Essential Tools of Web Design Pro Selene BowlbyBy
You are in for a treat this week! As part of the Essential Tools series, we are featuring the ultra talented web designer, Selene Bowlby of iDesign Studios this week. Selene’s name regularly appears on lists of the top female web designers in a variety of categories and her educational articles, like 15 Key Elements All Top Web Sites Should Have, are always “must reads”.
As a web designer, one of the first things I need is a killer graphics program. There are some things you just can’t skimp on, and in my opinion, a high end / industry standard graphics program is one of them. Photoshop is the best of the best when it comes to this, and I use it almost every day.
Another program from the Adobe suite that I use on a daily basis is Dreamweaver. Possibly overkill, since I hand code all of my sites, and stay in the code view 99% of the time, but it does it’s job well, and I like it more than any of the other editors I’ve tried in the past. For the record, it is significantly better than Notepad, which is what I started out with when I first started playing with HTML back in 1994, LOL.
When it comes to developing web sites, both for myself and my clients, I can’t rave enough about WordPress. While I initially started out creating static HTML (and occasionally Flash) web sites, I now focus almost entirely on designing and developing custom WordPress themes.
In my opinion, WordPress is the best CMS (Content Management System) and blogging software out there. The fact that it is open source, and has such a vast community of developers behind it, means that the software is constantly being improved upon. As we speak, I’m anxiously awaiting the release of WordPress 3.0 later this year. My favorite part of developing custom WordPress themes is the constant learning. I’m not over-exaggerating when I say that I learn at least one (or five) new techniques with each site that I create. And with WordPress 3.0 on it’s way out soon, that number is sure to increase.
Equally as important, are all of the WordPress plugins. Almost anything my clients have ever needed their web site to do… if it wasn’t a feature already built into WordPress, you can almost always count on there already being a plugin out there that can do it for you.
Mozilla Firefox / Thunderbird + Gmail
Yes, I am a web designer/developer, and like many of my breed, I am pro-Mozilla and anti-Microsoft – especially Internet Explorer 6. (Ironically enough, I have always owned PC’s – although I plan on finally buying a Mac the next time around).
At any rate, I started off using Netscape and Netscape Messenger years ago as my web browser and email client of choice. As Mozilla evolved, I transitioned over to Firefox and Thunderbird as soon as they became available. I have years worth of email archives in Thunderbird – nicely arranged into folders for each client, prospect, etc. And Firefox’s support of web standards (especially over the lack of support from Internet Explorer) make it my number one choice in web browser.
As far as web based email clients, I am partial to Gmail. Although I don’t usually send mail from Gmail, I have a backup copy of all of my messages going to that account. It’s especially helpful if I am out of town and want to check my email on something larger than my BlackBerry.
The primary reason I use Gmail, however, is for it’s incredible filtering system. While I have all of my email routed to Thunderbird on my desktop, I filter out everything but the essentials in Gmail, which are then sent to my BlackBerry. Take newsletters, for example… while I’m subscribed to them for a reason, I only need to get them on my computer. If I’m on the go, I want to limit the spam, and non-essentials so all I get on my phone are important emails from friends and family, clients, new business inquiries, etc. While I still want to receive the less urgent messages, they can wait until I’m in front of my computer.
Onebox + Google Voice
If you are running your business from a home office, like so many people do, it’s important to have a professional presence when it comes to communicating via telephone. I’ve been using Onebox for a few years now. It’s a great service that gives you a toll free number, forwards calls to any number you specify, lets you setup a comprehensive calling schedule, lets you send/receive faxes, and sends you voicemails and faxes via email. Their rates are reasonable for the amount of options they give you, too.
Enter Google Voice, which is my new love! It’s not quite as robust as Onebox, so I’m not willing to give that service up just yet. I primarily use Google Voice for outgoing calls. Working from a home office, I always used call blocking to mask my phone number when calling clients and prospects. With Voice, I can now call out with that number appearing as my caller ID, and I’m not giving clients 24/7 access to my home or cell phones. With both Onebox and Google Voice, I have a Monday-Friday / 9-5 schedule setup for incoming calls… after all, everyone needs their boundaries, and a healthy work-life balance is one of them! (As an added bonus, there is a Google Voice app for the BlackBerry, which makes it that much easier to use.)
I first got acquainted with Studiometry through my old full-time job. It’s a great tool for keeping track of all your clients and open projects, and is primarily used for time tracking – essential if you are running your own business and need to know how to bill your clients.
While the majority of the work I do is on a flat / per-project basis, I devise those rates based on the average amount of time certain job phases take. For example X number of hours for a site design vs X number of hours to develop as a WordPress theme, etc. I take those averages to come up with my project rates. I also have several clients that hire me for repeated site maintenance and updates – the type of thing that must be billed hourly, as it doesn’t quite fall into a cookie cutter project.
Enter Studiometry! It’s fantastic for time tracking, but is actually much more robust than this. It lets you track client contact details, create and send invoices right from the program, setup project schedules and milestones as gantt charts, etc. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t use this program to it’s full potential. I still only use it for time tracking (and use much more archaic methods for sending invoices… can you say Excel invoices saved and emailed as PDF files, LOL).
This one is a bit pricey (though not nearly as high as Adobe products), but well worth it for the time tracking alone. I know there are other online services that do the same thing, but there are some things that I prefer to purchase outright (aka software), rather than pay monthly usage for – and this is one of those things.
Whiteboard + Google Calendar
Call me old fashioned, but as far as scheduling goes, I like to see it written out in front of me. I’ve got a huge whiteboard in my office with several sections marked off that let me see my week ahead with a quick glance. I’ve got a section for income (with monthly and annual totals, as well as a list of outstanding invoices) / there is a section that lists all of my open projects with milestone phases and due dates / there is a section for my weekly work schedule, marked off in 1 hour increments that I use to block off time for each of the projects I’m working on, or scheduled phone calls, etc.
I also can’t do without my Google Calendar. I love the ability to create individual calendars within my main account – I’m a sucker for the color coding, LOL. I have ALL of my time blocked out… family time, “me” time, work time geared towards in-house projects, work time geared towards client projects, etc. And of course scheduling of actual appointments where I get email notifications 1 week, 1 day and 1 hour ahead of time. Better yet – it syncs with my BlackBerry!
Twitter / TweetDeck + Facebook
As far as social networking goes, Twitter and Facebook are my guilty pleasures. I primarily reserve Facebook for personal networking with family and friends. (I do have a fan page for the business, but I’m not nearly as active on it as I am on my personal profile or on Twitter.)
Twitter is fantastic for networking – especially among my field, because it is FULL of amazing designers and developers. It’s a great way to network with your peers and find great links… I read more posts linked on Twitter than I do from my feed reader (which, for the record, happens to be Google Reader). It’s great to see what other people are working on and just chit chat a bit when you need a break. Equally as great is if I ever run into a problem developing a site, I can always count on getting great feedback or suggestions from Twitter.
As far as how I tweet… with TweetDeck, of course! It’s been my favorite desktop Twitter app for some time now. I have as many columns as it’ll let me have, which makes it easy to scan for tweets based on topic (integrated very nicely with my Twitter lists). It even has a Facebook column… if only they’d hurry up and come out with a version for BlackBerry!
Hello, my name is Selene and I’m addicted to my BlackBerry.
Although I am not a huge fan of talking on the phone, you will rarely find me without my BlackBerry in hand (or very close nearby). It’s connected to my Gmail account, I use Google Sync to sync up my contacts and calendar, and it even has a Google Voice app. And apparently this section should be titled BlackBerry + Google, LOL.
As for other favorite BlackBerry apps, I have the Facebook, Twitter (Seesmic) and WeatherBug apps on my home screen, alongside the default Mail, Contact and To Do List applications. My BlackBerry is my handheld everything, and I would quite honestly be lost without it!
I told you, you were in for a treat! Thanks again to Selene for sharing all her insight on her essential tools for online success!
Don’t forget to stop back next week for more essential tools for success, featuring Grant Griffiths of Headway Themes fame . If you are interested in sharing your essential tools for business, drop me a line at cpolanosky [at] gmaildotcom.