"Earn a Great Living as a Freelance Web Developer" resources and a few thoughts on scope creep

In the “Succeed as a Freelancer” webinar I mention a number of services that are helpful to freelancers.  Here are some of them.

Learning Drupal
Of course, the best way to learn something is by doing it.  My Six Week Live Course is designed to take you over the learning curve quickly, in large part by creating a place where you can practice.  In addition to the live class, I provide weekly assignments where you go through the steps of building a site (with extra videos to follow along if you need them.)



If your a beginner and you’d like a book, a good choice is The definitive guide to Drupal development

For those more advanced, my favorite book is Pro Drupal Development.

Of course, there are hundreds of great resources out there for learning Drupal, many of which I discuss in the course -- perhaps a good topic for a future blog post?


Practicing with Drupal
In the webinar, we discussed installing Drupal on your computer so you can practice.  The easiest way to do this, on a Mac or PC, is to use the Acquia Dev Desktop.

You can also practice by installing Drupal on a server that is live on the web.  (The shield module is a good tool for keeping those practice sites private.) As part of the six week course, participants receives a hosting account that allows them unlimited Drupal installations.  If not taking the course and you want to work on a server, Site5’s Hosting Pro Account, for about $9 a month, lets you install an unlimited number of sites (via subdomains) on a single share hosting account.

 

Themes
Being a Drupal freelancer doesn’t mean you have to be a front-end developer or themer.  You can build beautiful sites using existing themes.  And even if you know how do turn a Photoshop file into a Drupal theme, sometimes it still makes a lot more sense to use a theme that looks great right out of the box.  There are over 1000 free themes, or varying quality, available at Drupal.org.  You also have the option of buying a premium theme (or asking your client to buy one).  Some of my favorite premium theme companies are Antsin.com,  Themeforest.net  and TopNotchThemes.com. A great way to find good themes it to Google “great drupal themes” or “best drupal themes” to find comparisons and suggestions.

 

Hosting
Many freelancers "resell" hosting as an additional service.  I discuss this in some detail in the webinar.  My favorite hosting company  for inexpensive shared hosting is site5.com.  For VPS hosting I love servint.net.  There lots of other great companies out there, but when you find something that works, you tend to stick with it. 

Time Tracking and Invoicing
I honestly don’t know what I would do without freshbooks.com.  You can track every minute spent working for a client and generate invoices, even have clients pay online. 

 

Your Email List
In the freelancer webinar I go over a lot of specific ways to find work.  One of the most useful tools is to maintain an email list that you can use send out occasional email blasts.  While you can always use the BCC field, I think it’s well worth the money to use a professional mass-email service for this. My personal favorite is Icontact, but there are a lot of good ones out there.  Start off by importing all of your contacts into your account and send an email making sure they know you are open for business. 


Scope Creep
In the webinar we spoke about one of the biggest challenges of freelancing -- scope creep.  Here’s an amusing video on Scope creep that Tom shared:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2a8TRSgzZY

As discussed in the webinar, if you are billing hourly scope creep isn't as much of a problem.  If you're a beginner, whenever possible, I suggest billing hourly. 

It's when you're charging a flat rate and clients are asking for things that you didn't initially account for that scope creep becomes an issue.  On the opposite end, there's the unscrupulous practice that some web developers engage in which I will call scope shrink.  This is where the developer charges a flat rate and then tries to charge extra for every bit of work that really should be included.  (I'm waiting for the video that mocks web developers who do this, maybe the waiter charges the client extra for bringing napkins.)

Personally, I don’t blame clients for wanting and asking for more.  It’s up to freelancers to learn how to create clear agreements on what is and isn't included. But let's be honest, freelancers do have it a lot harder than someone working for a firm when it comes to scope creep.  At a firm you can always say you would love to do it without charging, but that your boss won't allow it.  As your own boss that doesn't fly.   Perhaps you can say something like "while I would love to do this for you without charging, the part of me that has to pay the mortgage just won't allow it."