Archives For Freelance

My good friend Nathan tagged me a few days ago to write about my success as a “designer”. After reading his post again and then the excellent entry of my co-tagee Small Potato, memories are flashing back and I’m eager to write..

1. How did you get started in the business?

Like Small Potato, I got started not in design, but rather development. It all started with.. Microsoft Word back in.. *thinks for a moment*.. 1999. I was 12 years old. While playing around with Word, I discovered that you could “hyperlink” documents. Adding a hyperlink to one document let you click on the link and it would bring up a new document. I was thrilled..

A few days later, I discovered Frontpage Express. I immediately began development on my first website and before long, I had put together an “Age of Empires” fansite for my grand parents, which I promptly put on a floppy diskette and mailed to them.

A few weeks after, I began work on an idea for a website online. I came up with this concept for “ePals” and began developing a community for young people like me to be able to connect and make new friends online. All was going well. I designed some nice buttons (I don’t remember how I did it), wrote the content, designed the layout, and was ready to go.

Then.. hosting.

How was I to get this little website online? Microsoft provided some advice on one of their sites, but their information wasn’t making that much sense to my 12 year old mind. I finally found a host and put my site online. Then, to my horror, I discovered that my image links were all broken. I couldn’t figure it out.. They pointed to the correct location on my harddrive but they weren’t showing up online. I was temporarily discouraged and let that little project go.

But it wasn’t long before I was back again. At 13 years old, I was introduced to the world of “pirated software”. Something hadn’t click in my mind that it might be wrong to steal. I became frustrated that all the good sites I’d try to go to to find software were full of pornography and other junk. So, I began development on a clean and friendly “warez” site. Within a few months, I had thousands of visitors on a regular basis and was meeting people all over the world. I kept working on this off and on until about 16 when my interest in running a community was usurped by a temporary (thankfully) interest in gaming.

At 17 years old, I was enrolled in an R.O.P. class and learned, for the first time, that Photoshop just wasn’t for editing photos. Man, I got excited. I went online and found some tutorials and began merging everything together that I was learning. 13 hours of solid work later and 3 days into discovering the power of Photoshop, I finished my first painting. I was hooked.

The next several years I advanced off and on in the world of web design and development. I started “SandStorm Studios” with my best friend Sterling Evans. I wrote an article in the local newspaper on keeping your computer virus free, which led to one of our first big design/development projects. We both became hooked. Then, life pulled us our separate ways and SandStorm was set aside.

In 2005, I began taking web design and development more seriously. Another best friend and business partner, Matt Geri, started work with me on Blue Flame Design Group. We learned a lot and finished a handful of small projects and then moved on to other ventures as our lives changed.

Also in 2005, I was introduced to CSS and WordPress. A client of mine wanted a blog built and, not knowing CSS or WordPress but, thankfully, having just been introduced to them some friends, I determined to learn and make the website work. From that experience, I wrote my first tutorial.

Then things went quiet for awhile as my life took some rather dramatic turns until the Winter of 2006 and Spring of 2007 when I started life as a freelance web developer.

Everything from my first website at 12 all the way to this year began adding up and after purchasing several excellent books and working on more projects than I had fingers and toes to count, I began developing and designing full time, which has led me up to today.

2. What kept you going in those early years?

Hard to say.. Entrepreneurialism is something that’s been in my mind since I was 10 years old and selling home-baked banana breads door-to-door. Having the ability to take an idea and make it into a virtual reality went hand and hand in my mind with the many business ideas that would come and go. On top of that, although it would often cause lack of sleep and serious red-eye, I was always up for a good challenge. CSS definitely presented that challenge and I eventually became determined to achieve a mastery of it. That striving for mastery, which has become an integral part of my faith, is a part of what kept me going back then and is completely what keeps me going now.

3a. Did you ever feel like you weren’t good enough or you would never make it in this industry?

The feeling I would get when I’d see excellent work done a peer of mine or someone with ability far beyond mine was an overwhelmingly strong desire to raise the bar on my abilities. Sometimes it would be crippling as I’d take on far more than I could chew and would become overwhelmed. But, the other times, it would help encourage me to keep learning so that I could put even better thought and energy into my work.

3b. How did you work through that?

I rarely, if ever, felt that I wasn’t good enough or ever doubted that I would make it, but there were definitely times when I’d be intimidated by my lack of understanding and, now and then, it would discourage me. But the reason I’m still here and, I’m sure, the reason many of my peers are still in this industry, is that we took those tough times as valuable lessons and kept moving on.

4. Do you look at others today and think “Wow, I wish I were that good”?

Hmm.. When I see excellent work done by my peers or people with talent and ability above what I currently have, it brings a smile to my face, a faster beat to my heart, and inspires me to raise my standards higher. There have been the times, as I mentioned, where it would be discouraging. But I’ve learned to take that and, instead, be encouraged by the fact that I have new things to learn and even higher standards to raise the quality of my work too.

5. How do you measure success?

There was a time when I measured it by the satisfaction of my clients. That worked well for awhile and still plays an important role, but I’ve learned that it’s deeper than that. I measure success in knowing that whether I was paid well or not, whether my client appreciates the quality of the work or not, I put my absolute best into the work. As it relates to my faith, I measure success in knowing that even if nobody else ever took any notice, my Father in Heaven has taken notice and at the end of the day, when I close my eyes to sleep, I can know that He’s said, “Well done.”

6. By your standard, do you think you are successful?

I’ve been blessed with success far beyond anything I deserve. I’ve been able to meet many wonderful people and form lifelong friendships and I’ve been blessed with an industry that “pays the bills”. If I never had another potential client ask me for work, with the experiences I’ve been blessed so far and the people I’ve met, I’d still be completely happy. Though some of the lessons along the way have been long and painful, I will continue to strive for mastery and put my best into the work. If it were just my standard, I would have probably given up long ago. But as I’ve been influenced by the high standards of my peers and, above all, by God’s standards, I’ve continued to go forward and to that I owe my success.

-Jonathan Wold

P.S. I’m tagging Matt Geri, Joshua Mitchener, two good old friends of mine, and a new friend of mine, Mike Jolley. Looking forward to reading each of your entries guys! :)

Since taking up work as an active freelance developer and since the overhaul of my blog, I’ve been paying more attention to ways of making the best uses of technology. As I’ve been working on client projects and doing research on my own time, I’ve been blessed with little discoveries here and there that have made my life as a freelance developer easier. In no particular order, let’s get started:

Useful Web Applications:

  • FeedBurner – It wasn’t until I rebuilt my blog and did a bit of testing that I realized I’d had a broken “/feed” URL for almost an entire year. But despite that, my trusty FeedBurner account maintained my list of subscribers and faithfully notified them once I’d begun blogging again. FeedBurner has continued to grow over the years and their service continues to remain at the top of its game. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s kind of hard to beat “free”. For WordPress users, I highly recommend the FeedSmith Plugin which redirects all possible feed requests to FeedBurner where they are managed on your behalf.
  • pMetrics – Since I began using the pMetrics tracking software back near the end of April ’07, I’ve become completely sold on it. There are features that I’d like to see added and improved on, but as they’ve just released the program I’m perfectly content to continue as a happy customer while they keep up the good work. pMetrics is very straightforward to use and, as any good stats program should be, very easy to deploy. The “Spy” feature is one of my favorites but I’ve had to cut back on it as it doesn’t offer much in the way of productivity.. *grins*..
  • CrazyEgg – Though I haven’t opened up an account for a test run just yet, I’m already sold and looking forward to deploying it across some of the sites in my networks. CrazyEgg tracks every click on a page and presents you with a heatmap overlay showing you what people are clicking on. It’s an excellent way to test page optimization and be sure that your most important content is getting the attention it deserves. – In addition to the CrazyEgg service, there is also a free piece of software available for those willing to go the “Do-It-Yourself” route. Check out ClickHeat from LabsMedia.com
  • FreshBooks – I began looking carefully over the FreshBooks system today and so far I’m very happy with what I’ve seen. As business has grown and I’ve taken on more and more freelance projects I’ve been keeping careful track of each one through text documents and organized folders. But there’s definitely room for improvement. FreshBooks offers web based client invoicing, time tracking, and project management. Matt and I, who do the bulk of our freelance work together at the moment, can each login to our FreshBooks control panel, track our time, manage client tickets, etc, all in a straightforward and easy to use webbased environment. I’ll share more on FreshBooks as I continue to work with it in the future.
  • Tumblr – From their website: “If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks.” At first glance Tumblr me as a minimalistic approach to WordPress. While certainly similiar in nature, it has a simplicity about it that makes it a desireable addition to your existing blog. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with it yet, but I’m eager to watch as the Tumblr development team keeps up the good work. Check out my WordPress Tumblelog for a small demo and links to some excellent WordPress Plugins.
  • WordPress 2.2 – What list of useful apps would be complete without the latest and greatest edition of WordPress? With 2.2, WordPress now includes built in support for Widgets along with support of jQuery (more on that soon). One of my favorite features of WordPress is the auto save.. in addition, I’ll share a small tip with you.. *smiles*.. When you’re on dialup, don’t try upgrading WordPress while you’re writing a blog post. Thankfully, WordPress forgave me and I was spared a rather lengthy rewrite.

And that’s that for this week’s roundup! : ) I’ll be keeping my eyes open throughout the week and taking notes of new things I find. Be sure to do the same. If you find something worth sharing, drop me a note! I’d love to check it out.

-Jonathan

P.S. Congrats to my good friend Matt Geri on his blog overhaul. Awesome work bro! : )

Just some of my projectsComputers have been a part of my life for quite some time. At the age of 12 I had already built my first website. By 17, one of my best friends and I had taken on our first “official” web development project. By 19, I had caught an interest in something called “CSS” along with this new little blogging platform called “WordPress”. Things took off from there. In between a large number of Internet ventures, I continued small amounts of work as a web developer through parts of 2005 and early 2006. In the summer of 2006, my life took a dramatic turn and I found myself turning to freelance work as a way of paying off a rather large debt I’d placed upon my shoulders.

In December of 2006, I rebuilt JonathanWold.com from the ground up and announced my availability for freelance work. In January 2007, the work slowly began trickling in. Through February and March, I did freelance work from abroad during my 68 day volunteer project in the Dominican Republic. I was greatly blessed and in addition to vastly improving my skillset as a web developer I was able to meet some wonderful clients who’ve since become close friends.

In April of 2007, after arriving back home from the D.R. and settling in, I took up freelance work again and boy, it came. JonathanWold.com brought in over 10,000 unique visitors in the month of April and that boiled down to anywhere from 5-10 requests for work a week. A second WordPress tutorial in early May brought that number up even higher.

Now, this would seem to be a wonderful thing! I would receive a request, carefully go over the details of the project, ask questions, etc, and then give my potential clients a proposal. But see, there was a challenge in the midst of this blessing. Somewhere around 90% of the proposals I’d send out were accepted and, being the optimist that I am, it didn’t seem to be a problem at all. I would simply do the work. But then, I began to have the “experiences”..

The feeling, as I imagine it, is best described as being handed 5 ringing telephones at once. All of them are important and you care about each one of them.. but what do you do? “Thank you for calling, please hold.. ” “Thank you for your call, please hold..” until you end up with five “please holds” and no answered call. While not exactly like that, the feeling was one that I experienced off and on even up to this past week. With each time, I’d take a careful look at all I was doing and do my best to finish up the projects I’d already started. But when you’re working on anywhere from 10-15 projects a week, finishing up a project without neglecting the others can be a very difficult thing.

Even through all that, though, I’ve been greatly blessed. A tremendous amount of work has been done and for the work that has been delayed, I’ve been blessed with very patient clients : ). Thanks guys.

But, as I realized with full force yesterday and today, there’s a point where it’s too much and I’m unable to give each project the attention it deserves and requires for a job well done. I believe in putting my absolute best into work and doing 15 minutes here and another 30 minutes there because there’s no time left in a day is not the way to go about it.

So, I’m learning my lessons

As much as I’ve enjoyed all the work and learning experiences, one very strong downside is that it’s taken time away from my entrepreneurial projects and, most importantly, my personal relationships with family, friends, and my Creator. Working 10-15 hours a day and just managing to crawl your way into bed once everything is wrapped up is not a way to work and stops you from really giving a project your best. Thankfully, I only had to have a few days like that to learn my lesson.. *grins*..

What I have learned? Well, let’s see:

  1. Say “No Thank you” – When you’re stuck and trying to make your way out of an overload, it’s extremely important that you deliver on each of your commitments. So, when a new project opportunity comes along, as enticing as it may be, if you already have projects that you’ve begun, you owe it to your existing clients to say no to future work and rather put your best into finishing what you’ve already started. There’ll be more work later.
  2. Avoid the “No Thank you” to begin with – Much more importantly than saying “No”, is to be good to your potential clients and avoid being overloaded from the beginning. The challenge I’ve had with my system as it stands is that people can look over my work, learn more about what I do, and then they’re encouraged to contact me with their project. There’s nothing said about the possibility of me being overbooked. There’s no mention that I may have not have the time to give them 100% of my attention. And so they contact me. It’s my responsibility to make sure that if I’m not available at the moment that my clients know that and it’s important that I provide an alternative. Which brings me to the next lesson.
  3. Share – It took absolute overload for me to realize that a person can have way too much of a good thing. Finally one day, after thinking about it for some time, I was blessed with an idea.. Matt! One of my closest friends and long time business partner, Matt Geri, is also a very talented designer and programmer. I realized that he’s more than qualified to do the same work as I and I know from experience that he would also care for and put his best into each of the client projects. And that got me thinking.. though I enjoy the work and I will continue taking on freelance projects for as long as I’m able, I can do clients a lot more good if I’m able to share their project with those whom I know and trust. Then, instead of me being overwhelmed by taking on a bunch of projects on mine own, I can take a few myself, put my best into them, and share the rest with those who I know will do the same.

And that brings me to the close of this crazy week : ).

Next week I’ll be working very hard to finish off the work I’ve begun and, slowly but surely, as those projects are completed, I’ll begin opening the doors on a few new endeavours.

As far as freelance work is concerned, my plan is to take on no more than 1 or 2 new projects a week. For people interested in having work done in the weeks that I’m unavailable, I’ll happily set aside time when I am available or share the project with Matt and whomever else I’m working with.

What’s next?

New Niche Project -This next week, I’m planning, with the help of my family and several close friends, to launch into an entirely new niche market. It was inspired by a comment at our breakfast table just about a week or so ago which went something like, “Hey! We should sell this online!” – I’ll be documenting the entire process from start to finish and sharing that, along with the results, right here.

The Launch of WPMastery.com – “WP” is a way of respecting the hard work of the “WordPress” developers by honoring their request not to use the term “WordPress” in a domain. WPMastery.com will be a source for WordPress tutorials, themes, and plugins. As the same suggests, the quality standard will be the highest it can be and as such, this is a project that I am definitely not taking on alone. I’m eagerly looking forward to it : ).

And more. Each new week, as we each give it our best, will bring with it a fair share of trials and challenges, but as we move steadily forward and overcome, we grow stronger and become better able to take on whatever comes next.

Have a wonderful weekend and I thank you for stopping by! : )
-Jonathan