Code in two minutes: The internet is yours

I’ve been doing a night course on HTML and CSS coding through Friends of Design for the last few weeks. I’m doing it becuase I want better control of the websites we build and to be able make precise tweaks and changes to them. At Pomegranite, we build websites on WordPress which allows us to create slick, professional sites that are affordable for the client. Ninety-nine percent of the time, clients don’t need complex, custom-coded websites. And if they do, we hand them over to trusted agencies who can provide that service.

Self-hosted WordPress essentially comprises of two systems: the first is a content management system which acts as an interface between you and the website, saving your images and posts and giving you the tools to edit the website. The second is a theme or template which is like a ‘skin’ for your website and manages its design. This is where it’s handy to have some coding knowledge to manipulate these themes.

Learning to code (I say this with a pinch of salt because hardcore coders study for years) has been a pretty mind-blowing experience. For most people, the internet is another world, created and controlled by others, that we can only make a mark on through social media, which is itself contained separately within the greater world-wide-web. When I started editing the code of WordPress themes, Sarah and I referred to it as “entering the Matrix” and rejoiced when I did something and the site didn’t explode.

But the truth is, the internet is made by people, creating code. To scratch beneath the surface, all you have to do is right click and select “inspect element” to see the code that props up the site you’re viewing.

Coding is becoming more and more accessible to people other than nerdy hackers. Just check out organisations like Code for Cape Town which runs a three week holiday programme that introduces grade 10 and 11 girls to the world of web development for social impact. What’s also great is that you don’t have to wait for someone to teach you to code. There are tons of resources online to get you started.

Codecadamy is the one I started with. It’s super simple, fun and effective at teaching you code. They use a system where you’re walked through the code on one side of the screen and it shows the effect on the other side of the screen. So not only do you never feel lost, but you see instant results.

codecadamy

It’s free, it’s fun, you can login with Facebook and Gmail.

So go ahead, give it a go!

[Feature image source.]

Five things lately

So let’s start with this: in exactly one month it will be Christmas. ONE. MONTH. I’m not really sure how that even happened. It’s been one hell of a year, in so many ways. And not just because we now have a fancy system that basically does all our invoicing for us.

Because Liz gave you a very informative, business-y post last week about that very same invoicing system (if you missed it, please feel free to absorb the wisdom here. Also – there are cat pictures.), I thought I’d share five random things that I’ve learnt/experienced lately.

1. Owning your own business sometimes means late nights and stressing about finances. And sometimes it means bikini shopping on a Wednesday afternoon.

2. When your client sees her new website for the first time and is so completely chuffed that she struggles to make words – that right there is the stuff. The reason we do what we do. Sure, paying rent is awesome. But moments like that – they are my affirmation.

3. Tax. Oh ALL-THE-EXPLETIVES-ALL-OF-THEM. Liz reckons that this is how we feel about tax:

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[Source]

For me, it’s more like this I think:

panic

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I can now tell you that I know the difference between PAYE and provisional tax. The provisional tax deadline is in January 2015. The PAYE deadline is NOT. Failing to understand this means a FULL-on panic when you realise that your actual deadline is tomorrow. It also means paying the wonderful people who come to your rescue in snapdragons (boys – those are flowers) and beer.

4. Being able to advise friends on how to start or grow their own businesses – because you’ve been there and you’re still working it out – is pretty great. It’s a wonderful thing seeing so much potential in people you admire, and being able to see ways in which you can help them take off. Even if it’s just telling them how amazing they are over a beer.

5. The more I see of the business world, the more I really think that we are all just faking it ‘til we make it. Especially when you start your own thing. The amazing thing is to get to a point when you see how well your projects are doing and how far you’ve come – when you hear the words that you are making as you sit in a meeting and you think: “Holy s@#%, we really do know what we are doing. That was some great advice I just gave. I would hire us.”

“Invoicing? Ain’t no thang”: advice for small businesses

I never thought I’d catch myself clapping for glee about… software. I also never thought I’d do chair dances about getting coding right. But here we are. Having your own business does things to you. When you start out, you have to do the best with what you have. We’ve grown over the past eighteen months so we decided to start investing in systems to help our business run better. For us, that meant investing in a good time-tracking and invoicing programme.

Like everyone except accountants a lot of people, Sarah and I feel like this about accounts:

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But we both feel like this about tax:

cat 2

(Source)

So we did the best we could, which at that stage was accounts in Excel, quotes and invoices in Word and us in between. This system was fine but it was pretty laborious and we were pretty certain that we were working far more hours than we had actually quoted for on most jobs. As we grew, we wanted accuracy and efficiency and so the search began.

I looked at loads of software with invoicing and time tracking functionality and Zoho came out tops for us. It had everything we wanted (and loads more), it was affordable and it had the perfect balance of automation and customisation.

Here are my top five favourite things about it:

1. Logical navigation

Each client has a profile which you assign projects to. You time tasks associated to each of these projects. For example:

Client: X

Project: Website rebuild

Tasks: Content editing, website design, SEO implementation.

2. Simple, easy time tracking

The time tracking is simple: you name the task and hit the timer. What if you forget? You can input it manually.

3. Beautiful, automated invoices

Once you’ve decided how you want to bill clients, set up and customised an initial invoice design from loads of templates, it just takes one click to generate an invoice for a client. It pulls through all of your information, all of their information, the project information, the tasks and their descriptions as well as their logged times and puts it into a beautiful, professional-looking design.

4. Super slick process

From there, you can email off the invoice from within the Zoho or save it as a PDF and send from your own email programme. Once the client has paid the invoice, you mark it as such and all of that information is fed through to your reports. You can even design and automate a thank you email, which also allows for a personal message to the client.

5. Information-packed reports

The thing I get the biggest kick out of is the reports. You can set a budget of hours that you’ve quoted the client for and see how many you’ve worked through at any point in the project. This gives you great control on your investment in a project so you can pull back and speak to the client when you can see that you’re going to need more hours or add more services when you’ve underworked a project. The financial reports let you see the growth of your business and that’s the most exciting thing of all.

WordCamp wisdom: 10 takeaways from the 2014 WordPress conference

I realise that it’s been a while since WordCamp – which we went to on 23 October – but we got so much out of the conference that I thought it was worth another quick blog post to share some of the nuggets of wisdom we came away with.

So – here are our 10 takeaways from WordCamp, some of which are from talks and others from our own observations:

  1. “It’s all well and good getting traffic to your website, but your site then needs to be good enough to convert that traffic into leads.” (Chantelle Bowyer)
  2. “Google Analytics help not just with marketing decisions but with business decisions too. There is no more guess work as the cold, hard facts are there.” (Chantelle Bowyer)
  3. “Focus on where the value lies. Speak to your customer – what do they actually need? Don’t give them any unnecessary fluff.” (Matt Cohen)
  4. “All innovation begins with vision. It’s what happens next that is critical.” (Matt Cohen quoting Eric Ries)
  5. Emma Jane Dicks and Code4CT are teaching young girls to code and changing perceptions about women in the IT world. Looking at the demographics of the WordCamp conference (95% male and white) it’s clear just how important the work is that they’re doing. Read more here: http://code4ct.com/
  6. “How a website it written is just as important as the design.” (Noel Tock). We couldn’t agree more with this point and believe that our words background and subsequent approach to website creation are what sets Pomegranite apart in the web development world.
  7. “The biggest compliment you can give WordPress is to just use what you need and leave everything else out. It’s a tool.” (Noel Tock) In other words – don’t blindly follow the theme. Rather focus on what your website actually needs.
  8. “You don’t realise how even educated web users use your interface. UX testing is crucial.” (Dave Perel)
  9. “People are not clicks. They aren’t conversion rates. You need to have a personal touch.” (Nick Haralambous)
  10. And my favourite of the day, something we all need to be reminded of sometimes: “It’s just a job, you do it to live. Not the other way around.” (Tomaz Zaman)