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.

The Daily News: Stolen designs, site conversion, and usability

Let’s start today with an article from Freelance Switch (FSW) on Intellectual Property Resources. All of us designers get worried about our design work getting stolen. It seems that when this happens it’s hard to do much about it. The list provided by FSW gives you places to find your legal rights.

Second up is an article on redesigning your blog. Most of us, myself included, think of a ground up redesign when they want to change their site or blog. What about just tweaking the look. Read the article for some good ideas on how to make small changes that will impact your users greatly.

All websites are trying to get more traffic and keep it. This article from conversion rate experts details 14 free tools for tracking your website. I am particularly interested in the heat map stuff from crazy egg. I am currently going to redesign my portfolio and blog, and actually the site at my fulltime job, and this will come in handy in testing designs.

Finally today we look at usability. This is an article that challenges you not to think of site usability as an after thought but as the first thought in a site. I truly think that this should be the case. In any major redesign I do I want to make it easier to use, I call it ‘stupid simple.’ Many of the resources from the last article would help greatly in making an existing site more usable.

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.

Freelancers Make yourself Accessible

A number of my readers are freelancers. We are always trying to find ways to get more work in the door with the least amount of effort. Often for freelancers that means using email.

I would often much rather talk to a client via email than over the phone. It’s quick and I can fit it into my schedule when I have the time. Emails don’t have to interrupt you when you are in the middle of some ‘flow’ for a design.

Is email always the best for your clients though? I don’t really think so. I am sure we have all had a long email conversation over a few days that still really didn’t resolve a problem. Did just keeping the conversation to email really save you any time. Better yet did it make your customer happy?

Could that same conversation have been had in 10 or 15 minutes and then been done. Yes it make have taken you more time but would you have been able to finish the project faster therefore get money into your pocket faster. If the answer was yes then why didn’t you just pick up the phone?

I think that freelancers today rely too much on email and online forms of communication that are ineffective for our clients. That’s not to say that there aren’t some good ways to use online communication more effectively.

Right now, really as I write this post, I am using google chat in ‘guest’ mode with another freelancer for some development work. I don’t have this set up he does. I didn’t even know you could do this but is it effective? Hell yes. I am able to send links and respond in near real time to his questions while I do other things. This is way more effective for us than emailing back and forth a number of times. Think there is usually a dely in replying to emails (or we’d never get any work done) but if you blocked out time each day and told clients that you are online for chat if they need anything then you may server your clients better.