I have recently been venturing on my own a bit and accepting some small freelance projects here and there. In my freelance travels I have picked up some useful tools and information that help in everyday freelancing life. If you are like me, you are always on the look out for tips and tricks to make your life easier, so I have made a small list that may do just this for you. Below are resources that have definitely helped me complete projects and make my customers happy. I hope that you haven’t heard of one of these and that I have helped some people out.
Sprites & Web Design
A relatively unused, unknown, and very efficient way of utilizing CSS and images for websites is using the ’sprite effect’. What is the sprite effect? A List Apart describes it quite well, but doesn’t take it to its full potential, you can easily take this method to the next step by combining more images together in different ways. Let me describe in my words what the sprite effect is:
Sprites can be used in relation to websites by combining like images into one optimized file; thus, limiting the file sizes and requests to the web server.
To use the sprite effect, you use CSS to control the ‘background-position’ of the background image you have created from multiple images of different elements of your website. DeviantArt, Apple, and TNvacation, have all adopted the ‘new‘ technique and are some good examples.
Multiple IE is a cool installer I thought would be great to mention in this article because it’s now an application I can’t go without when testing sites in Internet Explorer. With this program, you are able to install all versions of IE at once, and run them all simultaneously. When the time comes to test your next project, this tool will prove to be a life saver.
PNG crush is a cool tool a coworker told me about that allows you to reduce the file size of the popular file format .PNG. This will make it much easier and faster for you to utilize the transparency power of the PNG file format.
Monoslideshow is a product I recently purchased at work, it’s a Flash slideshow that is fully customizable from a page on their website. A good example of site that currently uses Monoslideshow is www.bearmountain.ca. If you are looking for slideshow software that is very easily customizable and has seemless flash image transitions, then this should be what you need. The only downside of Monoslideshow is they do not provide the FLA file for you to customize or add any code.
Web Development Doc’s
Web Dev Docs is a product that contains all the documents you need to run a small web development business. What’s included in their packages are: 4 Website Design Proposals, 3 Colorful Proposal Flowcharts, Website Design Contract, Website Maintenance Contract, 2 Website Planner Workbooks, 6 Letters to Customers, Project Invoice, Project Estimate, Website Design E-Book Series
You are able to get these documents on CD, or simply sent to you in an email. The cost is about $40, and from the small amount I’ve used them, they have already proven to be worth the money.
Hosting from Mt (Media Temple)
I have finally made the investment of purchasing my own hosting for my websites, after receiving free hosting for so many years. I decided to go with Media Temple, as they seemed to have big name clients, as well as host many of the sites I visit daily. At first glance I thought of there service to be a bit pricey, however it turned out to be a good investment. The Grid Service I signed up for allows you to host up to 100 different sites, and allocate resources to each one of those individual websites. You are also able to create FTP accounts, email accounts, and SSH options with one simple form. Everything in the control panel (which is a pretty version of Plesk) has been made ‘designer friendly’. If you are looking for a re-seller account, I would recommend Media Temple.
WordPress Admin Themes
I have come across a couple of cool WordPress administration themes if you happen to get bored of the default one. Unfortunately Smashing Magazine beat me by mentioning both of these themes in one of their recent articles. I will mention them here anyways, because I know my readers like my site better
The first theme is WP Tiger, which can be downloaded here. The second theme I tried to use; however, does not work in the earlier versions of WordPress. When I installed it, it completely busted up my website. If you run version 2.5+ this should be a great skin for you admin! Check out the Fluency Admin theme here.
Freelance Promotion Techniques
As a freelancer, you may be wondering different ways to get in the game with the ‘big boys’. Why would a company choose you over a well established design firm in their area? How do you get yourself and your skills noticed by your target market? These blog posts explore different ways to gain clients and leads. I have been promoting myself in different ways, and so far the only real effective way of getting clients has been word of mouth. Nothing else.. Let me know if any of these techniques help you out though.
Even the best of the best professional web designers use tutorials. If they say they don’t, then they are stuck up ego designers who think they are too good to mention the words ‘filters’ or ‘tutorials’. I have stumbled upon some cool tutorials that teach techniques that I didn’t know of.
You suck at Photoshop
The you suck at Photoshop video’s on YouTube are the biggest buzz in the design world at the moment. Not only is the guy hilarious, and the video’s well done, but he does actually show some pretty cool ways of using Photoshop.
Their are a lot of sites out there right now that brag about the amount of tutorials on their sites, and have tonnes of categories filled with repetitive content. PSDtuts has put a fresh spin on the tutorial website community by offering quality tutorials by authors that spend time to be detailed.