A Return to Writing

A few winters ago, I was in Massachusetts with a group of friends walking to the local bakery. We were chatting back and forth, telling jokes, and mostly self-absorbed as we made our way down the final hill. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an elderly woman, slightly shaky on her feet and holding a large pry bar. Steadying herself before each swing, she was slowly chipping away the ice in front of her porch steps.

It took me a few seconds to register what I just saw, all the while everyone was still carrying on with conversation. Almost instantly, a knot grew in my stomach as I wished I had asked the woman if I could lend a hand. Soon, we were a good 20 feet away and in an awkward phase where I knew what I should have done but it felt too late. I kept walking with the group and, to this day, it bothers me that I missed the opportunity to offer my help.

The moral of this story is that regrets don’t always come from what we do but sometimes from what we don’t do. This blog and the lack of recent updates is a great example. With over a decade of experience building websites, I’m eager to share what I’ve learned, including mistakes I’ve made. This little slice of the web has accumulated a thick layer of dust over the years but that changes today.

“Why the long radio silence?” you might ask. The simple reason is my family comes first. In 2011, I married the love of my life, the following year we bought a house, and late last year we had an amazing baby girl — all three milestones required extensive planning. These are what I call beautiful burdens, which are the people and things in your life that require immense time and effort but are completely worth it. With financial stability for my family being a top concern, I have been putting off writing in order to spend more time on paid work.

After countless long nights trying to get ahead, I’m now at a point where I feel comfortable devoting some time to writing again. To start with, my goal is to publish a new article at least once a week and that pace will increase as time allows. Topics will mainly cover honest insights on self-employment, web design tutorials, and philosophies such as the work/life balance. I have, literally, hundreds of saved article topics I have been storing and look forward to sharing them all with you. This site will continue to evolve as well. For example, I’ll likely be replacing the current “store” section with an exciting idea I have for sharing in-depth guides and other useful resources (more on that soon).

I’m genuinely excited to get back to into writing and I would be honored if you would join me along the way. You can do this by grabbing the RSS feed, following me on Twitter, and/or signing up for the newsletter in the sidebar. I’ll also be answering specific questions from readers so please feel free to ask away.

3 Common Freelance Myths Debunked

I’ve been self-employed for the last six years and it has been a challenging but equally rewarding experience. I regularly receive business questions via email and am often amazed at what others perceive the freelance life to be like. Allow me to shed some light on a few of the most common freelance myths:

“It must be nice having a flexible schedule.”

By far, this is one the greatest misconceptions I hear all the time. Most people envision freelancers as having a wide open schedule, free to do anything on a whim and only work when inspiration strikes. In reality, I have to keep regular hours in order to run a reliable and productive business.

Working remotely involves a great deal of trust on the client’s part and that is not something to take lightly — clear and consistent communication is absolutely essential. If a client calls with a comment or question and I’m nowhere to be found, that doesn’t portray confidence in the job being done.

Furthermore, a regular schedule is crucial to keeping projects on track. What I always do when starting a new job is outline specific milestones that need to be met throughout the project’s timeline. For example, I might set aside two weeks for design, two weeks for website development, and an additional week for CMS integration. Each of these stages require steady attention by way of a consistent schedule.

“That’s your hourly rate? You must be rich!”

Here’s what you may be forgetting: I also pay for self-employment tax, computer equipment and services, any hired help, meetings and conferences, home office utilities, insurance (health, disability, life), holidays and sick time, and retirement contributions. On top of that, think of all the out-of-pocket administrative and marketing time needed to keep a business running.

You can’t compare the hourly rate of an in-house employee to someone self-employed; they operate in completely different worlds. Being your own boss includes a whole slew of expenses that have to be factored into your work rate if you want a sustainable business. I’ve found that working for myself does allow me to make more money than I would at a normal 9-5 job but it also requires extra time and effort.

“Doing computer ‘work’ all day must be easy.”

Growing up, I was very involved with my father’s heavy equipment and carpentry business. We worked from sunup to sundown doing everything from fixing big machinery to constructing entire homes. One of the side benefits of manual labor is you get heaps of exercise and sleep like a baby at night.

Transitioning to computer work was no picnic for me. It’s quite a chore remaining nearly motionless for most of the day, staring at a computer screen and typing thousands of lines of code. You would be surprised at how damaging physical inactivity can be on a body, say nothing about the mental impact of remaining “plugged in” for so long. Computer work is deceivingly taxing.

I also struggle with shutting my work brain off during the evenings, which is especially difficult since I have a home office. More than once, I have been “done” for the day, later solved a work problem in my head, then found myself implementing the fix that night. Adding to the problem, most of us have smartphones and other devices that are with us daily, making it that much harder to disconnect from work.

In short, being self-employed does come with its own set of perks but not without massive amounts of hard work and dedication. And before you ask, stop assuming all freelancers work in their underwear. Weirdo.

Web Designer Lifespan

A lighthearted observance on the career of a Web Designer…

Year 1: “Huh, why does Photoshop have an Export HTML option?” *click* “Holy crap, I’m a WEB DESIGNER!!!”

Year 2: “Yeah, I can build you a website for $500. Your cousin also needs one with a CMS and e-commerce? Sure, $500.”

Year 3: “So glad I took this ad agency job. I love working with clients! I’m learning a ton and safely storing my bookmarks in Ma.gnolia.”

Year 4: “Dude, check out this logo animation I created. All I had to do was include MooTools, jQuery, and Script.aculo.us to make it work.”

Year 5: “I hate clients; I’m going to freelance so I can focus only on jobs that interest me.”

Year 5 and 1 month: “I just remembered I love working with clients, especially when I’m broke and can’t afford bread.”

Year 6: “Ok, I think I’m getting a handle on this self-employment thing. Now all I need to do is keep working 90 hours a week.”

Year 7: “Posted my first Dribbble shot of an ampersand; waiting for the job offers to roll in. Unfortunately, I’m invisibbble because I don’t have 50k+ Twitter followers.”

Year 8: *light bulb moment* “What if I build a theme that I can resell over and over? I’m going to be filthy rich!” *next morning* “Where did all these theme developers come from and how are they selling themes for a nickel?!”

Year 9: “I finally have this job figured out. The ink is nearly dry on my first book and I’m honored to be speaking at such-and-such web conference.”

Year 10: *reading Twitter* “What is a Sass-Less-Stylus and can I buy that on Amazon? I don’t know why so many people are having Angular Backbone problems (maybe from all the Grunting?) but I hope they see a doctor soon. Who are all these full-stack developers and how many stacks am I? How does… ah forget it, I’m a Creative Director at heart. Who wants to build a website for me?”

The Rock Collection

On my office desk sits a jar filled with rocks, none of which are rare or have any monetary value. Whenever my wife and I travel, we find a pocket-sized rock, tote it back home, and add it to our stockpile. For us, these random bits of earth represent life outside of work and remind us of our journeys together. I wholeheartedly encourage you to start your own worthless collection of priceless memories.

rock collection

Choose Your Role Models Wisely

I’m a proud husband and father, two roles I gladly devote a lot of my time to. I’m a homeowner and self-proclaimed mechanic as well—another way of saying I’m always fixing something. My family and I live in a beautiful New Hampshire vacation town surrounded by mountains and lakes but not much else. Simple errands, like doing groceries, require fairly long road trips. I also have many interests outside of work, including carpentry, photography, and enjoying the outdoors. All of these responsibilities take considerable time and commitment.

The work/life balance requires constant fine-tuning and part of that involves choosing realistic role models. It’s easy to be impressed by others in your industry who crank out work at an unreal pace (front-page Dribbblers, I’m looking at you). It can also be tempting to imagine how much more you could get done by working around the clock, but at what expense? Would you be neglecting other interests and people in your life? I respect anyone not afraid of hard work; the trouble is when determination turns into obsession.

If you do find yourself following someone else’s footsteps, take a moment to learn more about that person (and I’m not talking about just their work). Compare their lifestyle to yours and ask, “Are they a well-rounded individual? Do they share a similar amount of responsibilities as you do?” If the answer is no, then perhaps they’re not a good role model for you. Be inspired, always do your best possible work, but keep your priorities in mind.