Monday, September 9, 2013

Freelancer musings, zombie edition

What a long, strange eight months it's been since I last wrote in this space.  I've gained clients, lost clients, gone through personal things both good and bad.  Wow.

I first started this blog in an attempt to chronicle my journey from a dabbler to quasi-professional in the hope of helping anyone who faced similar frustration.  The funny thing is, along the way I've learned that there's no set definition for professional.  There's always more to learn, always things I can improve on.  I'm beginning to think that desire to go on the journey of self-improvement is itself professionalism, rather than any particular collection of skills or ability.

I've noticed, too, that my blog entries mirrored that transition.  They've become less about particular technical hangups and more about what it is to be a freelancer.  It's interesting to read through everything in one sitting and see the shift in perspective.

So, with that realization in place, I figure I should consciously shift gears.  While I'll still write about any technical problem or solution I feel warrants attention, I'm more interested in writing about what a freelancer should be, and how they should approach business.  I'm not an expert; The title of my blog is still more than accurate.  But I am a bit of an idealist, and I tend to have a good handle on what makes people tick.  I believe that if I/you/we can remember that we're dealing with people, with their own goals, limits, fears, etc., we can all come out ahead.

Like I've said before, respect and honesty are the cornerstones of any relationship.  That includes business relationships.  And I hope that any current or potential clients read this blog.  Not for my own sake, but so they can educate themselves on how to identify quality.


So, today's post deals with pricing, specifically whether one should set a price per page.  It was inspired by this thread on PHPFreaks, and you can see my immediate responses there.  Back in the old days - the late 90's/early 2000s - web designers often set their prices per page.  It wasn't uncommon to see something like, "$100/page, $500/site" back in those days.  And it worked for a while as most sites were just a collection of static HTML pages that didn't really do anything.  They just sat there and looked pretty.

With the modern web, that kind of pricing just isn't realistic any more.  For one, while users still view the web as a collection of pages, under the hood there's generally a lot going on.  Like pulling data from a database, or custom JavaScript that talks between the browser and server, and let's not forget those awesome custom graphics.  And even in the rare cases where it is literally just some HTML pages tied together, chances are there's a professional grade framework running things just below the surface.  Why?  Because clients like to add to and expand their sites, and the smart developer will have anticipated it.

For my money, price per page indicates that the person is either way behind the times, or they're a WordPress/theme installer.  The first option is one potential clients should avoid at all costs.  There's nothing wrong with the second possibility per se, but they're not really developers.

Like I've said in previous posts, a developer will do whatever custom work is required to get the job done, and communicate with their client and try to work out a pricing arrangement that makes both sides happy.  Creating a website should be a boutique experience for the client, one they're fully invested in emotionally so they can feel a sense of pride and ownership.

So, if you're not in a position to charge a lot for your services, don't.  But don't fall into the price per page trap.  It doesn't work.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Musings of a freelancer

One of the topics that comes up a lot on the PHP Freaks forums is freelancing: how to find clients, how to market oneself, how much to charge per project, etc.  Having been a freelancer for a while, this is the nugget of wisdom I've discovered:

Freelancing is not about you.  It's about serving your clients.

A lot of the budding developers (and bitter, not-as-successful-as-they-want-to-be veterans) I encounter view freelancing as a means to an end.  A way to pad a portfolio, or to create their own shop, or to act as supplementary income.  And, certainly, those are worthwhile benefits to pursue.  But the best way to achieve those rewards is to put your client's happiness first, within reason.

This means being honest with your clients.  Don't promise what you can't deliver.  Instead, be honest about your abilities.  Many small business owners have been burned by bad developers who promised the moon and delivered a pebble, at great cost.  Don't be that developer.  Being honest, even if it means losing out on potential clients, leaves your reputation intact.  A freelancer's reputation is the most important thing they have, even beyond a good portfolio.  So, be honest at all times.

This means being in regular contact with your clients.  As frustrating and perhaps even capricious as some clients can be, you're working for them.  They need to be on board.  The more involved they are, the more they'll help you.  The last thing you want to do is treat the client like an adversary, or to hide away for weeks/months at a time while you work on their site.  No contact leads to frustration, which eventually leads to a broken relationship and no money.

This means being reasonable about pricing.  Sometimes clients simply can't afford a developer's rate, or some ancillary cost like hosting.  If you can, offer to lower your price, or cover the other associated costs, or accept a payment plan.  In many cases, taking on some (emphasis on some) of the financial burden now leads to the client paying you more in the future as they'll inevitably want to expand their site.


The point isn't to screw yourself over.  Rather, the point is to offer excellent service at a reasonable price.  A happy client is an ally.  If they're satisfied, they'll want to continue working with you.  Even better, satisfied people, as a rule, brag to their friends, families, and customers about good things.  If you are one of those good things, you'll get new clients.  Word of mouth advertising is still the best around, and having a client go to bat for you is invaluable.

So, if you're looking to freelance, go around town and offer your services.  Every town has at least one small business that wants a site or needs a complete rewrite of an existing site.  Treat that client well, and watch the cycle begin.