5 hours ago: Email Down

For some reason, my ISP won’t allow me access to my email, so I haven’t been able to check my messages for the past few days. If you’ve sent me anything in that time just know that I’m not avoiding a response, I just haven’t seen it yet.

I’ll try to get back to everyone sometime soon. If you don’t mind, you can post your message in the comments on this topic and I’ll give you a response. Lea, hopefully you got that render okay.

9 hours ago: TFL 3 Revisited

After reading the 30 comments I received (7 were deleted, 13 more were added, and there are another 10 at the Stylegala page) I decided to revisit this article and make a few changes. The original is still available for viewing as well.

First off, this series of articles is meant for new designers trying to get into the freelance business, not veteran designers used to making thousands of dollars for their websites. Lucian S. said it best, “Each designer should charge according to his/her skills. There’s a market for everyone out there – from $100 designs to the 6 figures websites.” I agree completely.

Now for the major fixes. I don’t believe anyone should charge by the hour. Freelance design isn’t something you can measure right off the bat. You don’t know how much time something might take, and charging by the hour can give either your client or yourself the short end of the stick. Instead have the client fill out a detailed survey and give them a flat fee based on their expectations. If you are working locally it’s best to start out with low fees, like I mentioned before. $300-$500 is perfectly fine for a small, local website. Any higher and the potential client may not bight.

Now if you plan on creating mainstream websites you should start with a good, solid, flat fee. My general rule of thumb is to charge $800-$1200, and then charge extra for whatever little features they request, like shopping carts, blogs, email forms, etc. Hopefully this clears up a few of the problems some of the readers were having with my pricing methods.

If you’re not sure about how much you should charge ask a non-biased viewer what they think of your work and how much they would pay for one of your websites. It’s best to survey a large group of people and find the average (add all of the prices, and then divide the total by the number of people surveyed)

3 days ago: The Freelance Life, Part 3

Now that you know how to get everything started it’s time to start worrying about finances. Starting up your freelance career will require a good amount of money, so it’s probably best that you save up somewhere around $5000 for all of your materials. This includes programs, a new computer if needed, and maybe some fonts or stock art. I personally would purchase a new Apple PowerBook, a high quality digital camera (a Sony Cyber-shot works nicely), and the newest copy of Adobe Creative Suite (you may also want something for print layouts, like Quark). Upon first starting your own career in the freelance field it’s best to start with someone else’s money, and then either split the profits with that person or pay them back later. Once you have everything set up you should be just about ready, but first you need to set some guidelines.

I suggest you start by writing out a mission statement and business plan that covers your goals for 1, 5, and 10 years into the future. Follow the guidelines you set and everything should go fine. One thing you’re going to worry about is pricing for your services. If you charge too much your clients won’t come back, but if you charge too little they’ll take you as a pushover. A good idea is to take a solid number, say $15-$25 per hour. Once your project is finished, multiply whatever price you chose by the number of hours the project consumed, then double it. I myself don’t really like this method because I think it constitutes overpricing. I like to have an in-depth meeting with new clients, where we discuss exactly what they want and their budget. I then present them a solution based around their needs (at this point you should also tell them what you do and don’t know how to do. If they need something like a custom CMS and you can’t do that, tell them you’ll try it anyway and offer the finished product at a reduced price. It’s a good way to learn and let them know that you’re not going to charge them full price for something that may not be worth it).

If you do decide to charge for small websites (when your business is still new charity work is a good idea for promotional purposes), keep it around $100-$300 dollars per website, with one static design. As you grow, and develop a strong client list bump your fees up a little. Keep your small company fees around $300, but no more than $500. For mid-sized and larger companies charge a little more. $1200-$1500 is reasonable for a full website (1 complete design with minor changes per page). Now don’t try to get slick and start sneaking little hidden fees in for data management, small tweaks, etc. Your clients won’t appreciate that. Once you become more experienced and popular you’ll get bigger clients with larger budgets. Some designers, like Mike D., even make six figure annual incomes doing nothing but web design and development. Of course, Mike was working for Disney at the time, but if you put enough effort in, you can make the same.

In the end, go with your instincts, and feel free to bargain with the client. Before you start, however, make sure you have them sign a contract so you don’t get duped half-way through the project.

Besides making money you also have to dish it out too. Advertising and extra materials, among others things, can get pretty expensive, so be prepared. If you’ve registered yourself with a valid business license all your business-related purchases become tax-deductible, so keep that in mind too. If you see your projects begin to grow and you have to purchase fonts, stock photographs, icon sets, etc. you may want to break down your budget into different sections. IE, one section contains your fee for time spent, and then you have a second section for working expenses, and so on and so forth. Explain to your client what this means, and what you’ll need to buy before you begin working. In all likelihood they’ll be okay with this as long as the finished project is want they were looking for.

Now what about actually managing your money? Well, I suggest depositing all profits into a secure bank account as soon as you’re paid. Take a little bit out for your own living expenses, save the majority, and if there’s anything left, go have some fun with it. All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. If you’re looking for a simple way to bill your clients you may want to check out Blinksale, and great web application from the boys at Firewheel Design that allows you to easily manage the financial side of your projects. The great part is you can send out custom formatted invoices using CSS.

One last thing I almost forgot to cover is studio space. When you first start out as a freelancer studio space isn’t necessary, unless you have a lot of money to burn. Because you’re a freelancer most of the time you’ll be working out of the home. I do, however, suggest renting out a PO Box for all of your mailing. Now, if you plan on turning your freelance career into your own company with other employees then you should think about renting out some type of building, maybe a downtown apartment or second-story loft in a corporate office building. For great exposure, I suggest starting your search in a high-traffic area. This will be extremely costly, and you’ll have to buy new materials for other employees as well, so at this point you should have around $30,000 readily available for support. If possible try to catch the interest of some private investors to help pay for things. On the other hand, if you do stick on the freelance path you should expect some clients will want to see your home, so make sure it’s always clean. Don’t invite your old college friends over right before an important meeting. If at all possible, try meeting in a WiFi enabled environment, like a Starbucks coffee shop, or maybe one of the 6000 US McDonalds that have WiFi access, though meeting at Mickey D’s probably won’t leave a good impression.

Money management is very difficult, and no one person does it the same way. I suggest experimenting with different methods until you find something you like, and then stick with it. If you want some further tips I suggest emailing some of your favorite designers and find out what their definition of a reasonable fee is. In the next part of the series I’ll offer a few business tips and a 10-step list that will have you freelancing in no time.

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10 days ago: My Favorites

I decided to spend this weekend working on the new Abstracted.View design and getting caught up on all the forums I enjoy visiting. A lot of these websites really have changed a lot. Most of my time was spend downloading renders and Photoshop Brushes.

Anyway, I thought it’d be nice to give you all a link to some of the sites I visit on a regular basis. I think you’ll find them useful whenever you need something.

  • Pixel2Life.com – Tutorial Indexing Service

  • DeviantArt – a huge design community, great for renders, brushes, inspiration etc.

  • GreyCobra – a smaller community, which is sometimes better. They have a lot of great tutorials and downloads, and the forums are fun too.

  • InvisionFree Skin Zone – a massive community for forum skinners, but it’s generally a great resource for anybody using the InvisionFree forum system.

  • Abstracted.View – my community website. It’s been pretty busy this weekend, and I enjoyed getting caught up with everyone.

I also made a few pieces of artwork for forum use and display. The first piece, called Into the Abyss, was made with nothing but the Lens Flare and other default Photoshop filters. You can see it here.

I also made a forum signature for use on the forums I visit. Mainly it was just an experiment with blending options. I think it came out good. It’s a bit different then my usual style, but I like it anyway.

Zabuza signature

The person in the signature is Zabuza from the Naruto Anime and Manga. Anyway, next week is Thanksgiving break, so I probably won’t be posting that much. The third installment of The Freelance Life is due out tomorrow, so get ready for it.

Update: I made another, and in my opinion, better looking signature for myself. The 3D render was not made by me, but I’m happy with the outcome. My dad made fun of it, saying it looks like a girly signature. Then he walked away making limp-wristed hand guestures to me.

second signature

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11 days ago: Streaming Media in Web Pages

As I was browsing today I came across a few media-intense website, and I’m not talking about Flash. What I mean is streaming media like video or audio. Now, I know looping audio is pretty much dead to any professional designer, but what about video?

When I loaded some of these pages for the first time, it took forever, even on our 15MPBS connection here. Is it really worth it? Many sites display video on their sites simply because it makes them look good. One example of a website using streaming video for presentational purposes only is BillyBussey.com. Note, the site has recently changed, so you now have an option to view the video introduction.

But my main point is, does streaming media still have a place in mainstream web design, or should it be forced onto separate pages with subtle user warnings?

Do you use any streaming media in any of your pages, and do you find that loading times have a great effect? I myself have never had to use it on any of my pages, but Quezter.com, which loads pretty fast actually, has two live audio feeds and a public domain movie, all on the same page, along with over 500 links and 10 articles. How this doesn’t affect load time, I don’t know.

So what’s your view?

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