A Family Business

In January Susan and I decided to leave our current employment and go freelancing as iFamily. At around the same time Andy Clarke and Anna Debenham started a new podcast focusing on the business end of web, design and creative industries; Unfinished Business.

Unfinished Business

Unfinished Business has been invaluable to us. Even though there are two of us running our Ringwood based web design company it can get a little lonely. It is so refreshing to hear two well respected web professionals share their experience of working freelance. There are of course lots of resources and podcasts on the creative side of web design. I particularly enjoy Jeffrey Zeldman’s, The Big Web Show. But aside from Unfinished Business have found very little else about the business side of web design and development. The problem with this industry is that we are all more than happy to share our techniques and tricks but we are often a little bit more secretive about the pounds and pennies. So I thought I would chime in about some of the points and products discussed on their show, from iFamily’s perspective and also mention some of the ones we use.

A message from our sponsors

One of the highlights of their podcast for me, is when they share some of the tools of their trade. They find some really great sponsors. I am quite astonished by how much stuff I have bought as a result of listening to their show! Two have become indispensable to me already; FreeAgent and Perch. I know Hammer for Mac will also be adopted by iFamily soon also.

Perch

Perch was the first sponsor of Unfinished Business. I had heard good things about this CMS system before. But after hearing the praise that Anna and Andy reaped on it, I tried the demo. I have since bought two licences and created two websites with it. In both cases Perch has been a perfect fit. I could have used WordPress but sometimes Perch does just enough and is wonderfully easy to work with. WordPress although very capable is a behemoth. The learning curve on Perch is a lot less steep and even after a relatively small time I was really enjoying working with it.

FreeAgent

We knew we needed to manage our invoicing and finances well. We didn’t want to generate invoices in Pages. Like Perch, I had heard some good things before about FreeAgent, but Anna Debenham was very positive about it in the podcast. I then coincidently picked up a flyer from the Altitude web conference and promptly signed up. It is brilliant. You can hook it up to your bank account and it’ll auto-magically feed into it. Invoices are easy to generate and it also works with timer apps too so you can monitor exactly what you have been doing. Accounting might never be fun, but FreeAgent is invaluably so.

Sign up to FreeAgent and get a 10% discount with referral code: 42v393mf.

Hammer for Mac

Hammer for Mac is another really clever and interesting app that the dynamic duo have introduced to iFamily. To be honest I haven’t bought it yet. (Edit: I have now) I have just been using a demo. But it really is a great new way of working on front end development. So I will probably buy this real soon as it looks like a very useful tool. I have also tried Andy Clarke’s new mobile first boilerplate, which is beautifully executed and is a great template for any new project. As you might have guessed it plays nicely with Hammer for Mac. I predict a SASS, Hammer for Mac and Rock Hammer learning session will be something I will be doing very shortly.

Home Work

We have been working professionally on the web since 2000 but have only been working freelance for a few months. Susan and I incorporated iFamily Web Design Ltd in March 2013. Leaving a regular pay cheque is never easy. We hadn’t even planned going freelance. So we had to hit the ground running, and fast. The following are some of iFamily’s most valuable and useful tools and resources that may or may not have been featured in Unfinished Business.

Time after time

I wanted to track my time. It is very easy for web workers to procrastinate and get distracted. No, I am not talking about porn. Working in this industry means there is always something new to learn. It is like painting the Forth Bridge. On crack. Nowhere near as dangerous or physically challenging but it is a continual process. As soon as you learn something, some other clever Dick has created a new way, and we start again.

Eon

Eon seemed like it might help me keep a close eye on my time. Eon is a simple little desktop app, and you can buy a plugin for it that hooks right into FreeAgent. If you leave your desk on your return it asks if you would like to knock the time back. Which I do religiously. If I start learning something new which will benefit me after the project, then I turn the timer off. If this will only benefit my client’s project I might keep it on.

Doing the time warp

What is totally surprising though is that after you might have been toiling at your desk for 8 or 9 hours a day; I am only totting up 5 or 6 hours of paid work. Maybe the timer is wrong? I don’t think so. I am sure I will find this app more and more useful in future especially when quoting for new projects. I can always look back at how much time I have spent on something and price accordingly.

Show me the money

I was introduced to Cole Henley whilst attending Andy Clarke’s Hardboiled Web Design workshop a couple of years ago. Andy suggested to us that we all follow Cole on Twitter as he is hilarious. Which is an understatement. But Dr Cole has a serious side too and he produces and curates the most excellent Freelance Rates Survey and the great Freelance Rates Calculator. I now use these as yard stick in order to calculate a day rate for our work.

Good company

We decided to register as a limited company and at the same time bought a mailing address from Registered Address. So now our official address is in London. We also use this address to hide any domain name registration addresses from the world. We are only an hour and a half from London so could easily do client work there. But for the most part we are going to try and work a little bit more local than that. We want our local economy to benefit from our expertise too. However it seems getting a registered London address is cheaper than getting one in Ringwood.

Design is a job

If you are not easily offended, and are not particularly religious you have to follow Mike Monteiro on Twitter. He doesn’t pull any punches. Neither does his book, Design is a Job. This is really great. I particularly like the chapter on “Choosing the right clients”. This suits are philosophy here at iFamily. We don’t want to battle with our clients. So, from the outset we find only the best people or businesses to work for.

Stop! Thief!

In Unfinished Business, Andy Clarke revealed how someone has used his artwork on their website. He has explained how he has tried to politely ask for the content to be removed, but it seems that this is falling on deaf ears. My old employer, iChauffeur used to suffer from this all the time. Pictures of our cars, text copy and more were often pinched. I have even seen people advertising for developers who can clone the entire iChauffeur site! I used to spend a lot of time asking people to take down this content. I used to actually enjoy calling them, asking if I could hire the actual Rolls-Royce shown on their website. Could I have that actual car? They would soon fall to pieces into a stuttering mess when I told them that it was actually my vehicle. One resource I started using, and which gets immediate results is the Removing content from Google tool. You have to be sure you own the copyright, and you have to report each url individually. I often would use the WayBack Machine in conjunction with this to prove that we had published something first. But boy does it get results. I know Google are not the only search engine. But their dominance means you can effectively stop the thief in their tracks. Sure, they can keep publishing your stuff but their pages will be hidden from the Google index.

I had one large competitor call me complaining about what we had done when we reported several of his websites. He even suggested that I call him first before we reported any more sites, just to make sure it wasn’t one of his first! Some of this plagiarism actually worked well for us. They would often link back to us inadvertently, and sometimes we would not take any action against them because of this. But most of the time it is just one more thing to eat into your day.

Useful resources

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  • Growing your design business
  • Getting Clients

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