Posts Tagged ‘tips’
Today’s final post is a letter which I dearly wish I could send back in time to myself in the past; a younger me from ten years ago when I first made the leap from permanent employment status to Freelancer. I think it will be useful to other freelancers who are either just starting out, or are struggling.
Without any further delay or waffle…
Dear younger and more inexperienced me,
As you read this, you will be just starting out freelancing. It’s a scary experience. There is nobody to hold your hand, or guide you, or give you advice. At least, I know it seems this way. But I wanted to drop you a quick line to reassure you about a few things. Plus I wanted to include some really good advice, which will stop you making some silly and expensive mistakes.
It may seem that you are own your own, but there are a lot of great resources out there. The web is full of freelancers who have gone through what you are going through, and some people have been kind enough to write those experiences down in books or web blogs (such as this one) – all it takes is for you to take the effort to read them, understand them, and follow the advice. But remember, if you don’t bother looking, or take that advice, and you make the mistakes other are trying to help you avoid – then there is nobody to blame than yourself.
I am sorry to say that there will be hard times, and tough times, times full of worry when you wont be able to sleep at night, times of self doubt, and times where things seem very unfair. All freelancers and small business owners go through this, but at the end of the day, you will do OK. Anybody who makes the effort to rise above the average, who has put in the hard work, and uses the resources that are out there will do OK – better than OK in fact. In the end, choosing a freelance life will be one of the best decisions you will ever make.
But there are things that will help you on your way. Dear younger me, please listen to these, because these are nuggets of wisdom from years of experience. These tips will save you time, money, effort, and will make the whole thing so much more enjoyable. They will also allow you to rise above the troubling times.
My advice to you as you start out freelancing is:
- When times seem tough, don’t sweat the small stuff. If things seem unfair – that’s because they are – nobody ever said life was going to be a fair game. Either accept those things as unfair and move on, or change them. But don’t lose sleep about the small or unfair things
- Build up your list of supporters from the start. Have a good bank manager who you can contact whenever you want, an accountant who will explain things to you in detail, and make sure your partner (wife/husband) is included in everything you do
- Do not let the accountant run your finances. Keep everything close. Don’t let the accountant charge you too much or have your accounts vanish in to a black hole. Instead, use online accounting from day one (the accountant should be there to sign off the accounts and save your money). Having a clear picture of your accounts and cash flow every moment is key not only in making decisions, but allowing you to sleep at night.
- Know what you are doing it all for. Have a set of goals, and review them regularly. Get hold of a copy of the success principles, and read it – twice a year. It’s the best book on the planet! Trust me on that
- Do not waste effort trying to keep everybody up to date on project progress – you will end up stressing about projects and being overworked. Instead, invest in a cloud based project management system – the moment you do, your business world will change in leaps and bounds. You will never look back
- Don’t chase the money. Customers will try to take you in directions you are not prepared to go. It’s ok to say no if the work does not interest you, is not inline with what you want to do, or how you picture your small company. Be strong with customers.
- Don’t be scared to take on work involving skills you don’t have. Whilst you will be reluctant to do this initially, eventually you will come to realise that this will lead to you growing in skills and confidence, which will make your time more valuable.
- Invest in time management tools. Your time is money, so use tools like Evernote to keep track of everything you do and create, and re-use it over and over again. When you start doing this, you will see your worth grow.
- Get everything down on paper – simple terms, agreements and contracts – and get them signed. This will get you out of more problems than you could possibly imagine.
- And get a mentor. Approach your old bosses, or a local mentoring group, and become accountable. It’s also a great way to make new friends and stay in touch with what is happening ion the business world.
Younger me, its important to remember to enjoy the ride. Yes, times will be tough, customers nasty, and sometimes money will be tight – but nether the less, enjoy the ride. Getting where ever you are going is half the fun.
A more experienced Me
And that’s It!!
At the start of 2012, I said that this blog would finished at the end of 2012 – and as I type this, it’s December 2012. So that’s it – the blog is done. There is no more.
Dear reader, whoever you are, I really hope that you have found this blog useful. I have found it fun to create, and get my thoughts, systems, and processes down on (electronic) paper. I hope that you have gained something from reading my advice.
My advice does work. I am not perfect, I do not run the perfect company, I make as many mistakes as any other person out there, but my company has grown year in and year out using the tips I have written down. Most of my advice comes from people who are far more experienced and successful than me – so if any of my advice, or systems I describe feel right to you – give them a try – see if they will help you grow your own company.
As I sign off from my blog, I wish you dear reader well. I hope your company grows as you want it to, and I hope to meet you in the real world at some point.
As for me, I will continue on with growing my business, heading towards my goals, but now without the need to document it here. This blog will remain on the net until the end of 2013, at which time it will then be consigned to the great internet dustbin.
Goodbye and good luck.
Author of this Web site , Freelancer, Small Business Owner and passionate goal setter/achiever
December 20th, 2012.
Now and again I like to talk about systems that work for me. I am not talking about Cloud or Computer based systems, but work productivity techniques which allow me to stay productive and on the ball.
A year ago, I talked about my Bath Time technique for getting ideas and inspiration. Today is another one of those ‘out there’ ideas – about a technique I use when I am just too busy.
Working on One Project or Task
For the vast majority of my time, I am working on one major task. For Business, it may be one major customer project, or at home, it may be one major home project like a home repair or maintenance project.
In these situations – it’s easy just to get your head down and get on with it. Just cut out the distractions, come up now and again for a break (air and tea), start in the morning, finish in the evening – get the job done. Easy stuff.
But, then there are times when I am forced to juggle more than one ball. Sometimes I will have multiple projects which I’m working on, with some sales thrown into the mix, responding to urgent mails, doing customer support. Very soon, I can have five or six task balls in the air.
In this situation, spending all your time on just the one task will work for that specific project, but everything else gets no attention, so problems start to stack up. Soon, panic can set in, or problems can occur as tasks fall off the radar.
If you spend all of your time just working on customer work, when the project is over, you may find your accounts have gotten into a mess or your lack of sales activity means you have no future work.
My System for Juggling too many tasks
So the moment I see I have too many projects on the go, I resort to my paper based system. It’s a system I have used for many many years.
I take a piece of A4 paper, and fold it in half, then half again (so it becomes an A6 size of paper, or the size of a filing card). Then I create a grid with a wide column on the left. In this wide column, I write all my ‘needs attention’ projects – all the things I need to be doing.
What we have running down the side are my juggled projects:
- DWH & Paxar – Two customer projects I am working on
- TSL Market – Time I need to allocate to my own company marketing
- ToDo – Time allocated to my never ending general task to do list
- Emails – Responding and keeping up to date with emails
- Money – Doing money management – both personal and business – cash flow, reducing expenses, and other frugal activities
- MP3s – Another customer project I am working on
- Blog – Time allocated to this blog (trying to get ahead of myself with future posts, ready for my next big holiday in a few weeks)
So what I do is this; I work through the list, doing either one major task per item (such as knocking an item off of my do list, or clearing one email from my inbox) or working 40 minutes on that project. For customer projects, I generally do the 40 minutes stretch of work, and set an alarm to tell me when 35 minutes are up. When the alarm goes off, I then have 5 minutes to wrap up what I am doing – and then it’s onto the next task down the list. When I get to the bottom, I go back to the top, and start from the beginning.
I put a cross to mark when I have gotten up to in my list – if you look carefully, you will see the next box to be crossed off (going down in rows, then across in columns) is for the blog, hence my typing this now. You will also notice that some of the boxes have a small hand written note in them – this was my ‘next action’ on these particular projects – when I get back to the task set, I know what I should be doing.
When the tasks completed are big, or I have worked 40 minutes on a customer project (and the alarm has gone off), I then force myself to take a break, get another cup of tea, and have 5 minutes away from a computer screen.
This system allows me to rotate my work, and make sure everything gets attention, nothing falls of the radar, and everything moves along. When the urgency of particular items falls away (such as all my urgent emails are answered or top priority ToDo items are done) I can cross off the entire project row and I can start to relax. Once the number of projects falls below a panic level, I then switch back to my concentrated project work (one project at a time).
Combining proven techniques
This system may not be for everybody. Some people will find the constant switching between work types a distraction, but for me, the switching actually means I have time to think about what I am doing, and come back to projects with a clearer mind.
After having used this system for a few years, I came across a system that other people use called the Pomodoro technique – which is very similar in terms of having a timer to chunk up the day and taking breaks in-between time slots – although I think my system came along first
However, I have to say that where possible – running multiple projects should be avoided. Other people have reported switching between tasks and projects like this can result in either a 40% reduction in productivity, or you going mad. I have to say, I somewhat agree with both suggestions – which is why I only use this system when I have too many projects to juggle and I only use if for a day or so to get me over the too much work craziness.
Once the calm has returned, I can then get back to my concentrated method of working.
If you find yourself drowning in different work, give this system a try and chunk up your day. Let me know if it works out for you.
Suspending projects, leaving customers unsupported, jetting off to somewhere warm, sunny and relaxing may be how holidays are supposed to be – but I always panic that as I fly off to the middle of nowhere, servers will crash, bugs will be uncovered and customers will need assistance which I am unable to provide.
Of course, disaster can be averted, and vacations can be turned into a more relaxing experience through some simple preparation.
Whilst this preparation will vary depending on the type of freelancing work you do, the number of existing customers you have, or number of projects on the go, some preparation activities will work for all freelancers.
My own check list of top twelve pre-vacation activities for restful and stress free holidays are as follows:
- Holidays over public holidays and weekends – Let’s start with the simple ones. Scheduling your vacations to include as many non-working days as possible not only means you are not wasting potential money earning working days, but also reduces the number of days when customers will need supporting. Of course, vacations over public holidays will cost a little more.
- Cut off of Work – I have a two week window before any overseas travel where I will not install software changes of any kind on any customer’s site. In the past, I have found that the bad-luck demons will happily sit back and watch that typo turn into a nasty data corruption bug, which of course will only be discovered 20 seconds after your plane takes off. Leaving a settle in period means any problems should have been discovered by customers before you leave.
- Have an Email Filter - You know all those emails you get with small business tips, blog posts, LinkedIn updates and the like, you don’t need them on holiday. Create a filter which automatically moves them to a holiday folder which you can review on your return. Also worth noting that the rules need to be in your core email store (such as exchange) rather than your email client (outlook) as otherwise the rules will not be applied.
- Have a email Check schedule – and agree this with your partner and friends that are traveling with you. Nothing will annoy your husband or wife more than them feeling like there are on holiday on their own as you always have your phone in your hands checking emails. Two email checks a day is a good compromise, and schedule those times based on the time difference between your holiday destination and your customers.
- Tell the customers – If your customers know you are a one-man-band freelancer, tell them when you are going to be away. Tell them as soon as you book your vacation, so everybody has plenty of time to prepare for the window of ‘no support activity’. Of course, if you are ‘pretending’ to be bigger than you are, tell them anyway, and direct them to a generic support or issues email address.
- Check you can get to the Internet – Don’t leave it to the last minute to check that you can get on the internet at your selected holiday location. Can you access internet via hotel WiFi, via your mobile phone operator – and what will be the speeds and costs involved? Most hotels have a web site these days, and most will indicate what ‘business’ facilities are available. If there are problems, have a backup plan ready before you fly.
- Arrange external support? – If you are supporting important projects or customers, it is always worth speaking to other friendly freelancers to see if they will help support your customers whilst you are away getting a tan. This will need some serious preparation time in terms of technical knowledge transfer, setting up access to the project files, access to the customer files, and of course contracts between you and them. Such agreements do not necessarily need to be for money (you can arrange a situation where they cover you, and in return you cover them), but generally, paying them for their time can be money well spent if it means you can relax on holiday.
- Make key files accessible – Just in case you do end up getting dragged into a support or question-answering situation, it is well worth making sure key files for key customers are to hand and in a format that is usable. For making files accessible, nothing beats cloud storage such as dropbox (which allows access via browser or mobile phone). Just remember that you need them in a format that you can view without a full computer (unless you are taking your laptop). It is no good having your SQL server database backed up to dropbox if you don’t have a server to load the data onto – better to have the table formats and scripts exported into a text file that you can read on a text viewer (same goes for application source files, graphics files (you wont have photoshop available), etc). Also, if in doubt – push all customer files to the cloud as it’s the ones you don’t have access to that you will undoubtedly need.
- Look for common problems – Another good exercise prior to leaving for vacation is to review your old customer support issues and look for common problems. For my customers, the same problems crop up over and over again (forgotten passwords, query on the movements of data through a data system, etc). A lot of pain can be eased by creating a quick ‘how to overcome or answer your most common questions’ crib sheet which you send out before you fly.
- Remote Project Management – For me, there is no better feeling than having a project start off as I fly out to holiday – and knowing that some poor freelancer I have subcontracted to is working hard whilst I drink frozen cocktails by the pool. If you have a cloud based project management system (see below), this can make staying up to speed a breeze.
- Remote issue logging system – As discussed, having a central support email address for incoming issues is good, but having a cloud based issue logging and resolution system is so much better. Your customers will feel more in control, and you (or your friendly supporting freelancer friend) can respond to and resolve issues via an internet connection.
- Possible Remote solutions – The final option is to see if you can organise a remote support situation. I give more details on my particular solution below.
Remote Project Management
One of the cloud based tools that I have been using for the past couple of years has been the TeamworkPM project management system. Having a project system which controls work flow, and that myself, my customers and (in some cases) my outsourced developers can see has been a gods-send.
I am even happier now that I have found that Teamwork PM have mobile phone based applications which run on both Android and iOS based mobile phones. A great tool is now even better – allowing me to track progress on projects, update statuses, chase for progress and keep track of projects whilst I am traveling or enjoying a break with the minimum of fuss and the minimum of data bandwidth (which saves a lot of time and cost when on a roaming data plan).
Using Teamwork and the mobile based client, I am able to keep working whilst sipping a drink, and the project continues along without me – keeping all my customers very happy.
My own Remote Support Solution
In terms of my own remote support system, I recognised that for me, a lot of my support questions came about regarding the data that is held on my customer databases (generally Oracle or SQL Server). Therefore, to aid in remote support, I invested a day and developed myself a remote support system.
The system comprises of two parts:
1) I developed a web form on my own internet server (where I host my business web site) which presents me with a text entry window and a drop down list of my customers. In this window, I can type some freehand SQL script (or pick from a set of 12 common queries), and select a customer. The customer code and the SQL script is then written to a file on my web server
2) I also developed a customer end service, which runs on each customer site (in the background) once an hour, and reads the text file from my web site. If the customer code is the code of the site, and the save time is within the last hour (to stop duplicate runs) it connects to the product database, runs the script, gets the results into an HTML grid table, and emails me the results
It’s crude, quick and nasty – but is very effective.
When a customer logs a support call saying that they need to know why something has happened, I can bring up my web form on my phone, and type in my SQL command (“select * from audit where data = ‘the problem code”). Then I go off and get a drink. One or Two hours later, I get a response email back from the customers database server with an HTML formatted set of the results, as if I was dialed into their computer.
In my leisure, I can look at the data on my phone display, and using my cloud based customer support form, quickly type a response. If needed, the SQL script that I send to be run can be an update (to sort out data), a select on a database object (to view a stored procedure) or can even reboot a server. All from my sandy beach location on holiday.
Whilst my solution is designed to work on client databases, maybe a similar solution will work for you to get web details, page files, documents, or whatever else your freelance business deals with for customers?
I’m a freelancer, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so buy from me maybe.
~ Altered version of Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe
I have wanted to write about this subject for a while – and could not work out the way to phrase it. Then, whilst on holiday, I watched a poor lad propose to a girl in front of everybody in a bar, and she said a massive big fat NO!!!
He was devastated. But at least it gave me my hook into this subject.
Entering marriage is very much like the relationship between a freelancer and their prospective customer. It’s true that some customers may just want to grab an item, pay for it and be done with the transaction (such as when using Amazon), but for most time, customers want to be romanced.
Freelancers are brought into companies to carry out important work. But before they will raise an order for the work, the prospect needs to feel special, they need to feel a bond is there, they need to feel important, and they need to feel respected. Above all, they need to feel they can trust you.
Responding to an initial enquiry with a proposal and price is like walking up to a girl in the street and saying “Hi, we have only just met, but will you marry me??”. Good luck with that approach.
Seasoned salesmen always sales say that people don’t buy products, they buy people and relationships.
Also, they need to feel like they are the ones making the decision. Yes, you can persuade them, talk them round, and generally ‘sell’ to them, but if you put them into a corner to force their decision, more likely than not their answer will be NO. That girl in the bar may have said yes if he had asked her on a beach, with just the two of them (its how I asked my wife with no pressure of other people watching.
And just like getting a partner to say yes to marriage, there has to be a demand and desire; a sense of ‘everybody else wants it’. If the poor chap in the bar had proposed marriage when no other woman had shown interest in years, there may be a feeling of desperation – such as “he is asking me because nobody else will have him” – which is never a strong sales position.
But, if other girls were always hitting on him (and of course he was politely turning them down), then he would be in demand which raises interest and he may have had more luck. Put it another way, nobody wants to commit to rejections or the out of date products on the shelf.
It’s why we have panic buying at Christmas time for the latest children’s toy. Everybody wants it because… everybody wants it. Even if they are not sure why.
Of course, being a small freelancer or small business, it’s almost impossible to create this demand (where everybody wants you and everybody knows it). But it is possible to create a cloud of pseudo demand by:
- Not being too demanding or pestering for the work (but that does not mean don’t chase, just do it in a casual way)
- Never say you can start immediately (or at least say you will have to reorganise other projects if the customer prospect demands a quick start)
- You can even use reverse demand by saying “of course, we are selective on the companies we work with, so just need to make sure you meet that criteria” (which puts them into a pseudo exclusive club)
So when you bring it all together, don’t be the chap in the bar. Get to know your prospect, take your time, make the setting right, and then create the demand so that when you propose doing business, they will be happy to say yes.
You want your freelance or small business to grow, right? You want an easy life, and happy customers or staff, yes? And you don’t want people complaining to or about you, do you?
If so, then can I recommend the following five rules of business communication (which were handed down to me by one of my old business mentors)? He taught me that if you follow these rules in all communication (with prospects, staff, customers and even in personal matters), it will make things run a lot easier and will head off a lot of problems before they occur.
I have these rules on a small card pinned next to my computer screen – just so I don’t forget them, and I try to follow them in all my communication.
Anyway – on with the rules…
Rule 1 – Keep people up-to-speed
One of the worst things in business is not knowing what is going on. It’s an easy situation for people to find themselves in. They ask you to do something, and the response is silence – they can only guess whether you are working on their request, they are number 100 in your queue of actions, or if you are ignoring them. So remember to communicate whenever anything significant changes, or just send them a regular status email to keep them informed.
Rule 2 – Be explicit in what you are saying and asking
Miss-communication is bad. But what is worse, is expecting somebody else to read your mind, or in-between the lines. If you want something, say exactly what it is you want. As an example, don’t say fuzzy things such as “well, your support ends next month, so what do you want to do about it?” – Say what you want – “your support ends next month, so I need you to raise a new purchase order for £5,000 which needs to be with me by Friday because without this….”.
Rule 3 – Make it easy, simple and obvious
Keep the communication short, use simple words, and keep it obvious in terms of subject and content. Think of each communication as costing you money – every word you can cut out saves you a pound, and every word that isn’t used on a day to day basis (the extra long padding words such as ‘conceptualize’, ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘leverage’) costs you £2.
Rule 4 – If in doubt, pick up the phone
Some things are better said than typed. If emails or letters have turned into a multi-bouncing discussion or too many people have been copied in, pick up the phone and have the discussion. If its bad news, pick up the phone and take the heat rather than taking the cowards way out with a text or email.
Rule 5 – Automate the communication
Where possible – automate the communication. This doesn’t mean adopting a spam generating system which will churn out useless sales rubbish, but use a system that either allows people to find the information themselves (such as using a really good online project portal allowing customers to keep track of their projects when they want), or create manual processes where you keep people up to date with the current situation.
We put a lot of effort into starting projects; from nurturing prospects through to agreeing terms and requirements. But what about when projects are completed – how do you wrap up and complete projects?
In order to keep a good relationship and possibly win future business with the customer, doing a project hand over is just as important as the project start.
What to include in the hand over
Depending on the type of work that you do and the size of the project, a face to face hand over meeting may be required. If this is the case, it should normally be agreed from the start and factored in your initial work assessment and quotations.
Regardless of whether the project hand over is a face to face meeting, or is performed by email, some of the hand over aspects which you may want to factor in include:
- Training – Depending on the skill level of your customer, some degree of hand over training may be required. This of course could be factored into the initial quotation, or could be offered as an after-service when the project is completed (with an additional fee). Just remember that if you train them *too well*, they may not need your services in the future.
- Support and Maintenance – The flip side of training is support and maintenance (for me, the icing on the freelance cake). If you can charge your customer a regular yearly amount in advance for fixing problems and answer questions, well, that’s how companies grow and big profits are made. If support and maintenance is a consideration, you will need to think about what form the support will take and what the limits are.
- Problem Resolution and Warranty – As part of a hand over, your customer will want to know what to do if they hit a problem. Let them know how long you will support them for (if at all), what to do if they need changes, and how to contact you (you may want them to use a separate support email address for instance). This then ties them in to the support and maintenance agreements. Be clear about what will be free corrections, and what will be chargeable.
- Suggested Next Steps – Without being too pushy, it is worth providing them with a suggested set of next steps (how their product, web site, documents, etc could be expanded for more value). This is one of my key ways of generating future business.
- Passwords and source code – If you have provided them with a product (software product, documents, art work or web site), they will most likely expect to receive the source code. If there are associated web domains, passwords, or accounts, don’t forget to document these. It will save a lot of problems in the future.
- Time Periods – For most projects, you will have copies of their designs/source/art work on your computers and their projects on your project management systems (you do use a project management system to save time and money, right?). It is well worth stating clearly how long you will retain these copies for before you delete them. This is important as you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where they delete their copy by mistake, and expect to come back to you in 5 years time for another copy (which you no longer can provide).
Thank you – Don’t forget to say a big thank you for their business. You don’t need to go over the top, but in today’s climate, a simple thank you will go a long way.
- Survey and Referral – The end of the project is a perfect time to arrange an end of contract customer survey which covers all your dealings with the customer (from quotation to invoice), and also to ask if they would be happy to provide either a reference or a referral.
- Contact Branding – And don’t forget to brand everything with your company. It should be clearly stamped with your company logo, name, address, web site URL, phone number and email address. It may be that your main customer contact may leave in the future, but your documentation will remain on file for others to get in contact for future work.
Get it right, repeat and evolve
This may all seem like a lot of effort, but the secret is to create a generic project hand-over document (or set of documents), which can be used and tweaked for each project. Once you have a template, the updating of a hand over document becomes part of the project closure, and takes a lot less effort in the future.
As with all other documents your company produces (such as the quotation templates, questions list, etc), this can be a living document, that evolves (and improves) over time.
Preparation and submission of the handover document soon becomes a natural part of your project delivery structure.
Maybe now is not the right time to sell
One thing to bear in mind is that the project handover process and documents are there to present subtle messages of next actions, professionalism, and to keep your company name in front of your customer. However, I have found in the past that coming out and asking for more work directly as part of the project handover very rarely works.
The customer will be too wrapped up in getting to grips with the product or service you have just delivered.
It is far better to present the hand over, and at the end, agree a scheduled call or meeting as a ‘follow up’ (to check everything is still ok) in a month or so’s time. That is then the perfect time to raise the ‘next steps’ you have suggested and to look at fishing for the next project.
So you have a web site, and the web site has a nice Contact Us page, and maybe you have even done some extensive A/B version testing to see what layout will get the most enquiries. That’s all great, but….
Maybe you have a contact form, and you clearly display your contact details. Of course, this includes your contact phone number. All these are the right things to do, but….
And your contact form, you have it going to an email address you monitor, right? When an email comes in, it will go to your in tray on your PC/Mac, your phone and maybe even your dog gets a copy. You’re ready to respond.
What happens if something has gone wrong?
What happens if the script that runs your contact form is now incompatible with the software your hosting provider runs? What happens if the email address you send enquiry emails to has become lost via an ISP tweak? What happens if the emails are now caught in your anti-spam filter because of new rules?
In short, how do you know your contact form and email address is not dumping precious enquiries into the recycle bin of another parallel-dimension (or wherever bounced enquiries go to die)?
Why not put a reoccurring task in your calendar or To Do list to send yourself an enquiry once a week, or an enquiry email, and check it gets through?
Better safe than sorry-about-the-lost-enquiries.
On Wednesday last week, I produced 32 hours worth of coding output. But unlike my reckless younger self, I did not have to put in an ‘all nighter’ or work two days flat without a break (I was known to do both when I was 18). No, on this particular Wednesday, I got out of bed at 7am, started work, finished at a little before 4:40pm, and yet had produced 32 hours worth of code.
I had done this through Evernote. I have talked about Evernote before, but thought I would share how I use this marvel of technology.
Ripping Apart Projects with Evernote
Whenever I complete a project for a customer, I add 3 or 4 hours of project time into my plans. When the project is delivered, just before I file it away to my document storage system, I then rip it apart. I run through all of the code I have produced, looking for the ‘clever stuff’ – code that does a particular function, or overcomes a problem, or is just generally useful.
All these bits of code then get copied to Evernote in one of a dozen different areas. I have areas for VB.NET, C#.net, SQL scripts, SQL tricks, DOS commands, VBA, VBS, and a host of others. Sometimes I copy 3 or 4 lines of code, sometimes its entire routines, sometimes whole files. Each gets a good title of what it is it does.
How I worked 32 hours
So on this particular Wednesday, I thought as an experiment I would list what I was going to do, and how long it would take me to code from scratch. Then I coded it in my usual way – coding some of it by hand, but finding large blocks already coded in Evernote, and i just copy, paste and tweak. I like to think of myself as a bit of a Frankenstein of a coder.
The result is that in a little over 7 hours or work time, I had coded what I estimated would have taken me 32-34 hours by hand. And of course there is the bonus – the copied code has already been used, therefore tested, therefore less bugs when reused, therefore less testing needed.
So I worked 7 hours, the code should have taken 32 hours; what do you think the customer got billed, 7 or 32 hours? Who do you think got the difference in to their bank account?
All the tools I use (such as Visual Studio) have their own snippet catalogue systems, and I could use those. So why do I use Evernote? Simple – portability. I can see my notes on my PC, on my phone, on my tablet, and at a customer site. It’s all searchable, all findable, quick, easy and free.
Bless you Evernote for making me more productive, and allowing me to bill more than I could possibly work.
Just call me Professor Frankenstein.
During December of last year, I noticed something odd. Whilst I received 6 or 7 enquiries a month for new work, throughout the whole of December not a single web based enquiry came in. I put this down to the time of the year, with the Christmas madness. After all, checking my Adwords stats showed that people were still clicking through to my web site – so I guess people were just book-marking to come back in the new year, or my services were just not what they needed. Right? WRONG!!
What had happened was that my web hosting company were having problems, and as a result they had decided to change the IP address of my SMTP (email) server on their side which meant that when somebody completed an enquiry form – the email went…. nowhere. The SMTP script did not connect with the SMTP server, and the problem was written to an error log. The prospect got a nice web page saying that we would be in contact, but of course nobody contacted them because the enquiry was never received. I have web monitoring on all of my sites, but this is not something that the monitoring would have picked up.
Now I could have put in all kinds of fancy checking, and auditing, and error logging, and error pickup and notifications – but you know what? It’s just easier, quicker and more robust to perform a step through.
So now, every Monday morning I do a run through. Starting with one of my search terms in Google, I click through one of my ads (which checks that Adwords is running and the adverts look OK), check that my web page appears when I click the advert, I then click through to the contact me form, and fill it out, to check that the email arrives.
Ok, it costs me £2 a week for the wasted ad-word click, and 2 minutes of my time every Monday. But if one of those December click-throughs might have been a sale, that very small amount and that 2 minutes could be an awfully large amount of wasted money.
So how often do you check all of your flow throughs?
Time is a precious thing to me. The biggest lumps of my time are taken up either with my family (any interaction with computers is frowned upon) or working (using computers, in which case I want to spend that time generating customer revenue rather than general surfing). Which leaves a difficult problem of when and how to keep up with industry news, research or reading interesting articles which I can use to boost my business.
Luckily, there are the odd 2 or 3 minutes scattered throughout the day of wasted time. Time spent queuing (for a train, at a supermarket, at a post office, etc), time spent cooking (all you have to do is stir now and again), and erm…. Sitting down. All of these are the perfect times to quickly catch up with the industry news, blogs etc.
In the past, I have already talked about how I use Calibre with an eBook reader to create a book of RSS feeds for reading blogs I subscribe to. But now, I have found a perfect way to catch up on all the odd articles referenced in twitter feeds, blogs, or emailed through. This system is a web service called ReadItLater.
ReadItLater, as the name suggests, is a cloud hosted service where you can forward URLs, and then it will build a catalogue for you. It’s rather like creating a favourite link in internet explorer or Firefox, but with the advantage that you can read the items off line when you have 2 minutes. Because of the off-line viewing, you can read the saved item even when you don’t have a mobile signal or internet connection.
If you have never used ReadItLater, let me guide you through the perfect set-up for off-line catch-up.
The first part is to create a FREE ReadItLater account on the cloud. Give it a user id and a password (with email verification), and you are all good to go. Whilst the ReadItLater web site offers the ability to jump to your links through their own web portal, the real power is through the bolt-ons available.
Internet Explorer/FireFox plugins
Adding a plug to your favourite web browser allows you to mark web pages, items and text for reading later as you browse. Plugins for all major browsers are available for downloading for FREE – for Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and iPad/phone. Once downloaded, if you see a page, URL or link that is of interest, right-click the page or link and you now have an option to ReadItLater. The URL link is now sent to your cloud account. A new ReadItLater chevron button is also added in the toolbar to add the entire current page you are currently viewing.
Of course, for maximum flexibility you should add a submitter to your mobile device. Different versions are available for the iPhone, iPad, Android etc. The two best (that I can recommend and that are FREE) are DroidSave for Android or EchoFon for the iOS. With these installed, a new Share option appears from other installed mobile applications (facebook, twitter, your browser, emails, etc). So if a tweet talks about a news item or a blog post you may be interested in, just click to share, share to DroidSave or EchoFon, and you can ReadItLater. These apps just sent the URLS (shortened or otherwise) to your ReadItLater account.
Off-Line Mobile Client
Now whilst you can open up your saved links using the browser based ReadItLater web application, I find it is much better to install an off-line reading Client on your mobile device. This application polls your defined ReadItLater account on a regular basis, and then pulls the saved links, together with a copy of the text and images so that you can read the item off-line (with no internet connection). Once you have read the item, you can then archive it for later reference, or delete it. Perfect. The iPhone/iPAD ReadITLater app works well, and for Android, I can recommend the AndReader Andorid ReadItLater app, which works well on both mobile phones and Tablets (I have the Galaxy Tab).
Using this combination I no longer have to bookmark interesting items, add a ToDo to read them, or get distracted into reading them now. Instead, I can mark the items that interest me, and Read Them Later when time allows. Perfect.