I put together this post to complement my presentation on October 24, “Making Money with WordPress” at The Grove in New Haven. I’ve stepped up as co-organizer of the New Haven WordPress Meetup Group, and am excited to be helping organize events in the WordPress community. I’ve met and worked with a large variety of freelancers and agencies and have noticed some common tendencies and traits that separate those who flourish, and those who tend to be stuck as a ‘struggling freelancer’. I can’t take full credit for a lot of what you’re about to read – it’s a collection of knowledge gleaned from lunches with mentors, blog posts I’ve read, and lots of trial and error.
I’ll also say that I’m incredibly grateful to be working in a career that I enjoy with people I love. This has been an amazing ride that I sense is just beginning. These are the principles that have served me best.
My Philosophy – Be The Wolf
Anyone who’s seen the movie Pulp Fiction remembers the scene with Winston Wolf. Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta have just blown a man’s head off in a car, and need the problem solved…quickly. Jackson calls his boss, Marcellus, freaking out. “You can relax, ” Marcellus says coolly, “I’m sending the Wolf”. Jackson’s response pretty much sums it up – “Shit, negro! That’s all you had to say!”
I’ve learned a lot from that scene about handling business in a professional manner. I’ve always wanted my name the one that instills calm in panicked clients. I want people to know that when I’m on a project, it will be done and my work won’t need to be checked or verified. Here’s what I’ve learned from that scene as it applies to my business:
- Have a clear objective - “I’m the Wolf. I solve problems.” The Wolf knows exactly what he does, and does it well. I’m trying to focus my objective a little more clearly. For years it was, “I build WordPress websites.” Even that is still too vague though – I’m trying to narrow it down to “I build beautiful bespoke responsive WordPress themes”
- Be on time and completely professional – “That’s 30 minutes away. I’ll be there in 10.” The Wolf doesn’t waste a minute when he takes an assignment – showing up 9 minutes and 37 seconds later wearing a tuxedo and ready to get down to business. I typically wear a shirt and tie when meeting clients and always respect their time. I arrive 5-10 minutes early and make sure to walk in at exactly the time we scheduled. Likewise, when I have a call scheduled, I make sure to dial the person at exactly that time – often dialing the first several digits then punching in the last digit right when the clock hits our set time. Professionalism is typically the first thing clients notice and respect.
- Be 100% Reliable – Just the name “The Wolf” calms Samuel L. Jackson. I would like to think that one day I can have the same effect. The only way to get there, though, is to be 100% reliable. I bend over backwards to make sure projects get done on time exactly the way they’re supposed to be done. Part of that is having the technical knowledge, the other part of that is knowing which projects not to take. Either way, reliability in the web development world can sometimes be much more important than technical knowledge, especially when it comes to building a reputation.
- Assess the situation and understand key objectives – The Wolf knows exactly what he’s walking into, because he writes it down ahead of time. He takes careful notes during the initial phone call so doesn’t have to rehash everything when he arrives. Right away he can begin solving the problem. When setting up meetings with prospects, I find it so important to be prepared for the initial meeting – doing research ahead of time, writing down what we’ve discussed, and assessing their needs and objectives. I always carry a folder with their name on it with a printout of any notes from previous discussions. I want them to know nothing will slip through the cracks or be forgotten. I put a lot of effort into communicating clearly and effectively – assessing exactly what they need (sometimes they aren’t even sure), and delivering the best solution in a timely fashion.
- Thoroughly understand potential pitfalls – The Wolf knows exactly what will happen if Bonnie gets home and finds a headless man in her garage. Likewise, it’s important to understand what could happen if a client is on crumby hosting, has issues with a payment gateway on an ecommerce site, or if a site isn’t delivered on time.
- Prioritize - Working on tight deadlines means prioritizing. The minute the Wolf walks in, he begins breaking everything down in order of priority. “now when it comes to upholstery, it don’t need to be spic and span, you don’t need to eat off it. Give it a good once over…But the windows are a different story. Them you really clean. Get the Windex, do a good job.” Once I’ve assessed the primary objectives, I always try to break things down and prioritize – what are the most important components that I need to build this site? Who do I need to pull in on this project?
- Communicate clearly and know your audience – The Wolf changes his tone and the way he speaks depending on who he’s talking to – extremely important in any business situation. I pride myself on my communication skills and make sure to tailor my language to the audience – whether it’s a subcontractor, client, or vendor.
- Get in, get shit done, and get out – No need to stick around longer than necessary. The Wolf knows that, and so do I. I make sure that my work is straight the first time around, so I don’t have to be called back and doublecheck missing.
The Pyramid of Success
The 3 components explained below, in order of priority, have served me well while building my business. I firmly feel that until I’ve mastered each component I’m not ready to add the subsequent piece. None of these components are ever ‘mastered’, either. I devote hours each week to strengthening each piece and continually progressing. I’ve also spent lots of time with other successful business owners and entrepreneurs, and they seem to share many of the same traits and commitments to improving and maintaining these components. That being said, here’s my ‘Pyramid to Success’:
The Foundation: Mental, Physical, Spiritual Health; Honesty & Integrity
I’ve spent time of my life where I neglected this foundation, and I firmly believe it’s impossible to truly flourish without it. I don’t know any successful freelancers of agency owners who are dishonest and/or neglect their mental & physical health. Getting stressed out and staying up to grind out a project is one thing – being a mess is another. I’ve found that once this foundation was truly in order, my path to success became much more effortless, and my sales grew dramatically.
Integrity & Honesty
The quote above from Tony Montana may seem a bit extreme, but there’s a lot of truth to it. I’ve found the fastest way to make or break a reputation is by how much I stick to my word. I’ve seen other developers lose business because they couldn’t pull through on something they promised, or got in over their heads. Ultimately, my word is all I have. I do everything I can to keep it, even if it means losing out on business. I also strive for complete transparency and honesty in all projects and endeavors, even if it could potentially kill a deal. I’ve gotten projects before where I was upfront and told the prospect “I’m not 100% sure I can do this part – it’s not something I’ve done before, but I’m confident I can pull in the right people and figure it out”. My price & skillset weren’t the best, but I got the job because the client “felt I was the most upfront and honest”. Honesty and integrity, for me, extend into the commitments I keep with myself. When I make a commitment to myself, I keep it. When I set goals, I works towards them. I really try to make sure any promise I make, to anyone, gets fulfilled. There’s nothing I respect more in others than those who do the same.
Health – Physical and Mental
I’ve lived before in an unhealthy state mentally, physically, and spiritually. It sucked. We also live in an incredibly superficial world where people make instant snap judgments. If you don’t think your personal appearance makes a enormous difference in doing business, you’re delusional. I’ve been on both sides of the coin so I can speak on this topic firsthand. I’ve made enormous strides over the years finding balance and building up a foundation of health, and watched as every area of my life improved as a result. I get up at 4am to do tai chi, yoga, breathing exercises, meditation, and journalling. I take time to read motivational literature and set my intentions for the day. Then, I train. I built a gym in my garage so I can step outside and put in some time under the bar each morning. I try to have some type of competition on the calendar so I can continuously push myself and bring out my best. My background in personal training serves me well, but my workout plans aren’t complicated. Squat heavy and deep. Deadlift. Run hill sprints. Push a Prowler. That’s my secret to staying in great shape. If you want to read more, start with Starting Strength, then progress to 5/3/1 by Jim Wendler. Follow my training log as I post my workouts each week.
In terms of nutrition, I follow an intermittent fasting protocol and eat a fairly strict Paleo diet. Resources for each can be found at the end of this section.
Here’s what I take on a regular basis:
- Fish Oil – 6-7 g
- Men’s Multi Vitamin
- 10g Creatine Monohydrate
- GHRP-2 & CJC-1295 (Mod GRF 1-29)
- Alpha Lipoic Acid
- Alpha GPC & NooPept
- Greens+ whole food supplement – two scoops daily
That’s it. On training days while fasted I’ll drink branched chain amino acids before, during, and after my workout as per Martin Berkhan’s training protocol on LeanGains.com.
Kaizen; Keep Moving Forward
I sit down at the end of every day, every week, every month, and every year, and ask myself “what can I do better?” and more importantly “how can I do it better?”. Kaizen is a Japanese term that loosely translated means dedication to continuous improvement in all areas of life. Amen. I strive to deliberately live and improve every area of my life – focusing on what I can control and making firm, measurable goals to keep moving forward. Some weeks that might include planning my meals better so I don’t overeat. Another week that might include carving out time to read a new marketing book. Another week that might include doing 3 WordPress tutorials. In any case, living deliberately has helped me greatly in constantly moving forward. I looked back recently at the goals I had set heading into this year and couldn’t help but well up with pride as I saw that each of them had been hit.
- Greens+ – I take two scoops daily and swear by it
- NooPept, Alpha GPC - potent nootropics proven to increase memory and cognition. Buy them at Smartpowders.com and read more at reddit.com/r/nootropics
- GHRP-2, CJC-1295 – Peptides to increase production of growth hormone – helps with anti-aging, sleep, and recovery time. Read more about peptides at datbtrue.co.uk
- LeanGains.com – intermittent fasting resource
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- The Monk who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma
- The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John Maxwell
- Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
- NLP: The New Technology of Achievement
- The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
- The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson
- Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1
- Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe
- Practical Programming by Mark Rippetoe
- Mindfulness in Plain English
- The Way of Energy
- Light on Yoga
- Light on Pranayama
All the integrity and honesty in the world won’t pay the bills. Knowing how to get things done properly is the next step. I mentioned before that reliability is key, and that I know people who are less technically knowledgeable but have a great business because they work hard and professionally. The people I know who are most successful though are the ones who are constantly striving to learn new material through tutorials, challenging projects, collaboration, presentation, conferences, and meetups. I’ve seen lots of people get left behind as technology and the ‘best way’ of doing things changes – even within a niche like WordPress. Investing in technical knowledge requires an enormous time commitment but I have found essential in increasing my earning potential. For me, it’s no different than working out – I schedule times each week where I do tutorials, read technical blog posts, write sample code, and work on collaborative projects. I need to keep my mind active and engaged to keep growing, otherwise I tend to get restless. Even if I was making $5 million per month building simple 5 page sites, I’d still get restless. I need work and projects that challenge me and elevate my skills.
When it comes to technical knowledge, I’ve found a sense of humility has served me well. I frequently look at other people’s projects and get ‘code envy’ – it keeps me hungry and always wanting to grow. There are times when I get frustrated thinking I’ll never be at another person’s level, but inevitably that drives me to continue pushing and growing.
Mentors & Mentoring
What I think has contributed most to my technical skillset has been the help of an amazing mentorship network. The way I’ve been able to learn best is through taking a lot of people out to lunch. I will find people whose business and leadership I admire, and politely ask to treat them to coffee/lunch. There are two ways that I then show appreciation for their time and insight:
- Treat them to the meal
- Follow up on any tips/resources they provide
#2 is huge. Whenever I meet with a mentor, I typically ask a lot of questions, and their responses typically include a lot of resources to look into and people to connect with. For example, several months ago I met with a mentor who brought two books as gifts. One book contained a great deal of information about direct response marketing. I read through it, started following all the blogs he recommended, then implemented the advice in the resources he recommended. Low and behold, ticket sales for my first workshop started taking off. He was excited to hear back from me after the first workshop, and I’m already looking forward to our followup lunch.
I also take time to help others when I can. It feels good to have someone ‘pick your brain’ over coffee or lunch. I try to offer the best tools and resources I’ve found, and this helps me feel connected to others and a deeper sense of purpose in my work. Mentoring people can also take place online through forums & chat. Here are a few places I lurk to help answer questions and solve problems:
Tutorials & Training
I carve out time each week and spend time working through tutorials and webinars to stay sharp. Like working out, tutorials can be a chore, but I block out time and get it done. When I sit down every Sunday I ask myself what tutorials or topics I want to learn more about, then I schedule blocks of time during the week where I learn about those topics. Here are some of the best resources I’ve found for WordPress training:
Follow People on Twitter
I’ll be the first to admit I hardly spend any time on Twitter. But when I do, I try to pick up on what the ‘pros’ are talking about in regards to WordPress. If you’re spending time with WordPress and want to know ‘the pros’, follow these people:
- Andrew Nacin (@nacin)
- Alex King (@alexkingorg)
- Bill Erickson (@billerickson)
- Carl Hancock (@carlhancock)
- Cory Miller (@corymiller303)
- Mark Jaquith (@markjaquith)
- Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt)
- Mike Schinkel (@mikeschinkel)
- Nathan Rice (@nathanrice)
- Peter Westwood (@westi)
- Jeff Starr (@perishable)
- Joost de Valk (@yoast)
- Justin Tadlock (@justintadlock)
- Silviu-Cristian Burcă (@scribu)
I use Feedly as my blog reader, and I carve out 30 minutes each week to catch up on the latest, bookmarking posts for later review if appropriate. I make sure not to get sucked too far in, which has happened in the past and killed my productivity. Here are the best blogs I’ve found to stay up to date on the latest WordPress news & developments:
Collaborate on Projects
I’ve started collaborating on projects to help push my development skills in a lower pressure environment. I recently teamed up with a colleague from a meetup group to work on a plugin skeleton generator. I give all the credit to him for the concept and coding, but I’m thrilled to be able to contribute something – even if just time, to learn a little on a real-world project. Tools like GitHub.com allow me to fork other people code and experiment with it. I really think it’s the best time in history to be a developer. The ability to collaborate and communicate with others takes a lot of frustration out of projects.
I really feel there’s no replacement for a good book. Sometimes I just need a reference guide or a manual sitting on my desk to refer back to from time to time. I enjoy the progression of a well structured book. Some books serve as the one-stop resource on a given topic. Here is a great starting point for technical books I’ve read over the past year – tear through these and you’ll be in good shape:
- Professional WordPress Design and Development
- Professional WordPress Plugin Development
- Smashing WordPress Themes
- Build Your Own Wicked WordPress Themes
- Beginning PHP/mySQL: From Novice to Professional
- PHP For the Web: Visual Quickstart Guide
- Landing Page Optimization by Tim Ash
- Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics
- JQuery Novice to Ninja
- PHP Objects, Patterns, Practice
- WordPress & Ajax: An in-depth guide to using Ajax with WordPress
I’ve always found the best learning is done in-person with other professionals. I get more out of one hour at a Meetup group than 5 hours trying to learn on my own. Being able to attend hack nights, speaker panels, and conferences has greatly accelerated my learning and made the process many times more enjoyable. At this point I host 5 separate Meetup groups, present at least once per month, and regularly network with other industry professionals. Beyond the technical groups, I’m also a member of several meetups for: yoga, tai chi, business networking, online marketing, and young professionals. I’ve gotten new business out of all of them and been able to send business to other people. Start by going to Meetup.com and finding groups relevant to your interests. This has probably been the greatest investment I ever made, and it cost nothing.
Sales & Marketing
There’s a reason I put this last on my ‘pyramid to success’ – because if you’re not honest and technically proficient, being good at sales and marketing will only accelerate the rate at which people realize you’re an ignorant prick. I put a lot of effort into the first two pieces before I dove into sales and marketing, and I’m glad I worked in that order. That being said, I’ve met many great developers who never got a handle on sales and marketing and whose businesses didn’t succeed as a result. An understanding and application of sales and marketing is what separates mediocre businesses from successful ones. Period.
I don’t know many ‘tricks’ or ‘systems’ to sell, other than having confidence in my product, asking the right questions, and being knowledgeable. Typically my role in sales is more of a consultant. I get pulled in on projects where people simply want to talk to an expert and get an unbiased opinion and analysis as to what solution would fit them best. If they’re looking for a beautiful website that is easy to manage, I’m in luck. I’m no stranger to cold-calling either. I have someone putting together a list right now of businesses in Connecticut with WordPress based websites, and I’ll be calling them to see if they want to send their employees to one of my WordPress workshops. I’m also putting together a list of businesses within a 25-mile radius whose websites are not responsive, cold-calling to see if they’re interested in having a new site built in the near future. I realized long ago that relying solely on referrals is a terrible long-term business model.
I think what has helped distinguish me in web development is asking a ton of questions and best assessing the client’s needs. Having lots of people and knowledge to draw upon is also immensely important. I’m not going to dive much into sales training or tactics in this post, but rather point you to the best books and resources I’ve found over the years:
- The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump
- To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink
- The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gittomer
- The Little Red Book of Selling by Jeffrey Gittomer
- The Accidental Salesperson by Chris Lyle
- SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Sales by Frank Bettger
Marketing is getting someone to know about you or your business who didn’t before. When I started thinking about it like that I realized I was doing a pretty decent job, but not deliberately. Once I started marketing more deliberately, my business really took off. Here are the best ways I’ve found to market myself and my services:
- Build an email list wherever I go – Whenever I collect business cards, whenever I host networking events, I’m always building my email list. I write a newsletter that is sent out several times per month to stay in front of people, offering valuable tips and insights to help others grow their businesses
- Practice copywriting – I’ve focused on writing better copy for my website and my client’s website. Copy that sells. Direct response copy. Here are the best copywriting resources I’ve found: CopyBloggers.com, CopyHackers.com, The Ultimate Sales Letter, Cashvertising,
- Search Engine Optimization – Search any variation of ‘connecticut wordpress’ and you’ll find me. I spent a long time deliberately optimizing my website around those keywords, and by doing so receive 2-3 organic leads for WordPress based projects every week. For a thorough resource guide on SEO, see my post “Search Engine Optimization Resource Guide”.
- Blog – I blog when I can, devoting time to publishing quality articles that get linked to. Once I’ve written an article, I make sure to promote it through social bookmarking sites and social media channels.
- LinkedIn – I ask for recommendations from clients and colleagues on LinkedIn and join area professional groups. The LinkedIn profile is the new resume in this day and age.
- Leverage my in-person network – I’ve spent years building an enormous in-person network and frequently turn to them for referrals. I also send leads their way.
- Send business to other people - The more business I send to other people, the more I get back. This doesn’t necessarily apply to web design, either. If I meet a landscaper at a networking event and a new client I pickup needs a landscaper, I know where to send him. People tend to remember you when you make them money. You can be sure that landscaper will remember me when someone asks him if he knows anyone who builds websites.
- Speaking and Networking events – I frequent Meetup groups, BNI groups, Chamber of Commerce, Bridgeport Regional Business Council, and Connecticut Art Directors Club. On average I’m meeting ~10-15 new people per week. I make sure at the end of the day to reach out to every person I met at that event, mentioning a few things we talked about then connecting on LinkedIn. The more people I get in front of, the more leads I generate and referrals I can send to them.
When I take on a new client, I view that as building a relationship that will last for life. I do everything I can to serve them, help them grow their business, and deliver a product that we’re both proud of. I genuinely try to make the entire transaction the best experience in any relationship they’ve ever had. I reach out to clients frequently to see how they’re doing, treat them to lunch, invite them to events, and continually send them resources I think could help their business. Another great investment is nice stationary and a wax seal. Clients remember the hand written, wax-sealed thank you notes they get when I’ve finished a project for them. Whether it’s a $100 project or a $10k+ piece of business, I treat it all the same. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help them.
The Process and Workflow
Now to the good stuff. The ‘real-world’ parts I’ve learned by trial and error. I’ve worked with lots of developers and designers and pieced this together over time. I make no claims that this is the ‘right’ way to do anything, but it’s what has worked for me lately.
During the initial contact with a prospect, the first question I always ask if how they found me. It helps me understand where my marketing efforts are best spent. The majority of my leads come through organic search, which makes it more important to properly vet prospects. The next most important question I ask is about budget. I can’t afford to spend 1 hour on the phone and 1 hour meeting in person to find out a potential client doesn’t have a large enough budget for a website. That doesn’t stop me from taking on other smaller, consulting projects though. After determining the lead source and budget, I ask a bunch of questions to determine what their exact needs are. This will help guide me in my reasearch. Some example questions are:
- What will be the primary purpose of your website?
- What has been your past experience with your website?
- What would be a ‘great’ website, in your opinion?
- Do you use anything currently to track the effectiveness of your website?
- How do you plan to attract visitors to your website?
- Is anyone else beside yourself involved in the decision making process?
- What is your target market?
- What types of functionality are needed on the site?
- Will you be managing the content of the site yourself?
- Who are your competitors?
- What other sites do you like and why?
Once I have the information I need, I start to research the best solution. I look at the prospect’s competition, sites & designs they like, and try to understand their target audience. If there’s one area where I’ve spent more time in the past few years, it’s in the research phase. This is also where I have to map out functionality and determine how much it would cost to get things done. Perfect example – I had a prospect who wanted what appeared to be a simple e-commerce site selling custom made shirts. I wanted to build the site in WooCommerce. During the second meeting, he explained how he wanted the ability to select colors and fabrics from a slide out panel, and have users be able to log in and have their measurements stored. These certainly weren’t features that shipped ‘out of the box’ with WooCommerce, nor were there any plugins that easily fit the bill. I reached out to several trusted developers who walked me through how they could set that up, and how much it would cost. I’m still waiting to hear back on that project.
Often times, there are available plugins that can help meet the desired functionality, but they require some tweaking. I spend a lot of time writing questions in WordPress forums and asking other users if they’ve dealt with an issue like that before. Often I’ll get some great ideas and have even hired freelancers based on their feedback through the forums.
I typically won’t go past 2 meetings (phone and/or in-person) without submitting a proposal. The proposal is where I set the client’s expecations, determining what is needed from them and what I’ll be delivering. I currently use WP Bids for my proposals and include the following information in every proposal:
- Goals & Objectives – I describe a little background about the company and what problem they are trying to solve
- Solution & Scope – I explain each step involved, what it entails, and how that will solve the problem they’re facing. I typically break down phases into research, design, development, content population, optimization, testing, training, and launch.
- Content – I outline what pages will be on the site and how each will behave. I always include a sitemap in the proposal to avoid clients adding content down the road or adding functionality. I can always point to what they’ve signed off on.
- Time Estimate – I outline approximately how long each phases will take
- Cost Estimate – I outline the cost for the project, broken down into a line item for each phase. I don’t list the hours here because I no longer base my pricing on number of hours.
The biggest components I’ve added over the past three years are the following:
- Content penalty fee – borrowed from my amazing friend & mentor, Julio Andrade, the content penalty fee stipulates that if the launch of the website is held up because of content missing from the client, they will be charge 5% of the contract, per month, for each month the project is delayed. I also stipulate that when they do produce the content, I cannot guarantee that I can resume it in a timely fashion. I agree with the client on a launch date ahead of time, making sure they have plenty of time to collect content, but also allowing me to budget my time accordingly.
- Browser Compatibility – I stipulate browser and device compatibility, which currently includes IE9+ and modern versions of Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. I also now stipulate testing across Android phones, IPhones, and IPads. I use BrowserStack to test and finding bugs early saves me major embarrassment down the road.
- Functionality Mapping – I very clearly outline how each component is expected to work. For e-commerce, this includes what plugins will be used, what payment gateways will be integrated with, etc. For basic sites, functionality can include contact forms, membership, user forums, sliders, etc. I specifically outline how each component will behave to avoid any confusion later on.
On larger projects, I usually include a contract. I tore a page from Brian Casel’s presentation and adopted the Tri.be contract template. I use RightSignature.com to have clients sign off on the document.
I learned long ago that I’m terrible at design, and to stay out of it. Now I have the opportunity to work with amazing designers, but I still have some say in the design phase. We typically provide one proof of concept and 2 rounds of revisions based off that design. I ask that designers build protoypes on a 12 column grid to easily integrate into a responsive framework such as Foundation, Bootstrap, or Gumby. The designers typically sketch out ideas then move onto wireframing applications such as Balsamiq, before finally drafting out concepts in Photoshop. We load the concept into Prevue to show the client how the site would look and behave in a browser. Once they signed off, we move into the development phase.
I start the development phase by converting the photoshop files into HTML/CSS using the current best practices and semantic markup. For lower budget projects I farm this work out. For higher budget projects I do the coding myself. I build everything currently on the Foundation Framework to help accelerate development and cross-browser compatibility. I’ve just started using SASS & Compass to help speed up the front end development. Next I look at which areas of the site need to be dynamic – sliders, blog, homepage features, etc. I determine how I will integrate this into the theme and how it will be managed on the back end of the website. Lately I’ve been using Advanced Custom Fields to have full control over the backend of the site. I can really strip out features and leave only the editing tools that clients need to manage their exact content. Rarely are the back end of sites I build similar to one another anymore. I build out sites locally then push the code to a staging server so clients can preview it. To speed this up I use Git service hooks, so when I commit changes locally, the code gets pulled to the development server. Below is a list of tools I’ve found extraordinary helpful during the development phase:
- SublimeText 2 – Text editor I use for development
- XAMPP – allows me to build themes locally
- Scout – application that compiles SASS code into CSS without screwing around on the command line
- Git / GitHub – allow for simple version control and repository hosting. Service hooks make it easy for me to quickly deploy code
- Foundation Framework – My preferred front-end framework
- Gumby Framework – Another great front end framework I’m starting to dive into more
I usually do unit testing myself using BrowserStack.com. I’m usually testing a bit as I go to avoid headaches late in the game. Internet explorer and mobile devices tend to be the most finnicky, but again there are certain things I look for in the design phase that I know might cause trouble. A couple hours of planning upfront can avoid a couple weeks of coding later on.
For documentation, I use Screenr.com and take screenshots using Greenshot. I include 3 hours of on-site training for clients and their employees, and am available over the phone beyond that. Join.me is a great application that allows me to share my screen with clients and walk them through the backend of their site, but I prefer to just record a screencast so they can refer back later.
Once the client has signed off on the site up on the staging server, I’ll push the code to the production server. Currently I use a dedicated server on HostGator. I’ve had bad experiences with shared hosting plans in the past, so I decided a few months ago to take the plunge and lease a dedicated server. The speed is amazing, and I resell hosting now to help build residual income.
Project Management & Additional Info
During the entire process, I’m managing the project and the people involved. My biggest tool? A phone. I don’t have time to go back and forth with people via email, and the people I work with realize we can get a lot more done with a 1 minute phone call than a day’s worth of emails. Here’s a few other tools I use:
- Basecamp – great project management solution
- Google Docs – I use this to manage client info such as hosting info and notes from meetings
- Harvest – time tracking and invoicing
- Quickbooks – accounting….upgrading soon to Freshbooks
Other Great Tools
Here’s a few other tricks and tools that have greatly helped me:
- Build a lightning fast computer at PCPartPicker.com and pay someone to put it together
- A minimum of 2 24″ monitors
- Website blockers for all browsers – I block lots of ‘time-sucking’ sites to avoid getting pulled off tasks
- Spotify – blast some techno
- Standing desk
If you’ve made it this far, I appreciate it. I hope I’ve given something of value to my readers. I had a lot of fun putting this post together, and am planning on compiling everything more thoroughly into a small ebook available for download. If I had to give any parting advice to aspiring freelancers, it would be this – focus first on a strong foundation before moving on. Be healthy. Be free. Be comfortable with yourself. Then move on to the other stuff.