I have been hand coding sites since I was in middle school and thought I was going to take over the internet with the newly released HTML3.2 (does that date me?). Since then I have learned several more languages and worked on some really neat projects with some really great people. Needless to say I have done my fair share of freelance work (emphasis on the free) and recently have decided to go that route once more. I wanted to give you a quick rundown of How To Become A Freelance Web Developer because I am asked it often and I thought I would give myself  a refresher course.

Gut Check – 

Why on earth would you want to leave your day job to get abused by diva clients, work for free half the time and never see that precious pillow of yours again?

Because you can be your own boss! Whenever I hear people complaining about how much work it is to be a freelancer (of any variety-design/writing/etc) I ponder at how impossibly short lived their memory must be. Do they not remember what it was like to have to show up somewhere everyday at a time specified by someone else just because some guy named Ford decided the workweek should be scheduled as such? I do, and I don’t miss it.

I don’t want to fool you. Being a freelancer is probably going to be more work than you have ever done in your entire life. Last night I stayed up until 5 am working and had to wake up for an appointment that was at 10, I am exhausted, but I am so happy. I know that everything I am working for goes straight to my bank account.

So why do you want to be a freelancer? You really have to look yourself/spouse/kids in the face and give them a good reason, especially when the projects are far and few between. For your safety and sanity I can give you 3 reasons NOT to become a freelance web developer.

Why You Shouldn’t Become  A Freelance Web Developer – 

1. You are tired of waiting tables – Honestly, there are much easier ways to work for yourself than learning a bunch of computer languages, design programs and conversion optimizing site architecture. If you hate your current job, don’t go freelancing, just get a different job.

2. You, “like computers” – Oh man, I feel so bad for those poor people who think hand coding a 150 page website with ridiculous amounts of Ruby has any resemblance to playing Worlds of Warcraft. What a rude awakening it must be when they sit down for their first 16 hour code binge and realize they aren’t even halfway through the project that is due in 2 days (sometime I will do a  post about time management and not procrastinating, but i will do it later).

3. Someone told you they make good money doing it – Did you have to pay them to say that? That should be your first sign… But really, freelance web developers can make very livable incomes. I know a guy who makes 25k a year working 12 hours a day, but I also know a guy who won’t accept projects less that $10k and works part-time, travels the world when he wants and has an amazing little family. The point is, you can live well doing this, but don’t expect to get rich.

You still think you want to move forward? Good, I like your spirit. Let’s move on to the skills check portion to see if you have what it takes to pull it off.

Skills Check –

Let’s talk basic skills. Do you know what a browser is? Good. Do you know what a server is? Very good. How about the difference between HTML and XHTML? Do you know what CSS is? What is better PHP or SQL? Was that a trick question? Is Ruby on Rails a cheesy video game, or one of the most popular open-source languages used online today? The moral of the story is that you have to know some programming languages to be a developer. I recommend starting at www.w3schools.com and absorbing everything that you can from there to get a start.

One of my latest forays into self directed learning has been my desire to conquer more of the illustrator driven design behind web pages. Not every developer needs to be a “designer” creating logos, and images and color schemes etc. but I have found that the more I increase those skills the less I have to outsource and the more value I am to a potential client. Learn illustrator, photoshop and the basics principle of design and you will be that much better.

I am often asked how long it takes to learn all this stuff. The answer? Forever and a day, literally. You can blast through an entire HTML how to in an afternoon, but I bet you would never be able to reach the pinnacle of perfection in its application.

How long does it take to learn how to paint a masterpiece? Forever and about two seconds. It took me about 5 seconds to learn how to hold a paintbrush in kindergarten, but I still can’t paint much beyond a water color stick figure with v-shaped birds flying around. Development is the same thing.

If you don’t know what I mean, check out these online magazines and you will begin to get an idea of the possibilities these simple languages contain.

http://www.instantshift.com/

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/

http://net.tutsplus.com/

You may want to check this post out if you are feeling a bit more advanced – http://net.tutsplus.com/articles/general/10-most-sought-after-skills-in-web-development/

Client Check –

Ok, so you have the courage and you have the skills. You should be rolling in the dough by now right? Wrong, your work has just begun. If you aren’t getting paid then it is just a hobby, and if coding 16 hours a day is your hobby than I suggest either getting a dog, or getting a girlfriend (which ever is cheaper because you won’t be able to afford either). The only way to get paid is if people hire you. Sounds simple and basic, but I know a lot of freelancers who forget the PEOPLE part of that little equation and then end up coach surfing for a couple months because they can’t get any clients.

Below Are A Few Strategies You Might Employ In Finding Clients –

1. Business Cards and Networking – I could easily write an entire book about the importance of networking but I wont, because one already exists. It is called “Never Eat Alone” and I recommend it. Changed the way I interact with the business world.

Networking is great, but if they dont remember you, than you wasted your time. Business cards are just little tools to help people remember you. I recommend getting a few from moo.com. Use your own design and impress some people.

2. Joint Ventures – This is one of my favorite methods, but I really like working with people. Establish a joint venture with someone who has a related business to you. For example, why not team up with one of the thousands of internet marketers, or “social media gurus” and providing a complete package. You build the site, they grow the business. It is a win-win situation for everyone. Be careful not to short yourself in the transactions and try and make sure that you are always adding value to the relationship.

3. Freelance sites – There are so many freelance sites out there I am not even going to try and make a list of them. I will tell you my favorite though – http://jobs.freelanceswitch.com/ – My experience has been that the projects/clients on this site are of a higher quality and understanding than say elance.com. Get yourself out there and start bidding.

4. Linkedin/Twitter/Facebook – It goes without saying that if you havn’t tried using social media, you are behind. I enjoy linkedin.com just because everyone is looking to do business of some sort. You can really develop a some good leads by interacting with others.

5. Non-profits – You know who loves a good deal? Non-profits. If you are starting out and trying to break into the field, you are a great deal! Lower your price  and work your tail off to impress and you will have non-profits banging down the door for your services.

Biz Sense Check

Is all your money spent at the end of the month before you even pay rent? Do you currently keep a budget? How much debt do you have? Business can be fun, but it is never a game. If you dont already have good money habits, you better start learning them.

It is also important to remember that business is about people in the end and that the more you build those soft skills the better you will be in the long run.

Here are two tools to help in both of those areas.

Zoho CRM – The best way to get new clients? Ask for them from your current ones. A great way to keep track of your clients, leads, prospective, etc. is to use a CRM system. I recommend Zoho CRM. It is free, easy to use and totally helpful.

Freshbooks – I LOVE THIS SOFTWARE! Another free software package perfect for the self employees. It does it all, invoicing, money management, the whole nine yards. Check it out.

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It seems I have been knee deep in SEO tools lately. It is safe to say that I have a “thing” for great tools (both on-line and off) and in my SEO work there is no exception.

I have compiled a short list of my top 5. Enjoy!

#1 – linkdiagnosis

linkdiagnosis

I love this tool because most of what I enjoy about SEO is link building. You can run your competitors site and see where their back links are coming from. They do a great job of organizing all the links that they analyze for you. They include page rank, age and even have a nice little anchor text organizer. You can use the information you find there to put together a link building campaign.

#2 – SEObook.com Toolbar

SEObooktoolbar

I think by now if you aren’t using this toolbar, you probably also still believe in the keyword density myth. Either way, you need to be using this toolbar. It is just so dang fun! SEObook.com has really put together a great tool that allows an SEO to surf the web with ease. I use it for a lot of my competitive analysis and I sometimes use the back link help from yahoo.

#3 – Spyfu

This is a fun little tool. I like to use it to check the information you can get from Alexa. Who doesn’t love spying on competitors?

I will be posting more and more SEO Tools as I find the time. Would love to hear about some free tool that you use.

I have been using the stumbleupon pretty heavy these past two weeks and I have found some great stuff. Just wanted to share these 5 great resources for budding entrepreneurs.

Garage.com

Garage.com is an early stage venture capital fund that has made it incredibly easy to get in touch with them. They even have a “submit executive summary here” button on their main page. Take a look at their portfolio and requirements.

Score.org

A gold mine of information, score.org actually sets you up to have real conversations with mentors willing to lend their free advice to future/current entrepreneurs. Who doesn’t need help?

Svn.org

I love this one, but I happen to be partial to anything having to do with social entrepenuership. Browse their site, they offer a wealth of resources and connections to important people within this sector.

Design Trust – Business Start-Up Guide for Designers

You may not be a designer but the start-up guide is top notch, and it is free.

59 Resources For First Time Entrepreneurs

Just to cover my base, I included this.

Thanks to Simon Howden for use of the image

I wrote a post this week about the importance of twitter engagement. The process by which we can measure the success of our engagement is called analysis. There are many free tools online you can use to analyze your twitter account. There is no subscription process or need to give anything more than your twitter @soandso handle. After a few seconds you will be able to view your analysis. Try the sites I recommend below. After a few weeks of checking up and re-analyzing your account you will start to be able to distinguish patterns that you can use to better manage you tweeting experience.

Twitter Counter

Love this one. Pure numbers and stats, no funny business. It tells you exactly what you need to know.

Tweet Stats

This site gives some interesting stats. Not super helpful when trying to analyze engagement, but overall a nice tool.

Thanks to renjith krishnan for the photo

Here you are… completely overwhelmed by the different media platforms with which to grow your business or NPO. You could “tweet”, “like”, “blog”, “stumbleupon”, “tumble” and more! How do you chose? What will be most effective for you?

Depends on your target market (think demographics).

If your target market is under 34 and slightly more male than female and imagry is a key aspect to your organization (design firms, food, art etc.), then tumblr.com is the way for you to go.

Tumblr is easy to use. The dashboard has an easy to use interface that allows for quick and easy media posts. Tumblr users tend to be a quick follow and there is a clear relationship between time dedicated to your tumblr and number of new followers. Tumblr users love the content stream so forgetting to post new content for a few days can lose you some fans. Content sharing is rampant, easy and a key to gaining new friends.

A good friend of mine is a huge tumblr user. Her tumblr account has a massively loyal following, but don’t kid yourself, she spends every waking hour working on her blog. She has discovered that one of the downsides to tumblr is that she will never own her domain name. it will always be name.tumblr.com. It would be a big sacrifice for her to try to make the transition to a privately hosted site.

All in all, tumblr should be another tool in your arsenal of online marketing weaponry. The free, easy interface won’t be going away anytime soon. So get tumblin’.

Thanks to graur razvan ionut for use of the image

When you first step into the twitter universe it can feel like stepping into a dimly lit backroom where everybody is shouting and nobody is listening. Sometimes it can be hard to believe all the hype about social media when you learn what #teamfollowback means and how many people (social media consultants even) use it.
I have been working on ways to “authenticate” the twitter experience and maximize it’s potential for use in the NPO world. Better analytics and an honest approach to the capabilities of twitter are key.

I may not have all the answers to what twitter is. I can tell you what it isn’t.

Twitter is NOT #teamfollowback or any of her variations. This is one of the main sources of the engagement problem and is really getting to be a pain trying to negotiate around in the twitter community.

Twitter is NOT a competition. There are many twitter analytics out there. Most of them are trying to make money. Analytics like klout and twitter grader can offer some useful statistics but rely too heavily on measuring their own success in determining yours. both klout and twitter grader use the klout score and grade of the other individuals you interact with in determining your score. So in essence you could be talking to an empty room and still have a high score as long as everyone you aren’t talking to has a high score too. Klout and twitter grader make money by being the analytics standard. So it has become a competition to satisfy the algorithm (which includes number of followers/tweets etc), not the actual interactions and conversations you might be having.

Twitter is NOT  effective unless you address the engagement issue. I have posted some other bloggers advice to help you maximize your ROI with twitter.

Measuring Twitter Engagement

Twitter Engagement Experiment

4 Basic Twitter Marketing Tips

7 Ideas for Twitter Engagement

Thanks to photostock for use of the image

Have you ever wished you could just sit down with smart people and pick their brains. Can you imagine what you would learn?

Ericsson Multimedia did just that.

Grab a pen and paper because you are going to want to take notes.

Arianna Huffington – New Media Landscape

Jeffrey Cole – A New Era of Advertising

Don Tapscott – Grown Up Digital

Charles Leadbeater – The Power Of Mass Creativity

Michael Dell – The Power of Collaboration

Hans Rosling – A More Stable World

Carlota Perez – Technology Changes

JP Rangaswami – How Learning Has Changed

Thanks to graur codrin for the image