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

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.

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: IE to use Webkit & Staying creative

Well here is an interesting development. In a recent developers conference in Sydney Steve Ballmer said that “Apple has embraced Webkit and we may look at that.” This is very interesting as the rendering in IE sucks currently and Webkit is awesome. I know that for all web designers it would be a wonderful thing to have the problems from IE just disappear.

Second up today is actually an article that i wrote for Design Fix on Staying Creative. It’s a quick list of how to stay creative long term as a designer.

Next is a post on 10 Key items for a perfect website. A very good check list of things to consider when building any new website. I already have a check list of things to consider when building a website but will add one or two from this list.

I am an advocate of having steady work while freelancing. Whether that is a client that has maintenance tasks or an actual steady job to make up some money. Freelance Switch has a good post on things to remember while working this steady gig. Like don’t stop marketing yourself cause it may not always be steady, and keep taking on some good projects. Just things to keep thinking about even through that amazing gig that pays the bills.

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.


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.

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.