Monday, September 25, 2006

Web Designer's Success Guide -- HAH!

"Web Designer's Success Guide: How to profit from freelance web design" by Kevin Airgid (http://book.airgid.com/ and http://www.airgid.com/)

The best thing about this book is that you can get a free PDF copy of it via "http://book.airgid.com/". I found this out shortly after I ordered a printed version of it from Lulu.com, the on-demand publisher. I ordered the book after reading the reviews referenced at "book.airgid.com" and deciding that even though all these people seem to be friends, or at least friendly colleagues, that the book was a pretty sure bet.

Add to that the notice "Thank you to everyone for making WDSG hit the Lulu top 100 books list!". And add the idea that I may be writing a book or two on unrelated topics and this was a chance to see what Lulu's production quality looks like.

All this seemed to presage that the book would be both a good bet for information on how-to-roll-your-own-business-as-an-independent-web-designer.

After downloading the free PDF version I was immediately sorry that I had ordered the printed version. As of today, September 25, 2006, this book is not listed among the Lulu top 100. I suppose that changes are frequent, but the author could check and update his web site accordingly -- it was only last week that I got an email from him about making the list, and noting that the free version was now available.

"...No fluff, no page fillers with useless graphics that bump up the page count. In most of the chapters I end with a step by step tutorial on how to use software to achieve some of the goals of the chapter. This book isn't about theory, it is about practical applications you can use right away," says the author.

Sadly, not so. The tutorials are specific to three applications that the author has managed to master. They are "Installing PHPMailList", "Setting up your blog: Installing WordPress", and "Build your Dreamweaver/Contribute CMS Solution Tutorial".

This book is 81 pages in length, and 19 of them are devoted to detailed instructions (including screenshots) of how to install just these three particular pieces of software. Nine pages for PHPMailList, four pages for WordPress, and six pages for Contribute. Instead of going into detail about WHY and WHEN to use a mailing list, and how to stay clear of anti-spam laws, and what to look for in an application, the author wastes a huge amount of space on showing you how to install software you may not ever, ever want to use.

OK, add to this the fact that PHPMailList is not available at the location indicated by the author (http://www.warpedweb.net/php/maillist/). Try it. You will get "The page you have requested could not be found. (404)". The PHP mother site, php.net, hasn't heard about PHPMailList. This is really sloppy, a very bad sign for a book with a 2006 copyright notice. Based on a quick look which, granted, may not be totally accurate in itself, PHPMailList seems last to have been updated in 2001 (http://php.resourceindex.com/detail/01381.html).

The book sounds good. The chapter titles are:
1: Starting up
2: Tooting your own horn
3: Office on the cheap
4: When projects go wrong
5: How to share your knowledge and make money
6: Project management and pricing
7: Teach your clients to make bread
Resources: Things you can use

Here's a quick summary by chapter:

(1) Starting up - why do it; money issues; building your own web site; locating and contacting clients.

(2) Tooting your own horn - finding free advertising online; researching yourself online; staying in touch with clients; mailing list software; the whys and wherefores of creating an online newsletter.

(3) Office on the cheap - furniture; some (sadly) rudimentary hardware and software recommendations.

(4) When projects go wrong - egos; a case study about poor client communication; a case study about when to fire the client; some business rules of thumb (create a written estimate and a contract; get at least 30% up front; use your Jedi powers, a.k.a. intuition about people and situations).

(5) How to share your knowledge and make money - sharing info with others (in general, and writing books in particular); contributing articles to other web sites; public speaking; blogging.

(6) Project management and pricing - pricing; fixed versus hourly rates; managing the creative process (really about managing clients and projects); project extranet (with crappy examples); billing. These are followed by a great essay by Kathleen Hickey titled "Customer service: keeping them coming back for more". And then by three fake interviews with other designers that contribute almost nothing to the value of the book.

(7) Teach your clients to make bread (or how to install and use the Dreamweaver/Contribute content management system).

Resources (Appendix): Things you can use. This is a very limited short appendix with a poor set of resources (two books and four web sites, one of which is Lulu.com, and another of which is the author's site about Flash).

The author's basic approach seems to be that technical issues are so far beyond his capability that since he's managed to figure out a couple of tools, he'd better document that for everyone else too. "Installing PHP software can be a daunting task for creative individuals like myself," he states on page 20. Even, in the case of PHPMailList, something which apparently is no longer available. And which is no help whatsoever if your web host does not offer PHP support. Or you find something better.

In addition to all of this, Mr. Airgid is either not a good writer or does not know about spell checkers and grammar checkers, and couldn't find a proofreader. Try these on for size:

"No matter what types of freelance projects you take on same day some how a client will ask you this question..." (page 69)

"It's a very wise idea to avoid this type of situation at all costs...The solution to this problem it to avoid this situation at all costs." (page 69)

"There would be nothing worse than having a client produce a 1000+ static pages of content and outgrowing a CMS that has it's content trapped in flat HTML."(page 72)

"If you client plans to add sections..."(page 72)

"Contribute is a robust CMS system for the rest of us!." (page 73)

"Using a $150 dollar program..."(page 78)

"During training I learned that one of the process's they used to build..." (page 79)

If only the dear man knew about spell checkers. There is no telling what he might accomplish even with Microsoft Word giving grammar suggestions. Apparently no one he knows wanted to proofread this book before it was offered up for sale at $25.99. He does list two editors, but they must have been busy with other things on the day that this book sailed by.

And don't get me started on the sample documents. Well, OK, I guess I'm already started so let's take a whack. He has a hidden web page at "http://book.airgid.com/secretgoodies/". A couple of examples saved as Excel spreadsheets, so if you don't have Excel, guess what? Has the good doctor Airgid encountered Adobe Acrobat, one wonders? Could not these have been save as such? But yes he does know bout Acrobat because he talks about supplying PDF documents to clients. But he doesn't do his readers the same favor, and so we're stuck with Excel files.

And, oh, there's a sample document in Word format to rub it in, and a "sitemap_sample.ai" file. What's an ".ai" file? Well ".ai is the file extension for the Adobe Illustrator and Corel Trace drawing files". So, um, what do you do if you don't have Adobe Illustrator? Just by luck I discovered that this file could be opened with Adobe Acrobat Reader.

One really has to wonder how "The author, Kevin Airgid, grossed over $100,000 USD a year developing sites for various national level clients," as he claims on his web site (http://book.airgid.com/). If he did, then heck, maybe I can too. Maybe I can. I know how to use a spell checker. I can program. I can install software and design databases. And although I'm not a graphic artist and not trained as a designer, I can recognize good work, and am good with a camera, hey.

What I do like.

One of the reviews at book.airgid.com mentions creativepublic.com, which looks like it has a lot of business-related resources for free. I'll have to get back to that.

The author does bring up some good business-related issues in his first two case studies, which cover customers from hell. In chapter six "Project management and pricing" you do get a good overview of the single entrepreneur's way of approaching the client's needs. And just before he does into the distressing dead end of showing how to install the Contribute content management system, Mr. Airgid does run through a long and detailed checklist about customers' needs, likes, dislikes and ultimate goals. There are several questions in that list worth squirreling away for one's own use.

These bright spots however are not worth the price of the book. Not for me. Too bad it's already in the mail. Instead, check out creativepublic.com for some specific information about forms and templates. And have a look at:

* Web Design from Scratch (An unrelated site which can give you a few nuggets of wisdom about design and development issues.)
www.webdesignfromscratch.com/

* 3 Things You Wish Clients Knew About the Web
www.andybudd.com/archives/2006/06/3_things_you_wish_clients_knew_about_the_web/index.php

* Becoming Clueful: What You Should Know Before You Redo Your Web Site (Five tips on what businesses should expect from their web designers and developers)
www.itbusinessnet.com/articles/viewarticle.jsp?id=53266-0

* Steps to Becoming a Freelance Web Developer
www.garrettdimon.com/archives/steps-to-becoming-a-freelance-web-developer

* Several articles on freelancing at Sitepoint
www.sitepoint.com/search/search.php?ps=10&q=freelancing&submit=Search

* How to Charge
www.1099.com/c/ar/ta/HowToCharge_t042.html

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Newbishness

Initial, inarticulate post. Am planning a review of Kevin Airgid's Web Designer's Success Guide as soon as I finish it in a day or two.