Sunday, October 7, 2012

Follow Up... WAY Up!

   Everybody has had the experience: "D'oh!  I forgot to follow up on that, and now the opportunity is gone!"  Whether the opportunity is for a job, a client, a lover, or whatever, you need to get back to them.  And yet, being merely human, we forget.

  This is one of those areas where being an absolute geek can really help.  No, it won't help you figure out what to say to them, but it can help you remember to do it at all.  How?

   The basic concept is very much like a "tickler file".  (I'll wait while you go look at that article, if you're not familiar with them already.)  The geeky twist I add, is that I don't file an actual physical document, just a reference in a spreadsheet.

   Yes, a spreadsheet.  They're not just for suits and green-eyeshades.  They're a great way to organize any kind of information that you just need to record a few brief pieces of information about, and may need to sort in various ways.

   Let's look at a small simulated excerpt from my client-hunting spreadsheet, which originally started as a job-hunting spreadsheet.  (The company names have of course been changed.  The dates are in YYYY-MM-DD format, aka ISO 8601, so that even if they're not in a "real" spreadsheet program, but rather a plain text file, they'll still sort in the right order.)

Company Status Last Contact Followup On
Fubar Heavy Industries Inc. CALL THEM ASAP 2012-10-04 2012-10-08
Conceptual Concepts Ltd. waiting for NDA 2012-10-03 2012-10-10
Widgets R Us I emailed them 2012-09-28 2012-10-12

   So tomorrow morning, I should call Fubar Heavy Industries, as we arranged on Friday.  Suppose the result of that call is, "we'll give you a decision within two weeks".  Then the 10-08 becomes 10-22... and I sort the sheet on the "Followup On" column again.

   Next up would be Conceptual Concepts Ltd.  I'm waiting for them to send me an NDA.  They said on last Thursday afternoon that they would do it, but as of Sunday I haven't seen it yet.  If they still haven't sent me the NDA by this Thursday, I'll send a reminder... and add another week to the "Followup On" column, and sort again.

   After that would be Widgets R Us.  I emailed them the week before last, in response to an ad on a job board that said they were looking for contractors.  If they don't get back to me within two weeks, I will send a note... and add another two, or maybe three weeks to their followup date.  If that one comes and goes with no response, I'll probably just delete their row.  If they then contact me later, I've still got the other information.

   Other information?  Not in the spreadsheet?  Where am I keeping track of that?  I have another column (not shown) for brief notes, but there's a lot more information than can fit there.

   You're going to get an extra-special bonus on how I keep my stuff organized!  If you are a potential client/employer and call me, I'll probably ask you to wait a moment as I pull up your file.  Yes, I keep a file, or possibly several files, on each potential, current, or past client.  Many have been surprised (pleasantly, I hope!) that I'm so organized.

   In my work directory is a directory with (at least) a text file for each one, such as ~/work/clients/WidgetsRUs.txt.  This contains copies of all correspondence, notes, etc.  If I need to store additional files, such as NDAs, I create a directory for that, such as ~/work/clients/WidgetsRUs_files.  In there I store files like ~/work/clients/WidgetsRUs_files/Aronson-NDA-Signed.pdf.

   As yet another bonus tip for you: note how the filename contains my own name... for the client's convenience.  My own convenience in organizing, is served by the directory structure.

   So now, as always, it's your turn.  How do you keep track of stuff you need to do all the time?  Do you use a to-do list application, something more specialized, reminders on your calendar, a text file, or what?  What problems or unexpected benefits have you encountered?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Freelancing Podcasts

   I can't believe I haven't posted on this before.  Sometimes we humans can't see the forest for the trees.

   Some of us find it difficult to excel in an office setting.  No, I don't just mean the fact that we're indoors, at a desk, staring at a computer.  That may be factors for some people.  More commonly, though, it's that you're slaving away for someone else's goals, to make someone else a profit, fit in with their "corporate culture", fulfill their long-term vision... not yours.

   But they plod along, maybe even climbing the proverbial ladder fairly well... because they don't dare to strike out on their own.  To stretch a metaphor (after all, that's what a meta is phor, badum-pum!), they don't dare try to hit a home run on their own, for fear they'll strike out.

   Do you have some kind of long-term vision?  Make it a reality.  Just Do It.  Get started.  Be an entrepreneur.  Or if you just yearn to breathe free, and maybe come up with some long-term visions, be a freelancer.

   I was reminded of that, not only because I am freelancing these days (got paid for project #1 last month, and am now in the midst of #2, wrapping up #3, waiting for an SOW on #4), but because of some Recommended Resources on that topic.  There are a gazillion web sites out there on being a freelancer or entrepreneur, but not so many podcasts, so I wanted to share some I found recently:

   A while back, a few freelance Ruby developers came up with Ruby Freelancers, at  Very little of it is Ruby-centric, and a lot of it is not even specific to software development.  (E.g., "have a contract in place", "ask for a deposit", "you probably need to charge more", "hire an accountant and a virtual assistant", etc.)  The web site is mainly just a place to put information about the podcast, available via iTunes.

   I also recently discovered the much older Life of the Freelancer, at  (Some of you may now be thinking, "Didn't that shut down last year?"  Well yeah, it did, on April 4, 2011... but as of February 20, 2012, it's back!)  I haven't poked around the web site much (I'm mainly catching up on the podcasts), but it seems to be mostly transcripts and supplements for the podcast.  The host happens to be also a Ruby developer, as is the occasional guest, but the guests are in a wide variety of freelancing positions.  Occasionally the talk is specific to their line of work, but as with Ruby Freelancers, there are almost always a few nuggets of more general wisdom that any kind of freelancer, or even other kinds of entrepreneurs, can benefit from.

   (Just a caveat, don't quit your day-job until your side-job is doing well enough that it could easily grow into something big enough to support you.  Yes I know I didn't do it that way myself, but believe me, being super-busy while the side-job ramps up, sure beats having no income for several months!)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Letter Phi

   This is the text of a speech I just gave, winning the Area level of the Toastmasters International Speech Competition, which culminates in the World Championship of Public Speaking.  Since that obligates me to go on to the Division level, I'd really like to get your feedback on this -- just remember that it has to fit in five to seven minutes.  :-)  And as usual, I encourage you to comment on the concepts as well.

===8<---cut here----

You may remember assorted Greek letters from school -- mainly from math and physics, or maybe the fraternities and sororities.  But don't worry, Madam Contestmaster, fellow Toastmasters, and honored guests, I'm not going to throw (much) math, physics, or Greek at you.  Let's start with one letter [hold up prop with a phi and "PHI" on it], pronounced either "fie" or "fee".

In math, it stands for the Golden Ratio -- but you don't need to know that, or even what that is.  The only thing you need to know, is that the name, usually rendered in English as P H I, is also an acronym for three things that have been helping me earn golden fees as a freelance web developer, and can help you in many areas of your life.

First, P stands for Perseverance.  I decided to go freelance in October.  Guess how much billable work I got in October?  Zilch.  November?  Nada.  December?  Bupkis.  I said I wouldn't throw Greek at you... but bupkis is Yiddish, meaning almost nothing.  As Toastmasters, we look on the bright side.  At least that was more than nothing, so it was an improvement -- and things have been improving since then.  Had I not stuck to it, I would have had... no freelancing career at all!

But what about you?  Same deal.  Obviously, if you don't pursue your dreams, you'll never catch them.  Often you'll be tempted to give up, to fall back on the tried and true... the comfortable.  But you have to get out of your comfort zone to make progress!  I had to get out from behind the computer, talk to potential clients, and try to convince them to give me a nice fat juicy contract.  For you, if your goal is to be a great public speaker like Cicero, or at least get over your fear of it, you have to get out of the comfortably seated audience, get up here and give speeches.  Whatever your goal is, you have to stick with it, despite the discomfort of leaving your comfort zone.

I'm telling you all this because . . . H stands for Helpfulness.  How does helping others help us?  Zig Ziglar often says, "you can get everything you want out of life, if you just help enough other people get what they want."  Whether you attribute this to supernatural forces, like the Hindu concept of karma, or simply your reputation, it works!

So how am I applying this as a freelance web developer?  Nearly every day, I read several online technical forums... not just to see what I can learn, which is for the next point, but to see if anyone has questions I can answer.  This shows me as not only knowledgeable, but also helpful -- exactly the kind of person you want to give a nice fat juicy contract!

But what about you?  The same concept applies here in Toastmasters, just like it does in the outside world.  We help everybody, all the time, anyway... but we're more likely to cheerfully volunteer to go the extra mile, for those who have done so themselves.  Sure we may do that for the rest too, but it will take a little more convincing.

And Toastmasters leads us to the last letter.  I stands... right here, no, I stands for Improvement.

Of course now I'm preaching to the proverbial choir!  If you didn't want to improve your communication or leadership skills, you wouldn't be here at Toastmasters!  You know how vital it is to sharpen these skills, and others.

But how does it help me as a freelance web developer?  If I hadn't been keeping my skills not only sharp, but current, I wouldn't even have web development skills in the first place!  There may not be all that much salt in my pepper, but I came out of school long before the Web was even invented.  Even after that, most of my work was not on the Web; I had to learn web skills on my own time, expense, and initiative.  Because of doing that, instead of being obsolete, I
now have a viable path to not only continue my career, but become more independent as well.

These are just some examples of how I've been earning my "phi" (fee).  What about you?  What are your dreams, and your skills?  How much help do you need?  No matter your answer, I guarantee that [hold up prop with these words on it] perseverance, helpfulness, and improvement, will help you succeed.

===8<---cut here----

Note: The Cicero bit was an impromptu addition because the prior speaker was talking about Cicero.  I probably won't include that in further versions.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stop SOPA and PIPA!

   This post is black in protest of SOPA and PIPA, the House and Senate bills that will strangle freedom and innovation on the Internet, while doing next to nothing about "piracy", the alleged reason for the bills.  Take action!

* Go sign Google's petition against them, at, and any others you can find.

* Contact your Senator and Representatives. If you don't know who they are, see, enter your zip code, and follow the links.

* Spread the word, on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and any other services you use.

* Put a message like this on your web site and blog.

   Do it now!