Posts Categorised: Working for Yourself

How to be a Web Designer: My Story

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One of the most common questions I get asked about web design and development is how I came to do what I do. Did I go to school to learn how to make websites? Where did I learn the ins and outs of WordPress? Here’s the first in a new series, starting with my story, sort of like X-Men Origins.

Since I started messing around on the internet back when I was around 13, I’ve always tinkered with HTML and CSS. From an early starting ground of Geocities, to wanting my livejournal posts to look prettier, I became pretty competent with how the whole HTML thing worked.

I didn’t go to school for web design or development, I actually studied “Interactive Arts” at University – it’s basically Fine Art with a modern slant. Throughout my degree, which was very much self led anyway (read: we did whatever the fuck we wanted), I started building websites. I wanted to make a website for one of my projects which is where I discovered self-hosted WordPress sites.

I spent a cold, grimy, Saturday afternoon in Manchester during my third year of University installing and setting up WordPress on an old domain. Luckily Adam was out with friends, my first foray into WordPress was sooo frustrating. Lots of swears. But, when it was there? And working? Ah. I was kinda hooked from then on in. 

While looking for work as a fresh-from-university-graduate (with a ridiculously unemployable degree), I stumbled across an advert for a Front End Web Developer. I didn’t even know that that was a thing! The job description seemed to fall inline with what I’d self-taught myself over the years, so I applied.

I interviewed, did a website building test, and got the job. While not technically qualified, I proved I could do what was needed which was, apparently, more than a lot of the graduates in the actual web design/development field could. Plus, my two bosses had completely irrelevant degrees too, and they both ran web design/development companies.

I spent a happy 4 years working at Common Agency in Huddersfield, learning as I went, and becoming somewhat of an expert at Wordpress simply by trial and error. Common Agency turned their sights more towards app development, and I started getting itchy feet for something new. I quit the day job in 2011 to concentrate on my own freelance web design and development career, and to work more on my brand, Finest Imaginary.

The rest, as they say, is history.

I’m still learning how to be a web designer/developer, the learning never stops. That’s one of the things I love about this side of my career, there is always something new to learn. Technology has moved on so much since I started being a web designer/developer, there was no such thing as RWD (or we didn’t have a name for it, at least) or mobile optimisation back then, and I’m pretty sure I used to build my earliest websites with iFrames and tables. Erk.

The moral of my story? Don’t think that not having a formal education in something means that you can’t be successful (unless you want to be a surgeon or something, then it’s pretty necessary). If you want to be a web designer then just get stuck in. Make websites. Learn stuff. There’s a wealth of free, brilliant advice and tutorials available on the internet, I’ll be sharing my best resources next time!

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5 Productivity Tasks to Try This Week

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I mainly work On-The-Internet, which means there are an untold number of distractions that can turn my productivity scale down to 0.

Shiny new thing! Doge! Weasel on a woodpecker! (I mean, come on!)

I also work from my home office surrounded by fun things such as laundry, 3 crazy animals that want playing with, and Netflix. This week I’m going to be concentrating on increasing my productivity without totally altering the way I work, want to join in?

There’s nothing extreme or bullshitty here, no massive life-altering changes, just small things that’ll help you be more productive for maybe 1-2hrs in your work day. That might seem small, but it adds up to over a day’s worth of work over the course of a week!

1// Only answer emails/check your inbox at certain points during the day

This one always works for me, as I’m quick to jump on emails as soon as they hit my inbox. I always find myself glancing back at the gmail tab and checking if anything’s come in. Instead, I’m going to be checking my email first thing in the morning, and replying to anything that needs a response, and then having another check in at lunch time and the end of the day.

Previous daily time spent on email: 1.5-2hrs, new daily time spent on email: 1hr.

2// Checking in with RescueTime to see where I’m getting most distracted.

Have you used RescueTime? It’s a great app that really lets you see (in time and percentages) how productive you’re being. My big distractors are Facebook and Twitter, so I’m going to aim to decrease the amount of time spent on those each day.

Previous daily time spent on twitter/facebook: 1.5hrs, new daily time spent on twitter/facebook: 1hr.

3// Have some Pomodoro sessions

The Pomodoro technique is great, but I find it pretty intense. I work flat out during the 20-minute stretches, which yeah.. is brilliant for productivity, but then I feel exhausted after a couple of hours. I’m going to aim to do 3hrs of Pomodoro each day this week.

It’s hard to give a time for this kind of thing, but I would say (based on RescueTime graphs) it makes me about 25-30% more productive during those sessions, leading to an increase in productivity of around an hour.

4// Schedule time for workouts/laundry/non-work things

You might typically class these as distractions, but scheduling in time for non-work things during a working day often makes me more productive in all aspects. If I don’t schedule things in, I end up trying to do 10 things at once and not doing any of them well. Whereas, if I schedule 15 minutes to laundry-sort, or 20 minutes for a workout, then I set myself to task and don’t waste time.

Again, hard to pin-point the actual productivity increase here, and really.. workouts & laundry, though not productive in the making-money-work sense, are productive by way of having-your-shit-together. Here, it’s more about scheduling things in and making sure things get done, leading to less stress, rushing and “ARGH LAUNDRY” anxiety. 

5// Add more to your to do list that you think you can achieve

Having a big daily to do list might seem daunting, but it also revs you up for crossing off as much as you possibly can. The days when my to do list is a little bare? I end up taking it easy and just doing what’s on there. Beef up your list, and make sure you’re listing out small, achievable steps for each of the day’s goals.

Other tiny ways to be more productive:

  • Reward yourself with a coffee/tea/biscuit whenever you’ve finished something big.
  • If you have an idea mid-work, write that shit down and leave it for later. It’ll still be there.
  • Listen to a playlist that gets you in the zone, this might be one of Spotify’s “focus” playlists, or an album you can have on in the background.
  • Recognise your productivity traits and use them to your advantage. Whenever I’m in a “get shit done” frame of mind, I always yank my hair up into a high-pony. Sometimes you have to put the cart before the horse, so by yanking my hair up my brain goes “oh, right! let’s do this!”. This analogy got really horsey.
  •  Stay hydrated! Your brain will thank you by being more alert.

Do you have any small changes that make you more productive? I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments :)

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5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started My Business

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I quit my day job back in 2011 (woah, almost 4 years!), and even though I’d run a small business alongside a day job for a few years before then, there’s still a load of stuff I wish I’d known before going properly into ‘business’ with no day job buffer.

It Gets Easier

The first year is really tough. It’s an insane learning curve, with so many new things to tackle. Cash flow generally isn’t great during the first 18 months, and being the only one who calls the shots is stressful. Everything feels really awkward, and imposter syndrome is at an all time high. About 4 months in you start to question whether going into business was a good idea. Don’t worry, it gets easier. Everything starts to even out. Those tough new things become second nature. If you’re running your business right, cash flow is no longer a problem. Imposter syndrome? yeah, you’ll still feel that.

If you want to succeed, you will succeed

This isn’t about luck. And it’s not about some bullshit magical-unicorn-poop ritual of thanking the Universe. If you want to succeed, you will succeed. But you’ll need to put in the hours. You’ll need work your ass off, knuckle down, and really mean business. You’ll get back what you put in, you cannot coast through this and expect great things to happen.

You don’t have to do it all

Delegation is the key to business growth. I’m still working on this one, and for me it’s more about figuring out exactly what I can delegate. However, as I’ve said numerous times before, one of the greatest things I ever did was get an accountant to handle my tax return. I wish I’d invested sooner!

You will fuck up, but that’s okay

Things go wrong. It’s inevitable. It’s all in how you handle it. Between sending out wrong items of jewellery, and not managing to meet an important deadline, I’ve fucked up. Just stay calm, figure out how to fix it, and admit what went wrong.

Don’t burn out

There have been times during my business where I’ve worked all weekend, and late into the night, tiring myself out and killing any kind of creativity and productivity I have. I don’t condone this behaviour. It’s shitty. Get better at time management, take time off, don’t burn out.

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Why jealousy & envy are ruining your life! (and what to do about it)

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Jealousy & envy, alongside regret, are the most pointless emotions that your stupid brain can conjure. But, conjure them it will. Stupid brain.

The green-eyed monster – or envy, FOMO, jealousy, whatever – is hard to keep at bay, especially when you’re ambitious, type A, and a hard worker. It sneaks up when you least expect it (“Ugh. I can’t believe they have XYZ more followers than me”), and it can seriously fuck up your day. Like, seriously.

So what can we do? Do we just sit on our arses, carving frown lines into our youthful faces, obsessing over someone else’s career? No. Do we fuck. We channel that shit into something productive. We use it to ignite our fires, we use it to push ourselves further, and we use it to make friends.

God, do I get envious of people. 

With their beautiful products, their tight, tight copy, and their ridiculously sick hair. I still can’t braid my own hair, it’s one of the great disappointments of my adult life.

It took me quite a while to get a handle on the best way to process these emotions. I think it’s something that comes with age and experience, and I don’t want to tell you how to suck eggs or assume that you’re just a huge ball of jealous rage. Nah. I just want to give you some tips into handling those jealous & envious moments in your career, a few tools to make working alongside your “competition” a joyful experience.

Before I go any further I have an important public service announcement. There is no such thing as competition.

Whhhaaatttt?! Mind. Blown.

It’s true. All those people who you think are your competition? Nah. They’re your co-workers. They’re your support team. They’re the Ed Sheeran to your T-Swizzle.

I’ll talk more about the “no competition” theory in another post. But seriously, life is too short to think that everyone’s trying to compete with you. Unless you’re a professional tennis player or something, then they’re definitely trying to compete with you. Sorry.

So, back to the program. Envy.

What should you do if…

  • You see a peer featured in a magazine 
    Dude, you need to celebrate their win. They work hard, too. They work as hard as you. Suck it up, be graceful, and give them a well deserved pat on the back. And then get back to work and hit up the editors of that magazine on twitter, it’s your spot next month.
  • Everyone on instagram is in London going to a super awesome event
    It sometimes feels like I live on the other side of the planet up here in Yorkshire, so far from the bright lights of London. Luckily, we live in an age where you’re never that far away from the event thanks to twitter & instagram. So, you missed out on getting stuck in the rain, a free glass of cheap champagne and a vol-au-vent or two (although if you promise me a vol-au-vent, I’m there!), catch up with the buzz on the internet. Follow the hashtag. Ask how everyone enjoyed the event. Start conversations. Make friends.
  • That Person never seems to fucking fail, and you just metaphorically fell flat on your face
    Everyone is fighting their own battles, not everything makes its way to Twitter. Not everyone is a chronic over sharer like you, love. They might seem constantly faultless, but I bet they once had chronic diarrhoea and felt like the world was going to end. Revel in that a little. Not too much, because then you’re a bitch.
  • That other brand just got stocked in a gallery that rejected your work
    Last year I got rejected from a nice little gallery, a couple of weeks later one of my peers promoted their work being stocked there. Shittyfuckingwankingshit.
    Then the National Gallery placed an order for my work. Swings and roundabouts. Just keep at it. Use it as a learning experience. Question why their work was accepted and yours wasn’t, there must be a reason (even if it’s just them being friends with someone who works at the gallery!).
  • You didn’t get a spot at that super cool craft market
    I heard it was shit anyway. Go out and have fun that day, that’s way better than sitting behind a stall for 8 hours while kids put your wares in their mouths (true story).
  • That work you pitched for went to someone else
    That’s business, baby. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It’s not about you or the person the work went to. It’s about the client, and who they feel a connection with. Don’t resent the other person because of the client’s choice (resent the client a bit, if you have to!).

This article on Huffington Post about being happy about other people’s successes is a good read, too!

We all get jealous & envious, we just need to channel those emotions the right way and not end up damaging what could be excellent relationships.

Kx

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Honest Review of the PayPal Here

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Full disclosure: I’ve been using the PayPal Here for a couple of years now, and purchased the card reader at full price. This review is all first-hand knowledge, and PayPal hasn’t sponsored this post or provided the card reader.

A couple of people have asked me how it is to use, so I thought I’d just do a brief-ish blog post about my experiences with the PayPal Here.

So, what is the PayPal Here card reader?

The PayPal Here card reader lets you take payments from credit or debit cards by connecting, via bluetooth, to an app on your phone. So long as you have an internet connection (3G, 4G or WiFi), a PayPal account, and a supported phone, then you’re good to go!

The funds are deposited into your PayPal account, and you pay the relevant PayPal fees. A more in depth description can be found on this page over on the PayPal Here website.

How I use the PayPal Here card reader

My only use for the PayPal Here is at craft/design markets here in the UK. I take payments of between £8 – £80, and have always used the chip + pin method. I average around 10 sales a day at markets using the PayPal Here. More and more people are asking if they can pay by card, and I think a lot of people are expecting everyone to have a card reader of some kind.

The Great Things

  • The card reader is nice and compact, doesn’t take up that much more space in your already-stuffed craft fair luggage.
  • Customers are aware of the PayPal brand, so don’t have any qualms about using it.
  • You can text or email your customer a receipt right there in front of them.
  • Customers don’t need a PayPal account to pay.
  • The app (iPhone) got updated recently, and the new app comes with loads of great features that make selling a breeze. It lets you create a menu of items, so instead of entering the amount you can click on the particular item instead.
  • There are no monthly or on-going fees with the PayPal Here, just the one-off payment for the reader, and the PayPal fees for each sale.

The Not-so-good Things

  • The card reader currently costs £69, it was £99 when I bought it. It’s not a huuggeee amount, but it’s still an investment.
  • The battery life can be a little iffy, and you can only see the life left in the battery by connecting it to the phone.
  • The bluetooth connection can sometimes be a little dodgy, and have trouble connecting the first time. This has only happened a few times, but it’s annoying when it does.
  • Unless the customer has a PayPal account, and their card is connected to it, you don’t get a name on your PayPal records. This is a major buzzkill for my type-A book keeping.

Overall

Would I recommend the PayPal Here card reader? Yes. It’s a good solution for a small investment, it really makes a difference at craft fairs and markets, and stops you missing out on “I’ll just run to the cash machine… AND NEVER BE SEEN AGAIN” sales.

The fees are a bummer, but with any payment system like this, and anything you use to take card payments, you’re going to encounter fees of some kind. The PayPal Here fees are pretty decent compared to some of the alternatives.

You can get your own PayPal Here here!

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