Ask A Freelancer

From time to time I get emails asking for advice about freelance matters. I hope that by publishing these inquiries and my response I can do a better service to my blog readers than just responding one email at a time. Plus, those of you who may have input on the matter that I didn’t think of can chime in with a comment! If there’s a question you have or a subject you’d like to get an opinion on, please contact me!

Ask A Freelancer #10: Specializing in WordPress Design & Development

Got this question just recently via Facebook and decided to expand on my response for another installment of Ask A Freelancer.

Question

Liz,

How did you decide to specialize in wordpress design, and do you charge your clients for any time you spend training them on it?

WordPress isn’t something I decided to specialize in, it just sort of evolved. My first introduction to the software was with putting together this blog. In the months before leaving my old 9to5, I came home every night and spent hours at the computer slowly teaching myself WordPress and building what was version1.0 of the CMD+Shift Design blog. It was late 2007, I was working with WordPress Version 2.3 — which when I think about it now it was pretty primitive compared to what we know as WordPress today!

Time Lapse from Late 2007 of me learning WordPress and building V1.0 of the blog in the hours after my “9to5” workday was over.

As I worked with the software more and with the big upgrade to features that version 2.5 brought, I was very excited about how vertistile WordPress could be and naturally started selling it to clients. It is not a solution for every type of site, but it is much more than just a blogging platform, for sure!

What I like most about it is how easy it is for my clients to use! Whenever I do a WordPress project I always include a tutorial session at the close of the process. The client has a chance to sit down with the software and get walked through how they will update and maintain their new website. As the software evolves more and more, it has just gotten easier and these sessions rarely last more than a half hour.

Over the last month, I have even opted to make screencast tutorials for my clients  — in a 10 minute video I can walk them through all they need to know and they have that to reference back to whenever they need it! There are also some great resources for helping your clients get familiar with the software, like WordPress.tv.

I remember the days when having a content management system was an expensive process that was still not very simple for a casual user to pick up and for the most part — websites were fully static creations, meaning if you wanted to change something, you had to edit the code. I’ve dealt with teaching clients how to do basic HTML editing, it was awful! No client should have to deal with that stuff, they have businesses to run and they shouldnt have to shell out my hourly rate everytime they need some contact info changed.

Content manegement systems put the power into you clients hands so that they can grow their business in an efficient way and it ensures that the integrity of the design you have created with them is not compromised by any code blunders along the way.

WordPress isn’t the only game in town, there is a bunch of great CMS’s out there that can do a variety of unique things for you unique projects! There is Joomla, Drupal, Expression Engine, Movable Type, Magento, CushyCMS, CMS Made Simple and a lot more. Download and install and just try one out, see what it can do and think about how it may benefit your clients and you business!

Ask A Freelancer #9 (Lightening Round!)

For the past 3 weeks I have had a Formspring account and have been asking all sorts of anonymous questions that come into me about dealing with clients, marketing, blogging, etc. I have a backlog of questions in my inbox over there and just try to pop in and answer a few of them each week. (If you have submitted something and I haven’t got to it yet, just be patient – I am answering everything!)

This has become a bit of an “Ask A Freelancer” Lightening round, so I decided to pick a few each week that I think might be of interest to you guys and re-post them here. So here we go…

At what point in your design process do you start talking with the client in detail about their project? Before someone becomes a client or after they are under contract and are “officially” a client?

Before someone signs a contract and becomes an official “client”, we usually talk in pretty broad terms about the design end of their project. We usually discuss scale at the onset of things… how large the website they need, what print pieces need designed, how many illustrations. THAT type of stuff. After a quote – if they choose to move forward, they put down a deposit, sign off on a project agreement and then we have a “kick off meeting” or a “consult” where we go further into the philosophy of their business, their goals, their businesses aesthetic, etc. etc. If after this chat we find that the scope of what we initially discussed had widened – we adjust the project agreement to accommodate it.

Do you have a niche?

I specialize in WordPress Design and Development. That is what maybe 75% – 80% of the work i do. But, I have a background in branding and print design and lately have been doing a fair amount of that. I love print, i LOVE IT. But, i think I do love web a little more.

What do you say to tire-kickers to prevent them from wasting your time? And what do you say to red-flag clients to send them elsewhere?

A red flag for me goes off when the first correspondence from a prospective client is vague. Emails like “I’d like a quote for a website.” Usually, these people either never respond, or they really have no clue what they need or want, but they know they can;t spend much money on it. I have a collection of “canned responses” in my email to respond to emails like this. It explains that I need more info to quote and then gives some wide-range ballpark prices they might expect for different types of sites. This will weed out most of those “tire-kickers,” but if they respond with more details on the project, they will already have a general idea of where your quote might fall from the previous email, so take the time to send them a quote!

What do you tell clients who see to be “afraid” of white space?

Well, when dealing with any client who is not comfortable with a design choice I have made on their project – I would explain the reason for it framed in the language of business instead of design. Telling a client “this empty space gives balance and order to the layout and allows your eye to rest.” makes perfect sense to you and your designer friends, but a client might likely heard “Wah wah wah wah wah,” try something like. “This space is important to give your companies logo more dominance, establishing a strong sense of brand and making sure your customer doesn’t get lost in too many elements.” Try not to let your client focus too strongly on what they like, but pull it always to what the customer needs.

How do you say no to a client you don’t want to take while still keeping the door open? Or what if you have too many projects flowing in at once?

Just be honest. If you have too much on your plate, tell them you can’t accept new projects for another 3 weeks – but you would love to work with them if they’d be willing to delay the start of the project! ….If you just aren’t interested in doing the job they have for you, tell them you don’t think that the project is the right fit for your skill set or style, but that they should contact you again if they have other projects in the future that the 2 of you could work on together!

Ask A Freelancer #8: Five Reasons Personal Branding through Social Networking is Smart

Question

Liz,

I work as a web designer in a mid-sized design firm in Chicago. I love my job, but also have heard a lot about the importance of growing a “personal brand” using social networking tools. I think I would one day like to start my own design business, but RIGHT NOW I am happy with the job I have. Isn’t it kind of a waste of time to start blogging, using twitter, youtube, etc. if I am not actually doing freelance work?

– 9to5er

The idea of “personal brand” has to do with thinking of yourself as a unique part of your industry, and marketing your one-of-a-kind skills, style and personality as its own brand — and in my opinion, it is NEVER a waste of time to start growing one! Growing your personal brand through the use of social networking tools is something that can be beneficial in many ways, whether you are a freelancer or 9to5er, here are a few…

1. Just because you’re happy and secure at your 9to5 now does not mean you always will be. In the economy of today, layoffs have been widespread over many industries and if a sudden change in economic climate puts you out of a job, having well-laid foundation with your personal brand could give you a leg up in a competitive job market!

2. Future potential employers will look at your online profiles if you are applying for a staff position! This is the case for many industries nowadays, but especially in web design. Being a web designer, it is so important to be educated about emerging trends and technologies on the web and the only way to really understand these tools is to use them!

3. In addition to using social media tools to grow your personal brand, you will also be benefiting your current employer and current clients by educating yourself more about these tools!

4. If you hope to start a business in your future, make an investment in that future and start making your name known NOW. Building a foundation now will only help you when you do break out on your own. Buy your vanity domain name (yourname.com) and secure your name on as many of the social networks as you can.

5. Blogging and social networking will help you connect with other in your industry, which can come in helpful if you need to relocate to another city, outsource a project, ask questions about software or code, get a design critique or business advice, or just to nerd out about a new font you just bought!  Your interactions with those in the design community will aid you in improving your skills at your 9 to 5 and you can make some awesome FRIENDS along the way!

What Do You Think?

These are just a few reasons why I see social networking as valuable to those in the design industry, maybe some of you disagree with me? Leave a comment and give me your thoughts on the matter!