5 Ways to Keep Your Cool

keep your cool

keep your cool
While inspired by the heat I am currently experiencing in BC this has nothing to do with that type of heat. We have all had a client that did more than ask us for a ‘bigger logo.’ You know the client that you sit with and brainstorm for new ideas for the design work. You decide on a direction, follow it and when you show it to the client they say that they do not like ‘grunge’ or it is ‘too corporate’ or whatever, despite the fact that they sent you in that direction anyway. So here it is 5 ways to keep your cool and be professional.

  1. Take a Deep Breath
  2. Do not say the first thing that comes to mind. Wait for a second think about your response and then when you have taken that 30 second pause respond. Often the first thing that come to mind is not the most desirable thing to say to a client you want to keep.

  3. Refer to the Scope and Direction Meetings
  4. This one should be your standard response. If you have provided work that meets the direction provided earlier in the relationship then you need to refer back to it as the basis on which to proceed with this discussion. Remind them you already agreed on this direction together. Get them on your side and move forward and move on to the critique for revision.

  5. Remember Revisions Should Happen
  6. I know you put so much work into the initial concept for the client but revisions should happen. It is a very rare thing that you will hit the design perfectly the first time. If the client is truly invested in the site they should question some things. Fire is what refines gold. Critique refines design so it can come out a pure, beautiful and functional as possible.

    The counter point to this is if they do not have any critique question them specifically about items on the site to get them talking about things for consideration. Do not let them just get away with “it’s perfect.” A response like that is just a recipe for disaster later when they decide the day before launch there are changes needed.

  7. Listen Deeper
  8. If revisions should happen learn to listen to the critique for more than just the words the client is saying. Sure the other designers you network with know how to express themselves when the do not think a design fits the target market but most clients will never articulate well. Part of your job as a designer is to help them articulate the items for revision. Listen for themes in the critique. I once had a client that said the whole colour scheme was wrong. After talking it over what he really meant was there was not enough contrast between background layers. With a small tweak to the shade of a colour I had a happy client.

  9. Conflict Management
  10. No matter how hard you try, at some point, conflict will happen. When this comes up you need to be more than just a designer, you need to be a conflict resolver. I have a BA in Psychology and the listening skills and conflict resolution skills I learned in my degree have helped me in more than just work. Go out and take a course on conflict management. It will help you in more than just your business life. You friends, spouse, partner will all thank you for it.

Scope Creep and the In House Designer

At one time or another each freelancer must deal with a client regarding the question of scope creep. As freelancer’s it can be easier to put your foot down, assuming you have a contract, and say no to added features at the same price. But what does an in house designer do? They don’t have the option of just saying no. They don’t get to charge more for their time. In my experience, they still have to meet the same deadlines. So how does can an in house designer stop scope creep in their projects?

Talk to the Boss

To start with I would suggest that any in house designer talk to their project manager, if you’re lucky enough to have one, about the problem. That is what I did the first time it happened in one of my projects. Sitting down with your project manager, or boss, and talking about the problems that come up with adding ‘just one more thing’ to each project can get you a long way.

Statement of Work

Just as any freelancer would do, an in house designer needs to create a document that maps out the scope of each project. At my job we fill out a proper creative brief for every project and then list out the requirements and get it approved by the involved parties. It includes due dates and a statement reminding them that any added features moves the due date.

This upfront work in organizing a project gets everyone on the same page. If this type of process is not in place where you work it can be an uncomfortable thing to implement but in the long run everyone will be much happier.

Get Help & Put your Nose to the Stone

At the end of the day despite your best planning sometimes features will be added and dates will stay firm. At that point you really don’t have a choice but to put your nose to the grind stone and maybe hire some outside help.

This feature creep with no due date creep is a perfect opportunity to hire freelancers. Since it is not possible for you to get the extra work done in the same amount of time extra money will need to be spent to hit the due date. Hiring outside help also helps people realize the effect that ‘one more thing’ can have on a project.

I have actually had the boss no longer require a feature once the cost of a freelancer was factored in. It will get done but in the second stage of site launch not the first.

So in house designers/developers how do you avoid scope creep?

The News: Firefox is alive, seo, and some marketing advice

Today is a great day for web designer’s. It seems that Firefox is finally over 20% of the market share in browsers. Firefox is awesome, and it is wonderful to see it reach this milestone. Hopefully this really pushes IE to be standards compliant instead of the PITA that all web designers are familiar with.

How about some marketing advice now. Mike Smith (just guessing cause of the URL) has a cool post on 17 things you are probably not doing with your marketing. Ranging from the old school but essential business cards to writing for Hubpages. I actually used to do the latter and may have to pick it up from time to time with a new article. I’m not so sure about the directory submissions though. Some reading I have done leads me to believe that one day google will clamp down on those who are listed in directories that aren’t specific to thier market.

Tieing in with the last article nicely is an article on good SEO practices. All the basics are covered here. I do believe that meta tags have some relevance to search engine results but definitely not as much as they used to have. I would advise that you have good meta tags but really concentrate on producing quality content. As the article states your title tag is very important for good rankings.

Finally today is a post on How to spot a dud client. If you’ve been freelancing for more that 2 weeks you’ve had a call from a client that just doesn’t quite sound right. Often you end up taking at least one of these dud projects on without realizing what happened. Well here are some things to watch out for. If you see them in your clients get out now.

The Daily News: WordPress 2.7 and pricing your projects

How about we start the day with some twitter inspiration. Use the link to check out some creative twitter backgrounds and get some inspiration for designing your own. I know mine could sure use a refresh.

Next up today is some feature previews for WordPress 2.7, which I am really excited about. Overall the interface is cleaned up and the publish features have seen a huge revamp. You can also now mass edit posts or pages which would make any categories you need to change a snap. There is a huge list of things that will make your WordPress install easier to manage so go check the post out.

If you have hung around any design related forums one question you will hear is “What do I charge for …” It comes up over and over again. Freelancer Magazine has a great post on how to price yourself. Whether your just starting out or have been at it for a while have a read and check out how you price projects.

Finally today check out a post on embedding fonts for the web. Most web designers I know would love to have typographic freedom with their designs and it currently looks like this dream future is not so far away. For a good review of the situation as it stands check out the article. Don’t forget to see all of the articles that are linked as sources as well.

Is Crowdsourcing the Answer?

I just read an article on Sitepoint about Crowdsourcing for Freelancers. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, crowdsourcing is when you put your project up on a site (99designs, Crowdspring…) and get multiple options for the design. You then pick one and pay for that. I feel that it basically amounts to spec work.

Sitepoint’s article basically advocates that you can use the types of sources above to save some money during these tough economic times. Looked at from one perspective they are absolutely correct. By outsourcing some parts of your work to these sites you will save money over what a professional freelance designer could cost you.

Did you really catch what I said there though? How would you feel if your clients decided to go to one of these sources instead of coming to you? If you design logo’s you would probably agree that logo design does not cost $5.00. If you agree with the last statement why would you do the same to other designers?

This article also made me think of sites like Elance, that do bidding on freelance projects. Often it seems that the lowest price is the law (to pull from the famous Zellers saying). While it could be a good way to start to build your portfolio I would not encourage anyone to work with any of these sites for very long.

Ultimately if you are willing to crowdsource some of your work don’t complain when your clients start to do the same. You already started to devalue the industry and your own profession when you voted with your wallet.

The Daily News: Keeping clients, javascript and an interview

Keeping Clients Around

Once you do the hard work of landing a client you always want to keep them. Repeat work for good clients is always a bit easier. If you want some tips on those little things that keep clients around check out this article on Freelance Switch. It lists 3 easy ways to provide that little bit of extra service that will keep clients coming back for more.

curvyCorners

If you’ve been developing websites for a while you probably know a few ways to achieve rounded corners. For non-crucial effects I often use -moz-border-radius (along with the webkit version) and leave IE out in the cold. In fact, the corners on my blog are achieved in that way. curvyCorners uses javascript to perform on the fly rounded corners for all major browsers. While I’m not a fan of relying on javascript, if it is a non-crucial application you can include IE in the party. It seems that there is also a jquery plugin in the works.

Tutorials Galore

Now how about a round up of links in my round up (a bit ironic isn’t it). Over at NETTUTS there is a great list of things to know for web designers and developers. Everything from photoshop designing to jquery is covered in this list. I’ve done most of them over the months and highly recommend you at least skim through each one and expand your mind.

Getting Inspired

I love reading about other designers. Learning how and why they do what they do is simply just fun. Over at Just Creative Design there is a great interview with Doug Cloud. Doug does beautiful work and has a cool story.

That’s all I have for today. Hope you enjoyed.

Onsite or Offsite: Which type of freelancer works for you?

Lots of small business need continuing maintenance on their websites. For some it makes sense to have your employees or yourself do the edits and updates that need to be done. Sometimes though it takes someone that has more technical knowledge in web design to do the edits for you.

When you are at the place where you need some outside help with your website on a regular basis many business owners ask themselves if the person should be onsite or offsite. Ultimately both have their benefits to both parties so lets take a look at what they are.

Working Onsite

In my experience business often wants their freelancers to work onsite. They often feel that there will be a greater degree of control over what the freelancer does if they are onsite and they are right. If you have a freelancer working onsite you will be able to make sure that they are doing what they say they are doing. You will have a bit more artistic control over new items as they are made, since you can walk over to where they are working and have changes made as they are working.

If you have a freelancer onsite they are a real person. Sounds weird but some employees will have a hard time working with someone that they only have talked to over the phone. They value the face to face interaction that can be provided by having someone onsite. You may also find that employees are jealous of the ‘freedom’ that freelancers have (trust me 10 hours at a desk is not freedom no matter what the view is). That jealousy can cost you in un-productive employees that with-hold information from the freelancer just for some sort of control over the ‘free-spirit.’ I know that we are adults but that doesn’t change the fact that those things happen. Having a real person on site can really bring someone into the office culture which may be great for a creative individual.

When considering having a freelancer work onsite you must also include the cost that it may incur. Firstly while many freelancers have laptops to work on not all do which means you may have to provide a work station for them. A work station for a graphic designer is no trivial undertaking. It require nice hardware (easily over $1500) and expensive software (again easily over $1500). If your hiring someone for print design you also need a monitor that can be properly colour corrected ($500+) and the tools to colour correct ($500+). That makes the initial set up of a freelancer for print work over $4000. Don’t forget that you will be replacing that work station every 2 years or so, along with the software.

Other costs that will be incurred are interruptions from other people in the office, including yourself. How many hours a day are used when people stop by other cubicles or offices just to talk for a bit. Yes this is a healthy part of a good office culture but when you paying big bucks for a skilled freelancer each minute wasted with interruptions is pretty expensive.

Finally that creative control you have may actually produce poor results. I can’t count the number of times that I was just a few minutes into a good design session and someone peaked at my screen and loved what I had already and wanted it frozen there. No matter how much I tried that was what they wanted. Sure they saved a bit of cash but their site paid for it by looking generic and not fully developed. The creative process takes a while sometimes, especially if you don’t have an environment set up that fosters creative people. You hire people with different specialized talents for those talents so let them use the talents where ever they are.

Working Offsite

Most freelancers want to work offsite, at least from evidence I have seen. Many have worked for business before at a design firm or as an in house designer and decided to make the switch to freelance because they felt that the regular daily job just wasn’t for them. Whatever the reason many are reluctant to commit to coming into a business to work on a regular basis which can be difficult for business owners who need some regular site maintenance.

By working offsite freelance designers gain freedom in their creative atmosphere. I know that sometimes I work well at home but not always. If I’m really stuck on a site design I will often go hit the local used book store find a good cheap book and then hit the coffee shop for some mental relaxation. After about 20 minutes I pull out my sketch pad and start drawing site elements. Yeah I’m not working in Photoshop but many creative ideas for site designs have come from sitting and sketching. Once the idea catches I’ll dash home and get them into Photoshop as a site mockup.

Having an offsite freelancer can also make the work cycle seem very quick. If you are in different time zones you can send a project out to the freelancer and overnight they can have some ideas back to you. You make some comments during the day and in the morning you have a new version. This can be very effective if both parties buy into turning projects around quickly.

Offsite work can also allow people to work when it suits them best. I know that 5am is a very productive time for me. I fade often around 2pm and have some more work in me around 8pm so if I can, I work around this schedule. Why force someone to come into an office during set times if they aren’t at their peak? The reality is that you get a better return on investment when people work during their most productive times, which may not be when it’s most convenient for you.

Solitude can also be a benefit for people working offsite. I know that when I am working specifically for a client I turn off my email, twitter, and generally ignore my phone. I get to focus on what I am doing with very few distractions. I turn up my stereo and really drill into what I am doing. Many times a few hours later I realize that I have worked over lunch or dinner, or forgot to pick up the wife (really a bad idea) but man did I get a lot done.

Conclusion

Ultimately you need to do what works for your business. Some places need onsite, some offsite. I suggest trying out both and seeing what works for you.

Get Jobs just by Responding

Many of you know that I work fulltime as well as freelance somewhere near fulltime. Currently at my fulltime job we are looking for a company to partner with us specifically for Information Architecture work.

As the in house guy it is my job to find evaluate and solicit quotes from web companies that provide the services we need. So I have sent out 25 emails and followed up with about 15 calls to various local and not local web companies to help us and do you know how many return emails or call I got? 2. Yes that is it only 2. Some companies I called 2 or 3 times and they all promised that they would return my call or email me but none of them did.

We are also looking for freelance PHP guys for some ongoing work and the results were almost exactly the same. Out of all the emails I sent I only heard back from 3 people and only one really followed up as we discussed my needs.

24 Hour Turn Around

I make it a habit to get back to clients within 24 hours max (even on weekends). Often I get back to clients in under 8 hours (I do have to sleep). This level of service (unfortunately) seems to be rare in the web industry in my area. I wonder if it is also rare in many other parts of the world? If it is simply responding to clients in a timely fashion can bring in tonnes of work.

Personal Contact

How about not just emailing back to ask some further questions of a client but actually making a personal call. Email is not always the most efficeint way to get a question answered so don’t always rely on it. Many times a 5 minute conversation can get all of the questions answered. This personal call also lets your client know that they are important enough to deal with directly.

If you can take the time to provide a great customer service experience you can gain many long term clients who will return even when rates go up just because your service is so great. They want to use you because they feel like to treat them as important no matter what the situation.

Using Social Media to Market your Business

Most people out there now have profiles in a number of social media networks. From Facebook to Twitter most of us are familiar with social media and how it can help us connect with people. It is also possible to use the power of social media to find new clients, but how.

It’s in the details

First make sure that your contact details are up to date. I recently came across a wonderful photo on Flickr that I would have happily purchased from the photographer. Unfortunately I could find no way to get in touch with them, even though their profile listed that they were a professional photographer for hire. They lost a potential return customer (I produce newsletters ever month that theirs style would have fit) all for lack of contact data.

Along with the contact details goes the profile information. A potential client should be able to find out who you are and what you do at a quick glance. They will not dig around trying to find out what you do, unless you’re well known, they will just look for someone who lists what they do in an easy to find manner. We have all heard that the competition is only a click away and to a certain extent this is true. The potential client wants you to be the person to help them but if they get frustrated figuring out what you do or how to contact you off they go to the competition.

Network, network, network

Most people would rather work with people they feel they have some relationship with. I recently had some PHP coding work to do that was beyond me. I first went to Twitter and asked if anyone was interested. Unfortunately I didn’t find anyone that could do what I needed so I posted the job on a job board and looked at other avenues for getting someone to do the work. I ended up remembering a friend who might be able to do it and he at least had a name of someone who could do get the work done. Honestly I would have much rather had someone on twitter do the work, though I’m not displeased with the arrangement, just because it would have been easy for me. I have had some interaction with many of the people that I follow on Twitter so I feel like I know them, they’re kinda like pen pals. Helping out a friends is always a nice and you feel safe working with someone that you trust.

I have another friend who participates in forums and Twitter and writes a blog. Niki recently got asked to contribute to a new project by Envato. She is a great designer but already had contacts with the company as they run the one of the forums she participates in. I’m not sure what other contacts she had but I don’t think they were face to face (she lives in the USA they in Australia). This will give her tonnes more exposure in the design industry and move her career forward. I have also been asked to contribute to other blogs via twitter.

Actually Participate

Make sure that you don’t just favourite your own stuff. People don’t mind you tooting your own horn but if that’s all you do they will quickly become irritated and you will be hurting your name/brand. Adding some self promotion now and again is generally fine but participate in the community as well.

I am an avid Stumbleupon user, I love to find new inspiring art and I admit I use it to “like” my blog posts. I see a few hundred visitors a day from Stumbleupon. I have a number of people that are my friends because they love the things I find. Ultimately more traffic to my blog (or your site) translates into a greater chance that a potential customer will come along.

Participation also gives you opportunity to build your brand. I do everything with just my name. All forum usernames, profiles are my name. I am using it as my brand. Yeah very few people are looking for me know but hopefully that will change. I have actually noticed that there are more and more searches for my name (and I asked my mom it’s not her). Eventually this will translate into customers.

Check out my profiles: Twitter | Linkedin | Facebook | Flickr