Speaking of Teamwork…

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A few days ago, I read somewhere I can no longer find that the average person can’t efficiently manage more than three open projects. To be honest, I was very surprised by this number; I really thought it would be more than that. Most people I know who freelance seem to carry more than that at once, although I haven’t really done an official poll or anything.

However, this piece of information did encourage me to get more organised about an overview of the projects I am juggling, and so I went out in search of some project management systems because Post It Notes are just not cutting it anymore. I looked at Basecamp and Project Place but ultimately settled on Walter Wynn‘s suggestion of Teamwork. (Everyone uses Basecamp, and while I’m sure there’s a reason for that and it is jolly nice, I like to throw money out of the mainstream every now and then.)

So far I am delighted with Teamwork; it’s really easy to use, it has everything I want, and when I sent in a suggestion about how they could improve their conversions from their Features Tour, I got back a very nice and responsive email right away. The later discovery that Teamwork is based right here in Cork, meaning I can go round and break their kneecaps if they go out of business and take all my projects with them, was just a nice bonus on top of a great product.

I started entering all my projects, and nobody was more surprised than me to find out that I currently have no less than 15 open gigs going. Except possibly the two clients who I had forgotten about entirely, which if nothing else points out how very, very badly I need to plug into a project management system. Also how much I need to apologise to them, pull my finger out, and deeply discount their invoices.

Even before today’s headcount and dropped client fiasco though, I had begun to grasp that this workload isn’t particularly sustainable. I mean sure, you can survive on four hours of sleep per night for a week or so, but after that you really can’t remember anything, let alone produce anything. Sleep: it does a body good.

So for the past few weeks I have been working with two entirely fabulous people I am incredibly lucky to know. I am still doing 100% of the design work, but a lot of the actual CSS and XHTMLing has gone out to my new CSS Overlord Guillermo Moreno, who quite frankly kicks ass all over town. He’s going to be a superstar when he grows up. (At this point, however, I still worry about keeping him up past his bedtime.)

My very talented friend Katherine Nolan has also been doing the heavy lifting on the e-commerce side of things. We actually met on a forum for our favourite shopping cart software almost 10 years ago, but at this point, I’m about 5 versions behind and she is much better equipped to hack sort out the cart system than I am. (She also happens to be the world’s leading expert on Coranto, which can be very handy.)

So hopefully in the next week or two, things will calm down here and some of the decks will be cleared. It is frankly very hard for me to to let go of any part of what I do because I am a complete and total control freak when it comes to work, but I couldn’t have put any of this stuff in safer hands and I’m really pleased with the work that’s come out of these projects.

So there you go: no woman is an island, and 15 projects is too many. Who knew?

All that Glitters

Sparkly Phone

So a couple of weeks ago I lost my phone, and while I enjoyed the momentary respite afforded by having nobody ring me, this is 2008 and a girl needs a phone. Over the course of a few retail trips, I had pretty much convinced myself to drop €400 on an iPhone, mostly just because I thought I should have one. But the iPhone, for all its wonders, has one major failing: it does not come in pink.

Which more or less explains why I instead walked out of The Carphone Warehouse with a Sony Ericson W580i Walkman™ Phone that cost, after trading in an old phone and signing up for the Meteor calling plan I wanted anyway, a grand total of €29. (Please note: I also have a new number – 085 702 8212.)

It is very, very pink. The front is pink. The back is pink. Slide it open, and the rear slide panel is practically fuchsia and glitters like a Barbie disco ball. The earbuds, too, are pink, as is the mic jack.

But my absolute favourite part is when you open it up, it has little pink rhinestones in between the numbers:

All the Glitters

This phone is, in short, every 9 year old girl’s telecommunications dream. Given that I actually was 9 years old when I got my very first Walkman back in 1981, I’m enjoying the retro flashback. Back then, they were approximately the size of a paperback, weighed as much as a small child, and used this old fashioned music recording device called a tape. If you shook or dropped it, it would skip. Nowadays, if I want to randomise my MP3 playlist on this thing, I can just shake my phone and it mixes everything up without missing a beat.

I absolutely loved it even before I found out that dude, MY PHONE HAS THE SIMS ON IT. Okay, so it’s a lightweight and kind of lame version, but whatever: Sims! I has them! On my phone!

So anyway, despite new computers, new laptops and even new houses, as far as I’m concerned this is the best 30 quid I’ve spent in a long, long time. Sadly, our love affair so far as been torrid but all too brief: the phone refuses to charge. So tomorrow we’re going back to hopefully get that sorted, which is obviously critical.

Not because I’m desperate to take anyone’s calls, but because my Sims are waiting for me.

Me and My Mac Launched

Me-and-my-mac.com

A brand new blog, Me and My Mac, for Ken Stanley as he chronicles his transition from being Bill Gates’ bitch to Steve Jobs’ rent boy – a slogan I came up with mysef and of which I am inordinately proud. In the annals of my web design portfolio, this ushers in what may retrospectively be known as The Illustrator Phase, which is odd as I usually dust off Illustrator about once a year – but it’s just been the right choice for a handful of clients in the pipeline.

One for the Freelancers

Confession: My Billing Sucks

Dear Internets:

I am completely willing to admit I do not know everything. I believe in taking advice on the things I am clueless about, usually from you and your pal Doctor Google. Foolhardy, possibly; but it’s always worked for me.

This year marks a transition for me from being part-time employee and part-time freelancer to being full-time self employed. It also marks the year in which we will, at some point, be applying for a mortgage. (Yes, I am 35 years old. No, I don’t own my own house. I’ve also lived in three countries in 10 years and been broke in all of them; give me a break.)

So while getting my financial ducks in a row is a high priority, the broader world of full-time freelance is also a bit of a mystery I hope to unravel with your help.

Things mama never told me about service providers:

  • Where can I find an accountant or financial adviser in Cork to do my stuff and give me advice about setting aside enough money for taxes and paying PRSI and all that jazz?
  • As my previous employer will no longer be paying my mobile bill, which I’ve never even seen, I need to know which provider and plan to go with. Hint: I like to talk. I do not believe SMS is a medium in which real adults can carry on real conversations. That said I really only use my mobile when traveling in Ireland (about once a month) but can rack up several hours in calls then.

Speaking of money, down to the nitty gritty:

I have no idea what market rates are in Ireland. I design sites, I code sites; I provide consulting and strategy for online marketing and positioning; I package and brand products; I write understandable web copy that reads like it comes from humans; I do site assessments, usability analysis, and user testing.

For all of these things, I have been charging a figure that is less than €50 an hour, except for usability testing – I charge test group costs plus the same hourly for that. The people who are paying me are telling me to charge more, and I know they’re right but I have don’t know what the right numbers are.

  • What should I be charging for all of these various things?
  • How can I keep costs accessible for people who have fun and interesting projects but low budgets? I often like those projects; they tend to refresh my creativity and I don’t want to price myself out of ever being offered them.
  • If you’re booking clients months in advance, do you take a deposit now to block out the time for them at a future date? Usually I do 50% up front and 50% on delivery or go-live, depending, but getting 50% now for something I am not going to get to for three months seems a little dodgy.
  • What do you do if you’re killing yourself to stay on top of a series of tight production schedules and a client doesn’t have their bits ready for their project’s agreed upon start date? My contracts state that if they can’t deliver their clearly articulated To Do list, delivery dates will be pushed accordingly, but what if you literally do not have room for slippage?

So, dear Internets, do you have any words of wisdom and experience for me? This is my year of Getting Things Done, and I’d like to do them right.

Yours, always,
Sabrina

Woosh!

Oh hai!

Douglas Adams famously said “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” While I am a huge DNA fan, I am also a sincere fan of the deadline. I usually work well under pressure, and there’s a kind of runner’s high you can replicate only at 3 AM after 27 cups of coffee and 300 fags and four hours of sleep.

Plus, let me tell you how much I’d rather get that buzz sitting on my arse than running it off.

For the past five days, I’ve been working on the kind of project that has a tendency to blow up in your face, and perversely, is the kind of project I really like. It was supposed to be a fairly benign but urgent redesign for a new client. The goal was to roll out something that looked better than the existing site as a stop-gap measure until everyone could get their heads around the forward planning required for a new content management system (CMS) implementation.

You know the kind of thing: Design new site. Create new template. Copy old text. Publish. Yawn.

But this was one of those projects where budgets, specs and limitations just went out the window, and everyone was happy to see them go because we were so excited by what we were producing. I got to do the things I’m actually really good, like overhauling copy, re-branding products, and saying things like

Having to type out web-enabled enterprise convergence solution is making me vomit.

The client got to exercise his sartorial aesthetic, and – oh the unmitigated joy! – kept asking me to take things out rather than put things in. You have no idea how rare that is – a ton of projects are characterised by well-meaning but misguided people saying things like “Can you make that bigger? And can you make that flash? And can we have menus that drop down and change color and maybe make sounds?” while I rock back and forth in a corner, trying to explain that 1998 has rung and wants its website back.

This was so much better than my worst nightmare, even if I did have to cram twice as many hours into the same number of days. It’s done, anyway, and should be out this week.

I can haz sleep, plz?

PS: You can totally tell my brain is fried when I make with the kitteh talk for two posts in a row. SRSLY.

PatPhelan.net

PatPhelan.net

A simple blog redesign and re-launch at a new domain for Irish telecoms superstar Pat Phelan at PatPhelan.net. (I’m allowed to call him a superstar because not only is he one, he’s one of my favourite clients. Ever.) This site features a customised WordPress template and header. Clean, simple, and nicely grided with a prioritised sidebar.

Alive and Kicking, Apparently in LA

Our lady of perpetual bitch

Contrary to appearances, I am not actually dead. This is a bit disappointing, on account of the fact that I look fabulous in black and had planned to dress accordingly for my own funeral. On the plus side, I can put off that particular shopping trip, which is always a bonus.

On the minus side, it’s all gone to shit in the past week.

For a start, I have walking pneumonia or something, which is never going to be a barrel of monkey fun. Unless the monkeys are also smoking pot. I, however, am smoking menthols. Medicinally.

Second of all, I have insomnia brought on by working with clients across not one, not two, but three different time zones. My body is currently under the impression that I am 22, can pull all nighters for days without end, and am living in LA. Where it is midnight, and not 8 AM.

Finally, I have hit The Slump. This happens about once every two or three years. Normally when a client comes to me for a design, I get a picture in my head of how to bring their needs together under a cohesive design, sit down, and churn it out. The actual churning part can be very time consuming, but I am fortunate to have a high batting average in this, and usually get it right the first time.

Every once in a while, the picture never solidifies. I sit down, I open my graphics program, and get precisely nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Bupkis.

When this happens, it is horrifying. Particularly if you are my husband. Because unless you come bearing cigarettes, coffee or design inspiration, I pretty much just want to be left alone in my hell hole to quietly, repeatedly bang my head against the same wall. And even if you do come bearing design inspiration, I am very likely to tell you that your idea is terrible and COULD NOT POSSIBLY WORK and then perhaps cry until you go away.

So, I’ve been an exhausted, sick, frustrated, mean treat of a woman to live with for the week.

While I am prepared (and somewhat embarrassed) to admit that I occasionally fail in my professional capacity as a designer, I am at this point comforted by the fact that in this instance, it’s due to a really craptastic client brief. As in a non-existent one. I’m prepared to let myself call this one a case of “You gave me nothing, now it’s all I got.”

And as if the past week wasn’t enough, my husband will now divorce me for quoting U2 lyrics.

More Mobiles Than Knackers

not illustrating knackers. yet.

Just back from a lovely evening out with Pat Phelan, Conor O’Neill, Damien Mulley, and himself in honour of Sean Bonner’s visit to the humble port of Cork. I had to drag myself out of my deathbed to get there, but I’m glad I went because everyone was well worth hanging out with.

  • Sean Bonner is exceedingly nice. He’s far nicer than I would have expected him to be had I any clue who he was before I met him, my previous experience with blog network kingpins being not so great.
  • Pat Phelan proved the exception to my rule that anyone who owns more mobiles than he has bollocks is by definition a pretentious twat. Also we’re the last two people in Cork who smoke, so I love him.
  • Conor O’Neill is adorable. I would be making plans to steal him away from his undoubtedly stupendous wife if he didn’t have 17 children under the age of six who need him. Bummer.

Damien was, of course, just there to add glamour, hair product and good looks to our evening.

One of the more amusing parts of the night: despite the fact that I was the only woman in the group, I was also the only one to notice the hilarity of the Yeats quote on the wall. At which point five cameras promptly popped out.

Not in the eye, please. Really.

Note to self: The fact I don’t have a blog category that covers actually leaving the house is probably not a good sign.

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