How I watched my 2 year old learn about exclusion

Early in September on what turned out to be one of the last amazing weather weekends of the summer my family and I went camping. My 2 year old daughter got to use her Disney Princess sleeping bag and had half of a 6 man tent to herself.

It was totally awesome.

She got to play at the beach, swim and meet a bunch of new kids at the park.

Sadly she also got a lesson in being excluded from a group.

Excluded

She ran up to play with 3 or 4 other little girls that were maybe 1 year older than her at the most. They were all already friends and had traveled to camp together with their families.

They decided that screaming “ah get away from the girl” was the game to play and for a while Eden just played chase. She loves to be chased and to chase people.

After about 5 minutes she realized that what was really happening was that the ‘friends’ were running away from her and not really letting her be part of their group.

So she sat down.

Sitting by the camp fire enjoying a morning coffee I could see all this happening and my heart was breaking as she sat down. I can read my daughter and I could see she was sad.

They enticed her to play ‘chase’ for a few more minutes but her heart wasn’t really in it anymore and she left.

Coming back to the campsite she had a huge pouty lip (which is pretty dang cute really) and told me the story of the girls ‘just running away from me and screaming ah the girl stay away.’ Then she told me she was sad they wouldn’t play with her.

Talk about breaking a parent’s heart.

What’s your group

I’d love to say that as we grow up we learn that it sucks to be excluded from a group and we become more inclusive. That’s not what seems to happen though.

When we are left out we react by finding a group to join and excluding someone else.

Do ‘most’ freelancers speak poorly of those that work on oDesk or Elance? Yes they do. How do you think that the people reading your blog posts feel about you saying how terrible their work is?

Their work that is paying the family bills and keeping a roof over their heads?

When we crap all over places like that we lose the opportunity to educate the users there because they’ll never come back to read our site.

I did work on Elance when I started and I was happy for the work. I don’t do it now purely for business reasons. I don’t knock any person that gets work there, they are just running a different business than I am.

Are there strong cases not to work for Elance or oDesk clients? I certainly think so, but if we just go on about how terrible the sites are we are the group of kids running away.

We are excluding others instead of welcoming them into freelancing with open arms and working to help them run a proper business.

I hope that I can be an ‘arms open’ person and help train everyone that comes near me.

I hope that you can strive for that too.

photo credit: gfpeck via photopin cc

Working Freelance or in a Company?

Riding today I got to hear the [Ruby Freelancers podcast][rfp] talk about business. What stuck out to me was their stance on working for yourself (freelance) or taking a job with company. Each of the hosts talked about freedom being the biggest thing that keeps them working for themselves.

Late last year and early this year I was on full time contract with a WordPress shop. I did the same type of work that I do today, but I just didn’t have the lame freedoms with my time. I didn’t get to choose my projects and clients. I didn’t get to book in how much work I felt like doing. I wasn’t happy.

Needless to say I left. I didn’t leave because it was a bad company, it just wasn’t the right place for me. I learned a bunch about myself. I thought a more stable income was going to relieve a bunch of stress. It was nice to know I was getting paid day in day out, but the stress of not making my own schedule was harder on me then the stress of finances.

That’s not to say that I wouldn’t take a job with a company again, it’d just be pickier where I’d take it. The most important thing to me at this stage in life is being there for my wife and daughter. Earning money is just one small portion of being a good father and husband. Having time to spend with them is a much bigger part that I missed working on contract.

Even if you don’t code Ruby the episode was a great if you are thinking of running your business on your own.

[rfp]: http://rubyfreelancers.com/the-ruby-freelancers-show-18-listener-emails/ “Ruby Freelancers”

When to Go Freelance, and Leave Your Job

Since I went left full time employment 3 years ago and started my own web consulting business (see not freelance) I’ve been asked many times how I determine the right time to leave the job and strike out on my own.

For me I saved 3 months worth of money and then when I had so much work I couldn’t do it all, I handed in my notice. I had a supportive wife that just wanted me to work some place I would be happy and she worked full time.

Havard Business Review takes a look at other ways to look at the question. It all boils down to how much you can afford to loose, don’t bet more than that.

If you’re going to play in a game with uncertain outcomes, 1.) don’t pay/bet more than what you can expect as a return, and 2.) don’t pay/bet more than you can afford to lose.

Staying in the Zone by Killing Distraction

The zone is that place where things flow. Birds fly music plays. It’s cheesy, cliche and sometimes hard to come by. Really the zone is where we need to be regularly to get things done. For many of us the zone only sometimes shows its head. We struggle to find it. Love it when it happens and lament when we can’t find it.

It’s kind of like the ‘killing zone’ in the movie Wanted. You start off with it just happening and you have no control. Over time you learn how it works for you and grab the shuttle from the loom. Then you become a master.

The Distractions

Whether you work at home or in an office distractions come at us fast and furious. In the office co-workers visit your desk to chat. At home dogs bark, kids cry, neighbours stop by to say ‘hi’. In either place the phone rings while you are focused. Email comes in and audibly notifies you. You keep your twitter client open and it notifies you (my hands up on that one for sure).

The Weapons of Distraction Death

My primary weapon to kill office distraction is headphones or at the least music. Even if I’m not actually listening to music I have my headphones on. The headphones create a visual barrier for people when they come up to my desk. It makes them think twice when I don’t immediately react to their entry into the office (even though I see it at the edge of my vision). A number of times, when I stay focused for a few seconds extra they leave and shoot me a quick email which I can answer during my email times.

Second you need to turn off your email. Don’t leave it open all day. Don’t respond instantly to every message that comes in. Don’t open your email first thing in the morning. My daily routine goes something like this. I arrive at the office and login to my computer. Open Google reader and triage the items I’m never going to read. Fire up mail.app and triage my secondary email (99% of the time just filing and marking items as spam). Then I open my normal work email and deal with what needs to be dealt with. Once I have dealt with my email I close the window.

I personally have my email set to provide no notification of any fashion when new email comes in. This lets me Tab to Entourage if needed and create a new email from the keyboard without opening the app and seeing what might be there. I only open my email if I am between items of work and have a few minutes that I am not focused on a project. I also open it directly after lunch and just before I leave for the day. It takes a bit for co-workers to realize that you don’t answer email instantly but in the long term they learn and it makes you way more productive.

Finally, stop the social networking. Don’t have Tweetdeck open. At the very least turn off the notifications. For a while I used Seesmic and it lets you turn off all notifications but a small tone if someone DM’s you or replies to you. While I love this feature in Seesmic I went back to Tweetdeck cause it’s way faster. Unfortunately Tweetdeck notifications are on or off. So turn them off or close the application.

While multitasking is all the rage constant interruptions are unproductive. So let’s decide to kill the distractions and get more done. Have any other ideas to kill distractions love to hear them.

photo credit: el patojo via photopin cc

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.

Your Clients Best Interest

client-trust
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.

Working with Integrity

At the end of the day I design and build website for the money. I have to eat, pay the mortgage, do fun stuff and money is what pays for that. I don’t think anyone would begrudge me this because we all realize that today money is what makes the world go around.

At what point do we put money aside to provide good service to our customers? For me it’s always a concern. Right now I have a contract to upgrade a blog to WordPress 2.6.5 which is entirely fine. The problem is that we are on the cusp of WordPress 2.7 being release (I am using 2.7 RC1 right now). While it would entirely fulfill the terms of my contract to go ahead and upgrade the client to 2.6.5 I just don’t think it is correct.

How would the client feel if I contacted them next week to let them know that 2.7 came out and I will upgrade it for $XX. I be they would feel ripped off. I certainly would.

Remember that your clients trust you to give them the best advice. Sometimes that advice may run contrary to what is best financially to you. It can be a tough decision to make.

Wordpress 2.7 RC1
Wordpress 2.7 RC1

At the end of the day I always figure that providing better customer service will bring better returns long run so. My client will be getting 2.7 RC1 next Thursday if 2.7 is not fully released (testing on a sub domain with their theme and content now). Then when when 2.7 comes out fully I will perform the upgrade again at no charge. That way I fulfill my contract and provide a bit extra service. Of course I drop that in an email quickly and it looks good to the client that I have given them extra service. At the end of the day they are more likely to refer people to me if I have gone beyond expectations.

Anyone else have struggles between providing service and meeting the bottom line?

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.