great for training and collaborating with employees, freelancers, and customers
  • It provides people with a visual description to match the verbal information they are receiving

Using join.me


Will you use join.me? Have you used screen sharing tools in the past? Which ones have you liked? Which ones will you stay away from? There are a lot of great screen sharing tools out there, but not many of them are as easy to use as join.me. It really is an easy process for both the demonstrator and the viewer. Join.me can provide website owners and website developers with a lot of benefits when it comes to training and collaborating. Leave your comments below to let us know which screen sharing tools you’ve used and if you will try join.me. For those of you who have used join.me, please let us know what your experience has been with it.

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