Posts Tagged “freelance”

A spreadsheet will do

Over the weekend I closed my Highrise account.

In case your not familiar with the name, Highrise is a CRM product for small businesses. It started life as part of the 37signals range of products, but has since branched out onto it’s own.

The initial pull to using a CRM tool like Highrise is that I wanted to a tool that allowed me to store important emails from clients as well as track projects and work I was chasing with prospective clients. Highrise has great email integration that allows you to forward emails from clients to Highrise and it will store them for you. It also allows you to track deals which in my case represented prospective work with clients and creating proposals to win work.

I should mention that while Highrise is a great product, my decision to cancel my account with it isn’t anything to do with the performance and features of Highrise. It is a great product and under the right circumstances it is worth looking at if you need a CRM for your small business.

My main reason for moving away from Highrise was more to do with how I wasn’t using it to it’s full potential.

In the time that I’ve had to use Highrise, I’ve used the deals section rarely. It’s nothing to do with Highrise, it’s just that in the time that I have been freelancing, most correspondence takes place over email and I’ve rarely had to pitch for work. Most prospective clients like to discuss the work that they would like me to do and discuss my background and experience. After a few emails, most of these prospective clients then decide to exchange contracts to begin the work. I’ve rarely had to pitch for work and so the deals feature of Highrise has been left untouched.

The email integration with Highrise on the other hand though was used on a daily basis. Client emails went straight to Highrise as well as my replies to them. Although I used this feature daily, there were only a handful of different clients to deal with at anyone time so while the archiving of these emails in Highrise was nice to have, most of the emails involved discussions before work began. My email provider already offers a large amount of space to store emails and they’re filed away in a folder. I was starting to wonder if I needed Highrise to manage the storage of emails.

Finally there was the managing of contacts. Yes I do have all my clients contact details, but I rarely have to refer to them. I speak with clients daily when working with them, I use email to send weekly updates and invoices and for all other daily correspondence with clients I recommend Slack. All my clients details are saved on the appropriate devices I need to have them on and aside from that there’s no other special requirement to managing this data.

It was starting to look like I didn’t need Highrise at all.

After deliberating for a few days I finally decided to export all my data from Highrise and delete my account. Without a CRM though I needed something else. All my client details are already stored in my address book but I needed something else that acted as a more detailed version of their details and allowed me to find and filter contacts based on information I have recorded against each of them.

The answer lay in a document type that I rarely use. The spreadsheet.

After getting the contact columns in the spreadsheet in the right order, I imported the contact details in and started adding the necessary changes I need so that I could filter those contacts.

Right, so the spreadsheet doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Highrise, but for the moment it will do. I’ve got all my contacts in one place. I can filter them based on the next date with which I need to contact them for a catch up and there’s enough flexibility in Numbers in that I can add more information if I need for each client.

If my client base was to increase over the next 12 months and work started to change on a monthly basis then I would definitely consider Highrise again. It is a great product, but I couldn’t justify it’s use as a simple address book and email archive.

For the moment though, the spreadsheet is enough for me.

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Level up

There comes a point in your career when you can no longer coast along just punching in and out and doing a day’s work. Nobody tell’s when that time will come. It can be in the first few days of your job or after years of working for yourself.

When that time comes to level up, you can do two things.

  1. Ignore the opportunity and keep coasting along doing the same thing you do every day. Eventually though the opportunity will reveal itself again.
  2. Use the opportunity to level up and start making improvements in your career and your prospects.

While I’ve been doing client work for five days a week for the last two years, the chance to level up has presented itself on a number of occasions. Each time though I’ve used the excuse that I don’t have the time to make improvements or start learning something new, and while that is a poor excuse, it’s what I did.

I’m paying the price for it now though. I’m still busy working for clients and next year’s schedule is looking great. I can’t always bank on having the same clients though in the next five years. They may no longer be using the web frameworks that I specialise in, they be looking for alternatives that I am not well versed in. They might even want to take a look at something completely new.

When clients want to level up, you need to be ready to level up with them. Whether it’s technology, tools or processes, you need to be able to have enough knowledge to level up with them. To make this transition as easy as possible it helps if you can be the one that levels up first. Then your party of clients can follow.

So when the opportunity presents itself to learn something new, do yourself a favour. Don’t ignore it.

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What Is LinkedIn For?

Yesterday I read a blog post about a LinkedIn user who was unhappy with the service and had opted to delete his account. I’ve been here before as well.

Back in my previous job as an ERP developer, I wasn’t actively using my LinkedIn account and the only emails and connections I got were from recruiting agencies.

Why am I on this network and what is it for? I simply couldn’t get my head around the right way to use LinkedIn. I spoke to a few people about it and all of the said you must be on LinkedIn, even if it’s just to have your details there and you never use it again.

Rather than going with the advice of many I spoke to, I deleted my LinkedIn account.

A couple of years rolled by and I changed jobs twice. It wasn’t until the end of last year that I re-created my LinkedIn profile due to the fact that I had been paid off. I wanted to broaden my scope for a job so wide that I was willing to go back on LinkedIn and have my profile searchable by everyone there.

Now that I am grudgingly back on LinkedIn, I’m back to where I was previously, what is LinkedIn for? I understand that as a network, LinkedIn does require some time to be spent on it updating your profile, making new connections, sharing interesting links, taking part in LinkedIn’s groups, but I tend to forget about doing this and it’s only when I receive a notification that I end up spending five minutes or so reviewing my profile, maybe adding a skill to my profile that I have picked up in the last couple of months.

Faced with the prospect of deleting my LinkedIn account again or just sucking it up and trying to invest some time in my LinkedIn profile, I’ve decided to opt for the latter. I should be using LinkedIn to market myself as a freelance Rails developer, but how do I go about doing this? Here’s one idea I had:

Sharing Rails How To Guides - In order to attract clients to my profile, I should write a number of “how to” guides on using Rails and share these on LinkedIn. These won’t be small blog posts, but in fact detailed guides to some aspect of implementing a generic feature in a Rails application that will demonstrate my knowledge of Rails and what I can offer in terms of knowledge as a developer.

I’m still slightly perplexed by LinkedIn as a network and what I can do to make better use of it. Perhaps you have some idea on using LinkedIn effectively? If so, contact me with your thoughts on using LinkedIn. I’d like to get more out of LinkedIn rather than it just sitting there not doing very much.

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To specialise or not?

My career has been quite varied when you look at the different sectors I’ve worked in. NHS, risk management, payroll, retail and technology repair and recycle. I’ve worked in a number of other different sectors as an ERP developer as well but largely these were for small periods of time where you rarely get a chance find out a lot about the domain of the business.

Since I started freelancing at the start of the year, I’ve been working largely on public health and information websites for NHS related organisations. Not only do I get to work with my favourite development tools and languages every day but I also get to work in my favourite domain. Health.

I don’t know what the attraction is to health but I find it an interesting domain to work in. Providing tools for health organisations to share information with their patients so that they can lead healthier lives is quite rewarding in my view. Over the last couple of moths I’ve even found myself reading NHS related publications to broaden my knowledge of the work I am doing at the moment. I’ve never done that for any job that I to have had.

It’s got me thinking about whether its worth specialising in health contracts or should I stick to working in different domains to keep things fresh? Working in different domains sure would broaden my experience and there might be another sector that I would be interested in. However health is already such a varied domain that could provide some diversity.

I suppose the real question is this. Which one will allow a steady income of work for the near future?

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Talk to your client

One of the greatest challenges I’ve had in my career as a software developer is that of expectations. Twenty years ago when the waterfall methodology ruled, you developed in isolation for months on end, passed it to a test team and then onto the client. After months of work, it was common to get the final product passed back to you. The reason was that the client’s expectations were not the same as yours. Months of work wasted.Now though, we have agile methodologies that allow us to work closely with the client and work in much smaller chunks, delivering code weekly or even daily for the client. At this fast pace it’s easy to meet the client’s expectations as we are only working in smaller periods and only delivering smaller sections of the final product for the client.

I’ve been working this way for a couple of clients over January and February and it’s been really successful but the reason isn’t just the continual delivery of features and fixes for the client, the main reason is that I am always in communication with my client. I chat to my clients daily, often more than once a day when working with them.Foggy details are a sure fire way to miss the clients expectations, which leads to wasted time for both you and your client. You can’t assume to know what your client will want, but you can make an educated guess. However, what you should be doing is talking to your client and clarifying any details you are not sure about.

If I have a question or I’m not sure, I ask the client to clarify their expectations on what I am hoping to deliver for them. I hate to be wrong and I hate to be wasting my clients time by not meeting their expectations.​

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