The Fast Way from Freelance Designer to Design Firm

The Fast Way from Freelance Designer to Design Firm

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Picture it: New York City, 2010; you’re working full-time as a digital designer for one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. The paycheck is steady, the hours are (somewhat) flexible, and you really never have to take work home with you. To sweeten the pot, there are plenty of perks–free swag from clients and swanky company parties to enjoy. You take for granted the fact that you don’t need to worry about where the work is coming from. That’s someone else’s job.

You love your job and your co-workers, but something substantial is missing. Perhaps you are dissatisfied with what you are designing or, even more frustrating, you can’t take ownership over the end results. What is a talented, hard-working web professional to do?

…quitting your job to work for yourself is easier said than done and does require some planning

That was me a few years ago, before starting my creative digital agency, and something needed to change. In addition to the sentiments previously addressed, I wasn’t a huge fan of working typical office hours, especially at 8+ hours a day. Nor was I particularly loving the work I was doing. The only option for me was to make the jump into freelance.

I had it all planned out: I would quit my cushy full-time gig and start working with my own clients, as well as on my own web design blog. I’d control every aspect of the projects and would be able to have complete ownership over the end result. However, quitting your job to work for yourself is easier said than done and does require some planning.

Before I left the company, I needed an exit strategy. I wasn’t in a position to pull off a Jerry Maguire and just storm out. I wanted to make sure I actually had money to survive, so I could still do things (ya know, like, eat and pay rent).  Before I left my job, I made a list of everything I needed to have in order before making the move to freelance. If you’re planning to make the leap, the following is essential:

  • Money: I made sure I had enough funds for the bare necessities to last at least 3-6 months. This way, if the work wasn’t coming in, I didn’t become homeless (which is always a plus).  Do your best to plan your finances as far in advance as possible.
  • Clients: Over the years I’ve learned that it’s extremely important to network. Every job I’ve ever had, I made sure to leave with some connections. Whether it’s emails, phone numbers or LinkedIn connections. Upon my exit, I contacted all of these connections to let them know I was open for business. Make sure you keep in touch with your network, not only when starting a freelance business, but throughout your career.
  • Portfolio: probably the most important box to check was my portfolio. I wasn’t going to land new clients or temporary work if I couldn’t present my amazing skills. You may need to work some late nights or weekends, but make sure your website is on top of its game. Include all your best work, (you may need to get permission to use it), be personable, clients want to hire you, so promote yourself, include all your contact info and social media accounts.
  • Blog: one thing I really wanted to do was share my knowledge of web design and development. So, to me, maintaining a blog is mandatory. The idea of blogging about the industry that I loved and working on fun projects was the world to me. I can’t stress enough how important a blog is for your business. From freelancers to huge organizations, a blog will help drive traffic to your website and help your SEO. Also don’t be afraid to share your knowledge: guest post on other blogs and be active on social media.

Once I had some money saved, and my website and blog were looking great, I alerted everyone in my address book about my move to freelance. I resigned from my job and officially started as a freelancer. The newfound freedom was everything I hoped it would be. I was able to work on the projects of my choice, at my own pace. This meant more time with friends and family, as well as a nice amount of time spent on the couch with my laptop, in my PJs. Life was good.

Full Circle

The freelance life was great, and if you’re looking for more free time while working on the projects you love, you’ll be hard pressed to find the downsides. You will gain your freedom and the ability to accept or decline new clients as you see fit. However, the more I blogged and published the designs I was creating, the more clients came knocking.  It was all the success I had hoped for, and I was in high demand.

There came a point where I was turning down work left and right. I had my free time and I wasn’t going broke. However, the downside to all this freedom had begun to reveal itself in the very perk I had always wanted: I was spending too much time at home.  In addition, I began to wonder what would happen if I took on more work, hired some help, and really tried to build this freelance business into more of a small agency or studio. I was excited to see how this could grow.

If I took on all of the projects I was turning down, I would have more funds to allocate to projects and in turn, produce bigger and better websites. I decided to slowly move towards creating a consulting business. I didn’t just want to work from home, I wanted a team, an office space, and to actually leave the house.

Once again, I created a short list of mandatory boxes to check before officially making the leap to a consulting business.

  • Register your name: If you want to start your own agency or business, you’ll need a name, I chose Avex Designs, and registered an LLC. There are a few options for you here, but I felt an LLC was best for me. Depending on your situation and  geographic location, another option might be best for you. I used Legal Zoom to get registered and it was around $800. Sounds expensive but once your LLC or business entity is setup, you’ll be able to set up a bank account and start accepting payments under your company name. Which is a huge plus. You can also take advantage of tax breaks as well, depending on where you live.
  • Office space: You can continue to work from home if you’d like, but I wanted that NYC address and I really needed a space of my own. That is where a shared office space came in. It was affordable and offered all of the amenities that I needed. The space was all inclusive with wifi, conference rooms, beer, coffee and a great location.
  • Employees: Now that I had an office space, I needed some employees to help take on the work load. I actually hired a close friend who was a designer, so it was an easy choice for me. However, as we started to staff up and bring on more employees, I used services such as Indeed and Krop to find amazing talent.

Wearing many hats

When making the jump from an employee to freelancer and then to an agency founder, you really start to take on various roles. I wasn’t just designing and developing anymore. Some roles I took on when first starting my agency—and continue to take on—were:

  • Project manager
  • Accountant
  • Creative director
  • Human Resources
  • SEO specialist
  • Salesman
  • Account manager
  • And more…

When you start your own agency, the first few years are going to be rough. Not only are you responsible for your livelihood, but also your employees.  As a freelancer, I only had to worry about myself and occasionally where the next project was coming from. When you’re running an agency, the number one thing keeping your dream alive is revenue. As with any start up, money is what’s needed to pay the bills, payroll, and of course, pay yourself.

Lastly, if you’re looking to make that jump from a freelancer to building your own agency, there are a few things you may have to give up. Expect there to be less time to focus on implementing actual designs and understand you are taking upon more of a managerial role. Personally, I still get plenty of gratification from overseeing projects and providing creative direction. However, many will not find that as fulfilling, and that is part of discovering your personal journey. Working as a freelancer were some of my least stressful days by far. On the other hand, if you desire to build something bigger and you have the drive to actually implement that dream, you can gradually make the leap. Build your business organically, network, hire employees only when needed and most importantly, make sure your new venture is fulfilling.  

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Improve Your Billing Form’s UX In One Day

Improve Your Billing Form’s UX In One Day

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The checkout page is the last page a user visits before finally decide to complete a purchase on your website. It’s where window shoppers turn into paying customers. If you want to leave a good impression, you should provide optimal usability of the billing form and improve it wherever it is possible to.

Improve Your Billing Form’s UX In One Day

In less than one day, you can add some simple and useful features to your project to make your billing form user-friendly and easy to fill in. A demo with all the functions covered below is available. You can find its code in the GitHub repository.

The post Improve Your Billing Form’s UX In One Day appeared first on Smashing Magazine.

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Beyond The Browser: From Web Apps To Desktop Apps

Beyond The Browser: From Web Apps To Desktop Apps

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I started out as a web developer, and that’s now one part of what I do as a full-stack developer, but never had I imagined I’d create things for the desktop. I love the web. I love how altruistic our community is, how it embraces open-source, testing and pushing the envelope.

Beyond The Browser: From Web Apps To Desktop Apps

I love discovering beautiful websites and powerful apps. When I was first tasked with creating a desktop app, I was apprehensive and intimidated. It seemed like it would be difficult, or at least… different.

The post Beyond The Browser: From Web Apps To Desktop Apps appeared first on Smashing Magazine.

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Build a successful creative portfolio with Allyou

Build a successful creative portfolio with Allyou

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Every creative needs a good portfolio. Whether you’re focussed on typography or photography, layout or user experience, your portfolio is what defines you professionally.

As with most things, the quality of your portfolio is determined by the appropriateness of the tools you use. All too often we see great work, presented poorly, because the designer opted for the wrong showcase; either squeezing their work into a CMS template, or using a WYSIWYG builder aimed at online businesses.

If you want to create a successful portfolio, you need a tool that’s designed to build creative portfolios, and that’s where Allyou comes in. Allyou is literally all about you; it’s a site builder for professional portfolios focusing on photographers, stylists, architects, designers, and model agencies.

Designed from the ground up, Allyou offers creatives like you a premium grade portfolio that honors its content: your work.

What makes Allyou different from the other site builders on the market is the simplicity with which it delivers compelling, and well-coded sites.

ALLYOU is a great alternative for creatives, who are looking for a boutique provider in web-publishing—Christian Weber, founder of Allyou.net

Setup is really easy, the fastest place to start is by selecting one of the templates on offer—don’t worry about being too decisive, you can easily change your template at any time, so it’s safe to dive right in. There are dozens of templates to choose from, each structured around a case-study style portfolio. Once you’ve selected a template you’ll be asked for an email address, a name, and a password; and that’s it, you’re up and running!

Crucially, the templates on offer don’t look like generic templates, because they’re populated with original images: yours. But if templates aren’t your thing you can customise your portfolio entirely to your liking. Allyou’s flexible design system gives you the freedom to fully adapt your site.

Customization is via an intuitive drag and drop UI, meaning you don’t need any coding skills at all, just make a change and see it live instantly. Allyou is far from the most complex site builder we’ve tried, and that’s its great strength: where some site builders try to be a solution for every use case, and end up failing everybody, Allyou knows its customer base, and delivers exactly what you need, and no more. The no-nonsense approach really is a refreshing change.

Adding projects couldn’t be simpler, just click on the project in dashboard and you’ll have the option to open or edit. Edit allows you to modify the project’s title, description, and cover image. Open takes you to the project’s dedicated page, where you can add images.

Images uploaded are automatically configured for retina and mobile views, which is a huge time-saver. The sites Allyou builds are fully responsive, adapting to different viewport dimensions and screen resolutions.

You can embed multi-media content, as well as Instagram and Google Maps. Allyou has even teamed with Typekit to allow you easy access to over 1000 professional grade fonts.

Although Allyou is structured around projects, you can easily add your own pages. And yes, you can use your own domain, for that professional touch.

When you first register you’ll see a 60 second video that will teach you everything you need to know to start enjoying your own Allyou site. There’s even a free, 14-day, no obligation trial, so you can try out the system for yourself. If you decide you love it, then professional accounts start from just $8 per month.

 

[– This is a sponsored post on behalf of Allyou –]



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7 Ways to Tell a Great Story with Design

7 Ways to Tell a Great Story with Design

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A website is more than just a place to hold information about your app, portfolio or products. It should tell a story to engage and delight users. (That’s one of the key elements that will help them stick around.)

While a good story might start with an idea on pen and paper, it comes to life thanks to the design.

1. Engage with Imagery

The design should visually engage the user. Start with clean, clear visuals. Stellar photos, interesting illustrations or videos that wow will help grab attention and make a first impression.

But the concept of “show, don’t tell” doesn’t stop there.

The story should be filled with imagery, both visually through design techniques and with the words on the screen. Develop a color palette that speaks to the story you are telling, with elements that drive users to completing a goal or task in the design. A good story will help lead users along the way. The design should be an obvious visual match.

2. Develop a Character

In website design, we talk about user personas a lot. It’s a key part of the development process. Take it to then next level with a character in your story that users can identify and identify with.

The character can be real and travel throughout the design, or can be perceived as a voice in the content.

A great example of character development is from email platform, MailChimp. Freddie, the company’s cartoon mascot and logo pops up throughout the design, in the blog and in promotions. The character does a few things for the company:

  • First, the character helps clarify the company name. As mimicked in a widespread ad campaign, there was some confusion about “MailChimp.” Seeing a chimp next to the words can make it clearer.
  • The character helps showcase the fun nature that the company portrays. The tone and visuals are light and simple.
  • Freddie provides the company with a story when they don’t have a lot of other things to talk about in promotional aspects. How did the chimp come to be? where did his name come from? and so on. The character helps keep the company story fresh and moving forward.

3. Invite Participation

Add value to the design with interactive elements paired with common actions. Add touches of animation to buttons that users need to notice or help drive the eye to certain elements with directional cues such as arrows or images that “lean” toward that an interactive element.

Consider other effects that can keep users engaged with the story. Parallax scrolling, for example, is a highly engaging way to help encourage movement on the screen. That’s one of the reasons this technique is so popular.

A good story doesn’t have to be complex. Humaan advances their story with simple hover animations paired with team photos to help you meet the people behind the company. It’s simple and effective. (Note the staff photography as well. Fun poses and facial expressions let the character of each team member shine through.)

4. Design a Game

One of the hardest parts of telling a story is actually developing it. If you don’t know where to start, a simple game can help you focus and even provide a fun avenue for users.

The trick to adding a game to the design is to keep it simple, short and provide some type of reward for the effort, such as a coupon code or virtual badge.

It doesn’t have to be the Pokemon style game you are probably thinking about. Consider Dropbox. Getting extra space in your cloud storage account is the goal for many users. Inviting others to use Dropbox, logging in from multiple devices and connecting email accounts are among the gamification tools the company uses to give users more storage. The game is simple, there are rewards for success and it has helped create a crew of loyal Dropbox users.

For users that don’t want to play the game or can complete enough tasks, Dropbox offers a paid plan to skip ahead and win immediately. (That’s the other trick to a game-style story; users must be able to win.)

5. Make Microinteractions Meaningful

Think about the tiny elements in the design that users will interact with. Social media websites in particular drive so much engagement because they create simple experiences with microinteractions.

As a refresher, microinteractions are tiny moments when a user engages with a design. Every time you change a setting, send a message, log in or like a status you’ve witnessed a microinteraction. From clicking the Instagram heart (and watching it turn red) to tapping to retweet, these feedback loops are what keep users coming back.

Meaningful microinteractions create a demand for the design. It adds a level of function for users that makes the overall experience worthwhile.

Microinteractions also make a design helpful or desired. Connect these moments to the key goals of your website. It can be anything from allowing users to share a product they just purchased to adding something to a wishlist to signing up for an alert.

6. Create a Narrative

Every story has a beginning, middle and end.

If your website design doesn’t represent this story flow, users can get confused or lost. Here’s the simplest of formulas:

  • Beginning: Logo and headline. Let users know who you are and why they are on your website.
  • Middle: All of the supporting narrative that makes you special. What can you do for people who are on your site? What should they expect?
  • End: An obvious call to action such as a form, ability to make a purchase or link to something else.

7. Keep the Storyline Simple

This might sound counter to the advice in No. 6, but the story needs to be simple. This isn’t a 1,500 page volume. A simple storyline is one that you could explain in 5 seconds or less.

The story should grab users right away, leave an impression and make them want to return. Yes, you can do this with a beginning, middle and end.

Upstream does this all on the homepage – users can scroll for more of the “middle” of the story, but there’s a glimpse of all three parts on the home page. The visuals and text tell a story of need and helping people with Upstream there to help. There’s a “get involved” button on the screen and the visual is so striking that you want to help.

The story is simple and effective. Users are more likely to remember it … and you.

Conclusion

When you are designing a story, the most important thing to remember is that your story should be yours. Don’t try to be something you are not. Users are more likely to connect with authenticity than a made up narrative.

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