Imagination is our power

Archive for March, 2011

10 reasons you deserve a raise

1: Being on call

The second people mention that they have to spend the weekend (or weeknights) on call, I know their soul dies a little. There is nothing worse than staring at a phone during the weekend knowing the minute you start to do something fun, that blasted thing is going to ring. Anyone who has ever worked on call knows how this affects their time off. You live your life stressed and waiting for Monday to roll around. If this is you, and you agree to go on call, you should certainly be compensated for that added stress.

2: Your skill set

I have a special skill set that not a lot of IT workers in my area have: Linux. Because of that, I can demand a bit of a higher wage. Many skill sets allow this. (Cisco, UNIX, and DB admin come to mind.) You have to think of this with respect to a company’s ability to replace you. Are your skills pressed out of a mold so that anyone in your company could do your job? Or do you have skills that no one else in your department/company could cover? If that’s the case, you deserve a raise!

 

3: The stress

The stress levels experienced in IT are high, and they never seem to back off. This stress can lead to health issues, relationship issues, and other problems. If your business thinks you should deal with that stress at a less than acceptable pay level, it has another think coming. I have worked in IT shops that paid just over what I could easily make in retail and with far less stress. If your employer values your work, then it should respect the stress you deal with day in and day out.

 

4: Dealing with clients

This goes along with stress. You have to deal with clients on a daily basis, and you have to do so professionally. In fact, it is this engineer-to-client interface that helps make it easier for your company to collect on bills. Because you have this face-to-face interaction with the clients, your employer must trust you with its income. The better you are at dealing with clients, the happier those clients will be. The happier your clients are, the faster they will be at paying their bills. Need I say more?

 

5: Upgrading skills

If you’ve gone through the process of upgrading your skills, and those skills are paying off, you deserve a raise in pay. Not only did you take the time to gain those skills, you may well have done so on your own dime. If your employer footed the bill (and you did your classes, studying during work hours), you could still have the firepower needed to claim a raise. This is valid unless your employer did this to get you up to speed on a skill you should have already had.

 

6: Experience

There was a time when MCSE actually meant something. Today? Not so much. Real-world experience far outweighs certifications now, and that experience translates to a better understanding of how technology actually works when deployed. The translation doesn’t end at understanding. Real-world experience should directly translate to higher pay.

 

7: Maturity

Along the same lines as experience, maturity plays a huge part in how much money you should be able to demand. I have seen engineers with nearly identical skills but with vastly different maturity levels have very different experiences. Those with more maturity can deal with stress a bit better ,as well as improvise when needed. But more important, those with maturity can deal with people far better. Professionalism goes a long, long way in this industry, and without maturity, professionalism is a hard commodity to come by.

 

8: Creativity

There are times when the documented solution simply does not work. When this happens, a level of creativity will help you resolve an issue. Not only that, but creativity can help you come up with solutions that are cheaper and often more reliable. But creativity generally can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t. Most in the IT field don’t have it, so if you are one of the lucky ones, take advantage of that and use it to your benefit when discussing your pay raise.

 

9: Strong client relationships

As I mentioned earlier, the engineer-client interface is one of the most critical ones in this industry because it’s where the money changes hands — at least, figuratively. If you have solid relationships with clients or users, you are far more valuable to your company than is an employee of equal skill and poorer client relationships. This is especially true if you have solid relationships with all the clients/users you interact with. And the more important the client or user, the more valuable you become.

 

10: Familiarity with systems and process

Are you the administrator who developed your backup system? Did you spend weeks documenting your entire network? Do you know your systems (or your clients’ systems) better than any other engineer in your department? If this is so, you can easily make a good case for a higher salary. Always think of it with this in mind: If you left the company, what would you be taking with you? The answer to that question can be radically altered if you’re more familiar with your systems than any other administrator.

Signs you’re about to be fired

Having been through a multitude of corporate reorgs and buyouts, I will admit to being a little gun-shy.

Unfortunately, I am the type to preemptively panic at an email announcing a company-wide meeting or if the folks from our parent office drop in for a visit. It would not be out of the ordinary to hear me, or one of my equally paranoid colleagues, say, “I know the VP said we were doing a great job but did you notice how his voice trailed off?” Yeah, we’re that annoying.

Therefore, I’m always a little surprised when people say they didn’t see it coming when they were fired. (I’m not talking about layoffs — those things are almost always done in triple-secret stealth mode and hit you like a silent freight train.) I’m talking about being let go due to performance problems. So I’ve created a few tips for what to watch for that may be a sign that your job is in jeopardy (if your boss hasn’t directly told you).

Subtle changes in your boss’s behavior

Be sensitive to these changes, but not obsessed with them. After all, there could be something else weighing on your boss’s mind. In other words, don’t throw yourself on the boss’s desk and cry, “You don’t like me anymore!” However, if it seems like he or she isn’t being as friendly as usual, something might be up.

  • If he doesn’t drop by your cubicle to shoot the breeze but spends a lot of time with your co-workers, it might mean he’s pulling away a little.
  • If you find that several of your meetings with him are being canceled, it could be an avoidance tactic on his part.
  • If he is asking for constant feedback as to your progress on particular projects, it could mean that you’ve shown him you can’t be completely trusted with a project, or he might be building a case in regards to your performance. Pay attention if the boss has suddenly become a micromanager, but only when it comes to you.
  • If your boss and you used to have a fairly informal relationship where you could gripe about some parts of your job, but suddenly he has begun to agree with your complaints and suggest that you might find another job more conducive, your present job could in danger.

Five tips for faster Web browsing

1: Use a fast browser

Not all browsers are created equal. Some are simply faster than others. The top speed you will find, in the current crop of browsers, belongs to Google Chrome. If you’ve grown accustomed to Internet Explorer or Firefox, you’ll notice a dramatic increase in rendering time using Google Chrome. Of all the ways you can speed up your browsing experience, this is by far the best. Google Chrome also helps speed things up by allowing you to enter search strings in the URL address bar. With this feature, you don’t have to add yet another toolbar, thereby slowing down the browser even further.

2: Disable Flash

Flash pretty much saturates Web sites now. It’s almost impossible to get away from this technology. Problem is, Flash can be slow, so it directly affects the speed of your browsing experience. You can have Flash turned off by default and then re-enable it to view what you need to view. The biggest problem with this is that some browsers require an add-on to block Flash. For Chrome, you need the extension Flashblock. There’s also a Flashblock extension for Firefox. Internet Explorer has a built-in tool you can access by clicking Tools | Manage Add-ons. In the Manage Add-ons dialog box, double-click Shockwave Flash Object. Then, click the Remove All Sites button. This will disable Flash for all sites.

 

3: Save your temporary Web files on a RAM disk

I wrote an article awhile back on using a RAM disk to help speed up disk-intensive applications. Since the RAM disk will be much faster than your standard hard drive, using it to save all your browsers temporary files will create a faster environment for your browser. However, this solution is not for the newbie, and you will need to use a third-party to better achieve this task.

 

4: Get rid of all those toolbars

You’ve seen them in the wild: browsers so filled with toolbars they take up the majority of real estate in the browser window. Most users don’t realize those toolbars tend to slow down the browser in many ways. Some toolbars simply take up precious computer memory, while others eat away at bandwidth by sending and receiving data in the background. The math here is quite simple: The more toolbars you have, the slower your browser will run. Some of those toolbars might seem essential. But if speed is really your top priority, you will want to jettison that extra baggage for the speed you will gain.

 

5: Use tabs, not windows

Too many tabs can cause problems, but they’re still your best bet for browsing efficiency. How do tabs speed up your experience? A couple of ways. The first is all about organization. With multiple tabs in a single window, it becomes quite a bit faster to locate the page you need to work on. You don’t have to maximize a window, discover that it’s not the right one, minimize it, maximize a new window… until you find the correct one. A single window open with multiple tabs is far easier to search. This is not the only way tabs can help you. Browsers like Chrome treat each tab as an individual process (instead of a child process of a parent). So when a Web site causes a tab to crash, you can close that one tab and not lose all the other tabs. This behavior is not a standard at the moment, so you’ll need to switch over to the Chrome browser to take advantage of it.

 

Other tips?

There are hundreds of ways to make your browsing experience faster. But the above list should give you an immediate, noticeable boost in speed. Have you found other ways to speed up your browsing experience? Share your favorite tricks with your fellow TechRepublic readers.

Effective Communication: Getting All You Can Out of What You’ve Got

In a highly competitive business environment, good communication is the engine of success.

As a designer, your grasp of the art and science of social bonding is just as important as your ability to put pixels together.

With social media so ubiquitous, much can be achieved… and overlooked. When sharing interests and experiences online is so easy, people put less effort into maintaining their relationships, thus shortening the average life of an interpersonal connection.

A close look at the problem reveals that minimal effort can turn contacts into veritable relationships. Basic practices such as attentiveness, courtesy and friendliness can make each of your connections more meaningful and valuable. The advantages may be apparent or hidden, and they lead to client loyalty, referrals and a healthy public image.

Here you’ll learn how to enhance your communication strategy and make the most of every connection by keeping a few simple principles in mind.

Can’t Do the Job? Offer Advice

Saying no to a job offer is okay, but that doesn’t mean you have to reject the client. If offering your services is not possible, then offer some advice. Expert tips are valuable. At the very least, the company will appreciate your willingness to help, and that’s good for your reputation.

Let’s say that your quote is higher than a prospective client can afford, and you have to turn down the project. If it’s a matter of doing a couple of hours of extra work, think about taking it on anyway; most clients will appreciate the sacrifice. If you definitely can’t do it, perhaps you could include suggestions (based on what you know about the project) in your email declining the work.

A wide range of website-building services could be useful for low-budget projects, but less web-savvy clients might not know about them. Here are a few you could bring to their attention:

  • Site2You is an all-in-one solution for setting up and maintaining a business website. It includes a user-friendly website builder, e-commerce functionality (if enabled), hosting and domain-name services and professional support, all for quite an affordable price (plus a free trial).
  • Wix is a user-friendly Flash website builder. Both free and paid accounts are available. It’s an attractive option for non-professionals.
  • WordPress is a decent website-building tool as well. You could even refer the client to a WordPress theme developer who you know, thus doing them two favors in a turn. Good karma!

Don’t leave the client helpless.

Always ask permission before dispensing advice; people will likely appreciate your input, but less so if it’s unsolicited.

Instead of wasting time reviewing projects that you’re not going to do and dwelling on lost job opportunities, communicate with these contacts. They will be grateful and will keep your name on their shortlist.

 

Recommend People To Work…

…with you: You probably know what’s happening in the design world and, because of social networking, can see who is doing interesting work.

Make contact and build relationships with other design experts and specialists so that when a project that requires it, you’ll be able to suggest competent copywriters, developers or illustrators. You’ll increase the chances of the project’s success and, thus, contribute to your own professional success.

…instead of you: Hard work won’t get you every great gig. If you receive an exciting job offer but your schedule is already full, don’t get upset; you will make another designer happy by sending the client their way-and helping others feels good. Yeah, you’ll lose a great project and a potentially regular client, but that would have happened anyway, right?

Get the most out of the situation by serving as a link. (And remember: refer clients only to professionals who you trust.) Whatever the project’s outcome, your gesture won’t be forgotten; the client will likely look for an opportunity to return the favor.

Never underestimate the value of word of mouth.

Create a list of competent professionals who you could recommend to clients. You’ll show that you have a comprehensive grasp of the field, which they’ll appreciate.

 

Set Up a Friendly Email Policy

Your handling of email can make or break your communication strategy. We don’t have to look far for examples: just count the number of important connections you’ve established and maintained via email.

If email is your main communication medium, then put a suitable amount of effort into managing it. At the same time, put reasonable limits on the amount of time you spend on it.

Here are some simple techniques to manage email effectively. They might seem obvious-and they are easy to do-but they still get overlooked.

Auto-Reply

Using an answering machine is hardly a personalized approach, but it’s better than letting clients and others guess whether their emails have reached you.

Before going off the grid, write an automated reply to inform correspondents that you will contact them upon your return.

Automated replies are also useful for those who are lucky enough to attract a high volume of inquiries (not counting spam, of course). But do not promise to get back to someone ASAP if you’re not sure you can. Sure, saying so sounds better than something like, “Sorry, I can’t answer every message because of my high volume of email,” but it will put people off if you don’t follow through on your word.

Fast Response

Answer your emails promptly and clients will love you for it. Seriously, do it. Composing a message takes only a minute. You might not be able to solve their problems in that email, but a quick response is still appreciated.

Showing your concern will distinguish you from the client’s other contractors and partners.

Don’t keep people waiting.


Make a Good Impression

When approaching someone for the first time by email, make sure your message gives the right impression. Always check your spelling, and use a friendly but dignified tone of voice. Include a tasteful signature, but make sure the message, not the signature, is the focus.

When you want to inform your client base about important news or remind them that you exist, you’ll probably use an HTML newsletter. Before designing one, investigate which email service most of your recipients use so that you avoid problems with rendering and display.

Here are a few tools and resources to enhance your email communications:

  • WiseStamp is a handy browser extension to design an email signature.
  • CampaignMonitor offers a wide choice of sleek (and free!) newsletter templates.
  • Cakemail is another place to look for solid HTML newsletters.

Give Thank-You Gifts and Offer Freebies

A thank-you email might not feel like enough for a long-term client. What about cool office knickknacks or t-shirts? Never wait for the client to show their appreciation first; if you have enjoyed working with them, go ahead and show it! People will be twice as ready to help you out in future if they feel appreciated.

Don’t use gifts to suck up, though. If you have failed in a project, a fancy present won’t make the client ask you back again. Sincere gifts and gestures can only strengthen healthy relationships.

Another great way to tighten the ties in your network is to give stuff away. You could design and share freebies for your blog readers or social network pals. And don’t be afraid to re-gift; perhaps you have unused discount coupons, gift cards or other promotional items that you won in giveaways.

Luck is a funny thing; it often happens that we only get for free the things we don’t really need. But what you find useless, someone else might benefit from. Why not put it to use? Don’t let a coupon expire or a cool but ill-fitting t-shirt lie in your closet unpacked and collecting dust. Give it away. The simple act will get you kudos and a lot of attention. Swapping less for more: sounds like a great deal to me!

Announcing a give-away on Twitter or Facebook makes re-gifting a zero-risk enterprise.


Don’t Forget About Live Communication

Most of your work-especially if you’re a freelancer-takes place online. You might not notice that you’re gradually shifting into virtual-only mode, because your friends and clients (and everyone else for that matter) are just an email, tweet or Facebook message away.

Don’t be fooled by the unlimited pseudo-connectivity. Digital communication does not replace actual socializing. A photo gallery of your college reunion on Facebook won’t feel at all like the real thing, and watching recorded talks from a design event differs vastly from the experience you would have had if you were there in person.

More importantly, by limiting your communication to emails, IM, online social networking and Warcraft raids, you might lose some social skills and erode your ability to consult, negotiate and talk with actual people face to face. That still matters.

18 Mar

In a highly competitive business environment, good communication is the engine of success.

As a designer, your grasp of the art and science of social bonding is just as important as your ability to put pixels together.

With social media so ubiquitous, much can be achieved… and overlooked. When sharing interests and experiences online is so easy, people put less effort into maintaining their relationships, thus shortening the average life of an interpersonal connection.

A close look at the problem reveals that minimal effort can turn contacts into veritable relationships. Basic practices such as attentiveness, courtesy and friendliness can make each of your connections more meaningful and valuable. The advantages may be apparent or hidden, and they lead to client loyalty, referrals and a healthy public image.

Here you’ll learn how to enhance your communication strategy and make the most of every connection by keeping a few simple principles in mind.

Can’t Do the Job? Offer Advice

Saying no to a job offer is okay, but that doesn’t mean you have to reject the client. If offering your services is not possible, then offer some advice. Expert tips are valuable. At the very least, the company will appreciate your willingness to help, and that’s good for your reputation.

Let’s say that your quote is higher than a prospective client can afford, and you have to turn down the project. If it’s a matter of doing a couple of hours of extra work, think about taking it on anyway; most clients will appreciate the sacrifice. If you definitely can’t do it, perhaps you could include suggestions (based on what you know about the project) in your email declining the work.

A wide range of website-building services could be useful for low-budget projects, but less web-savvy clients might not know about them. Here are a few you could bring to their attention:

  • Site2You is an all-in-one solution for setting up and maintaining a business website. It includes a user-friendly website builder, e-commerce functionality (if enabled), hosting and domain-name services and professional support, all for quite an affordable price (plus a free trial).
  • Wix is a user-friendly Flash website builder. Both free and paid accounts are available. It’s an attractive option for non-professionals.
  • WordPress is a decent website-building tool as well. You could even refer the client to a WordPress theme developer who you know, thus doing them two favors in a turn. Good karma!

Don’t leave the client helpless.

Always ask permission before dispensing advice; people will likely appreciate your input, but less so if it’s unsolicited.

Instead of wasting time reviewing projects that you’re not going to do and dwelling on lost job opportunities, communicate with these contacts. They will be grateful and will keep your name on their shortlist.

 

Recommend People To Work…

…with you: You probably know what’s happening in the design world and, because of social networking, can see who is doing interesting work.

Make contact and build relationships with other design experts and specialists so that when a project that requires it, you’ll be able to suggest competent copywriters, developers or illustrators. You’ll increase the chances of the project’s success and, thus, contribute to your own professional success.

…instead of you: Hard work won’t get you every great gig. If you receive an exciting job offer but your schedule is already full, don’t get upset; you will make another designer happy by sending the client their way-and helping others feels good. Yeah, you’ll lose a great project and a potentially regular client, but that would have happened anyway, right?

Get the most out of the situation by serving as a link. (And remember: refer clients only to professionals who you trust.) Whatever the project’s outcome, your gesture won’t be forgotten; the client will likely look for an opportunity to return the favor.

Never underestimate the value of word of mouth.

By the way, you might also like reading Web Designer’s Guide to Copywriting Profits.

Create a list of competent professionals who you could recommend to clients. You’ll show that you have a comprehensive grasp of the field, which they’ll appreciate.

 

Set Up a Friendly Email Policy

Your handling of email can make or break your communication strategy. We don’t have to look far for examples: just count the number of important connections you’ve established and maintained via email.

If email is your main communication medium, then put a suitable amount of effort into managing it. At the same time, put reasonable limits on the amount of time you spend on it.

Here are some simple techniques to manage email effectively. They might seem obvious-and they are easy to do-but they still get overlooked.

Auto-Reply

Using an answering machine is hardly a personalized approach, but it’s better than letting clients and others guess whether their emails have reached you.

Before going off the grid, write an automated reply to inform correspondents that you will contact them upon your return.

Automated replies are also useful for those who are lucky enough to attract a high volume of inquiries (not counting spam, of course). But do not promise to get back to someone ASAP if you’re not sure you can. Sure, saying so sounds better than something like, “Sorry, I can’t answer every message because of my high volume of email,” but it will put people off if you don’t follow through on your word.

Fast Response

Answer your emails promptly and clients will love you for it. Seriously, do it. Composing a message takes only a minute. You might not be able to solve their problems in that email, but a quick response is still appreciated.

Showing your concern will distinguish you from the client’s other contractors and partners.

Don’t keep people waiting.


Make a Good Impression

When approaching someone for the first time by email, make sure your message gives the right impression. Always check your spelling, and use a friendly but dignified tone of voice. Include a tasteful signature, but make sure the message, not the signature, is the focus.

When you want to inform your client base about important news or remind them that you exist, you’ll probably use an HTML newsletter. Before designing one, investigate which email service most of your recipients use so that you avoid problems with rendering and display.

Here are a few tools and resources to enhance your email communications:

 

Give Thank-You Gifts and Offer Freebies

A thank-you email might not feel like enough for a long-term client. What about cool office knickknacks or t-shirts? Never wait for the client to show their appreciation first; if you have enjoyed working with them, go ahead and show it! People will be twice as ready to help you out in future if they feel appreciated.

Don’t use gifts to suck up, though. If you have failed in a project, a fancy present won’t make the client ask you back again. Sincere gifts and gestures can only strengthen healthy relationships.

Another great way to tighten the ties in your network is to give stuff away. You could design and share freebies for your blog readers or social network pals. And don’t be afraid to re-gift; perhaps you have unused discount coupons, gift cards or other promotional items that you won in giveaways.

Luck is a funny thing; it often happens that we only get for free the things we don’t really need. But what you find useless, someone else might benefit from. Why not put it to use? Don’t let a coupon expire or a cool but ill-fitting t-shirt lie in your closet unpacked and collecting dust. Give it away. The simple act will get you kudos and a lot of attention. Swapping less for more: sounds like a great deal to me!

Announcing a give-away on Twitter or Facebook makes re-gifting a zero-risk enterprise.


Don’t Forget About Live Communication

Most of your work-especially if you’re a freelancer-takes place online. You might not notice that you’re gradually shifting into virtual-only mode, because your friends and clients (and everyone else for that matter) are just an email, tweet or Facebook message away.

Don’t be fooled by the unlimited pseudo-connectivity. Digital communication does not replace actual socializing. A photo gallery of your college reunion on Facebook won’t feel at all like the real thing, and watching recorded talks from a design event differs vastly from the experience you would have had if you were there in person.

More importantly, by limiting your communication to emails, IM, online social networking and Warcraft raids, you might lose some social skills and erode your ability to consult, negotiate and talk with actual people face to face. That still matters.

You might also enjoy reading “A Life Guide for the Antisocial Freelancer.”

What might happen if typing becomes your main way of communicating with others. (Image: The Oatmeal)

A ton of books and resources explore the principles of effective communication. The techniques won’t always come naturally, despite being “social” in nature.

Basic qualities like attentiveness, courtesy and willingness to listen can do wonders. Incorporate them into your communication habits and you’ll gain empathy, appreciation and referrals from clients, peers and friends.

 


Written exclusively for WDD by Julia May. She is a freelance writer by occupation and a mix of curiosity, aspiration and appreciation of beauty in all senses by nature. She’s currently running PhotoInterview, an online journal dedicated to interviews with talented photographers from all over the world. Follow Julia on Twitter: @indigomay

How do you communicate with your clients? Do you have any specific tips that have particularly worked out well for you? Please share with us!

Growing as a Designer and Leader

As a professional designer, it’s important to push ourselves daily to be the best that we can in order to create outstanding work. To be successful in our industry, we must continually grow and try new things that will enhance our design skills, and just as important, our leadership abilities. There are tons of ideas on the internet on how to become a better designer through Photoshop tutorials, HTML best practices, and new jQuery techniques. There aren’t as many about becoming a better leader in the design community, although it’s an important trait to have as a professional and a necessary skill to possess in our competitive industry.

Become a better leader

Leaders in every industry are considered trusted sources and experts in the field, which is a coveted spot for anyone and a great position to be in. Promote yourself as an expert and a leader in your community through different leadership positions and organizational roles. People will recognize your ability to lead and think of you when they need your services. Teaching others is also a great way to show your design knowledge and helps to further your own skills at the same time.

Leadership can also be a fulfilling experience, and is not solely about showing off and promoting yourself. Helping others learn a new skill or achieve something they couldn’t before, is a great feeling. It’s also fun to network with other professionals and connect people for the greater good of the community.

Push yourself

We’re taught to learn a skill and then use those skills to perform in our everyday profession. As a designer though, we must continually build our knowledge and never be satisfied with where we’re at currently. It’s important to be your own coach; push yourself and be persistent in your path for greatness. Keep looking for ways to motivate yourself so you don’t burn out or become tired. Finding rewarding and unique ways to get involved while promoting yourself is a great way to build skills and do something different from your everyday work.

Further the education of others

Strengthening your design and leadership skills is also about giving back and helping others, and sometimes this is the greatest way to learn more yourself. Remember, these ideas aren’t necessarily a means of making loads of money, they are about getting out there and meeting people in order to promote yourself.

Host a workshop

The workshop can be on learning Photoshop, basic HTML skills, or anything you feel qualified to teach. This gives you a chance to show off your designer knowledge to your local community but also gives you the opportunity to give back by teaching others and helping them further their skills. Knowledge is power, and it’s always fun to see others discover new things. Plus, they may discover that this particular skill is tougher than they thought and they just want to hire an expert (you!) to complete these tasks for them in the future!

Write a book

Getting published involves a lot of hard work, so don’t take this on and think it’ll be the easy idea on the list! But the results are rewarding, seeing your name in print and happy reviews from people that have read it, would be well worth all the work. Plus, it’s a really great opportunity to dig deeper on a subject that you know a lot about, since there’s always more you can learn.

Be a speaker at a conference

There are tons of local, regional and national conferences that go on every year with many quality speakers on a variety of topics. Make a list of what you would like to talk about and then look into different conferences to see what’s out there. Then connect with a contact person for the conference of your choice to see if you can get on the speaking list.

Help out the design department of a local college

Colleges and universities are always in need of help and inspiration from those in the field. Volunteer to come in to speak one day, run a workshop for them, or work on a project together. It would be a great way to connect with past professors or find new talent if you need to outsource some of your work.

Connect with people

Networking is a great way to spread the word about your services. In large cities and small towns you’ll find business people getting together to promote their businesses and learn from one another. There are tons of ways to connect with people, but it’s always a great way to find new business and learn something new.

Start a networking group

In a small or large community, this is a great way to connect with local business people that might not know about your design services. Many small businesses need affordable design work but aren’t sure where to look. Starting your own group is a great way to promote your services and be the star of the networking group because you’re the leader.

Create a collaborative design group

Getting together other designers is a great way to expand your ideas and come up with better and more creative work. A collaborative group can get together to share ideas, resources or work together on projects. It’s your group, and you can do as much as you see fit with it!

Become a mentor

Helping someone else get to the place you’re at takes some work, but is one of the more rewarding ideas on the list. Seeing someone achieve success with your help is a great feeling and knowing that you had a hand in their accomplishments is fulfilling.

Start a blog community

Community blogs are a great source of inspiration and knowledge for everyone in the design community from newbies to veterans. Starting your own blog community gives you the opportunity to connect with the design community in a big way. You’ll be the main person running the show so you can do anything you like your own way.

Growth is never easy but very rewarding and worth the effort. Try some different ideas and find things that will work for you in your online or local community. It’s important to keep growing in order to be the best at your job and keep providing quality work through the years. What ideas do you have to become a better leader and designer? Have you tried some of the ideas listed here?

Three IT leadership challenges and solutions

1: IT pros don’t always punch a clock

The challenge: Typical management challenge, but with some added twists.  Many, if not most, IT pros are exempt, meaning that they don’t get paid by the hour. They are paid to get a job done, not to do routine line work. In addition, many IT pros tend to have to work at odd hours to accomplish maintenance tasks and upgrades that can’t be done during business hours. Further, just like many human beings, life sometimes gets in the way of IT pros and they need to occasionally juggle a bunch of both professional and personal priorities. This can lead to absenteeism or odd working hours or requests to work from home at times.

My take: So what? To me, as long as the job is getting done, I don’t care where the person is working from or when they’re doing it as long as their long-term situation doesn’t lead to degraded work performance. I routinely allow the people that can to work from home when life throws them a curveball. I also tend to be relatively generous when it comes to vacation approvals and requests to adjust hours when necessary. The reason is simple: To a person, when I’ve had to ask a member of my staff to make an adjustment for the College’s benefit, they almost always step up even if it presents some difficulty for them. The least that I can do is to return the favor. It’s a give and take that simply needs to be respected.

As much as I hate to say it, there does need to be some oversight to make sure that flexibility isn’t abused in a way that reduces overall productivity.

The solution: Be flexible. Trust, but verify.

2: My staff needs to be in the know

The challenge: Ensuring that staff knows everything reasonable in order to help them do their jobs better.

With the exception of the stuff that I really can’t talk about, I don’t hide things from my staff, whether it’s good news or bad news. For example, if we were in a situation in which enrollment numbers were showing weakness, I’d step up and tell my staff. To me, having that kind of information helps them to frame their own decisions and there might be some great ideas for mitigation from the group.

Obviously, there are limits to how much I can really say sometimes, but I’ve never understood management that held back critical business metrics from the staff. Although I’m sure that no one wants their people to walk around constantly worried if things are a bit sour, potential solutions can come from many places.

Of course, I don’t tell them everything. To do so would both bore them and be a complete waste of their time. So, the challenge is making sure they know what they need to know.

The solution: Find a balance and stick to it but most of all, make sure your people know what they need to know.

 

3: Policy isn’t always policy

The challenge: Blind adherence to what is considered “policy” is akin to saying “I was just following orders.”

I almost hate to use the word “policy” any more when, in fact, I believe that the term “guidelines” is much more meaningful. It’s obvious that some policies are and must be set in stone – fraud-related policies, for example. However, what most people consider to be policies, I look at as a standard operating procedure only when it makes business sense. For example, suppose you have an equipment-lending policy whereby staff members can borrow equipment for a work-related purpose. In order to provide the best possible support, you request 48 hours’ notice in order to pick up equipment. Nine times out of ten, that “policy” is probably perfectly adequate, but there comes that one request that comes in that makes your policy look really stupid…

In other words, if you allow people to hide behind a crazy policy as a way out of making a decision, you’re doing something wrong. I’ve seen it happen far too often and the results are almost never positive, although the person that was able to hide behind a policy didn’t have to lift a finger.

In some cases, an exception to “policy” needs to be made. IT staff members must feel comfortable making exceptions when it makes sense and it’s up to you to let them know when it makes sense – in general – or at least be available if there really is a question. Obviously, if you’re providing exceptions for every instance, something is wrong; perhaps your policy is poor, your culture doesn’t lend itself to full adherence or the IT staff is providing too many exceptions.  That said, make sure your staff can and does make exceptions when it makes sense. Also make sure to understand that every exception requires additional time to handle it but, sometimes, it’s simply the right thing to do.

I will admit that I tend to err on the side of customer service – maybe too often. I want to make sure that we do our absolute best to serve, but at the same time, our guidelines are a function of available resources so sticking a bit closer to guidelines when possible is helpful.

The solution: Make sure your people know where the can and can’t make on-the-fly judgment calls. If they blow it, tell them, but don’t reprimand unless it becomes an ongoing issue.

This one is, by far, the hardest for me.

 

Summary

These are just three challenges that IT leaders face every day. By making sure that you do a good job with allowing employees some flexibility, making sure that they have the information they need to do their jobs and empowering them to make reasonable exceptions to policy (guidelines), you’re on your way to a smoother running IT organization. At first, some of what I’ve recommended here might seem to be the beginnings of chaos, but note that I do not recommend taking a carte blanche “do whatever the heck you want” approach. Instead, provide clear boundaries up front to keep things in check.

10 Free Project Management Tools to Fit Your Needs

1. Retrospectiva

Retrospectiva is a powerful open-source project management tool, designed towards agile software development teams. It features a solid core with ticket system, code review and milestones, but it also has powerful addons like wiki, blog or agile project management.

retrospectiva 10 Free Project Management Tools to Fit Your Needs

http://www.retrospectiva.org/

2. Trac

Trac is one powerful issue tracking tool judging by the fact that WordPress development is tracked using it. Trac is an enhanced open-source wiki and issue tracking system for software development projects. It uses a minimalistic approach to web-based software project management.

trac 10 Free Project Management Tools to Fit Your Needs

http://trac.edgewall.org/

3. Collabtive

Collabtive is web-based open source project management software. It was developed as an PHP&Javascript alternative to commercial project management tools like Basecamp. It features basic project management features and it has a decent and usable user interface.

collabtive 10 Free Project Management Tools to Fit Your Needs

http://collabtive.o-dyn.de/index.php

4. Teambox

Although it is a rather new player in the project management area, Teambox can be seen as one of the future leaders. It is developed as an open source application and it benefits from a simple and clean user interface similar to Twitter. It supports multiple projects, statuses, document attachments.

Teambox 10 Free Project Management Tools to Fit Your Needs

http://www.teambox.com/

5. Redmine

Redmine is a great project management tool based on Ruby on Rails and released under GPL v2. It has multiple projects support, news, documents & files management, time tracking and even multilingual support.

redmine 10 Free Project Management Tools to Fit Your Needs

http://www.redmine.org/

6. SteberPM

Continuing the open source trend, we will place SteberPM in this list. Teams can easily setup projects and keep track of tasks, issues, bugs, efforts etc – using SteberPM.

steberPM 10 Free Project Management Tools to Fit Your Needs

http://www.streber-pm.org/

7. Todoyu

This application has a more compact yet visually rich interface compared to previous project management tools. Todoyu features are: manage multiple projects, overview your customer’s data, assign tasks, share files, group calendars and meet deadlines.

todoyu 10 Free Project Management Tools to Fit Your Needs

http://www.todoyu.com/en/todoyu/

8. OpenAtrium

With one impressive set of features as well as a clean and well executed user interface, OpenAtrium will definitely succeed against commercial tools. It is still in beta and probably when it will be stable, OpenAtrium will make happy a lot of teams.

atrium 10 Free Project Management Tools to Fit Your Needs

http://openatrium.com/

9. PlanCake

Probably light is the term that comes into my mind when I see the user interface from PlanCake. It is super light and clean and it provides fast response to your actions. And considering that the project is free, it can make a lot of friends in freelancers.

plancake 10 Free Project Management Tools to Fit Your Needs

http://www.plancake.com/

10. myTinyTodo

I’ve left this application at the end because it is one of my favorites. Not because of its features but because of the simplicity and speed. myTinyTodo is as the name says a tiny todo list. The best thing about it is that you are quite productive using it and it serves its purpose: todo manager for individuals and freelancers.

mytinytodo 10 Free Project Management Tools to Fit Your Needs

http://www.mytinytodo.net/