Freelancer Friday: 13 Questions with Steve Smith


Steve Smith is a fellow Hoosier and well known web designer. He is part of Sidebar Creative, has his own company (Ordered List) and an active member of the web community.

1. Can you briefly tell us a little about yourself?

I live in Northern Indiana with my wife Carrie and son Jackson, and run an independent design/development/consulting/training company named Ordered List. When I’m not doing that, I enjoy golf, guitar, music, and spending time with friends.

2. How long have you been 100% self-employed?

I am fully self-employed. I’ve been running Ordered List since January 2007, and it’s been a blast.

3. What did you do before you took the leap to full-time freelance?

I was a Senior Web Developer for the University of Notre Dame, working in the Public Affairs division. Mostly programming, with some IA and training involved.

4. Was it an easy transition and why?

Surprisingly, yes. I had done some freelancing before, but not nearly to amount that I deal with now. I suppose it just kind of came naturally, and my work habits fit freelancing much more than ‘corporate work.’

5. Can you briefly walk us through a typical work day for you?

Well, nearly every day is different, but if I’m not watching my son (he’s 14 months right now), I usually wake up around 9, check and reply to email, then head into the office about 9:30 or 10. Work on a few things, maybe take a lunch break, then leave around 4 to pick up Jackson. Once I’m home, I’ll tinker with a few things, maybe write a little, but mostly play with the kid, and relax a bit. On days when I have Jackson (which is 1-2 times a week), I work whenever he’s napping (which totals about 3-4 hours in a day.

6. In a typical week, how many hours do you work on the following:

  • Client Work: 25
  • Personal Projects: 8
  • Blogging: 1 (sadly)
  • RSS reading: 3
  • Learning: 4
  • Other (describe)?: 4 in business admin time (paperwork, emails, etc.)

7. For you, what do you think is the best way to attract new clients?

Be excellent at what you do, and participate in one or more communities. They can be digital communities (like forums, Flickr, commenting on blogs, etc.) or personal communities (like a Chamber of Commerce, conferences, or networking meetings). For me the web business has been completely about word-of-mouth and referrals. Either person-to-person referrals, or clients who read about your work online.

8. If you had to list several industry ‘mentors’ or ‘heroes’ who would they be?

When I was just learning CSS and web standards, I’d have to say the work of Dan Cederholm was most inspiring. His blog just seemed to ask the right questions at the right times to make me think about my methods. And I can’t forget the Zen Garden, that’s what prompted me to get into web standards in the first place.

9. What is the biggest blunder you see other web design companies do?

Never improving their product or their process. You’ve got to adapt along with the technology, and continually discover better ways of making websites. I’m also completely bewildered by the distinct absence of basic usability testing in nearly every shop around my town.

10. What is the most under utilized web element/technology in your opinion?

As mentioned in the previous question, I think it’s Usability testing. So much CAN be done today to research new methods, or verify existing ones, but it just doesn’t seem to happen.

11. On the flip side, what is the most over used web element/technology in your opinion?

Internet Explorer? Anyone? Seriously, I would have to say ‘white.’ White has always been used as a safe color website backgrounds, but I think it’s high time we start adding some color to our world.

12. Rapid-Fire Recommendations (URL and optional comment):

13. If there was one bit of advice would you have for those interested in creating or growing their web design business, what would it be?

Don’t undervalue your service. Doing work on the cheap is bad business habit to get into, and one that’s hard to get yourself out of. Remember that you’re doing a service for your clients, and that your time is valuable. Turning down work can be tough, but working on the right projects with the right clients will ensure a solid business that you can profit from and enjoy.

Bookmarkables for 10 September 2007

Some excellent links this week for your small web design business. Each week these bookmarkables should be giving your more and more ideas on how to run your own company. If you’ve found something to be bookmarkable this week please send it to me or add it to the comments below.

Popular Articles from August

I love looking over the previous month’s popular posts. Which ones received the most comments, the most traffic, the most link backs and practically every other statistic you can think of. I thought I’d share with you what posts were the most popular last month.

As always if you would like me to write about any topic in particular, do not hesitate to contact me and make a request.

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Bookmarkables for Labor Day (3 September) 2007

Each week I share links that I run across that should come in handy when creating, maintaining, or growing your own web design business. This special Labor Day edition only has 2 links, but they are very good resources. Worth the extra time necessary to read these articles/resources. If you’ve found something to be bookmarkable this week please send it to me or add it to the comments below.