Show 81: Money Matters

Paul Boag

This week on Boagworld: Paul gives advice to those who work with content management systems. Marcus finally talks about charge out rates and we talk to Dan Mall and Mark Huot about swfIR.

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37signals in Time Magazine

I notice that 37signals have made it to Time Magazine. This is exciting stuff because it shows the growing awareness in mainstream media of the explosion of web 2.0 businesses. However, the real reason I mention this article is because of what it tells us about how 37signals work. You get to learn about their focus on simplicity, the fact that innovation can happen outside of Silicon valley and their approach to a distributed company.

The one part of the article I personally found particularly interesting is how 37signals’ current suite of products was born out of a need they had to communicate across a distributed company. The idea of building a product that meet a personal need is a good one. It is particularly interesting to me as Headscape has started development of a product which does exactly that. I don’t want to say much more at the moment (as it might never happen), but this article contained a lot of valuable lessons for us.

AJAX tools

I seem to find myself doing more and more ajax and javascript these days. One of the more tricky areas is keeping the user informed about what is going on. I am encountering two specific problems:

  • How to draw the users attention to content that has changed
  • How to inform the user that content is still loading

The latter is fairly straightforward as you simply display a loading graphic. However, I am a lazy sod and can’t be bothered to hand craft a beautiful animated gif. Fortunately this week I came across AJAXload which generates those pretty web 2.0. loading graphics for you. Very nice.

Informing users of changing content is a bit more tricky. I have been aware of the fade to yellow technique for a while but that requires a white background, which my designs don’t ways have. What I didn’t know until I finished Jeremy Keith’s “Bulletproof Ajax” is that there is also a fade to anything technique. This is basically the same as the fade to yellow approach but the background colour doesn’t matter. Simply download the code and away you go :)

Waves of creativity

I stumbled across an article this week talking about the relationship between brain waves and creativity. This explained a lot about my own personal creativity! The gist of the article is that your brain needs to be relaxed in order to be at its most creative. This makes sense for me personally as inevitably I am at my most creative when I am lying in my bed at night.

The sad truth is that we spend most of our lives in a more agitated state and so creativity is hard to achieve. This dove tales nicely with my experience of implementing “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity” (David Allen). Since reading that book I have felt much more relaxed and in control and hence I have been considerably more creative.

Eric Meyer explain why forms controls can’t be styled

A big thanks to Eric Meyer who has been kind enough to look into the incredibly confusing area of form controls and then explained it to the rest of us. Many web designers express a real frustration with the fact that you cannot consistently style form elements. Although personally I think it is generally unwise from a usability perspective to start mucking around with form elements, I have still always wondered why browser developers have chosen to give us so little control. In a recent post Eric goes into extensive detail about why form controls are “weird” but the upshot is that you are simply better off not styling them.

Agony uncle: Web Design rates

Another question from Bob in Iceland:

“Hi guys, I am becoming increasingly bewildered with what I should charge for web design work. I also do a fair amount of copywriting and content research. What should I charge? Should my rates change for different work? I am a one man band.”

Firstly, I should say that there is no real fixed figure for web design related work. It depends very much on a number of factors, such as:

  • Experience e.g. proven capability to deliver
  • Ability to deliver specialist services e.g. usability testing
  • Size
  • Diversity of staff
  • Location
  • Portfolio

However, to use a real example as a baseline, a survey carried out by eConsultancy a couple of years ago showed that English web design agencies employing 10 to 20 people with a turnover of approximately £1M, charged between £500 and £800 per day for most services. I expect this gone up a little since then.

Setting your rates is partly science, partly weighing up what the market will bear for what you offer.

You do need to work out to the best of your ability what your daily break even cost is but in, in theory, your annual figures should be able to tell you that. The biggest drain on any web agency, unless you have marble and gold clad offices in central London, will be your staff. Good creative/technical people don’t come cheap.

Be realistic from a number of different angles:

  • Don’t try and charge a grand a day if you’re straight out of uni with no experience under your belt
  • Don’t expect to have 100% effort allocation – 70% is excellent
  • Price projects as honestly as you can but remember that clients are human beings and really don’t like paying for project manager anywhere near as much as they do technical development

So should you charge different rates for different services. Again… it depends. Some jobs require a lower level of skill as part of the project. For example, recruitment (though an absolute pain) for any type of testing requires basic organisational skills and not,say, years of experience in project management. If you can outsource that work at a lower rate, then charge a lower rate, but if your PM ends up doing it then you have to charge at your PM rate.

For years we charged a flat rate across the board because it was simpler to manage and we felt clients liked it. Over the past couple of years we have done a lot more consultative work that has placed pressure on the timetables of the directors. This has led us to having the following rate categories:

  • Creative director – Paul
  • Consultancy – IA, business analysis, testing etc
  • Standard – design, technical, pm

We charge a fixed uplift (per client dependent on geographic location) for on site work – kick off meetings, testing etc.

Client corner: Advice for CMS users

I have been putting together a document for work that provides some basic advice for people who work with content management systems. It covers things like accessibility and writing for the web so I thought there might be some value in sharing it on the show. For complete notes on everything I cover check out the CMS user blog post.

Ask the expert: Dan Mall and Mark Huot on SWF image replacement

I was fortunate enough to get some time to chat with Dan Mall and Mark Huot the creators of SWF image replacement. We talked about:

  • What exactly swfIR is and how it works
  • What kind of scenarios they imagine it being used in
  • What inspired them to create swfIR in the first place
  • A little bit about the process of applying it to a site
  • What the future holds for swfIR
  • What it is like working at Happy Cog

No show next week

Just a quick note to say there will be no show next week as I am off on holiday to sunny cornwall. However, please continue to send in your suggestions for the show and don’t forget you can always check out the forums if you want your boagworld fix :)