Professionally speaking, the past 12 months have been fantastic for me and my fledgling business. To be true, my goals weren't of the sky-high variety.
For the first eight months of my freelancing adventure, my only goals were:
- Get an accountant
- Get a business license
- Get health insurance
- Pay my bills
- Avoid touching my savings as much as possible
Now, a year later (and a whopping 20 months since I quit that soul-sucking job), those goals have long been met. And I've met other goals I established along the way:
- All of my taxes for 2011 are paid. Yep. 100% paid. State and federal. I may even get a refund!
- I've returned all the money I used from my savings when I first quit the job, and then added some. Woo!
- I was able to sub-contract with and pay colleagues who needed and deserved opportunities for work.
So, as the year comes to a close and the sentiments of the holiday season work their magic, I realize how very lucky I have been this year. I'm financially stable, which was one of my greatest fears. The fact I've resumed my quarterly (and very expensive) haircut and color appointments says it all.
And I wouldn't have this wonderfully secure feeling without my clients.
My clients for the past 12 months have been completely varied, not only in terms of size but also project type. I worked with two independent professionals, creating "brochure" sites. I worked with a large, local non-profit on my biggest project of the year. I worked with a family-owned software company on three different projects throughout the year. I subcontracted with an agency for a variety of small projects.
I created a MojorMotor site, two ExpressionEngine sites and a WordPress blog. I created designs for six varied sites, then built out all the HTML, CSS and jQuery for each. I did front-end dev for three sites I didn't design, including an excursion into OOCSS that I'll never forget. I consulted on copywriting and editing. I even put together email newsletters.
Amid all this fantastic variety, all of my clients have one thing in common: they each were reliable, consistent, respectful and appreciative. Dramatically different from the "clients" I dealt with while working in the corporate world.
Hence this post. I don't know what the next years will look like. I don't know what the next clients will look like. So I don't want to forget my first clients. The ones who made it possible for me to be looking at an almost two-year stretch on my own.
Law Office of Mary Griego
Literally my very first client as Emily Lewis Design LLC, was Mary Griego. An independent attorney specializing in criminal defense, Mary wanted a basic brochure site. Her goals were straightforward: provide her clients and prospects more information about her services.
The only "advanced" functionality she wanted was the ability to maintain the content herself. And, in terms of design, she really wanted to emphasize the beauty of New Mexico. In fact, she had already purchased photos for use on the site.
So that's what I gave her: a simple site emphasizing her services and expertise. The design feels very Southwestern, without being obvious, and utilizes the photography Mary loved. In terms of the CMS, we went with MojoMotor because if offered the perfect fit in terms of cost and functionality.
It was a simple, yet enjoyable project with a relatively fast turnaround. Mary was easygoing from beginning to end, and she picked up using MojoMotor instantly.
Since go-live, Mary has a baby on the way and a wedding in the works. She's also stepping away from her independent practice for now, so the site is no longer being maintained. I've still got my dev files, though.
Protech is a family-owned software company based in Maryland. In fact, it's my family's business, founded by my uncle over 25 years ago. At last count, six of my cousins still work there, as does my mom, while my uncle has retired and serves mostly as an advisor.
When Protech contacted me, they wanted me to take a critical look at a web site they were launching for a new product, MemberPoint. The site was solid. It had been designed and developed by another agency, and was just static PHP with a WordPress blog.
I helped Protech evaluate and adjust some of the finer points on the site, as well as make some critical decisions regarding converting the PHP to ASP (Protech is a .NET shop). I also made a few UI adjustments.
Once the site launched, Protech hired me to assume writing responsibilities for their OnPoint blog and newsletter. Initially, they were outsourcing to an agency, which summarized existing articles for daily blog posts. The blog posts were then compiled into a weekly newsletter. All they wanted me to do was the very same thing … I just happened to be more cost-effective than the agency.
Of all my projects this year, this has been my favorite. Don't get me wrong. I don't enjoy the writing, but it is gloriously consistent. I've done it every week this entire year, which means I can schedule around it. I can count on the money each month. And it is simple, straightfoward work. I hope it continues, because it has been my "freelancer security blanket."
Protech also hired me for a completely different project: they needed a demonstration site for a new web-based software they were developing. Basically they wanted me to create a site for a fictitional professional association. This site would serve as the "shell" into which they would add their ASP.NET components for things like ecommerce and event registration.
And thus was born the Society of Member Experience Professionals web site. I did all the IA planning and wireframing, just like I would've for a real association. I then designed the interface and built out the front-end.
I also worked with Protech's developers on the actual ASP.NET web components that would be used in the site (and sold to clients and prospects). This was a rare opportunity to establish standards for HTML and CSS in an ASP.NET product.
The site is an internal demonstration site, so no link to visit. But if you are really curious, I've got dev files I'm happy to show upon request.
The third project Protech hired me to do was to skin a DotNetNuke site for a new product line. We are currently smack-dab in the middle of this project, but it is still as simple as it sounds. Actually, even simpler.
The DNN site was created to exactly mimic the MemberPoint site in terms of everything except content. Same IA, same layout, same HTML. The site will be a marketing and sales tool for Protech's new Cloud Business Solutions.
So I took their brand and graphics and came up with a skin design, which I then converted to CSS. That's it. A perfect, simple project … at least, for now.
Protech has evolving needs for their new cloud products, so this DNN site will be growing in terms of functionality. As such, I fully expect to work with them moving forward on helping the design evolve accordingly.
My much-loved friend and colleague Stephanie Rewis, who runs W3Conversions, was good enough to hire me as a sub-contractor several times this past year. For each of these projects, Stephanie was so wonderful to work with. She's the furthest thing from a micro-manager and is able to trust the people she hires.
The first project I did for W3Conversions was eXperient Interactive. The design was done in-house by eXperient, so I just built out the HTML, CSS and jQuery. They also needed a simple WordPress blog, so I themed that and got it integrated with the rest of the site.
The next project for W3Conversions was just a bit of overflow work for Fresh Picked Design. Stef had already developed the core framework of the site. She just needed help building some of the inner HTML and CSS, so that's what I did.
I can't tell you how awesome it is to work with markup and styles written by someone who knows what she is doing. It was a breeze to pick up where Stef had left off and then hand it back to her to finish up.
The final project was for FreecylePlus. Stef had already built out several of the templates for this site, which was going to have an ASP.NET backend. She needed help finishing a handful of other templates.
It was fairly straightforward, but one challenge with this project was that Stef was developing using OOCSS principles.
I've written my HTML and CSS modularly before, but hadn't actively tried to write OOCSS. So, it took me a bit of time to get acclimated, and it took me longer than I expected to get certain pages done. But it was a good exercise, particularly to understand the practical application of OOCSS … it isn't necessarily a good fit for all sites.
The YMCA of Central New Mexico was my biggest (and longest) project of the year. The national Y had recently rebranded, and our local YMCA wanted to be one of the first to make the jump into the new look. They needed a complete redesign of both their site and CMS.
This was another full-cycle project, from wireframing and IA planning to the design and front-end build out. For the CMS, I did what I believe was some of my best work thus far with EE.
The Y has a team of content authors, all of whom now have appropriate access to edit and create. Thanks to Matrix, the publishing interface is extremely user-friendly. Thanks to Structure, the sitemaster has a tree-view of his navigation, which is so much easier for him to modify. And, thanks to Playa, the CMS is able to take advantage of oodles of relationships between records.
While the project went longer than I'd hoped, it was a pleasure to work with the Y team, especially the project lead Albert Ramirez.
I have a great accountant, so I was thrilled when she asked me to design a site for her business Kefauver CPA. Rachel just needed a super simple brochure site to highlight her staff and office, and provide additional information to clients.
For now, she's not interested in a CMS, so it was just a straightforward design and build-out. I used Rachel's logo as inspiration for the color palette, and we decided on a nice panoramic of the Sandias to emphasize her love of New Mexico.
This was my second brochure site of the year, and I'm discovering that I really like these kind of projects: simple with a fast turnaround. And the fact that it was a local client was a bonus. It feels really good to contribute to the organizations and businesses in my own community.
Last but not least, the EE Podcast. While technically not a client, it was one of the projects I worked on this year that I feel thankful for … especially the flexible (as in, when I have time) approach to development I'm able to take.
For this site, my co-host Lea Alcantara created the gorgeous design. I took her creation and translated it into HTML and CSS, and then I developed the ExpressionEngine (of course) CMS.
Since this site is a bit of a pet project, we've been adding little enhancements as our schedule allows. Recently, I made the entire site flexible (responsive web design FTW!) and am planning to tackle the media queries soon. I also got a chance to experiment with a few add-ons to help optimize my conditional variables.
All in all, it's been one of those 100%–pure–fun projects that I never mind working on. And it is a complete joy to work with Lea.
Which brings me to the end.
Those are the fantastic clients I've worked with. Those are the varied projects I've worked on. Those are the reasons why I reached my financial goals this year, and feel extremely hopeful about the coming year.
Thank you to my clients. Thank you for trusting me during your projects. And thank you for hiring me in the first place.