Your Only Investment is Your Time

As any web designer could confirm there are a host of people with “good ideas,” no skills to implement them and no money to pay someone to do it for them. If this describes you read on, this post may tell you how to have a chance of getting someone to invest their time for free.

Time is money

Right away recognize that time is money. You tell me my only investment is time and you’re taking the risk with cash. As a professional designer/developer I charge a decent hourly rate. It is very likely that my investment of time far exceeds you initial cash outlay. Don’t try and play the “only time” card cause you’re fooling yourself.

Be a friend first

Before you contact someone make sure you know them and are friends in some way. I get at least 10 “offers” a week for free projects. I have never met any of them. What would convince me to do a project for someone with no pay that I don’t even know? I don’t mind helping friends a bit as many of my Twitter followers would verify but I don’t just help for free. I help those I know aren’t just looking for a free ride I only know that if I know you.

Send other business

Part of being a friend. Is helping me out. You want me to work on a cool idea for free butter me up first. Send your friends my way. Get me some work. Make sure they drop your name as the referral source. Then when you ask for a favour I’m way more likely to say yes.

Those tips won’t guarantee my help but they will definitely put you way ahead of the other 10 requests this week. Be sensible when you have a project you need help on. People generally like helping other people but appreciate the sacrifice I’m going to make.

Rails Resources

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Today is a round up of resources for learning Ruby on Rails. Many of these were given to me by Miles at coderpath and the guys at FV.rb.

  • Working with Rails a site for all of those that are involved with Ruby on Rails. There is a cool ranking system that encourages you to participate in the rails community. See my profile and connect with me.
  • Learning rails podcast. Just started this one but it was recommended. Not one to listen to in the car or while walking the dog. You really have to pay attention to get the info.
  • Rails lessons on Smashing Magazine. Just as I started to learn Ruby on Rails Smashing Magazine started a series on learning Rails. The link provided is to a search so it should be up to date with their information on Ruby on Rails.
  • Learning Rails book. Yeah I know the dead tree version is bad for the environment but I just don’t do PDF books. Anyway, this book was recommended at the book for designers that want to learn Ruby on Rails. Frontend deisgner/developers just think a bit different than those backend peeps and this book is supposed to be way better for us. I’ve started it and nothing seems hard to understand yet but I’ll put up a full review when I finish.
  • Peepcode: Professional Ruby on Rails screencasts. Not a free option but if you need to learn ROR fast this is supposed to be the way to do it. Not quite ready to spend money on this but if I’m looking for screencasts I’m going no further.

That’s the list that I was given. What are the Ruby resources you recommend?

New Business Card

I recently redesigned my portfolio site and also redesigned my branding. Today I just wanted to show off my new business card. Love to hear feedback and see links to anyone else’s card.

business card 2009

Your Clients Best Interest

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When clients come to you to do a job they do it with the belief that you are the best person they can find for the job. Often if we are honest with ourselves we are not the best person for the whole job. With very few exceptions there is always someone better at user interface, e-commerce, social media…than you. Your job as the main contact point for your client is to provide the best possible solutions to their problems. Sometimes that best possible solution isn’t you.

Over the years I have been working in the web, both in house and freelance, I have come across a few projects like that. Currently we are rebuilding our entire site at my fulltime job. I would love to do that but the reality is that I am a one man team. The site needs to be launched quickly and we have to rebuild the e-commerce as well. Realistically I can’t do all of that and maintain our current content output.

With disappointment I advised by boss to outsource the building and configuration of the main chunk of the site while I would continue with the e-commerce rebuild. I readily admit that I wanted to do the whole project since a site of this size would look really good in my portfolio but it’s never going to get done in the timeline.

Even as a freelancer I am only an intermediate PHP developer. When it comes to big intricate PHP scripting I call in others who are the best solutions for those problems. While I make less money (sometimes none if I just provide a referral) on that particular project I get happy clients that recognize that I give them the best advice for them, not for my pocketbook.

So come on web designers/developers, make the right decision for your clients. Just being good will have benefits in the long term with referrals and reputation.

Google Conversion Optimizer

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I attended a webinar on Google Conversion Optimizerrecently and had to write a summary for work that I thought I would share with everyone. I don’t profess to be an expert (that’s why I went) so if there are things I am missing let me know.

What is the Conversion Optimizer?

At it’s core the conversion optimizer helps you bid more effectively on adwords. It takes all of the info that gets generated by an adwords campaign and analyzes it all to adjust your bids on keywords for situations that bring better conversions for you.

Where Conversion Optimizer Shines

Regular adword campaigns allow you limit your campaigns by country, city, state or neighbourhood (though this IP detection is not always effective). Google Conversion Optimizer adds more to just that general segmentation. Over time conversion optimizer learns what regions, search strings… yeild better conversions for your site. As it learns what terms…have a higher conversion percentage on your site it adjust your average bids higher so that you come up more often for those things (note: you still set your maximum and it doesn’t go over that figure).

The example given int he presentation dealt with a surf shop that advertised for ‘surf board’ and for ‘ocean sports.’ As one would think they saw lots of good ROI on the term surfboard and some ROI on the term ocean sports. When they turned conversion optimizer on they saw a big increase in ‘ocean sports’ as the tool learned what types of sites to display the add on and what exact queries meant people were really looking for a surf shop. This fairly broad search term ended up having a very high ROI as conversion optimizer learned more and more when to feed their add out (with little increase in average payment for adds).

Some Caveats

As with anything that uses historical data to tailor results the bigger your data set the better the campaign is tailored. So over time you campaign could yeild more conversions for the same or lower pricing. Tieing in with this it was suggested that you just start a normal adwords campaign and after a number of weeks (no firm number mentioned) turn on the conversion optimizer.

You also can’t make large changes to your campaign and have the conversion optimizer maintain its effectiveness. You can add a few keywords and maybe take one or two out but when using conversion optimizer it is best to make changes slowly over time so that it stays effective. If you have to make large changes for a campaign it is best to turn off conversion optimizer make the changes let it run for a few weeks and then turn it back on.

Finally conversion optimizer requires that in the last 30 days you have had 30 conversions and that you have conversion tracking turned on. Now if your campaign regularly has 30 conversions in 30 days but for a period or two it drops to 24 (the number mentioned in the presentation) you should still be using conversion optimizer. It will still have a large data set from the other recent 30 day periods to act on.

Other resources I used when writing this post:

Web Designer Needed: Don’t Apply if you use Dreamweaver

dw-iconWe’ve all seen job adds like the title. One that bascially discounts you as a coder on the basis of your tool of choice. Once that basically says “real web designers/developers don’t use Dreamweaver.”

I do use Dreamweaver. Oh yeah I also use Notepad++ and Textwrangler. I have tried coda (great by the way) and BBedit and Aptana and many other applications for web development.

At my fulltime job it simply comes down to cost. I use Dreamweaver because it is in CS3. There is no real break through feature that I could find to justify to my boss so that they would purchase Coda. At home I use Dreamweaver because there is no good alternative on a PC. Sure there is Notepad++ but no mater how many times I have tried I can’t get the code completion to work. Really why would I waste time to get an application working when Dreamweaver works out of the box? It’s just not good practical use of my limited time. Using Dreamweaver has no bearing on my code writing skills.

The problem with Dreamweaver is that a large number of people purchased it solely on the basis of the WYSIWYG view. Really these are the people that recruiters want eliminated from applying for jobs as web designer/developers not the ones that hand write code inside Dreamweaver.

So come on people that post jobs know what it is that you want. You want good web designers/developers. Let them use whatever tool they find most reliable and easy to use. If it’s Dreamweaver fine. Focus on the end product not the tool used.

Becoming an iPhone Developer

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Although I have been an Apple developer for a while I haven’t done anything as far as learning how to code for OSX and I am not an iPhone Developer. Becoming an iPhone developer is actually an easy process. Just sign into your ADC account a sign up.

There are 3 options for membership when signing up to become an iPhone developer. Two are paid and one is free. To start with I have gone with the free option though it seems there are some limits. (write down the limits).

I also downloaded the special content from Apple for iPhone developers. Really it’s just a series of videos that take you through Xcode, Dashcode, and Cocoa (the native OSX programming language).

Finally to actually be able to code for OSX and iPhone you need to download the iPhone SDK which includes all of the applications for writing code.

Unfortunately since I am not a paying iPhone developer I don’t have access to the iPhone 3.0 SDK. I haven’t found any info on when this may become available to non-paying developers but I hope it’s soon. The only application that I can think of building that isn’t out there wouldn’t require the new SDK but the function would be enhanced by push notifications. Ah well maybe I’ll pay someday.

Side Projects Keep you Smart

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Most creatives work on side projects. Side projects keep us fresh they force us to learn new concepts or programming languages that just makes us better at our normal work. It can also open up new opportunities in our careers.

Currently I have two new side projects. First I have been a registered Apple developer for a long time but I have decided to make use of that. I will be starting to develop iPhone apps. Really this is mainly for my fulltime job but I am pretty interested in this so I’ll be spending my own time on it.

Second I’ll be putting some time into learning Ruby on Rails. I started attending a local meetup (the only one on my area) that is a meetup of Ruby guys. They have got me excited about developing with Ruby.

Upcoming I’ll probably be putting up some screencasts of my work in both of these fields. Wish me luck and hey if any of you are good at these things I’d love some links to resources and tips to watch out for in the comments.

CSS Inspections Launched

I recently launched CSS Inspections a website for a home inspector named Greg McHale located in the Durham Region of Ontario.

This was a great project full of some simple and fun wordpress and jQuery trickery. Check out the contact form on the sidebar that unwinds and stays open until you have completed the form and it has been submitted properly. See a screenshot below.

CSS Inspections screenshot