Scarcity: Fucking With The Minds of Freelancers

Posted: February 26th, 2010

Photo by Mike Zienowicz (Flickr)

Photo by Mike Zienowicz (Flickr)

Scarcity causes you to do dumb things… sober!

Usually when it comes to reasons why some freelancers never become successful, things such as work habits, marketing and efficiency come to mind. In other words, the decision making that affect their businesses.

What doesn’t come to mind so obviously is a concept that freelancers take for granted each and every day. A concept that induces negative attitudes and actions that can, consequently, have negative results on a freelance career. That is, scarcity.

Scarcity is simply a shortage of anything when compared to the high demand for it.

To give an example of the power of scarcity, my favorite was in 1999 with the Y2K scare. Computers all over the world were supposed to crash as soon as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s day in 2000. Chaos was suppose to ensue with disruption of major services, riots starting up and food and supplies flying of the shelves of stores.

The funny part was that in this “holy shit!” scenario that was suppose to occur, overpriced survival kits consisting of one, three and six month supplies of freeze-dried and canned goods began to hit the marketplace costing thousands of (U.S.) dollars.

My landlord, who I lived with at the time, bought the six month variety for a family of three. He figured he would also throw in a few shotguns, in case things really got out of control. Surely, he wasn’t the only one.

Needless to say, no shortages nor riots occurred and boxes of non refundable pork and beans were there to prove it. There is still no word if the newly acquired shotguns were used on him by his wife or son.

If there is a lesson learned, those reactions to scarcity lead to an impulsive decision that may have seemed reasonable, even prudent, at the time. In the end, however, it became a mistake and a costly one too.

Scarcity has the affect of triggering negative emotions, primarily fear, panic and greed. It’s being backed into a corner and being forced to make a decision your life depends on (to varying degrees). When you think about it, though, do rational decisions every really come out of negative emotions?

When it concerns scarcity, the answer is no.

So what does this all have to do with freelancing?

For starters, we deal with scarcity when it comes to employment. The bad economy, layoffs, job shortages are always in the news and on our minds as we deal with our own employment.

It’s reasonable, too, that it should have that affect. After all, everyone has to worry about putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head for themselves and their families.

These fears, however, can be detrimental to freelance careers in four ways.

1. Fear of not finding work

Whenever you have that belief that there is a scramble to find what little work is out there, then this is where the bad decisions begin. This surely crosses the minds of all freelancers, especially early in their careers, but it can lead to poor decisions on what kind of work you accept.

First, there is a tendency to take any kind of opportunity out there just to get income rolling in. This leads doing projects you would rather not be doing and, most likely, working for less than what you’re worth. It’s what I like to refer to as freelance “prostitution”.

2. Fear of not making ends meet

I know, this is a universal worry of nearly all freelancers early in their careers. Some, however, choose to ignore it and stomp out the worry and others decide to let it eat away at them day in and day out.

Our biggest fears and strongest emotions can come from worrying if we’ll make it to the next month and can lead to a situation, similar to the above, when not able to find work. This is often a breaking point for young freelancers, who may find it more appealing to return to the security of a paid position.

3. No growth or learning

If you work just to survive and pay the bills, and your mentality is set to that alone, then we have a situation where our career transforms into a regular J-O-B. What kind of passion is to be realized if you are constantly worrying about the rent at the end of the month? None at all.

Career fulfillment is a by-product of freelancing. You have the liberty to make your own decisions and grow in your career but, if you are stuck doing work you hate at a wage not ideal but gets you by, then you are really only treading water.

4. A too-competitive attitude

Sure, we need to compete for work amongst other freelancers, but viewing your fellow freelancers as the competition does no good in your business nor for your business ethics. In having the too-competitive attitude, some freelancers resort to undercutting or taking advantage of other freelancers to get their own work.

Not only can this be bad for your reputation but it hurts freelancers as a whole reducing the value of work in your industry. Plus you won’t make too many friends amongst your peers this way.

What eliminates scarcity from the freelancer’s vocabulary?

This one is easy. Change your attitude, which is best summed up through a passage from a post by Lite Cue 23:

What I have found myself doing lately is shifting my perspective from a debt oriented view to a wealth oriented view. In short, a shift from a scarcity mentality to an abundance mentality. The economy may be way down, we know this, but people are still hiring. Companies are still producing and lights still need to be designed.

There may be bad news happening in the employment world but there is still an economy and people out there working in it. Well, at least the last time I checked.

Another thing to do is to get involved in the community of your freelancing peers.

Anybody who has been on Twitter long enough, and follows other freelancers, knows that the community is very positive. Not only this but they share information about their trades and some even give you insight to how they run their own businesses with success.

You may then come to realize that the real scarcity concerning freelancers is the lack of them in the marketplace.

The Week In Freelance: February 19th

Posted: February 19th, 2010

I Can’t Write and So Can You

Posted: February 18th, 2010

Photo by Adam Rice (Flickr)

Photo by Adam Rice (Flickr)

Not too long ago, I had a look around too see exactly who has been linking back to this blog and its posts. After visiting these sites, I began to notice that many of them were referring to this as a “writer’s” blog. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind the label but it left me with a big “Whoa! What just happened?”

Now, I know what you’re thinking…  “Duh, you have a blog and write in it, stupid.”

Of course but, besides the obvious, this goes way back in what I like to call my own little internal joke.

For starters, I’m not a writer. Want proof? I’ll give you a rundown of my writing resume:

– Average grade in writing classes, 6th to 12th grade: C

– Average grade in writing classes, 1st – 7th years of college: F/withdrew

– College proficiency writing exam (needed to graduate): Failed

– Average grade in writing classes, community college: C

– Class grade for failers of college proficiency exam: Pass (out of pass/fail)

– Estimated number of writing assignments/papers prior to starting this blog: 150

– Last time I really wrote anything before starting this blog: 2001

With these kind of credentials, you might get the impression I haven’t outgrown the crayons (actually I use my two index fingers while typing). The truth was I never liked writing on topics I was made to to write about. To this day, I still have nightmares about “The Fundamental Flaws of Solipsism” piece of shit I wrote in college and turned in a week late.

OK, I see what you’re thinking… “How come you can write now if you suck so bad at it?”

It’s pretty simple. I had a goal to write a blog, unearth a little knowledge, rant a bit (hence the blog name) and hopefully one day be good at it. Well, that and make lots and lots of money as those blogging “gurus” promise in whatever ebooks.

Let’s just say that the money thing hasn’t working out as I hoped. I could care less either. I’ve come to enjoy writing and the fact that there are people reading what I have to say instead of handing me back a paper full of mistakes in red ink.

It’s a fact that, if you have something to say that you’re dying to get out, you can write about it AND on your own terms.

So, if you are thinking about writing your own blog (or dusting off your old one) or, hell, even starting up a career in writing, then take it from me. It is definitely possible. Know matter how “bad” you think you are as a writer, surely you can beat my resume in writing futility.

If you’re looking for advice on how to write, though, I won’t be giving it out here… ever. That I’ll leave for the real writers. Come to think of it, now that the cat is out of the bag, I think I just screwed my chances for that GQ gig I was hoping to graduate to.

Oh well, I’ll be content with the “writer’s” blog label for the time being.

Top Ten Freelancing Crimes (You Probably Are Guilty Of)

Posted: February 12th, 2010

We like to think of freelancers as independent, honest and hard working individuals. Yeah right… we join the rest of society by committing our own crimes as well. In fact, here are the top crimes that even you (yes you) probably are guilty of:

Vandalism: That first website you created all by yourself would have to count here.

Curfew Violations: Stop working, step off of Twitter and get to bed already.

Disorderly Conduct: C’mon, look at your desk. Geez!

Money Laundering: Putting all that under-the-table cash towards that new Mac. Clever.

Insider Trading: Being nice and telling Mr Jones how to use Photoshop so he can save a couple dollars later is a real nice favor isn’t it?

Prostitution: How can you live with yourself after giving Mr Jones a website, new logo and writing all his page copy for $10? Shame on you!

Arson: Better watch out. Mr Jones has a vendetta ever since you burned that bridge some time back.

Shoplifting: Got a receipt for that new Photoshop CS4 I see there?

Murder: Killing off your real social life in cold blood so you can finally have that “other” social life on Twitter.

Tax Evasion: Bet you thought I was joking up until now, eh?

WordPress Tips You Really Should Know, Part II: Speeding Up Your Blog

Posted: February 8th, 2010

Photo by Foreverdigital (Flickr)

Photo by Foreverdigital (Flickr)

This is the second part of the series on WordPress tips you really should know. The first part, backing up your WordPress, is here.

WordPress, as good as a software it is, has one definite drawback: it can be slow to load. Maybe your readers will sit and wait for pages to load on your blog but, if you can save them the extra seconds, wouldn’t they appreciate it more?

Luckily, there are ways you can speed up the page loads. Drastically as a matter of fact.

First, I’ll assume you are familiar with the following:

  • FTP software to access the WordPress files. Note that I’ll refer to FileZilla here (free to download for Mac and PC).
  • phpMyAdmin to access and manage your WordPress database.

So let’s get started!

The Need For Speed… Caching

Caching is a necessity for every WordPress user. What it is it? Well, instead of generating a page through the WordPress (and the wait), cuts to the chase and delivers just the HTML page code that is normally rendered. Therefore, your pages can load ten times faster or even more.

There is an awesome plugin, which handles just that, called W3 Total Cache. On this very blog, I’ve noticed that pages load super fast with it. So it gets a heavy endorsement from me.

To install, you will need to first set the permissions  of the /wp-content directory to 777 (see below).

Setting file permissions using FileZilla (right click, select File Permissions)

Now you can download, unzip and upload the w3-total-cache folder to the /wp-content/plugins directory and activate from the Plugins section in your WordPress admin. The configuration can be accessed under Settings > W3 Total Cache in the WordPress admin although the default settings should suffice.

Don’t forget to set the file permissions of the /wp-content directory to 755 once the plugin is installed.

Post Revisions Can Slow Things Down

WordPress has a great feature, in theory, which saves each and every revision of every post as a means of backup. The problem with it is that, each time you edit a post to add a comma or correct a misspelling, an extra copy of your entire post is saved to your database.

The majority of the WordPress database is composed of blog posts. So, for example, if you average around 4 revisions for every post, your database grows by nearly four times. After a while, it becomes a huge (and slower) database.

If you are like most and can do away with saving post revisions, then you can perform a couple hacks to turn this feature off:

In the /wp-config.php file, add to it this line of code:

define('WP_POST_REVISIONS', false);

Then, using phpMyAdmin to access your database, click on the SQL tab and  run the following command to delete the current post revisions in your database:

DELETE a,b,c
FROM wp_posts a
LEFT JOIN wp_term_relationships b ON (a.ID = b.object_id)
LEFT JOIN wp_postmeta c ON (a.ID = c.post_id)
WHERE a.post_type = 'revision';

Keep in mind that this will only delete post revisions and will not affect live posts nor post drafts.

Optimizing Your Database

Maintaining the WordPress database is, fortunately, not a task you have to be on top of. It helps, though, to give it a little care, kind of like wiping the grime off of your computer screen. It has to be done once in a while.

The best tool for that is the WP-DBManager plugin which enables you to perform optimizations on your database tables. To use,  download, unzip and upload the wp-dbmanager folder to the /wp-content/plugins directory and activate from the Plugins section in your WordPress admin.

You can then access the optimize tool from Database > Optimize DB in the admin and run it with just one click. Then once a month thereafter should do the trick.

Last One…

If you display posts on your home page and notice it loads rather slow, it helps to reduce the number of posts that show on it. You can change this setting by going to Settings > Reading and setting the number to show to a lower number. Normally the default is 10 showing but reducing it to 5 or so will speed up the loading.

* * *

Do you have any other tips to optimize the speed of your WordPress blog? Drop them off in a comment below.

The Week in Freelance: February 25th

Posted: February 5th, 2010

WordPress Tips You Really Should Know, Part I: Backups

Posted: February 4th, 2010

Photo by Eric M Martin (Flickr)

Photo by Eric M Martin (Flickr)

Many of us who have our own blogs also do all the maintenance on it. So while I could go on all day about how those nifty Twitter or image plugins can do this or that, you are better off with some tips that you really need to know if you are a do-it-yourself with WordPress.

This will be the first part of three posts on the topic. So here we go.

First, I will assume you are familiar with FTP software to access the WordPress files on your server. Note that I’ll be referring to FileZilla, which is free to download and can be used on all platforms.

Part I: WordPress Backups

A couple months ago, I ran across a post from Coding Horror that raised my eyebrows. Here, we had a programmer who writes and maintains his own blog but ran into a server catastrophe and scrambled like mad to piece his blog back together again.

Now that I’ve apologized, it’s time to let the healing begin. And by healing, I mean the excruciatingly painful process of reconstructing Coding Horror from internet caches and the few meager offsite backups I do have. My first order of business was to ask on SuperUser what strategies people recommend for recovering a lost website with no backup. Strategies other than berating me for my obvious mistake. Also, comments are currently disabled while the site is being reconstructed from static HTML. Oh, darn!

Remember, this was A PROGRAMMER. If this isn’t a wake up call, I don’t know what is.

Luckily backing up your Worpress isn’t such a complex task and consists of the following which I’ll go over:

  • Frequent backups of the MySQL database.
  • Frequent backups of the /wp-content folder on your server.
  • Having a copy of your entire WordPress blog.

Backing Up Your MySQL Database

There is an excellent plugin called WP-DB-Backup which generates an SQL file of your entire WordPress database that can be downloaded or, best part, emailed to you automatically at regular intervals.

Simply download, unzip and upload the wp-db-backup folder to the /wp-content/plugins directory and activate from the Plugins section in your WordPress admin. You can then configure the backup under Tools > Backup in the admin.

Note that, to get this to work, you will need to set the permissions  of the /wp-content directory to 777 (see below).

Setting file permissions using FileZilla (right click, select File Permissions)

After you download your first backup, be sure to set the file permissions of the /wp-content directory to 755.

Backing Up Your /wp-content Directory

As of this writing, I haven’t found a reliable plugin to backup the images on the posts and pages. It’s probably moot anyway since those images would add up to a large backup file over time; likely too large to have it emailed to you.

In the meantime, its best just to do regular backups of the /wp-content directory which contains your uploaded images, plugins and themes. One great way to remember to do this, at regular intervals, is to configure a schedule in the WP-DB-Backup to receive the database backups by email.

Then, immediately after receiving each of those emails, you have a reminder to download the /wp-content directory onto your computer to keep that backup updated.

Downloading You Entire Blog

It’s very important that you have a copy of your entire WordPress blog. This is especially true before upgrading your WordPress or when those unexpected moments of breakdown happen to occur.

Since WordPress files only change when upgrading this only needs to be done once, to have a current copy, then after each upgrade.

(One thing… be sure use the WP-DB-Backup to immediately download a backup file of your database before performing any upgrade.)

Due to conflicts with some plugins and themes, WordPress is known to break down and give hell after upgrading. So better to be safe than sorry.

* * *

Coming next in this series:  Speeding Up Your Blog.

Introducing A New Sort-Of Twitter (More Than 140 Characters Allowed!)

Posted: February 1st, 2010

Photo by Jeffjose (Flickr)

Photo by Jeffjose (Flickr)

I’m really excited that I recently discovered a new “app” as a part of my social media arsenal. Yes, you got it; something new and different that rivals Twitter. OK, it’s no so new, but it is effective.

Don’t get me wrong; Twitter is a great tool and all, but sometimes I just want to cut to the chase and converse with those that are of interest to me as a freelancer and in my business. With Twitter, I usually get sidetracked enough with unrelated links that it somewhat defeats its purpose.

Besides, I’m a little tired of clicking on to pictures of cats and half-eaten breakfasts already.

So before I reveal what this incredible new tool is, let me give you some of its advantages over Twitter.

1. No follower counts (and insecurity with your unpopularity).

Finally there is no need worry that you have 136 followers while the average number of followers of those following you is somewhere in the tens of thousands. Not that it mattered anyway, but this is no longer an issue.

Ah, who am I kidding? We all look at that count each and every day and look up those users that hit the unfollow button on us. The swine.

Now, though, we can all be created equal and our fragile egos can be saved.

2. Communicate directly to the gurus and experts that would never consider following you.

Have you ever RT’d or sent a tweet to one of those “popular” users in hopes of getting his attention?

Then waited…

Not a thank you tweet in sight. Probably didn’t even notice. He still hasn’t followed you back for God sake.

Wouldn’t it be nice to send a message to him and then he gets back to you? Well, it may happen some of the time but better than being completely ignored.

3. No more 140 character limits.

You are free to write 141, 280, 560 characters or, gasp, multiple paragraphs. Finally say what is on your mind and don’t leave out one single detail. You can even throw in that photo of your cat eating breakfast (though not recommended).

4. Steal traffic from other websites to yours.

Sure, Twitter is a great way to bring traffic to your website. More traffic couldn’t hurt, right? It’s especially true if you can “borrow” it from other websites with a lot more traffic.

Yes, there is a little greed factor here.

5. Meet others with similar interests.

I personally hate following a user that seems to be interesting but finding only nothing but tweets about Jersey Shore and cats coming from his feed.

Booooring.

None of that here. Filter out the crap and save yourself the unfollow time.

So What Is It?

It’s nothing you haven’t heard of before. In fact, you may have used “it” but without realizing its full potential.

Introducing… [drumroll] the blog comment.

How many times of you read a really good blog post, bookmarked it, tweeted a link to it and printed it out but never left a comment telling the author how good it was along with a reflective thought?

Nothing flatters an author more (even the popular ones too) than noticing that his readers are influenced by his or her work. Plus you get a little something in return by leaving a link to your blog or website along with your picture (by getting a Gravatar).

Instant branding… just like with Twitter.

Just remember to be sincere and leave a thought provoking response. That might be just enough to get that author’s attention and have him visit your website. Maybe he’ll even like what he sees on your website and recommend you to his friends.

Sure beats waiting for him to follow you on Twitter.