A Freelance Digital Ninja in the Philippines, Part 1

Junno at work

When I was in Oregon in July 2009, I hired a friend of a friend to set up a website for me. He used an all-purpose theme from WordPress. Later he made some adjustments because I couldn’t access it from the Philippines. Then he disappeared. I was unable to find anyone here to help me. I knew nothing about websites, but managed to figure out enough to post regularly.

Ten or eleven years later I found a developer who remodeled the site, and I was delighted that he clearly understood the material I was uploading. On the front end, the side the viewer sees, it looked very professional, but the back side was another matter. After a while he also disappeared.

When I was finally introduced to Junno, he did a lot of work, explaining it all to me as he went along. A lot needed to be done, mostly on the back side, like fixing broken links, updating plugins, reducing the size of images, all the stuff that makes it work. I am confident that he will not disappear.

Recently we talked about his experience as a developer. Part 1 of his story concerns the nuts and bolts of website building and Part 2 the human side.

We used Skype, our usual means of communication, while I was in Antipolo and he was in Cavite Province, where I used to live. Thanks to Junno for visual aids.

Junno’s story

Why don’t we start out by your introducing yourself and explaining what it is you do?

Okay. I’m Junno Gonzales, a digital marketing specialist on the freelance marketplace since 2012. I do anything from web design to social media; to search engine optimization (SEO) to pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. My first freelance gig was a data entry project with Google, and I slowly improved on my skill sets to what I do now.

Mostly website development?

Yes. Most of the clients I work with need one or two of my services, web design and SEO, which go hand in hand. When a client needs to build web presence, my team and I create the website, improve it with SEO—so it is seen by as many people as possible—and maybe monetize it.

I imagine most of your clients are selling or promoting stuff online, Is that right?

That’s right. They used to be mostly brick-and-mortar stores, but I think over the past few years many more brick-and-mortar businesses have seen the need for their own websites with SEO.

So a website like mine would be a little unusual in that I’m not selling anything.

Actually, working with you, Carol, is a first for me, because the focus is on content. You haven’t monetized your brand yet.

Do you think putting up ads is something we should think about for the future?

Definitely. Websites that provide content and blog posts almost always have advertising. We could also explore sponsored partnerships, especially with reviews of books or travel spots like bars or restaurants.  That would be the next step to take after you get a larger audience.

Okay, so why don’t you explain for me and our readers what’s involved in setting up a website so it’s done right the first time?

First you need to know why you’re setting one up. Some people want to build an information site, or info site, in order to share information in a particular field or topic, either because it’s connected with their business or because they want to help people. Turning East is a good example. Sites that are set up to sell goods or services are called e-commerce websites. They can be very effective right now because of the popularity of shopping online.

A third type is a forum, or a community knowledge base, where knowledgeable people answer questions for a particular niche. Some people earn revenue from creating this type of website, but it’s harder than with info sites.

Why?

It’s harder to get people to “like” forums, and even harder to find people willing to share information or expertise without being paid. These “thought leaders,” as we call them, can get overwhelmed with a deluge of questions. Let’s suppose you’re in Quora and a subscriber asks for specific details about solid state devices, a type of storage system for computers. You answer a simple question, and you think that was that. The next thing you know, you’re receiving messages asking for more details. Since you’re considered the thought leader in that field, you answer the question. It may require you to do some research, which eats up a lot of your time and resources and which you are usually not getting paid for. Another challenge is finding willing experts. That’s really hard.

It’s hard enough just to get people to interview.

Yeah, exactly.

After you figure out what your new client needs, then what?

That’s where my digital marketing expertise comes in. Sometimes people want a digital presence but don’t need to build a self-hosted website, which requires money, time, and effort. A page on Facebook or LinkedIn may fit the bill, or simply a Twitter or Instagram account. Social media might be enough to create a web presence, spread brand awareness, and present information about their business or services.

A website makes it easier for the target audience or target customers to find them on search engines. Google usually gives websites a higher priority than social media pages.

That’s why whenever digital marketers take on a new client, we go through a stakeholders meeting. This is where the client fills out forms about business information and we ask questions in order to clarify what the client needs. We have to know the purpose of the site, the budget, and the lifetime cost. Then we can figure out the best way going forward. If a social media page would be sufficient, we set up a schedule for the posts, like maybe once a week. If we get complete data at the stakeholder’s meeting, we discuss the possible options, factoring in the timeline and the cost. Not everyone’s options are the same.

What’s a lifetime cost?

For the client it would be the lifetime cost of setting up and maintaining a social media profile or a website, including fees for hosting, domain, webmaster, and other essentials. There’s also the lifetime cost for the client’s customers. Say, for example, I’m working with a salon. I might ask how often customers need manicures and pedicures and what the value of these services is. We crunch the numbers and present options. In answer to your question, the lifetime cost is used to establish a balance between the digital cost of running the business and the average value of the customer.

Do you design social media pages also?

Right now, no. I just handle the content curation and the social media scheduling for social media profiles.

What do you mean social media scheduling?

It’s all about planning your social media posts in advance, through the use of tools like Buffer, SocialPilot, or HootSuite. These allow you to share content from the internet which is related to the niche you’re targeting. They also allow you to setup your social media posts to go out at your preferred time and date.

When we devise social media strategies, we discuss how often to post, how much of the content to share, and whether articles and images have to be created. Our team researches the ideal spacing of social media posts and then, with the client’s consent, we create what we call a social media content deck. It details the post content and schedule, such as weekly or monthly. If the client approves the deck, we enter this info on the tool we are using. A social media page that I’m handling right now already has the posts prepared and scheduled for next month.

One other option for someone like myself who does primarily blogs would be just to use the free space offered on WordPress.com. Is that right?

I think WordPress.com actually allows that, but you would be set up under their subdomain. If I published a site with WordPress as my hosting, my address would be JunnoGonzales.wordpress.com. Customization would be limited, and no ads would be allowed.

After you and the client decide what arrangement you want, then what?

We go through the budget first and discuss what has to be done. Some clients have no previous experience with web design, while others already have an existing website and just want it redesigned.

From there we provide a list of necessary steps in order to set expectations. We also ask clients whether they have an existing graphic designer because we have one on our team.

I then proceed to create a number of mockups or demos that I show to the client. After the client selects a mockup, we add the content and revise the layout following their branding. This process makes it easier for the client to visualize the end result.

Do you work primarily with WordPress?

Yes, but two of the developers on the team are competent in the two other main content management systems, Joomla and Drupal. Unfortunately, available developers for these other CMS are scarce, and this is why I don’t recommend these other CMS to clients. That’s why I encourage clients to work with WordPress.

I think I also read that WordPress is more user-friendly for the client or the person uploading the website. You think that’s true? 

That’s exactly right, Carol. Because WordPress is the most widely used, it’s has a more user-friendly dashboard, or back end. When the webpage or blog is done, it’s easier for clients to make necessary changes. It’s also easy to customize and edit.

What happens next?

We usually divide the progress into three stages: 25% completion, 50%, and 100%. By the end of stage one, the mockups are done, showing a general look of how the website will flow. At stage two, the content, colors, and branding of the site have been added and functionalities implemented. At the third stage, only minor changes are needed, like revisions to content and layout. Once the work is finished and the client has approved it, it’s ready to launch.

What do you mean “branding”?

Your brand is built upon your brand identity, including your logo, colors, packaging, copy, and more. So that’s what I meant by implementing the clients’ branding.

You do a little something extra for your clients, don’t you?

Yeah. I include an instruction video, a walk-through for both the front end and the back end. This video explains how everything works: the functions, the flow, and the design. I also make a separate video of how to navigate the back end. This is something that the client might need in order to make any changes on the website—changing a page, or creating or editing a blog post. The client should be able to do it if I’m not available. Some of our clients are non-technical, and some are elderly. We need to make sure they have at least a semblance of control on the back-end. The video does that for them.

To give you an example, here’s a little video I made from your website on how to make a link between the text and a previous post. (Link)

I’ve seen some how-to WordPress videos, but I’ve usually found it easier to teach myself through trial and error.

Since WordPress is highly customizable, dashboards and functionalities may differ. There will be different ways to create a link or maybe attach an image to your blog. The look and functionality of your site might differ from what you see in those tutorial videos, further adding confusion. This is the reason why I record a video walkthrough of the sites I develop. I then save it on Google Drive so clients can review it if they need to.

Okay, well, that explains my frustration when I get directions in text or video and the buttons I’m told to use are not there.

Yes. Usually that’s a big challenge for clients. That is also the reason why I recommend that clients acquire some basic familiarity with their own website. They would not want to be always contacting the developer or the webmaster and paying two hundred dollars when the solution might be very simple.

Yeah, and I guess this is both a statement and a question. I have not used the WordPress forums very much at all. When I have a question, I don’t want to slog through pages of tedious text when the directions may well have nothing to do with what I see in front of me.

The WordPress forums usually can provide answers to default bare installations. Unfortunately, once you start customizing your site, you install themes, plugins, amongst others. You are better off directly contacting the theme developer or the plugin developer for troubleshooting issues that you encounter.

Can you explain what a plugin is?

A plugin is something like a script for a program that you can add to your site in order to add extra functionality. One plugin I’m quite fond of is called Akismet. Because spammers use automated software, they can post on every website they encounter. Akismet automatically filters comment it thinks is spam, so you don’t have to sift through hundreds and maybe thousands of comments every day.

I had some experience with spam, and I just turned off the comment and register functions. This was after getting over 800 comments in three days—for things like used cars in the UK, which I think was sent out to everyone on WordPress.

That’s why some automated software actually prevents it from happening.

You’ve described what happens when people are starting out with a new website. What if somebody comes to you like I did with a website which really needs work? Broken links, photos that had fallen off the front end, all that.

The assessment of what needs to be fixed has to come from the stakeholders meeting with the client. I have to know what they expect and what the challenges are in order for me to come up with solutions to resolve those issues.

In your case, the problem was some plugins were not working as they were supposed to. There were also broken links that needed to be fixed and images that had to be reattached to their respective pages. In situations like this, I make a list of what the client thinks is wrong and then what I need to do to fix it. I create a step-by-step plan that I can send to the client. Later on, I also make a list of problems I found myself and what should be done about them.

With most of your clients, does it start out with someone needing a website built from scratch or somebody who’s got a website that needs help?

Usually someone who needs help. They present me with the problems they are encountering, and I present them with solutions based on their budget and timeline.

To be honest, when a website hasn’t been maintained properly, a redesign or restructure is needed. It’s better to take it all down and rebuild it using the old site as a reference. Nowadays, the way technology advnaces, you need to replace your smart phone every two or three years. It’s the same with a website.

In your case, since there are already a number of content or blogs that exist, a complete wipe is out of the question. That’s why we did the fix. Later, when you want to include advertising, we should switch to a theme that would allow ads. That would mean completely redesigning the site and changing some things on the back end while keeping your old content. As I was saying earlier, it all depends on the client’s situation, what she wants to do, and what the options are.

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