The Week In Freelance: January 29th

Posted: January 29th, 2010

Valuable Lessons Learned From A Cockroach, A Can Of Raid And Some Spare Time

Posted: January 28th, 2010

Photo by Misiek_beauchamp (Flickr)

Photo by Misiek_beauchamp (Flickr)

I personally don’t like unannounced visitors prancing around my apartment. OK, maybe with the exception of the lovely Marta on the third floor. But this one was particularly unwelcome… a cockroach so big that it probably scared off the rats safely chomping away nearby. Hell, the thing probably ate the rat for all I know.

I don’t know why my first reaction to seeing unwanted critters is to run and grab a can of bug spray when a quick squash with a foot would do just fine. Something about seeing the white and yellow bug guts just doesn’t go right with me.

Anyway, after unleashing a virtual swimming pool of Raid on the poor bastard and waiting and waiting some more, I got to thinking, hey, there could be a lesson in freelancing learned here. And indeed there was. Several as a matter of fact.

Death can probably come at any moment. Humans included.

I’d expect a bug spray to kill on the spot, like the good old foot. But in that minute or so while our invader was dying, I suddenly had that thought of my own mortality. You know, the one that makes you take up praying or give in to those Watchtower folks who pay a household visit once a year.

So, diligently thinking, do I want to leave a legacy of websites and a current half-built one for Mr Jones? Or do I want to leave a legacy where thousands of people were positively affected by my work?

Well, I also have that goal of one thousand fans on my blog. Let me check on it… 105, so nope to that.

Time to get to work.

Make like Custer, errr, Davy Crockett and fight to the end.

About a minute and a half passed while I watched the critter make every attempt possible to, well, survive. As I blocked his escape to the safety underneath the fridge with the foot (still too scared to crush the damn thing), I thought, man, is this one tough little bugger. No wonder they may take over human existence during the Apocalypse.

Then something crossed my mind again. Do I have that kind of fight in myself, especially in my freelance career?

In other words, am I learning as much as I can while being as productive in my work as I can?

After the nap and Twitter session I just had, that’s probably a negative as well.

Now it’s really time to get to work.

We’re not cockroaches, we’re human. Life can’t be that bad.

Cockroaches, depending on species, have an average life span between 3 months and two years. That’s plenty if you normally crawl around the sewers and kitchens of unsuspecting freelancers. That is, unless you’re unlucky enough to die by a healthy shower of insecticide.

I go through hard times just like anybody else. Some days, nothing seems to go my way. I can still afford the roof over my house, have the daily ramen to eat and the work flow has been good.

I’ll be sure not to not take these for granted while Mr Jones is yelling on Skype about his website being down for 15 seconds. Come to think of it, nor when someone decides that a typo on my blog is reason to unleash the reasons I’m going to hell.

I still got my five flavors of ramen sitting in the cupboard. My reasons for being.

Stick your head where it probably shouldn’t be.

I actually began to feel sorry for the poor sucker. Wrong place, wrong time. If you only laid low until my bedtime, you could have feasted on those breadcrumbs and two grains of rice. Like they say, curiosity killed the cat or the cat-like creature.

We’re not cockroaches, though, nor cats. We won’t die by scratching that itch we have doing that one thing that’s been on our mind forever. At worst, we’ll be embarrassed, humiliated and have deal with a bruised ego.

Better than swimming around in a pool of Raid I say.

Raid “kills bugs dead” but keeps freelance careers in perspective.

You Are Now Allowed To Give In To Your Mondays

Posted: January 25th, 2010

Photo by Queguenae (Flickr)

Photo by Queguenae (Flickr)

I’m fairly amused to live in Spain where the average workday is very atypical for that of the average freelancer or employee in English speaking countries. In fact, here is what would occur on a normal working day:

9:00 AM – Start work by checking email and chatting with the workmates.

9:30 AM – Break for a cup of coffee or beer (yes, this early) with the workmates down at the local bar.

10:30 AM – Return, begin real work.

1:00 PM – Break for lunch and a siesta (and maybe another beer).

4:00 PM – Return to work, chat with workmates (going back to bar optional).

4:30 PM – Continue with real work again.

6:49 PM – Hmmm, about 7 PM, time to go home.

Now, it’s probably a given that sticking to this kind of schedule would not get me too far as a freelance programmer. You might even go as far as to equate this as “treading water.”

Except on Mondays when it absolutely rules.

To explain, I always have it difficult on Mondays. You know, having to deal with the email requests that come over the weekend, thinking of something to write for the blog post, periods of sluggishness followed by moments of caffeine highs. Stuff just doesn’t get done like, say, on a Tuesday. I’m not even talking hangovers here either.

So I decided, screw it, I’m going all Spanish on Mondays from now on.

Sleep in an extra hour.

No more Monday deadlines.

Chat with my friends down the street over a beer (at 9:30 sharp).

Not bang my head trying to write THE blog post. Halfway crappy will suffice.

Nice long siesta. Now we’re talking.

Don’t get me wrong, I probably hover around 50 hours a week working my freelance projects, blogging and doing other personal projects. I’m not quite that lazy. (I know, I know, only 50 you say with a laugh)

But you know what? Tuesday thankfully come a lot easier now. All 18 hours of work that follows it.

I’m just hoping the day never comes where we have the morning beer over Twitter.

Top Ten Rules In Freelancing You Probably Shouldn’t Break

Posted: January 22nd, 2010

Freelancing has its sort-of ten commandments (actually its more like 387) that we should all follow if we want a nice, long and healthy career. In my experience, the following are THE top ten rules, coincidentally, written in stone and propped up to hold my bookshelf.

10. Eliminate distractions while working: Your friends and followers on Twitter demand your full and complete attention.

9. Take advantage of social media for networking: Look, if you are going to stay cramped up in your house, working all hours of the day, you might as well have a social life, even if it is only (somewhat pathetically) online.

8. Keep your day job while starting out: That way if a client happens to tell you “Don’t quit your day job” then you can smugly reply “Hah! I didn’t.”

7. Always use a contract: We would have to keep lawyers in business otherwise.

6. Raise your rates periodically: A no-brainer… you have to keep up with the minimum wage hikes you know.

5. Never miss a deadline: You might, like, get fired or go to prison or have a hit put out on you. So bad.

4. Carve your own niche: Did you know there’s a market for sex-with-1973-Gremlin-mufflers dating websites? Sorry, that one is taken already.

3. Keep your portfolio up to date: Great way to get the hit counter to finally move forward on your website.

2. Consistently market yourself: Hey, someone will bite, even if it is your parents or that weird next door neighbor that does so.

1. Pay your taxes on time: Advisable if you do not want to be put on a no-fly or terrorist watch list.

I Know It’s Still January, But Have Your Goals Taken A Detour Already?

Posted: January 20th, 2010

Photo by Spiicytuna (Flickr)

Photo by Spiicytuna (Flickr)

I had one of the best starts to the new year I’ve ever had in my life. Of course, I had a list of my goals as a freelancer, but I went further to write out a plan of attack that went flawlessly that first week.

Then week two came by and, as the old saying goes, shit happened (unrelated to work by the way).

Normally some kind of event that distracts you from your work would be an end to your goals. After all, you have to deal with a challenge while trying to get that work done in the meantime. By the time the challenge passes you are already busy catching up to the work and returning to your normal work cycle and you eventually forget those goals.

So it’s time to save them again for next year? Well, not if you plan it right.

I’d love to share the challenge I was having but it strays from the point of this post. Let’s just say it was very distracting. Anyway, I’m still on top of my goals for the year and I’ll share my ways of sticking to them without taking a permanent detour.

View Your Goals Like A Project

Your goals as a freelancer are very important in order to give you a direction and motivate you to grow into the freelancer and even the person you want to be.

Your work and projects are also important to keep the hot ramen noodles coming daily on the dinner table.

If you don’t see your goals as a freelancer as equally as important as your work then you might be content with ramen noodles everyday rather than a nice juicy prime rib to go with those hot ramen noodles.

In other words, working on your goals are a huge project with a one-year deadline.

What could be the financial outcome to you by completing them?

Set Aside an Hour A Day Towards Working On Your Goals

All of us have an hour to spare during the day. OK, maybe it’s harder for freelancers to spare that hour but the truth is we all can somewhere. Sometimes we may even have to work that extra hour on top of all the work we have.

Consider this. If you worked on your goals an hour day, that’s 365 hours a year (I know, math expert). Imagine what you can do or learn in that time. Do you think you’ll be able grow in your freelance career?

If you want to get anywhere in life, not just freelancing, you have to work hard. And not just the typical eight hours a day, five days a week. Sometimes that means burning the candle on both ends. It is hard but I like to refer to a quote that keeps me motivated to work those extra hours:

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”
– Newt Gingrich

Also, it isn’t always easy to stick to an hour a day routine but you can easily stick to a 7 hours a week one. If that means working weekends, well, take it from Newt and do it.

Realize That You May Not Get To All of Your Goals

Hey, sometimes our list of goals is like a huge plate of hot ramen noodles. We may be hungry as hell but we can’t finish the entire plate.

As far as I know, there are still only 24 hours in a day and there probably won’t be enough time to accomplish everything you set out to achieve.

Dont’ stress it. It happens and is quite normal. This is definitely not a reason to get down on yourself if your goal list isn’t being checked off as fast as you like.

Just as long as you are progressing in your goals, that’s all that matters. Keep to the hour a day rule, though, OK?

Don’t Let A Setback Throw You Off

Sure you may stumble into a roadblock that derails you from working towards you goals.

Sometimes the hour a day rule will have to be broken.

But remember your goals are as important as your work. If any kind of setback occurs, of course, get the work back on track but don’t hesitate in getting back to those goals either. Go even one step further and work the overtime needed to get your goals back on track.

Remember goals=year long project.

* * *

How do you keep to your goals as a freelancer?

Have you had any kind of challenges that interrupted pursuing them and what did you do about it?

What flavor of hot ramen noodles do you like the best?

Leave a comment below. I want to hear your responses!

The Week in Freelance: January 15th

Posted: January 15th, 2010

Are You Digesting Too Much Information?

Posted: January 14th, 2010

Photo by True2source (Flickr)

Photo by True2source (Flickr)

I came to a realization a while back sifting through my Firefox bookmarks… Am I really putting all those great articles and advice that I come across through tweets and stumbles to great use?

The answer is, sadly, not even close. I was essentially reading and forgetting as if I were reading newspapers.

I went as far as to give myself my own professional self-diagnosis and came up with the following: I was suffering bad indigestion from information overload.

Well, I found a little system that helped me make better use of the information I come across while, at the same time keeping my brain from shrieking. Hopefully you can use these, too, in the same manner.

1. Clean Out The Reader and Bookmarks

When having that daily peek at the list of subscriptions in my reader, I would always get that feeling as if I were doing a chore when thinking about going through that long ass list. Rather counterproductive I say.

It doesn’t take long to go through the subscriptions and delete out those blogs that haven’t been updated in two months or that you don’t find useful anymore. By doing this, not only will this save you time having to filter through to get to the articles of interest, but you’ll get back to looking forward to those articles as well.

The same goes for those bookmarks. Time to take inventory of the ones you really use and delete out those you don’t.

2. Don’t Bookmark Those Massive Lists

These are pretty easy to tell by the “100 Resources to…” title. These are often great compilations but the fact is you aren’t going to utilize every single one of those links. Plus, after bookmarking the page and referring back to it later, you tend to forget and have to read through the hundred items just to remember what you liked.

The trick is to take the time to visit those links that interest you inside the resource post and bookmark those instead.

3. Sorting The Bookmarks You Save

I started a rather simple method for bookmarking articles so they are easy to refer back to. First I created three folders where recent bookmarks I saved are kept for a review later:

  • Advice I’ll apply right now
  • Advice to apply later
  • Inspiration

These can be whatever depending on how you like to categorize. Rather than directly filing bookmarks to some random folder, where it likely won’t be seen or used again, I use these folders as a sort of holding pen so I can easily go back and see what I saved recently. This is of no use, though, unless you…

4. Consistently Review Your Bookmarks

On a weekly basis, I look through those folders I created and review those bookmarks, revisiting those links as well. Reviewing bookmarks a second time has the effect of putting those pages to memory. I can now file them away in another folder and remember where they are at in case I ever need to refer back to them again.

Sometimes you find that a bookmark you saved may no longer have any use. Now is a good time to delete it before you clutter up your bookmark folders all over again.

5. Use Stumbleupon To Save Links

Stumbleupon is a great way to have a record of all those links you come across. Download the toolbar and  use the “thumbs up” button on any and all pages that interest you even if you don’t bookmark any for later use.

Once in a while, I’ll get the need to refer back to a page that I didn’t bookmark but, instead, thumbed up in Stumbleupon. By clicking on the “Favorites” button in the toolbar you can visit your Stumbleupon page with all the pages you gave a thumbs up (or down) to.

You can then narrow your search by typing in keywords in the “Search your favorites” box to find that link you were after. It is far more clutter-free for your bookmark folders by sticking with Stumbleupon to save those links you normally would bookmark but hardly use again.

6. Take a Day (or Two) Off From Your Computer

I don’t know about you but, after visiting so many blogs and digesting so much information, I tended to burnout. Then I would read those good blog posts but then immediately forget them and not apply the good info contained in them.

Taking just one day off from your computer breaks that cycle so, when you return, you’re refreshed and more at tune when going back through the reader and visiting those blogs and websites again.

* * *

Do you find these techniques useful? Are there any methods that you use to counter the “information overload” from reading so many blogs or visiting so many websites? Drop a comment below and let me know!

Ten Steps To Twitter Zen

Posted: January 8th, 2010

Photo by CC Chapman (Flickr)

Photo by CC Chapman (Flickr)

I’ve been using Twitter over the last nine months or so. Now, I may not exactly be deemed “popular” by follower standards but I’ve used it enough to know what makes a good user experience, not just for yourself, but for your followers too.

There are, of course, rules to live by when using Twitter and other social media that should be understood.

But here are my two cents on the matter.

Be Yourself, Be Nice

Treat Twitter as if you were talking to real people.

People can easily spot suck-ups, frauds and salesmen in real life but guess what? They can also easily see this through your tweets. So there’s no point in trying to win over new followers or inundating everyone about the new ebook your selling.

Be you. That’s all your followers ask of you.

And keep it nice too. No one like negativity and the badmouthing of others so stay away from that. Also, abide by the conversational rule of refraining from tweeting about religion or politics unless, of course, these are what you normally tweet about.

You Must Give In Order to Receive

Sure you want to promote something over Twitter whether it be your blog or something you sell. Before that can ever take place you have to give by sending out tweets of value that people find useful. In other words, you need to develop a reputation as being a source of great information.

Then and only then can you send out a tweet that promotes what you have. Just keep it to a minimum and “sneak” it in with the other links sent out.

Follower Count Isn’t Everything

A common belief is that the higher your follower count, the more popular you appear to be.

Well… yes and no.

The popular people on Twitter fall under two categories: celebrities and gurus who are pretty much celebrities. You can easily identify them by their follower count nearing the 100,000 mark, or reaching much higher, and follow relatively few people themselves.

As for the rest of twitterverse, the follower count isn’t even close to being as important as the followers you already have. After all, which is better? Knowing a thousand people and talking to only a few or knowing a hundred people and talking to each and every one of them?

Conversation Is Not One-Way

You could be that all-knowing guru of marketing, web design or whatever and tweet links that could really help out your followers. If you don’t bother to interact with your followers, however, you are essentially standing on a soapbox and speaking into an empty room.

Take the time to scan through your feed and answer questions, retweet useful links and spark up conversations. Then you begin to notice that followers begin to notice and listen to what you have to tweet.

Mix It Up A Little

I’ve been guilty of this but if you’re say, a freelance web designer, don’t just tweet everything on web design or else you’re seen one-dimensional. The point of Twitter is to tweet interesting links whether it be news, funny images, thought-provoking quotes or articles unrelated to what you do.

And try to eliminate those plain “Eating cereal right now” tweets. Unless you can add a funny or interesting spin to it like “Eating Cheerios with water, hmmm, not so bad” it’s likely to draw a “who cares” reaction.

Know The Proper Way To DM (direct message)

A real sore spot for most Twitter users is the unsolicited DM. It is often seen as no different than receiving a Viagra pitch by email. So turn off that auto-DM for new followers and refrain from sending mass DM’s to get your followers to read that new blog post.

The DM is used primarily to communicate privately with followers you already interact with. If you want to DM a follower you never communicated with before, though, make sure you personalize it with their name, looking it up in their profile or from the website link in the profile.

But remember, in a DM, don’t try to sell your shit or ask to join some mafia boss thing either. That’s the number one way to get unfollowed.

A Non-Follow-Back Is Not Cause For Concern

Twitter is not a game of I’m following you so you better follow me back. So not receiving a follow back shouldn’t be considered an insult and trigger your inner fury. It’s important to not equate this with being rejected as a person.

The truth is you will decide not to follow those that follow you for reasons that have nothing to do with the person behind the username. It’s nothing personal, it’s just how Twitter works.

If You Want to Increase The Likelihood of a Follow Back…

  1. Upload an avatar in your profile and have a link to your website or Facebook page.
  2. Add a descriptive, interesting bio to your profile too.
  3. When landing on your Twitter page, there should be some RT’s (retweets) in view.
  4. If you are a new user, have at least 10 – 15 tweets posted with a few RT’s thrown in. Seeing one tweet or no tweets at all might lead to you being mistaken for a spammer.

You Can Always Unfollow

Once in a while you’ll come across someone’s tweets that you find annoying or inappropriate. Or you’ll get once of those annoying DM’s to buy some crap you don’t want.

That’s the beauty of the unfollow button. One click and you never have to hear from that person again. Ever. No need to get angry and respond with hate tweets.

Give Thanks

This is entirely up to you but, if someone takes the time to visit any link I tweet, then retweets it, I’ll send them a reply thanking them for the RT. In my opinion, that person appreciates the acknowledgment and is likley to notice and retweet more of my links in the future.

Besides, I think it’s good karma.

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