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Need Opinions

So I have to ask and I really want the truth not the positive upbeat speeches. How is web design and development really going for users on this board? I personally saw some fairly depressing trends last year and i don't see them going away. The opinion I'm mainly looking is how do you find clients in respecting you as a professional and how is the pay situation? Now the last question do you find clients more often are starting to tell you what they want you to do and less about your opinion as a professional. I'm not jaded before anyone asks. I'm really looking for "honest" feedback from peers. Thanks for your time guys.

Comments

  • We've actually been a little too busy with client work lately, although a lot of the project budgets have been on the smaller side, and a lot of it has to do with when year ends happen in the non-profit world, so that waxes and wanes pretty heavily.

    We're trying to focus as much time as possible on a new SaaS idea, plus doing a lot of work with the Oculus Rift as well, so it's been an interesting balance to say the least. The Rift-based work doesn't really help pay the bills either, since it's not really an existing market yet.

    How we're handling smaller budget projects is to rely pretty heavily on Elefant's existing apps and to sell it more as a monthly service plus custom design and setup but no custom development. Still, sales are hard and take a lot of time, and we're really only focused on local sales at this point (people we know, referrals, etc).

    Hope that gives another perspective. I'd also love to know what other people's experience are on here too.

  • Well I'm specifically referring to web design. I'm currently looking at SAAS based products as well and trying to figure out a pattern that will work. Last year was a fairly bad year for us. Honestly the worst we've had not in terms of revenue but in obtaining new clients. We had plenty of people doing business with us but it was all past clients that we had years of relationships built up with.

    All the new clients with the exception of literally 1 or 2 did 1 of 3 things. Those were didn't commit even after verbally committing in at least 6 situations and meeting several times, 4 situations signed an agreement and didn't execute payment and at least 10 just fell off the face of the earth even though we had good and solid communication.

    Maybe it is just a case of what I'm experiencing and not others. However, I have been doing research and have found several examples of shops just calling it quits and that is including smaller freelancers. So I don't know what the future holds. I quite honestly think the traditional model of asking a large up front payment is rapidly dying.

    I have to also be honest and state I get more requests to fulfill WordPress than I'd like. That was most of what i heard last year which is "Well I was told to use WordPress". I can honestly say there are several situations where I lost potential business because they wanted WordPress and I was trying to get away from it but I'm reconsidering that approach.

    Honestly also I'm looking into tools to make the design side easier such as ready to go theme or drag and drop frameworks. I'd be ecstatic if Elefant had any of that as I prefer the simplicity but at the end of the day I personally have to find ways to reduce my investment (being time) if profits are shrinking. I've also invested thousands into ECMS apps myself for various purposes so I'm losing more than just a personal pick of CMS.

    It is sort of like responsive design. I'm honestly not big on it. I prefer the adaptive approach but you eventually have to give in to the trends since that seems to be all most clients care about. Those trends also include flat design, full screen design, parallax, etc. I think most of these are just gimmicks some designers came up with. I don't see the benefit to endlessly scrolling single page websites and yada yada. However I have given in and I am incorporating it now and testing some waters. That has been so far positively received by some clients but that is on a new no up front payment, SAAS, WordPress powered model I'm playing with. I quite honestly hate WordPress if you haven't picked that up thus far.

    Anyways it just use to be clients were hiring you for your opinion and expertise but it seems more and more they are just looking a common laborer almost no different than hiring a gardener or dog walker. I hate to put it that simple but it seems that way and it is even happening with clients that traditionally spend the money such as doctors and lawyers. I also know I'm going to hear you have to find the clients that don't do that and I use to believe that also but I'm finding them less and less. I'm also located in one of the fastest growing markets in the United States right now in North Carolina.

    I don't know if you have heard about it but there is this guy that supposedly builds websites in the "gift economy" ( http://gifteconomywebsites.org ) where he submits an invoice for what a project should cost and then the client basically pays what they feel he is worth if anything. It makes you wonder where in the world things are going if he actually feels he has to do it. Of course it also partially makes me wonder of course if he just does it for exposure but still. I just hope our craft isn't going in that direction which is reduced to a starving artist begging for scrapes.

    Anyways I honestly want to stick with Elefant but clients are wanting more and more diversity but don't want to pay the up front costs. I mean I work heavily in real estate sites and there are products out there now like websitebox.com which gives realtors an IDX powered site for a flat fee of $99. We are no longer in a position where we can say "well you just shouldn't consider that competition". Some of the cheap products being put out are honestly fairly good.

    I had a client call me yesterday that has a great site that is based on Elefant that we jut got up about 6 months ago. The site performs well in Google on the first page for real estate related terms in his city. He states it isn't converting and feels like it is because he doesn't have IDX/RETS integrated directly into the site even though he has an iframe based solution from his MLS. So he is pinning me to the wall (not literally) and wants to come up with an IDX solution and said he would pay a monthly fee. if not he would be taking his business to one of the big boys. Looking at WordPress is basically my only option at this point.

    I had a similar situation happen with a client that is on Elefant about a month ago. She was looking an e-commerce solution. Wanted to go with Shopify or wanted me to have something similar. Well of course there is nothing on Elefant and building a shopping cart isn't a small task. So I actually put together a WordPress solution for her and built it for her to get started. She harassed me literally for this for about 4 weeks. I put it together for her. She states she is committed and I was like well you've been with me for years so I'll initiate it and we'll get the billing straight later. She turned around and sent me a text message that said thanks but no thanks. And then proceeded to say I need to up my game if I want to stay in business.

    They also charge for upgrades but I just don't know at the end of the day how small shops compete. I have tried so many different approaches. I'll get a surge of business and then it just flat lines. The doing work for third party platforms like Oculus is interesting to me. I actually though about getting an early jump on this new Hololens tech from Microsoft. I personally think that is going to be big.

    I just don't know the where the actual future of web development and design lies. And with that being sad I don't know what i'm going to do even though I love this. I'm in my mid-30s almost now and have been doing this for 18 years almost. I just don't know anymore. I guess just keep throwing against the wall and see what sticks. Would love to hear stories whether positive or negative from others as well.

    I'm really sorry for the long post but really needed to talk it out with some peers.

  • Interesting thread; thanks for starting it. I'm similar to you in that I really prefer elefant to WordPress but I get lots of requests for WordPress. Sometimes I can talk them out of it but not always.

    I'm also interested in using ready-to-go themes as a way to cut down on costs and turn things around quicker. I'm trying my first one at the moment and so far it's working pretty well.

    The main thing I think elefant needs is a larger community and more apps. I feel like I've been riding jbroadway's coattails and not contributing much but it's hard to find time.

  • Hey twheel! We have talked before in regards to projects in the past. I'm just glad people are being honest here. I get tired of posting on boards about this topic and all I get is the over zealous responders in regards to keep your head up high and push forward. I love what I do but I didn't get into this to work 60-80 hours per week and to barely make a decent wage at the end of the day. I might as well be flipping burgers on a regular schedule.

    I'm not jaded but I can't tell you how many variations I have tried with design, SEO, etc. Whether we all admit it or not we are in competition with Weebly, Squarespace, WordPress, agencies, etc. and even yes, even Facebook. No we didn't use to be an honestly being the local guy down the street use to be enough but things have changed. I'm just approaching a point of I don't know what to do. I keep trying different models and different things and yes all roads typically lead back to WordPress.

    I hate and I mean literally hate WordPress but it is what the masses want. They no longer seem to want a professional whom will give them a finely crafted masterpiece that is easy to use and ranks well. They want a turn key template to be slightly customized with a few plugins slapped in. Most literally want a wrench turner at the end of the day. Again I'm not jaded, well maybe getting there honestly, but not yet. I'm merely tired of being in a business that it would seem the appreciation level is going down and down daily.

    I meet with clients or potential clients is more like it and it is more of a consulting situation on how we could carry things out. Then I can't tell you how many basically just attempt to do it on their own and not pay me a dime. They all come back and say well it is part of being in business. No it isn't part of being in this business.

    If I go into a wine store and do a tasting. That is it I did a tasting that lasted 5 minutes, maybe 10 and more than likely will buy a bottle now or later. In our business potential clients want to sit there and talk about it for 2 to 3 hours and then have 2 or 3 meetings and then maybe they will give you the business.

    This situation is happening more and more and I'm personally getting tired of it. If anyone has feed back or advice on the technology, approach or anything you are using then please feel free to enlighten me. I'm all ready for feed back at this point. I just know I love what I do but I can't stay in something much longer that isn't going to turn a profit or lead to a some what easy to manage lifestyle. Otherwise there is no point in being self employed.

  • I give them an hour free for the initial consultation but after that it's billable.

  • We've definitely felt it a few times when a potential client meets with you 2-3 times scoping out requirements, then gets a reasonable quote and comes back with a "how about we scale it back a bit?" which just means paring down the price... It's not like their requirements suddenly drop by half.

    We've also had a couple projects that started as quick sites for now with future phases to be done, only to keep pushing for little extras masking as fixes. One even withheld payment over "fixes" that weren't anywhere close to being part of the original contract.

    On the other hand, we've been incredibly fortunate with a couple of our initial contracts that have given us a bit of runway to get a SaaS product launched, and to invest in the virtual reality stuff a bit too. So I'm in a pretty exceptional circumstance, but I know it won't last long.

    I think our way around the commoditization of the web design industry is our move towards SaaS, and virtual reality as a longer-term move.

    As for Wordpress, I've had more than my share of work fixing broken and hacked WP sites and even this week an email came in at 4:45pm on Friday that a client's WP site was messed up in transfer to a new host while they wait for their new Elefant-powered site with us to be ready, and wanted to know if we could fix their broken "custom widgets". Obviously I'm no fan of Wordpress, and I don't find it intuitive or easy to use, nor do most of the people I know who are using it. And at this point, I don't mince words about the quality of code under the hood when people ask what I think.

    Unfortunately, my work on Elefant is often focused on behind-the-scenes changes or things specific to what we're doing, which doesn't help much to move the project forward. I'm also working round the clock on our new startup (we turn 1 year old this week!) so promoting Elefant itself pretty much falls by the wayside. Elefant is the underpinning to everything we're doing, including the server-side of our VR projects, but more as a framework than a regular CMS.

    I'd love to hear ideas about how we can work on growing the community, the number of available themes and apps, etc. I really appreciate the contributions you guys make, and the Elefant community is a huge point of pride for me.

  • I personally love Elefant and most users do as well. Here is how it goes for me. I have two distinctly different user bases that are mostly based on geographic differences. Most of my clients are located in the more rural region of Eastern North Carolina. The other growing portion is located in the Triangle region of North Carolina. These regions are completely culturally different though geographically located right next door to each other.

    Both are growing regions and the Eastern portion is catching up to the Triangle in terms of trends. The Eastern portion loves the approach from both the backend and frontend. We prefer adaptive design approaches for mobile users which Elefant makes cake due to tags that easily determine the user agent from within the theme.

    On the backend we have developed tools for Elefant that serve a wide purpose of needs. Needs like a PDF management tool to make it easy to update PDF based content like newsletters, etc. We also built a fairly in-depth real estate app and some other nice one purpose tools. The problem with this approach though is content is no longer just linear which the Eastern NC clients mainly don't even care about but it is growing in want. The Triangle though well thats another story.

    The Triangle is one of the fastest growing regions in the USA and the users are more tech savvy and love trends. i always keep hearing make the sites more "sexy" which I find annoying but anyways. When they say sexy they are are referring to HTML 5 type transitions like flip boxes, fluid grids, etc. which goes along with the newer responsive and flat style of design. I moved to the Triangle on purpose to prepare my business for trends for the next 5 to 10 years as I know those will be the trends everywhere at some point.

    The truth is all of these sites that are considered "sexy" now a days all look the same. Which lets look at almost every well selling WP template and they all honestly have a similar look. They only differ in color scheme and some UI placements. I personally hate this style of design but it also a beast to tackle from a CMS standpoint but there are WP themes that make it easier to approach and manage. The WP editor out of the box is linear as well.

    Now lets go forward to another side of the coin which is the CMS. Potential clients as of recent have actually questioned why I wouldn't use WP and well my arguments didn't win in the end. All they hear is the cat's meow and works miracles while saving money hence forth meaning we should work for less. I tested WP as a CMS 4 years ago and most clients didn't find it easy to use. Honestly from the hacking standpoint.

    I know its there and agree but have never experienced it. I have a Linode box hosting a multisite install of about 40 sites and never had any incidents in regards to that. Also there are several WP dedicated hosting platforms now and would probably go with those if going 100% WP.

    Here is what I honestly think we should do. Take Elefant to another level. Integrate all of our tools together, form a pact and almost remove the open source nature. Don't have any geographical overlap and work together as a team. I know that sounds crazy and goes against open source but I'm just being honest. From there make personal and money based investments in furthering the platform.

    Maybe even change the name. On top of that we need a drag and drop theme editing environment almost like Headway on WP or a one size fits all theme like Avada or X Theme in WP but something that works all within an environment like the Customizer of WP. The customizer of WP is the only thing I have found that I actually like about WP. This would be a great environment to quickly push out unique sites. Then a Headway type environment would be for your custom sites.

    Now why am I pushing drag and drop interfaces? I'm a programmer as well and I know CSS/HTML/PHP/etc. but the truth is the shrinking profit margins are going to continue to do just that. I think it will all be a subscription model which I am currently playing with on the WP side. I don't think design will completely die but clients will look to a monthly based in the future. More and more don't want to pay up front design fees from my experience. So I personally don't care to hand-code everything in the world while others are out there making decent money (cough crap agencies, cough) and I'm over here busting my rump to make lesser (yes I'm whining).

    Anyways these are just my thoughts. I know they sound crazy but this is what I "think" needs to take place or could see being workable. We all mostly share a commonality which is we love what we do and this is a paid hobby almost like photography. Once it becomes more than that and it sounds like it is for a bunch of us than we will hate it. Anyways I look forward to continuing the conversation.

  • A few ideas/things to share:

    1) I put a quote together that may come through in the next couple months to do a realty app for a site fetching MLS/RETS listings, e.g.: http://dangodesign.net/2013/01/getting-started-with-rets-for-php/

    I'm curious if you've tackled that, and if that would make a compelling reusable Elefant app. It seems like MLS systems differ quite a bit, so I wasn't sure about reusability from region to region.

    2) There is a responsive grid-based page layout editor in the works in the grid_based_page_editing branch. It's working, but missing a few things. Namely, it needs to be able to reorder/duplicate "rows" on the page, and needs a default grid-based theme to work with it (I have a list of other smaller things to finish on it too), but it could be the basis of a more visual style page creator.

    I'd love to get that merged into the master branch and see how well that can help build with the "builder" style page editing, but it's been a challenge to find the time to put the last 10% into finishing it up. Here's the blog post where I introduced the idea:

    http://ridinganelefant.tumblr.com/post/104779423732/idea-proposal-responsive-grid-based-inline

    3) I'm going to be turning the Products app into a proper shopping cart for a site soon, so we'll have something more usable on that front.

    4) The recent Members app changes as well as the new Organizations and Member Lists apps are starting to turn Elefant into a mini CRM tool. Check out the member details pages with those installed to see what I mean. It also ties in the Events and Courses apps, and Stripe Payments app for user billing histories.

    So those are some areas Elefant is seeing some improvements lately or coming up.

    I'm at the GDC conference this week, so another crazy week for me :P But I'd love to keep the conversation going, and maybe create some more actionable things to take away from it.

  • The page editor reminds me of Headway for WP but honestly looks better. Something like that with perhaps initial starting points of layouts would be fantastic. And to the RETS/IDX question I am looking into that currently.

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