Mar 17, 2016
Working with Me
Contractors can be the worst. In theory, it seems so simple, a win-win opportunity for everyone. A person or group has a task and a budget, another person has a specific set of skills and a list of monthly recurring expenses. Put the skills to work on that task and the budget takes care of the expenses. So easy, right?
In practice, not so much. I have heard time and time again from clients who have had one or many bad experiences with the “person at the other end of the emails.” Things like:
- A contracted developer who had control of both the main domain and the hosting. He stopped answering emails completely but, meanwhile, had built a brand new site promoting his services. That contact form didn’t work either.
- A high-profile design and development firm who charged $60K for the “discovery” process that generated an impossible to navigate, 35-page document that barely addressed what was needed. Next up was another $60K for wireframes. That was the end of that relationship.
- Another, different agency, came up with $100K as an estimate for a complete overhaul of a complex site: information architecture, wireframes, design, and construction. At the end of the design phase, that was adjusted to $400K in a single sentence buried in a long email about progress. That’s when I got an email.
The list goes on and on.
I think transparency is a big part of trust and if you’ve been through anything like the people above, then you are probably wary of placing your trust too easily. I don’t blame you.
I put together this page to answer some common questions I get about what I do and who I am in order to hopefully allay some of your concerns. This will also help you determine if I’m the right fit for your project, product, or team.
Where are you?
I work out of my house in Seattle, WA.
Is this your full-time job?
Yup. I’ve been working for-hire for the duration of my career on the web.
What kind of projects do you take on?
The kind of work I’m best for is 1 – 10 week development projects that are typically ground-up builds, migrations from other platforms, frameworks for agencies, or in a senior engineer role to help other developers/teams get up-to-speed and build great things.
I follow a general rule: either it’s free (i.e. would be happy to help you determine where in the theme your code should go or suggest plugins, where possible) and hopefully we can work together on a larger project or it falls into that range. Simple/quick projects and small, infrequent changes tend to be inefficient and don’t allow me to do my best work.
The technologies I work with are here.
What kind of clients do you work with?
My typical client is:
- A design agency that needs development assistance for web applications or complex content sits
- A small team looking to create a product or start a tech-heavy business online and need experienced help with strategy, design, or development on a contracted basis
Industries and projects I tend to avoid:
- Anything with invasive, aggressive, or offensive advertising (not fun to work with and I hate it myself)
- Religious organizations (my heart’s not in it)
- Anyone I have to explain web ethics to (“no we’re not going to scrape content from another site and publish without attribution”)
We’re an agency; will you meet with our clients?
Absolutely! I’m a former corporate trainer and technical writer so I pride myself on clear, effective communication. I can work under your brand and can be a direct client contact, if required. You landed the contract and you built the trust so the relationship there is yours to manage.
WordPress is the de-facto standard for content management on the web in 2016 and beyond. Current market share is widely quoted as 26% of all sites, and, when just examining sites that use a CMS (rather than just hard-coded files), some sources estimate as high as 68%. While popularity certainly does not guarantee quality, there are a number of reasons for this dominance:
- WordPress, on its own, is a very secure and high-performing platform maintained by a very smart and dedicated team (I’ve been lucky to work closely with several of them). Stories of rampant hacking, defacing, and slow-loading sites are, in my long experience with the platform, always related to insecure and poorly-developed plugins (I use as few as possible, often zero)
- The WordPress administration section, where content, users, and functionality are managed, is simple, easy to use, and as intuitive as anything I’ve seen, custom or otherwise. Clients that are not familiar with WordPress are typically pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to make changes and add new content.
- The media management component makes it very simple to upload, edit, position, and re-use images across the entire site.
This platform dominance leads to 2 very important additional benefits:
- Most web developers you come across have at least some ability to develop on the platform. This makes it easy to choose or switch development providers.
- Most people with content management experience have worked, often extensively, in WordPress. This makes it easy to add staff as needed.
But, in the end, it comes down to understanding and enjoying both the platform itself and the community around it. I’ve worked with many CMSes and none of them have shown themselves to be as capable and enjoyable to work with. I have my gripes, of course, but I’m happy with my choice time and time again.
How do you best communicate?
I can work with whatever your team is using. It makes a lot more sense for me to get used to your workflow then vice versa. That said, most projects of the size that I get involved with are served well by a competent task-management system like Basecamp, Asana, or Jira.
Most communication happens asynchronously over email or a task manager. Some things are best “voice-to-voice” so a phone call or video conference works fine as well. I’m responsive most hours of most days but do shut off email and chat apps for blocks during the day so I can focus.
One thing I don’t like: text messages for anything non-urgent. They’re hard to keep track of, hard to search, and just feel invasive.
What do you charge for?
First, I’ll say that I don’t charge for:
- correcting mistakes I made (I’ve pro-active about removing this time from invoices)
- learning new techniques to use on your site (unless it’s something proprietary to you or your company and I’m not going to be able to use it elsewhere)
- time outside of what we’ve discussed (though I will expand the project cost to take care of out-of-scope work, with pre-approval)
- obstacles caused by events outside of your control (computer crashes, “I forgot to save it” issues on my end, acts of god)
If we’re working with a fixed price, I’ve added time for project management, communication, and potential issues. If I’m charging you by the hour then I charge for all of the following (beyond the actual designing or writing code):
- Phone call or chat meetings (within reason)
- Email communication (again, within reason)
- Training time (either creating documents or over the phone)
- Communicating with other people involved with the project
- Research time
What if we end up talking about your weekend for a while? What if I send you an email out of the blue with an article and what I thought about it? I really enjoy to get to know my clients and I don’t charge for conversation (I’m not that interesting). I’m looking to be as fair as possible so trust that I’m not looking to pad the clock. I love what I do too much to try and get paid for work I didn’t do.
How does billing work?
When we start, I’ll provide a contract and an estimate for the work that needs to be completed. Depending on the project, the estimate can be fixed – the cost won’t go up or down unless the scope changes – or time and materials – hours are counted and submitted as a detailed timesheet once or twice per month, depending on how many hours are being worked. I can be as granular or as broad as needed; I’m often asked to tie specific time periods to ticket numbers or task names. Time is rounded up to the nearest 15 minute increment per day.
Payment can be made with a check or PayPal “friends and family” (to avoid fees). If you need to use a credit card, I ask that you split the processing fee with me (typically around 3%, more if you’re not in the US).
Do you do design?
Yes, in certain capacities. I do a lot of wireframe design, where the functionality is spelled out with no color and a basic font. I’m a great resource here, particularly for CMS-driven projects, because I know the difficulty level of creating the user interface for the components I’m laying out. Oftentimes a small change in layout can create a much better administration experience.
I also do a lot of in-browser design, which means that the look and feel of the site or application is determined during the build process. This cuts down on design time by a lot and is great for projects that have a lot of interactive parts. It helps to have a style guide of some kind here but I can work without one.
Logos, color palettes, branding, print, font selection – not my expertise. I have a good aesthetic sense but I’ve seen what a great designer can do for a brand and I’m not that. I have a number of very talented folks I partner with, though, who would be happy to help.
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