I’ve been a busy little monkey lately, reorganizing my work, my home, my life…  Big things are shifting!  I’ve got new clients (who are WONDERFUL), new energy, new undertakings, and new partners helping me keep track of it all.

For the new and confused: I build websites. Right now I’m focused on smart, creative clients who do good things for their communities, and who like to be really involved in their own web presence.  Magically, they’ve been finding me.

What I need right now is an enlarged posse of Kick Ass Collaborators.  Maybe that’s you.  Maybe I already know you’re amazing and we haven’t merged brains in awhile, so it’s time for you to tug on my sleeve.  Maybe you just ran across this post through the ethersphere and you need to introduce yourself.  Maybe it’s somewhere in between.

To be totally clear: I don’t have a specific project that I’m hiring for. There is no work for you in my pocket. Not today. Opportunities are flying around in the air, though, and it helps to know who’s ready to jump on them.

I love working with people who…

  • Can clearly tell me what they kick ass at, and be honest about where they’re less experienced.
  • Prefer the freelance world to the employment world.  (There’s a big culture difference between the two.)
  • Have other clients, creative projects, and exciting stuff in their lives. (Just be sure there’s some space in there for more.)

I should also add, if you don’t already know, that I’m extremely LGBT-, gender-variant-, and “quirky weirdo”-friendly.

Right now I’m MOST interested in Designers.

The one I’ve worked with for years has moved on to other passions, and I need some new talent in the house.  I’m interested in designers who can…

  • Ask a confused client all the right questions to develop the look and feel of a new brand from scratch (logos, colors, fonts, etc).
  • Take an existing brand and a bunch of user experience requirements, and design a website layout in Photoshop that makes everyone happy.
  • Take an existing website design and make it better according to some requirements.
  • Create interesting illustrations for content.
  • Look at some examples of a style, and then design something new using that style.
  • Design something new using your own unique style.
  • Slice up mockups and export images for coding, being careful about file sizes and color quality.
  • Work within an existing webpage using your bonus HTML/CSS skills to change and restyle content.   (Note: WYSIWYG skills don’t count here.)

It’s okay if you don’t do all of those.  In fact, it’s fine if you can only do one of them, as long as you do it really well.

If you’re still nodding “yes that’s me,” please send me an email (info at sarahdopp dot com) with the following:

  • What, from the list above, can you do really well?
  • Please show me some examples of your work that give me a sense of your style and skills.
  • Please tell me what hourly rates (or package prices) you charge for your work.  (Unfortunate truth: I don’t have a lot of energy for negotiation, so if you don’t give me this piece up front, there’s a good chance you’ll fall off my radar. I can tell you that if it’s over $100/hr it’s too high for me, and if it’s under $20/hr it’s too low.  Yeah, I know, that doesn’t quite narrow it down.)
  • Please give me an idea of how experienced you are, both with professional design and professional freelancing/consulting.  Be totally honest. I can work with all kinds of experience levels, but only if I’m clear on what I’m working with.
  • Tell me about how much space you think you’ll have for new projects between now and, say, March.
  • If you’re not absolutely sure that I already know you, please tell me how you found me or where we’ve met.  Links to where I can find you on the internet are also really helpful.
  • What are you really excited about these days?  (Tell me anything.)

Please take your time and get it all into one email.  If you send me follow-up “oops, I forgot this…” emails, I promise I’ll lose at least one of them.

And while I’ve got your attention, there’s space in my world for other kinds of posse rockers, too.  I’d love me a broader network of…

  • Drupal experts
  • WordPress experts
  • XHTML/CSS coders
  • Smart, clever copywriters
  • Quality Assurance detail-checkers
  • [insert backend programming language here] developers
  • … you tell me.

Just adjust the requests above for what you do, and send me an email. Remember there are lots of people who can claim the same job title, so find a way to be more awesome than them.

Thanks, and I look forward to working with you!

Warmly,
Sarah Dopp

email: info at sarahdopp dot com

So… look.

I am part of a wonky industry. And by wonky I mean hugely imbalanced, superficial, bubblicious, and lined with unkeepable promises.

I’m a web presence consultant, and I’m good at it. I build nice websites that people can update themselves, and I train people on how to use the Internet better so that they can survive and grow on their own. I’ve been building websites for 12 years, and I’ve been completely self-employed in the industry for five. Despite having just ended a large contract that was my primary (and often only) source of income for the last two years, I (magically) have no lack of clients right now.

But I also have an identity crisis. (You’d think I’d be good at those by now, but no, they still get me every time.)

I present to you Exhibit A, courtesy of the Laughing Squid blog:

It’s parody, but it’s not a joke. This is my industry. Or at least, it’s one of them — the “Social Media Douchebag*” industry.  The other professions I pledge allegiance to seem to include:

– Sleazy Marketers
– Naive Self-Helpey Life Coaches
– Overpriced Web Designers
– Out-of-Touch-with-Reality Engineers

Apologies to all the peers I just offended, but come on, you know what I’m talking about.

Normally I don’t let this reputation game get to me, but I’m going through one of those Repositioning phases where I have to start telling people what I do for a living again. Unfortunately, this is quickly turning into a game of, “No, I’m a good witch. You want to drop your house over there, on my sister, the green one.”

You ever try to define yourself by explaining what you’re not (like how I’m doing in this blog post)?  It puts the focus in the wrong place.  DON’T THINK ABOUT THE GROSS STUFF!  I SAID DON’T THINK ABOUT IT! EWWW!  (Bear with me — I’m getting this out of my system.)

Now couple this industry reputation crisis with the fact that clients’ needs, on the whole, are changing dramatically.  Tools have gotten easier to use, and the people who hire us are so much more capable and Internet savvy than they used to be. We no longer just build a website, optimize it for search engines, and walk away until something breaks. “Success” on the Internet now requires frequent content updates, and clients are willing to take that work on themselves. The ones who want help want long-term partnerships with consultants who can advise them on their processes and fix little techie things when they get stuck.

It used to be all about building the website, and everyone left the maintenance as an underfunded afterthought (meaning that’s when consultants moved on). Now it’s all about the maintenance… the kind that says, “You’re doing great work. What do you need?”

But tell me honestly: who here is setting up sustainable businesses that support the “I just need a few hours of help a month” clients?

My hunch is that we may need to drop our Web Development Consulting models and go learn from accountants, therapists, attorneys, doctors, and professors.

How do we build a business on maintenance?  How many clients can one consultant handle?  Can we teach our peers to do this, too?  And can we do it all without being Sleazy Naive Out-of-Touch-with-Reality Overpriced Douchebags?

If you’re already doing this work, please come find me.

And I’ll keep the rest of ya’lls posted on what we figure out.

* Yes, I do know the term douchebag is offensive and tasteless, and represents a form of social oppression, and refers to something completely useless and bad for people. That’s partly why I accept its usage in this context.

micropaymentheart.pngI want to believe in micropayments.

It’s like Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the economic stimulus package, predefined timelines for large projects, nonfat lattes, and God. I want to believe in micropayments because it gives me hope

I’m talking about hope that we’re on the right track. Hope that we have a viable, sustainable alternate plan for the business models we’re turning upside down with our new technology. Hope that we can decentralize power without losing it altogether. Hope that we can survive without the monopolies. Hope that artists will be able make a living just by inspiring people. Hope that the average Internet user will soon derive as much satisfaction from giving financial props to someone they find valuable as they’d get from buying them a beer.

I naively believed we were close to this reality because someone — iTunes — is actually finally doing it well. I believed the biggest barrier was form of payment: if you have to enter your credit card number or go to a separate payment website or do anything that takes more than a click or a few keystrokes, the method won’t catch on.  iTunes broke that barrier for iPhone users when they required us to sign up for an iTunes account (and enter our credit card number in advance) just to download those nifty free apps. We didn’t like entering our credit card number, but it was Apple, so we knew everything was gonna be okay. Now that we’ve done it, whenever we get a song stuck in our heads at 3 AM and decide we need to listen to it right then, all we have to do is enter a password and it’s ours for 99 cents. A password. Just a password!  Anywhere we are.  It’s brilliant.

It was so easy to take it a step further: if Apple can do it, other industries can’t be too far behind.  Heck, we could even let Apple become the new PayPal and run all of our micropayments throught them, since they already have our trust.  Why not?  Let independent artists have their own merchant accounts.  Expand the system to cover writers, filmmakers, painters, and photographers.  Let high school kids make 50 cents each time one of the cool screen savers they create is downloaded.  Let me pay for shareware incrementally based on the number of times I use it.  Let me donate to a nonprofit in small chunks whenever they inspire or move me.  Empower the bloggers to fund each other.  Make it easy for us to put our money where our hearts are.  

I was this close to swallowing the whole story of technological utopia when Clay Shirky — in his infinite clarity — shot it down this morning.

“The essential thing to understand about small payments is that users don’t like being nickel-and-dimed. We have the phrase ‘nickel-and-dimed’ because this dislike is both general and strong.”

So… people don’t like micropayments.  Oh. Right.  (And… now that I think about it, yeah okay, I kinda hate them, too.)

And…

“The lesson of iTunes et al (indeed, the only real lesson of small payment systems generally) is that if you want something that doesn’t survive contact with the market, you can’t let it have contact with the market.  …small payments survive in the absence of a market for other legal options.”

So… iTunes is an aberration that only works because the music industry is kinda screwed up at the moment.

He ends with:

“We should be talking about new models for employing reporters rather than resuscitating old models for employing publishers; the longer we waste fantasizing about magic solutions for the latter problem, the less time we have to figure out real solutions to the former one.”

But Clay!  I wasn’t talking about employing publishers! I want the micropayments to go directly to the reporters!

But okay… fine… you win.  It won’t work for that, either.

So what’s our Plan B?

I came back from four days of data-fasting to find a very entertaining lil’ webtoy…

Bullshitr: The Web 2.0 Bullshit Generator

See, you just press a button and…

bullshitr - web2.0 bullshit generator

Hmmm… AJAX-enabled podcasts… Would that be like a drag-and-drop interface for creating audio mashups from a library of creative commons user-generated music and interviews? HMMM…..

(Thanks to Doc Searls for the link.)

I also went looking for interesting tech news today, only to find tools, tools, and more tools. There are a heckuvalot of tools out there! And we’re still excited about making new ones.

Want to keep track of your expenses on the go? Use Buxfer. Want to do it through Twitter? Use Xpenser. Want to be coached while you do it? Use Banzai. Don’t like any of those? Keep looking, there’s more.

And I think it’s wonderful. The web-based tools market has reached the point of genuine competition. Most of the slots for “First Web-Based Tool to Handle ____ for You” are taken, and now it’s a matter of who has the best interface, who’s making the customer feel most comfortable, and who’s keeping their promises.

We’re past the point of announcement marketing — web surfers have all heard the rhetoric. They roll their eyes and groan now when they hear the phrase “Web 2.0” — we can AJAXify it, incentivize it, and podcast it all we want. And no amount of Trebuchet MS font, pastel colors, or block-style design is going to convince them to give us their email address and favorite password before we prove our value. They’re past that.

This is where it gets interesting. This is where the winners become the ones who listen.

Even if our tools are free to use, our users are still our customers. They have a limited quantity of time to spend, and if we want that time spent with us, we have to prove our value. These customers want the same thing customers have always wanted — to be heard, to be helped, and to be treated like human beings. They’re not interested in “beta-tested rss-capable value*.”

There’s a lot of bullshitting going on out there. Don’t be that guy. Be the one who still remembers how to speak in plain English and address real needs.

*this phrase also courtesy of Bullshitr.

Translation: “It’s Not Going to Be What You Want it To Be”

  • generally
  • prospectively
  • in essence
  • ideally
  • basically
  • potentially
  • probably
  • technically
  • categorically
  • in theory
  • sort of

Translation: “It’s Not Going to Happen The Way You Want it to Happen”

  • straightforward
  • easy
  • automatically
  • at some point
  • ultimately
  • try

Translation: “Do it Yourself.”

  • That’d be great.

Seth Godin cracks me up and seduces me with his absurd grand ideas at the same time. Read his reposted article, NoBS, the End of MBA, about the true purpose of business school and his attempt to help us bypass the stupid stuff.

I want to apply.

No, really. I want to apply.

You’ve heard of Second Life, right? That game that’s kinda like a cross between The Sims and Ebay? You create your own person, and then go galavanting around a virtual world with other homegrown persons, and then buy stuff (with real money) to augment your travels. It’s a HUGE company now with tons and tons of cash flow because people actually do funnel money in there for a better virtual experience. I’ve tried the game (without spending a dime, mind you), and it’s disturbingly impressive. Fortunately, I was on when there was a lot of server lag time, so I got frustrated and never went back. I shudder to think what might have happened to me if it had been working smoothly…Second Life is great satire material. If you think about it, it’s absolutely absurd that a whole bunch of people are sitting around at their computers having conversations with each other, travelling the world, loving every minute of it, and never moving a muscle for hours and days on end. Enter Get a First Life — a one-page satire on the game. Go check it out. It’s wonderful and a quick read. (“Find out where you actually live! Fornicate using your actual genitals!”) It’s worth noting that they’re making fun of an empire with expensive lawyers here. Now here’s the great part: Get a First Life was expecting to receive a nasty Cease and Desist letter from Second Life for hacking their logo and using their image. Instead, Second Life decided to play Good Politics and send them the opposite of a Cease and Desist letter. An excerpt:

“We do not believe that reasonable people would argue as to whether the website located at http://www.getafirstlife.com/ constitutes parody – it clearly is. Linden Lab is well known among its customers and in the general business community as a company with enlightened and well-informed views regarding intellectual property rights, including the fair use doctrine, open source licensing, and other principles that support creativity and self-expression. We know parody when we see it.”Moreover, Linden Lab objects to any implication that it would employ lawyers incapable of distinguishing such obvious parody. Indeed, any competent attorney is well aware that the outcome of sending a cease-and-desist letter regarding a parody is only to draw more attention to such parody, and to invite public scorn and ridicule of the humor-impaired legal counsel. Linden Lab is well-known for having strict hiring standards, including a requirement for having a sense of humor, from which our lawyers receive no exception.”In conclusion, your invitation to submit a cease-and-desist letter is hereby rejected.”

May we all learn to not take ourselves too seriously. Moreover, may we learn that contradictory views, when presented with a sense of humor, tend to drive publicity for both sides in a mutually beneficial manner (note how this post includes links to both sites). I find this whole thing beautiful.

I talked to a business man the other day, and gathered that he was probably a Republican. He was talking about some of the great businessmen in American history, and mentioned Andrew Carnegie — the absurdly successful steel mill owner at the turn of the century. The legend behind Andrew Carnegie’s success is this: He knew very little about steel production, or business ownership, or pretty much anything that he was supposed to be in charge of. But what he did know was how to surround himself with experts and empower them to make decisions. He knew how to leverage the power of intelligent people, he didn’t try to do things himself, and that’s how he succeeded.This business man I was talking to went on to make a modern-day comparison. “I don’t care if you like his politics or not,” he said, “but you have to agree that George W. Bush does the same thing.” I laughed. He was right.

Does the thought of standing in the spotlight and being the only voice to speak in a room full of people put a magnifying glass on every single itty bitty imperfection in your life? Well, Steve Jobs, the ever-charismatic CEO of Apple and Pixar, isn’t perfect either, and that’s not stopping him. Macintologist presents us with a short video of Apple Keynote Bloopers at Tauquil.comTo Steve’s credit, he does handle most of his bloopers with that fabulous charismatic grace he exudes. But I’m willing to bet he’s kicking himself on this inside, thinking “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”Thanks to Presentation Zen for the link.

This one goes out to all the recent graduates trying to make it as freelancers and independent artists. Do not undercut industry pricing (or at least, what your services are worth in relation to the general industry). I speak from experience and cold, hard pain. You hurt the industry and you hurt yourself. Bitterness with yourself and your client are the immediate result of being underpaid. The latest Newsweek story…

“I could get an art student to do it for $35 and a six-pack.” I remember the first time a prospective client said that to try to intimidate me into accepting dramatically reduced fees for Website design services. I was newly self-employed and hungry for work, so I conceded. I delivered a great Web site, but I hated my client for making me work for so little—and myself for not knowing how to get what I deserved.Read On…

(Thanks for the post, Don Giannatti)More Resources: