120: Freelancing with Nolan Erck

As Carol launches her Freelancing career, we thought it would be valuable to interview Nolan Erck, Owner and Director at South of Shasta. For the past 15-years, Nolan has been a Freelance web developer, a mobile developer, and a polyglot technology trainer. He knows the ins-and-outs of attracting clients, setting up a business, and sub-contracting work in order to keep the coffers flush. If there's anyone who can guide Carol into the pit of success, it will be Nolan.

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With audio editing and engineering by ZCross Media.


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[00:00:00] Nolan Erck: I've had clients that.

[00:00:01] Nolan Erck: Had, table based HTML apps using vanilla JavaScript, not sure where to go from there, how to make a mobile app out of it. And so I've had to come in and tell them things like, okay, well first this is GitHub, let's put all of your code in there. And then had to spend a few days, you know, wrangling that in, that being, pushing companies outside of their comfort zone in some spots.

[00:00:18] Nolan Erck: It's been kind of a variety of different things. It really has varied from project to project.

[00:00:41] Intro

[00:00:41] Adam: here we go. It is show number one 20, and on today's show we're going to be discussing freelancing with Nolan.

[00:00:47] Adam: Eric. Eric, I, how do you pronounce Eric? Okay. I should know that I've known you for a long time. but, yeah. So we have a special guest today. Nolan, welcome

[00:00:56] Nolan Erck: Hi. Thanks for having.

[00:00:57] Adam: of course. but first as usual, we'll start with our triumphs and fails and then we'll learn a little bit about Nolan and who he is and why we're talking to him about freelancing.

[00:01:04] Adam: I guess it's my turn to go first,

[00:01:05] Adam's Failure

[00:01:05] Adam: so I'm going to start us off with a. And my fail is that, recently I was watching a, a YouTube video about, lion's, main mushrooms from a science channel that I particularly trust and respect. and they were talking about the benefits of it and I was like, well, I clicked on the video to watch it because I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, I, I wanted to, to look into that and I, I watched the video and I was like, you know what?

[00:01:28] Adam: I'm pretty sure I already ordered some of this. And I looked in my Amazon history and it was like six months ago I ordered this thing. I'm like, I'm, I'm pretty sure I haven't been taking it. Whatever happened to that? Did, did the order not arrive? Maybe that's why I forgot about it. No, the order arrived.

[00:01:41] Adam: It's right here on my desk. It's been here for six months. I just forgot to start taking it, which probably is a good reason for me to start taking it cuz it's supposed to be good for memory. So

[00:01:51] Adam: that's

[00:01:51] Adam: my.

[00:01:52] Ben: Nicely

[00:01:52] Ben: done. Do you remember, like, like, I wanna say it was like two years ago, there were all these news reports coming out about people receiving random seed packs from China

[00:02:04] Carol: Yeah.

[00:02:05] Ben: and there was all this concern that they were trying to, like, was this some sort of biological warfare? Was it some sort of weird scam?

[00:02:12] Ben: And, nobody had any really good understanding of it. And I think like a year. Someone did some in-depth research and like, actually called different distribution companies. And it turned out that they were just super back ordered because of all the pandemic stuff and the, and the supply chain issues.

[00:02:29] Ben: And it just happened that people suddenly started getting orders months and months and months after they had placed the order and no one remembered that they had actually placed those orders.

[00:02:37] Adam: that's funny.

[00:02:38] Ben: It's good times.

[00:02:40] Adam: All right, well, that's about, I guess, enough about lion's, mean mushroom extract. how about you?

[00:02:45] Ben's Triumph

[00:02:45] Ben: I'm gonna go with a triumph, which, I've talked on the show previously about studying the hot wire framework and, I feel like I'm at a point where I can actually start to apply that in a real world scenario. So my, yeah. my, my plan now is to see if I can upgrade my personal blog, which is written in ColdFusion to use Hot Wire, which is an.

[00:03:07] Ben: Framework that encompasses turbo and stimulus and, it, you can't quite just like drop it in and have it all play nicely cuz you have to kind of migrate things. But I, I think I have a plan for essentially installing it, but, but keeping it relatively inert and then being able to pinpoint targeted, updates of portions of the site to start using that technology and then kind of just migrated page by page and, and section by section.

[00:03:34] Ben: But, I, I'm pretty excited about it, you know, like I'm 90% excited about it just because it's something new to try. But, the, I think the technology is pretty cool. So,

[00:03:44] Adam: Where on your site are you planning on using it? Like The only thing that comes to mind for me at least public facing, would be the, like the comment section.

[00:03:51] Ben: Yeah. The whole, I mean, the whole site can use it cuz part of what it does is, is it just does page rendering via the fetch api. So as I, as you go from say, page to page in the application, it will intercept those clicks, load them via fetch, and then essentially hot swap the entire body. and the, the underlying philosophy there is that most of the latency when it comes to page navigation comes from re parsing and reapplying style sheets and JavaScript files that the H T M L itself is actually like, that's the browser's bread and butter, so to speak.

[00:04:26] Ben: It can do that instantaneously. So if you can take out just the portions that don't have to be necessarily reevaluated, doing the HTML should be a lot faster. I mean, I say a lot faster in quotes cuz you know, it's, it's, it's not a static site, but it's not that far off from a static site. So

[00:04:44] Adam: a full pager load.

[00:04:45] Ben: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

[00:04:46] Ben: But you know, we're talking probably millisecond difference, but I don't know. I'm still, I'm

[00:04:51] Adam: Yeah. I, I just thought of the, the typical blog session, the way that I interact with a blog typically, which is I, you know, I land there from Google, I read the thing that I wanna read, and then I click back.

[00:05:00] Ben: a thousand percent, that's gonna be what the, what, what the, the primary use case is. And, and

[00:05:06] Adam: there are gonna people who click throughout their articles and stuff. Yeah.

[00:05:09] Ben: it's, it's like almost more for my own edification than anyone else's. And, and the reality is, if you think about something like the Google, page speed tests, like that's all about initial loads and nothing, nothing that I'm doing here has anything to do with initial loads.

[00:05:24] Ben: It's all kind of the subsequent navigation. So there's no, there's no benefit, I don't think from like a lighthouse score perspective in any way that I can think of. But, again, it, it gives me a real world context in which to, to try it and I think come up across, up against the hurdles and the hardships, and then figure out how to solve those problems. In that learning, I think I could more readily take it and apply it to something that's more like an application and less just like a content site.

[00:05:52] Adam: Cool.

[00:05:53] Ben: yeah, I'm excited. I'll, I'll

[00:05:55] Adam: a personal project where you can try new.

[00:05:56] Ben: you know, I might bring it up again on a, on a future show, so we'll see

[00:06:00] Adam: maybe. I mean, it's only been on every single one for like the last nine weeks.

[00:06:05] Ben: So that's me. Carol, how about you?

[00:06:07] Carol's Triumph

[00:06:07] Carol: Oh, I'm gonna go with a giant win, you guys. So in about eight weeks I'm moving, which means I have to get like my house ready to be out of it, right? So I'm gonna rent this house out. and over this week I have done so many projects here and gotten things done that I had just been back burner, like putting on the back burner and like, I'll get to it later or I'll hire someone to do it.

[00:06:29] Carol: Well, since I have free time now, I actually went into my garage, found my tools, and did the work myself. So like for example, I had ran Cat six through the house. So like all the rooms have ethernet so you don't have to use wifi through the walls. So, the. Holes behind all the desks though. Were just holes in the sheet rock.

[00:06:48] Carol: Well now they all have boxes and they have pretty connectors and now they're cap correctly and they're patched. And now they be touched up with some, some holes too. But that's, I know how fix it now.

[00:07:00] Tim: by.

[00:07:01] Adam: Yeah.

[00:07:03] Tim: Describes my house to a t.

[00:07:04] Carol: I love it. So, I've had a lot of fun just getting to kind of get my hands dirty and do things I've been not doing because I was working so much. And now that I have free time, I'm like, okay, I can just handle these things. And I really enjoy being hands on with stuff like fixing my house, like replacing a ceiling fan.

[00:07:22] Carol: I didn't even know I knew how to do that until I knew how to do that. Now I do. So I did it

[00:07:27] Adam: Good.

[00:07:28] Ben: cool. Maybe this is a stupid question, but I know nothing about running. Wire it are, are you like, you just like feeding it through the attic area and then just dropping it down in between the walls? Is that what, is that what that entails?

[00:07:42] Carol: Yeah, so I have, ubiquity, I know I've talked about that before with you guys, and I have a switch in my office. So in my office, which is where we're at right now. So I have an off my office, I put a, four port box there. So I just ran four cables up into the attic, and then four cables just hit that switch, and then from the attic it drops into the four bedrooms.

[00:08:03] Ben: Mm, nice.

[00:08:04] Carol: so if the house had been built with conduit, I would just drop it to the conduit and we'd be like, okay, this is where it's always gonna go. Well, they didn't do that. They didn't really wire this house, you know, for efficiency and for future. So I actually had to go up into. like the structure, I don't even know what they're called because I don't know anything about construction, but there's like a piece of wood in between the walls.

[00:08:24] Carol: I had to drill holes through some of the actual, like two by fours

[00:08:28] Adam: Mm-hmm.

[00:08:28] Carol: get into the, the in between sheet rock.

[00:08:31] Tim: the cross support?

[00:08:32] Carol: yeah,

[00:08:33] Tim: Yeah. I've got like a giant drill bit that's like eight feet long. So you, so you can get through the little cross beam there in the, in the middle of the wall.

[00:08:42] Carol: I didn't have to go that deep. Mine wasn't the giant wood. It was a small wood, but I got through it. Yeah, yeah,

[00:08:48] Tim: So where are you moving to? Have you told us?

[00:08:50] Carol: yeah. I have, I think I have, we're moving Arizona, so we'll be at Fort Chuka this summer, so I'm gonna need to take a few weeks off you guys cause the army makes us strive. So it's gonna be a week long trip.

[00:09:03] Tim: Denied.

[00:09:04] Carol: Yeah.

[00:09:04] Adam: sorry. No, you're gonna have to report it from the road.

[00:09:07] Tim: It's a road trip. Road trip episode

[00:09:09] Carol: yeah, after like six days in the car with a dog and my husband, you might not want me on a call anytime.

[00:09:15] Adam: You might want the.

[00:09:17] Tim: Exactly.

[00:09:19] Carol: But that's me. What about you, Tim? What you got going?

[00:09:22] Tim's Triumph

[00:09:22] Tim: So, you know, at at work, you know, I, I'd mentioned earlier, several times at how I enjoy like, kind of building prototypes, you know, particularly like sales demo kind of prototypes. But I, I kind of hit a wall. some of these APIs from, from companies that we're trying to partner with, they're just, they're just, you need a level of, expertise in them that, that, it's really hard to get quickly and their documentation isn't necessarily geared toward what you're trying to do.

[00:09:47] Tim: So I've learned to outsource all the things so, Just, you know, like, like idiot manager, you just start, you know, outsource your work, make yourself relevant. yeah, so I've been talking to contractors, who are familiar with these companies that we're partnering with and just saying, Hey, I'm trying to build a proof of concept.

[00:10:03] Tim: And I had several meetings with them and, and, going good. I mean, the, the end result is I just wanna be able to, you know, demo to people, a working product, you know, at least a, a a proof of concept kind of thing. So we can get some sales in, but it's kind of, kind of freeing just to, you know, make it someone else's problem.

[00:10:20] Tim: And, and they'll be like, you know, you pay 'em a little bit of money and, they come back and they're like, here it is. And it all kind of works. So at least that's the plan. We'll say, I might be crying about this in four weeks. So, but yeah, that, that's the plan. Just, just outsource these things to some experts who, who know what they're doing and are financially motivated to get it done quickly.

[00:10:38] Tim: And then, yeah, see what we can bring in.

[00:10:40] Adam: Okay.

[00:10:41] Carol: I think that's pretty cool.

[00:10:42] Ben: Has anyone here tried to use ChatGPT to, to like, have it generate anything of, of significance?

[00:10:50] Adam: I.

[00:10:51] Tim: Today? Yeah, today. I, funny mentioned that. So I got, I was on the waiting list for, for the new Bing, which uses chat g PT four. And I told it to write a ColdFusion program that works like Twitter.

[00:11:05] Ben: how did it do with that?

[00:11:07] Adam: How

[00:11:07] Tim: it, made, it did, it just did a bunch, it did a bunch of comments and some functions that really didn't do anything. Didn't talk to any sort of, didn't sort of talk to any sort of database or anything. It was all extremely general.

[00:11:18] Adam: So it was about on par with your typical ColdFusion programmer

[00:11:21] Carol: Oh, burn.

[00:11:23] Tim: And specifically

[00:11:23] Carol: No.

[00:11:24] Tim: Specifically mine.

[00:11:26] Tim: So, yeah, no, I've not had a, other than that, I haven't had had it code for me.

[00:11:31] Adam: I've been, using it occasionally to try and like automate figuring out complex, command line stuff. So for example, I wanted, I had a whole bunch of Lambda functions that I wanted to apply a tag to. and they just all had a very similar name. Like they all had the same suffix and I just wanted to like, use the AWS c l I get a list of all the functions, pare it down to just the ones I care about, and then use that list of function names and the, and the RS from them, the ar n to, to then send a command to apply a tag to each of those.

[00:12:05] Adam: And it didn't get it perfect, but it got me close enough that I was able to just like, figure it out myself. And that the whole process took maybe like five, 10 minutes if I had started that from scratch to try and like, Figure that out from the AWS SDK and read the docs and all that, it probably would've taken me an hour or two.

[00:12:22] Adam: So, stuff like that, it's been real helpful. There's actually the, talking about building command line commands with the AI stuff. there's a new beta from GitHub, they have like co-pilot for the cli and I'm, I'm in the, the beta for that, I guess. and it's interesting, it suffers from a lot of the same problems.

[00:12:40] Adam: Like, it, it kind of just like says, here's what I think. And, and you have to, you have to be able to read it to understand, is that gonna do what I want it to do or to try it? Is it dangerous to try it? So, but it, it's definitely helpful. So been happy.

[00:12:55] Ben: Yeah, it, it, I'm, I'm such a laggard in terms of my adoption of like, anything, yeah, it, I, I, I don't even have a ChatGPT account yet. I, I'm like, it's gonna be months, if not years before. I think I'm motivated enough to sign up for something new and I don't know, I just, everyone's so excited about it. I mean, it only, it only popped on mind cuz Tim's talking about having prototypes built and someone yesterday had pointed me to a threat on Twitter where some guy was outlining all the things that he had ChatGPT writing for him and like how they were.

[00:13:28] Ben: Basically flawless and like anytime they had errors, he could just ask chat g b t to, to fix the errors. And it did, and I'm, I, I don't know, it just, it didn't sound like any of the work that I do, which is usually in brownfield applications and dealing with customers and how do you have chat G B T, you know, determine customer requirements.

[00:13:47] Ben: Just, it doesn't seem like a thing. But anyway, I digress as I often do.

[00:13:54] Adam: What you're here for, man.

[00:13:55] Tim: that's, that's it.

[00:13:56] Adam: It's the value you bring.

[00:13:58] Adam: How about you, Nolan? You got, something to, to throw in.

[00:14:01] Nolan's Triumph

[00:14:01] Nolan Erck: sure. It's been, a full week for sure. I had a couple triumphs and a couple fails I'll go with, I guess my favorite upcoming triumph. I'm. New car tomorrow,

[00:14:08] Ben: Oh,

[00:14:09] Nolan Erck: I'll go with, so that'll be my thing. Yeah, I am, I guess to use Ben's phrase, I am a laggard when it comes to vehicles. I tend to buy one car and keep it for many, many, many years.

[00:14:18] Nolan Erck: And, I currently have a Honda Fit that I've had for 12 years, and it's the things you expect a actually 13 year old car to do to where it's letting me know I'm not gonna continue running forever and ever. so I started looking around for something with a tiny bit more space to make it easier to fit band equipment in the car.

[00:14:35] Nolan Erck: When I have shows with my bands and such,

[00:14:37] Tim: Fit. Get it

[00:14:38] Nolan Erck: Yep, exactly. Yep. There's no way around that one. I just kind of, I've said that sentence so many times now that it doesn't even hit my brain in the unintended spot anymore. but I've got an uncle that is a big wig in the used car world out here on the west coast, and he was able to find me a Toyota rav4 for a really good price.

[00:14:54] Nolan Erck: And, it's, in transit from there, wherever they're getting their cars from right now. And supposedly I'll get it, maybe tomorrow or Saturday.

[00:15:02] Ben: Very

[00:15:02] Nolan Erck: I'm looking forward to that. Yeah,

[00:15:04] Carol: awesome.

[00:15:04] Nolan Erck: so,

[00:15:05] Carol: Buying new cards is is always a fun thing. It's stressful, but then when it's finally done, you're like, yes, this is fun. You get to drive something new and play with it and learn all the features.

[00:15:14] Nolan Erck: Yeah. I've bought every car I've ever owned from my uncle all the way back through when I was in high school, and one of the days I fear the most in the world is when he eventually retires and I have to deal with the real car salesman out there to buy my next vehicle. So,

[00:15:27] Tim: Yeah. I, I'm, I'm such a laggard. I don't, we don't have any vehicle that's not over 10 years old.

[00:15:33] Ben: Oh man. Do you have a backup camera? A backup camera

[00:15:37] Adam: doesn't even know what a backup camera.

[00:15:39] Tim: what's a backup?

[00:15:41] Ben: Oh

[00:15:41] Tim: Oh, backup. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. The Toyota, Toyota is a, is a 2020, the 2013. 2000, yeah, 2013. But it's 10 years old. It's got a backup camera, but yeah. And then I've got a 1986 pickup truck, which would runs great. And then I got a, a 2017 truck. So

[00:16:00] Ben: Nice.

[00:16:01] Tim: no car payments. Zero car payments.

[00:16:03] Carol: That's a.

[00:16:04] Tim: Yep.

[00:16:05] Adam: All right.

[00:16:06] Ben: right.

[00:16:07] Adam: So, Nolan, why don't you tell us about yourself? Who are you and what do you do? And why are we talking to you today?

[00:16:12] Nolan Erck: my name is Nolan. I, I run a consulting business called South of Shasta. I've been a full-time developer consultant for the better part of the last 15 years. writing a variety of web and mobile applications for kind of whoever needs one. And I also teach a fair amount of workshops, on web development related topics too.

[00:16:30] Nolan Erck: companies will call me and say, can you come teach our team SQL queries for two days, or responsive web design, or whatever the the thing is. And I've been, for the most part, keeping myself gainfully employed for the last 15 years doing that. just as a, an independent developer consultant. I say for the most part because when Covid hit, there've been little blips of where, just for everyone's sanity purposes, it's been easier to, let a couple of clients make me a full-time employee so I can hang on to benefits a little more easily and that sort of thing.

[00:16:55] Nolan Erck: But while still doing it, at least for the most part, under the umbrella of my consultancy, and, uh, we're here today because, Carol pinged me the other day and, said she was curious about how I've been doing this and how to make it work for something similar she's thinking of doing in the future. So of course when I got asked, do you wanna jump on the podcast?

[00:17:12] Nolan Erck: I said, absolutely. There's, you know, anytime I'm down, to get to hang out with all of you Nice, fun people. Sounds like that was an easy answer, easy, question to answer. Say, here I am

[00:17:22] Carol: And Carol always likes free consulting, so that's what you're ultimately doing. You know, we just, you know, got you by saying a podcast.

[00:17:30] Adam: Yeah. Why you start a podcast to get your questions answered for free

[00:17:33] Tim: Yeah. But it, yeah, it's, it's free exposure. Nolan, I mean, I'm, I'm,

[00:17:38] Nolan Erck: That's how I pay my rent. I just, I go on podcasts once every month and money falls from the sky from that somehow. Right,

[00:17:44] Tim: landlord's like, Hey, I heard you on that podcast. You don't have to pay rent

[00:17:47] Nolan Erck: exactly. That's totally how the real world works.

[00:17:50] Tim: It does. Yeah, for sure.

[00:17:51] What is the Work Day Like?

[00:17:51] Carol: you said you mostly do like web development, right? So do you do any like project management for people or come in and help, like write technical documents? Or is the majority of your workday just writing code for already developed projects?

[00:18:03] Nolan Erck: It really has varied from client to client over the years. Sometimes they just need another developer on the team to do what project managers like to call staff augmentation, where I just come in and I'm the extra set of, you know, hands writing code for a few weeks or whatever. other times they need someone to come in and do other project management or team lead type things where I'm, you know, helping to organize developers, especially if it's team that maybe their skillset is a little little bit behind the times they need me to come in and sort of maybe show them some better practices and get them up and running on a more modern stack of some sort answer questions about why their app is, you know, not gonna work on mobile devices or why it's insecure or, I've had clients that.

[00:18:42] Nolan Erck: Had, you know, table based HTML apps using vanilla JavaScript, not sure where to go from there, how to make a mobile app out of it. And so I've had to come in and tell them things like, okay, well first this is GitHub, let's put all of your code in there. And then had to spend a few days, you know, wrangling that in, that being, pushing companies outside of their comfort zone in some spots.

[00:19:00] Nolan Erck: It's been kind of a variety of different things. It really has varied from project to project. and then other times it literally is just me teaching people how to do something or I'll come in and just draw on a whiteboard for a while there were a lot

[00:19:11] Carol: this is how you branch, right?

[00:19:12] Nolan Erck: yeah, this is a

[00:19:13] Carol: this is how you use GitHub.

[00:19:15] Nolan Erck: or this is how you write Java.

[00:19:16] Nolan Erck: I'm in California and the state of California moved their payroll system off of Cobalt and onto Java maybe 7, 8, 10 years ago. so there were dozens of cobalt programmers working for the state that needed to learn Java, enter the training company that contacted me, and I would just kinda drive around to different state agency offices and teach rooms full of cobalt programmers.

[00:19:35] Nolan Erck: Here's what a class does, here's what an object does. and teach them how to do Java programming. And so, yeah, it's kind of been a little bit of everything over the, over the lifespan that I've been running this company.

[00:19:45] Ben: You sound like, quite a polygon programmer. I, I, I know very few languages, but you, you, you sound like you got quite a bit of experience.

[00:19:53] Nolan Erck: yeah, I guess so. That's another part of I think, how to run a successful consulting business. I've always felt like if I had, just so I kind of have a bit of a, name for myself in the ColdFusion world, that's cuz well that's what I was doing when I started speaking at conferences and such. But I've always felt like if I were to just advertise myself as Nolan to ColdFusion developer, I might still be employed as a consultant, but I probably wouldn't be making as much money as I would explore in other projects and other tech acts.

[00:20:22] Nolan Erck: And the work wouldn't be as interesting just because not every tech startup doing something super exciting is using C F M L necessarily to do that. Some of them are. , a lot of it's like government work or state agencies and, kind of older, more established, applications in that world. So I definitely have done a chunk of that over the years, but, yeah, I've worked

[00:20:37] Tim: just shy of cold ball.

[00:20:39] Nolan Erck: right.

[00:20:39] Nolan Erck: I've done, c plus plus Java. I've taught Ruby on Rails classes. Android development, it's kind of been a, a mix of whatever is going on. I think a big part of being a successful consultant, especially these days is figure it out. So you just have to kind of learn whatever the new thing is and not worry too much about like, I don't know, that JavaScript framework, like, well, you don't know it now, but

[00:20:58] Nolan Erck: I'm sure there are 50 YouTube videos on it.

[00:21:00] Nolan Erck: You can figure it out by tomorrow if you have to. And,

[00:21:02] Training

[00:21:02] Tim: so when you say classes is typically where a company's like, Hey, we, we've got, you know, five programmers. We wanted you to come in and teach them soup to nuts about X framework.

[00:21:11] Nolan Erck: some of it's been that, some of it's been, yeah, teams of developers that need to know a new technology being, considered for their environ. Sometimes it's been marketing teams that want to learn how to run their own analytics against the database, so they need someone to come in and teach them basic SQL skills for a couple of days.

[00:21:27] Nolan Erck: so I've

[00:21:27] Nolan Erck: done, I've done that several times. There's yeah, there's a lot

[00:21:29] Carol: a fun one.

[00:21:31] Nolan Erck: it is fun. Yeah. Cause you get different kinds of questions and you get from developers. I've done several of those sorts of things. sometimes it's a company's sort of contact me directly and ask and do things like that.

[00:21:39] Nolan Erck: Like come teach our marketing team and our sales folks sql. Sometimes it's dev teams. a lot of the work has been partnering with the training companies here in California. And what I've learned is a lot of the training companies that advertise, we teach classes on Java and jQuery and Angular and React and all these other things.

[00:21:55] Nolan Erck: They don't actually employ people full-time to teach those classes very often. They advertise that they have a class and then when they get enough students signed up to run it, they contact someone like myself that they know that can provide that service. And then I come in and teach the class for them for a couple of days as a contractor and.

[00:22:11] Ben: Very

[00:22:12] Nolan Erck: So I partnered with a lot of training outfits over the years too, to do that sort of thing.

[00:22:15] Carol: that's a good one. I hadn't even considered that. That has not crossed my radar yet as a possibility of, of other, revenue

[00:22:22] Nolan Erck: that's, that's been a big chunk of the revenue over the years. Been Yeah, teaching the, usually the between one and five day long workshops, depending on what they're covering. and if you enjoy teaching, it's, it's fun.

[00:22:31] Nolan Erck: one of the things that I think often developers get maybe confused about is they think, oh, I've been writing code for 20 years, therefore I'm qualified to teach other people how to write code and writing code and teaching code. Very, very different skills. Some people have both, but some people just don't.

[00:22:47] Nolan Erck: And that's fine. Some people can be fantastic programmers, but hopefully those people understand when, you know, their skill stops at writing code and their skill of explaining it to non-technical people, is, you know, an entirely separate thing that has its own ramp up and its own learning curve. And, I, we, we've all seen.

[00:23:03] Nolan Erck: Happen at conferences too, where there'll be somebody on stage that clearly doesn't actually explain these concepts to non-technical humans very often. And it's that problem just amplified over four or five days and it gets really bad.

[00:23:14] Adam: Yeah. You can tell they're brilliant, but they, they are just doing a terrible job of explaining it to you.

[00:23:20] Nolan Erck: Yeah, exactly.

[00:23:22] How Did You Get Started?

[00:23:22] Ben: Can we just back up for a second? So, Carol recently had a life changing event, so to speak, and, and now is now considering going into. Consulting. You say you've been doing this, you know, come on. 15 years now. I, I assume you were a full-time employee of some sort previous to that. How, how did you make the leap?

[00:23:41] Ben: What was, what was the thing that, that, what was the impetus here?

[00:23:45] Nolan Erck: I was so, yeah, I worked at a couple of traditional brick and mortar companies for a while. did not feel like I was a good fit for either one of them. I was working at a credit union, had an uncle that was kind of a big wig in the semiconductor industry at the. And he had an idea for an app he wanted to sell to semiconductor companies, but he doesn't write code.

[00:24:03] Nolan Erck: so he said, quit your job. I'll match your salary. If you can design and build this app for me, you can just work from your spare bedroom. We'll build the app and and ship it, and that'll be your job. And then, okay, cool. So I quit my job. Yeah. So I did have kind of a, an easier time jumping out of full-time employment land with all the benefits into full-time freelancing.

[00:24:19] Nolan Erck: Cause I had this like buffer air thing in the middle where it's like, okay, I'm a one person shop, but I'm working for my uncle, so I trust him enough to take this leap, which did help give me a, a bit of a stepping stone in that direction. But the goal was never, and this will be my launchpad to become a freelancer.

[00:24:34] Nolan Erck: It was just, I would rather work for my uncle than this terrible company I don't like working for. did that for almost two years. He ended up pulling the plug on the project. he and his business partner had a disagreement and they'd just dissolved the idea, before we finished. But by then I'd been working at home by myself for a, a decent amount of time and I thought, I ki I kind of like this idea.

[00:24:50] Nolan Erck: Maybe this is something I could continue, continue doing. So I shot some emails out to different contacts I had and said, I'm thinking about doing the consulting thing. If you know of anyone who needs help with a project of some sort, please keep me in mind. And then I just started saying yes to everything that showed up. one of the first emails I got was an old coworker of mine said, Hey, I'm working at this, place up in Rockland. Now we're making video chat software for the deaf community. Wanna come write some ColdFusion and some C sharp. Sure. And then about a day later, another colleague wrote me and said, I teach classes at this training outfit in town.

[00:25:23] Nolan Erck: They need another developer to teach the technical classes like the jQuery and the SQL and x sort of stuff. Want me to introduce you so you can teach classes? You betcha. And so I said yes to that too. And that just kind of became the way things went from there. I just kept saying yes to every project that showed up.

[00:25:36] Nolan Erck: And it's been almost 15 years now, and I'm still kind of going with that mentality on things and it's working, knock on wood,

[00:25:43] Carol: Yeah, it's kind of crazy cuz I haven't pushed anywhere. Like I haven't been like, oh, I just changed my status on LinkedIn. The day we got, everybody got let go and it wasn't to find work, it was more of to build a community because. , they did cut two thirds of the people. Right? So it was just have open conversations with coworkers who I didn't know if they were still employed or not.

[00:26:03] Carol: But from that I have just gotten pinged and pinged and pinged with, do you wanna work on this? Like, we have opportunities for this. Like are you've available? And my an I've not told anyone no yet the answer's been okay, I'm taking a little breather because I wanna clear my head and I really want to like mentally be prepared to start this new journey.

[00:26:21] Carol: And I have legal things to figure out, like taxes, you know, how the heck do you handle taxes? Like, that's been a fun one. and like, what software do I wanna use to manage like projects and manage my time?

[00:26:33] Imposter Syndrome

[00:26:33] Carol: And there are things I wanna figure out, but the answer's going to be, like you said, my plan is to pretty much say yes to anything I think I'm qualified to do.

[00:26:40] Carol: I don't want to put anyone's project in jeopardy, so I wouldn't wanna say yes to something that I don't know pretty well. So I'm not gonna pick up a new language right now, but I would definitely pick up any type of like, Organizational type help or any ColdFusion help or any C sharp.net type work, like all of that would be fine.

[00:27:00] Carol: So I've just been super impressed with the community that we are a part of with people reaching out, going, Hey, wanna work on this? Wanna look at this? Like, maybe it's only a few weeks. Maybe we'll keep you a year. Like it's whatever you want.

[00:27:13] Ben: Can I drill into something there for a second? Because Carol said that she doesn't want to take a job if she thinks that it's not gonna end well, right. She doesn't wanna put anybody in a bad situation. As a full-time employee, I often take the mindset that I'm being paid to figure it out, even if I don't know what's going on.

[00:27:32] Ben: And in that context, I suffer from a tremendous amount of imposter syndrome and I have, you know, I'm like dog at the keyboard. I have no idea what I'm doing. As a consultant, I, I almost feel like that imposter syndrome mentality would be amplified cuz like, I would imagine it's like you're not being brought in to figure things out.

[00:27:53] Ben: You're the guy being brought in because you know how it should be done. And I think that that's probably not the right mentality. How do you, how do you balance that?

[00:28:01] Carol: And that is my fear, by the way.

[00:28:03] Nolan Erck: sure that's that's fair and that's fair too. So I guess a couple of thoughts on that. One is, if you get a bad feeling about a project, whether it's because you don't know enough about the stack or something else, it is always okay to say no to a project and, and turn it down, you know? The I imposter syndrome thing definitely happens, a lot in different cases.

[00:28:20] Nolan Erck: I would say. this sounds kind of, like a smart Alec response, but I don't mean it that way. basic poker skills have been a big help in doing that over the years too, of like, I can absolutely do this story. Yep, you no problem. And like on the other screen, while I'm talking to them, I'm like googling links to like, okay, I gotta learn how to do this thing by Monday when I'll be there and I'll do stuff.

[00:28:36] Nolan Erck: I try not to make that the case as a regular way of, of running my business, but the reality is like projects these days have so many different pieces of technology in them. It's not likely that you're gonna know all 10 out of 10 things they have at an expert level. You're gonna know 5, 6, 7 of them and have heard of the other three and be kind of familiar with one or two of them.

[00:28:57] Nolan Erck: I'm like, that's just gonna be the way it is. Especially with like, even just in like Angular, they come up with a new version of Angular every, what, six months. You can't keep up on things at an expert level when the cadence of, you know, is that quick. It just, it's not possible. So, There absolutely is. You know, a point where imposter syndrome comes up.

[00:29:13] Nolan Erck: There's a point where we have to kind of balance which parts of the imposter syndrome are real, and, relate to things like, okay, this is a hole in my skillset right now that I do have to solve because I'm getting asked about technology X, y, Z a lot more frequently than I was last year, and I still don't know a lot about technology X, Y, Z.

[00:29:29] Nolan Erck: personally, I like to try to tie those into like new year resolutions and things. So I have an actual, rather than making my new resolutions, I will balance my checkbook or I will be a better person. Make it a tangible thing, like an annual job review would be Like, if my, if I had a regular day job, my boss would say, okay, by the end of next year, I want you to be more proficient in React or whatever.

[00:29:48] Nolan Erck: well then I would come up with a real project to do that year, even if it's just a personal thing that I put out on my own GitHub repo, and that's all it ever does. But if it's enough to, like I made a real thing and put it out into the world using React, view, sql, whatever the thing is, like, okay. I now have a basic understanding of that enough to where I shipped a thing, even if you wanna put, shipped in air quotes, I'm a little bit more comfortable than, you know, looking at projects that might have that be part of their, their stack.

[00:30:13] Nolan Erck: but yeah, imposter system has absolutely been a thing over the years too, especially when clients get more and more, stressed or when they're, you know, anxious about something, if a project is going long or if there's been some curve ball thrown at it.

[00:30:26] Carol: Like they've had staff change and now the people who knew it are gone. I've ran into that. That's what one of my friends asked. She was like, the two people that were were writing this for us just walked out and I was like, whoa.

[00:30:39] Nolan Erck: I've had some of that happen as well too, or, and the, I've had it happen where the previous development team lied about what the app did or which parts of it they'd finished, and then that developer literally vanished and moved to the other side of the planet somewhere in Denver to be found again.

[00:30:52] Nolan Erck: And now I'm on the hook for, how do I explain to a non-technical client. Here's what the last developer did, even though they told you they did it 300 times. That, yeah. You can have, you know, rough

[00:31:03] Carol: They just catfished you

[00:31:05] Nolan Erck: Right? Yeah. I've had, you know, as much as I've have very much enjoyed being a consultant for 15 years, it has not all been perfect.

[00:31:11] Nolan Erck: There have been projects that have gone very, very sideways here in there over the years, and, hopefully use those as a learning experience,

[00:31:18] Tim: but they still pay you right?

[00:31:20] Nolan Erck: hopefully if you have a good contract in place. And, I've made that mistake before too. I don't make it anymore, but,

[00:31:24] Accounting, Law

[00:31:24] Carol: Yeah. That was the other thing, like Emily lawyer stuff. Mm-hmm.

[00:31:27] Adam: that's a great segue because I wanted to go back, I want to kind of turn over this rock here. So if you're gonna jump in the pool, I'm using too many metaphors. If you're gonna turn over this rock of,

[00:31:36] Tim: and throw it in the pool.

[00:31:38] Adam: yeah. Turn the rock over into the pool, of starting to freelance consult sort of thing.

[00:31:42] Adam: You know, you've already figured out that you need, especially with your multiple state of residency working in other states sort of thing, you've already figured out that you need somebody to help you out with taxes and accounting. I think. Probably true that you're gonna want like a lawyer to help you out on a, on a, like a as needed basis.

[00:31:59] Adam: Are there other things that, that you should be looking for? Nolan?

[00:32:03] Nolan Erck: I think a good accountant is an easy check to cut every year. my accountant could call me up tomorrow and say he is doubling his fee, and I would still blindly cut him that check every year without question.

[00:32:12] Tim: does does he listen to this podcast,

[00:32:14] Nolan Erck: I, you know what, Tim? I, I honestly don't care. He could hon, he could honestly call me up and say, I'm doubling my fee, and go, okay, because it makes all of my tax worries go away.

[00:32:25] Nolan Erck: I hand him a spreadsheet with, here's the expenses, categorize the way you need them. Here's my stack of other paperwork you want. He calls me in about a week and says, it's done. Come pick it up. And I pick it up and. It's completely idiot approved sign here. Sign here. Send this much to the state. Send this much to the feds.

[00:32:39] Nolan Erck: Here's your statements for your quarterlies next year. See

[00:32:42] Carol: Forget cement. Yeah.

[00:32:43] Nolan Erck: It's worth every penny having a good accountant, a good lawyer when you need one. yeah.

[00:32:50] Carol: Yeah. My father-in-law gave me the name of a good accountant that he was using that specializes like the thing he loves working on, is it software companies, and he loves working with startups. So he likes to work with IT companies and he likes to work with startups.

[00:33:07] Carol: So when I saw his bio, I was like, okay, this guy's perfect for me. So of course he's like, yeah. He's like, just whenever you get ready to go to a state, what we'll do is we'll go research that state for you. We'll figure out like how you need to handle your tax for that state. We'll figure out everything for if you're in Georgia or Arizona, because I'm also a resident of Washington, so it's a whole thing because my husband's in the military, so he's like, we'll handle all that for you.

[00:33:29] Carol: I'm like, done. And the exact same thing that you said. I'm like, I don't really care the cost because ultimately I'm gonna put that cost back into an expense to run. What I'm considering is my business and it's what I need to do my job, and it has to be there because I can't do that and I don't wanna be penalized for doing this work and lose more money to the government pass.

[00:33:51] Ben: Well, and can an accountant, the is, is an accountant. The person who will help you figure out things like setting aside a room and like what percentage of square footage is, is for business and like how much of my internet is for the business and all that kind of stuff is the accountant they know.

[00:34:06] Ben: That's the kind of stuff they know.

[00:34:08] Nolan Erck: They know how to do that. So I, I send my accountant, all of the monthly expenses. So here's how much per month my health insurance is, my dental insurance. fun fact. You have to pay for your own insurance when you're, unless you give it through your, certificate. Other, I send him, yeah, all the bills for internet, business, meals, flight, travel, hotel, blah, blah, blah.

[00:34:24] Nolan Erck: I also send him a square footage of the rooms in my house that are dedicated for work stuff. it has to be a dedicated space. You can't just throw a laptop on your kitchen table and call your kitchen the office. It's gotta be like, I have allocated half of this room or my garage or something to it.

[00:34:39] Nolan Erck: yeah, I sent him square footage of those rooms too. And then that factors into how much of the rent gets taken off as. A work expense and they just figure it out. He gets very, very little paperwork from me. He asks very, very few questions. The guy goes away for a week and calls me and says, it's done.

[00:34:55] Nolan Erck: Come pick up your stuff. go from there.

[00:34:56] Pricing

[00:34:56] Tim: So, so along the lines of financials, how do you come up with your pricing?

[00:35:01] Nolan Erck: that's always the question I get asked when I do these kind of interview things. so the way I would approach that for people that are new to freelancing is I'm gonna sort of defer that answer to somebody else. There's a book called The Business Side of Creativity, fantastic book for people that want to become freelancers.

[00:35:17] Nolan Erck: It answers all of the basic questions like, how should I start? How much should I start charging? What do I do when clients ba at that price and say, that's too expensive? How do I respond to those kind of questions? What kind of expenses do I need to keep track of? How do I deal with promotion and all the other things about starting your own business, the business set of creativity.

[00:35:33] Nolan Erck: Fantastic book for starting that stuff out. the content in the. Is tailored for people that do graphic design work, but just throw out the sentences that say posters and brochures and mentally replace those with web development and all the content is still pretty much accurate. so I would start with that for people.

[00:35:49] Nolan Erck: Brand new to this, once you've been going in the freelancing world for a while, I found that I just, I deal with other consultants regularly enough and I deal with other companies, you know, dealing with that higher consultants, you kind of get a feel for what the competitors and what the marketers charging and you kind of get a, an idea for like, okay, people that do what I do plus these other items can charge, you know, what I charge plus 10 bucks an hour.

[00:36:12] Nolan Erck: Or, companies that deal with these sorts of clients can charge a little bit more for whatever reason. If I have, you know, it just kind of, there's not a flat dollar amount. I would say every consultant on the planet charges, you know, X dollars an hour. I'm, I'm deliberately being vague because I don't wanna have somebody hear me say this dollar amount and go, that's what I'm gonna charge.

[00:36:29] Nolan Erck: Like, that's, that's not quite how it works. Like my rate has definitely gone up over the years. and

[00:36:33] Carol: But you've gotten better.

[00:36:35] Nolan Erck: I've gotten, hopefully, yeah, I've gotten better. Just more experience that knowing when I've screwed things up and then you can use that info to, deal with other things. And even in fact, in fact, currently I don't have a flat rate that I charge every client.

[00:36:44] Nolan Erck: I kind of look at 'em on a case by case basis and go, okay, this is a medical university. They're gonna probably have a bigger budget and have more overhead and bureaucracy I have to deal with. Then Joe Schmo down the street that has a mom and pop website, somebody built him 10 years ago and it's four pages, and they just need someone to come in and fix the typos and go away.

[00:37:01] Nolan Erck: Like, I will probably cut the Pete's joint down the street a better rate than you know.

[00:37:07] Nolan Erck: Yeah,

[00:37:08] Carol: Yeah, when I was, when I was working on my hourly rate, that was some of the stuff I put in there because my husband and I sat and kind of looked at it and was like, okay, this makes sense. like when I'm adding on to like a big government project, then you know that's gonna be a higher rate because you have some access to what that, that contract gets currently.

[00:37:24] Carol: but then when, like you said, like if, you know, the band calls me and says, Hey, can you help us just update our website? I'm gonna be like, sure. Just, you know, here I'm gonna do it like for almost nothing. Just cuz I really wanna see you succeed. And it's more of an investment into someone I know or something local and helping my community, whereas it's not so much about making money for my family, for something small like that.

[00:37:46] Nolan Erck: The other thing I'll often do too is if it's an agency of some sort that calls because they want to subcontract work to me, I'll cut them a better break because I know they're gonna mark my dollar amount up in their bid to the actual client. I don't want my dollar amount to be a deciding factor in whether or not I'm gonna be on the project or not.

[00:38:04] Nolan Erck: So I'll, I'll give them a little bit of a break on that also, because, agencies are likely to have more work in the future if this goes really, really well. This one project might be at, you know, 85% of my normal rate, but if they can bring me four more projects over the course of the year, that's less legwork I have to do to promote myself and go find

[00:38:18] Nolan Erck: more more revenue.

[00:38:20] Nolan Erck: So

[00:38:20] Carol: Yeah, you just like in, in my head, I consider that like a finder's fee, so I'm willing to pay that finder's fee for you to do it.

[00:38:27] Nolan Erck: exactly.

[00:38:29] How Do You Find Work?

[00:38:29] Adam: But if you do have to go looking for more work, how do you do that? Where, where do you.

[00:38:33] Nolan Erck: I network my butt off. It's the short answer of it. I am, I speak at every conference I can. I say yes to speak at every tech meet if I can. I try to blog periodically about different things. Any chance I get to record a, a video about how to do something, anything that could be spread out to more than one human, I do that any chance I, I can.

[00:38:52] Nolan Erck: I also, do standard like end of the year promo stuff. a couple, you know, like I, so I'm a big music nerd. I am, that's my drug of choice as I like to say. every year, instead of Christmas cards, I make holiday mix CDs, like end of, you know, just a disc of here's music that I think came out this year that I think people would enjoy.

[00:39:08] Nolan Erck: And I throw my business card in there and I send those out to people and I send them to everyone. Like friends, colleagues, people I've spoken at conferences. Just kind of a variety of people. Yep. Carol gets one. Tim gets one. Adam and Ben, send me your address. I'll put you on the list for this year.

[00:39:21] Tim: This year's was excellent. This was really, really good. This was excellent this year.

[00:39:25] Nolan Erck: and, that, that has been the biggest, best promo thing I could ever, possibly have done, and it never started that way. It was just a way to keep in touch with friends and family over the years as I've met them. Like, oh, I'll send music instead of sending a card that just says Happy holidays, that I know everyone is gonna throw out two seconds after they read it.

[00:39:41] Nolan Erck: and that's ended up being a thing where like, pretty regularly people will call me in May, June, August, nowhere near the holidays and go, I was at my desk and saw your mix city on the desk. And I went, oh, that's right. Nolan builds web apps. I have a project for you. You got a second to talk. Sure. And every year that works really well.

[00:39:57] Nolan Erck: So like, I, I promote and network as much as I possibly can, and that's been a big, big factor in getting projects to come in the.

[00:40:03] Payment Structure

[00:40:03] Ben: do you often work in, in blocks of time or is it, is it like an hourly rate or like, well, I'll sell you 10, 10 hour increments, and you got any, like half upfront kind of stuff? I mean, what's the, what's the gamut there?

[00:40:15] Nolan Erck: usually it's an hourly rate. Often clients that are a little more, concerned about their budgets will say, I want a flat rate on things. And so I'll usually write up a contract that says something like, okay, if you have requirements written up front that are correct, I'll come up with a, a fixed number for you.

[00:40:33] Nolan Erck: And depending on the size of that project, it might be a thing where like, let's cut that fixed number up into three Trump. You pay me at the beginning, the middle, and the end, so I have some good faith money coming in so I can keep the lights on and that sort of thing. What I also usually tell them and put in the contract is if it turns out that these requirements are not correct, we're gonna kick back over to time and materials.

[00:40:50] Nolan Erck: Here's my hourly rate for when that happens, and. Almost always, it kicks back over to time and

[00:40:56] Carol: Every time.

[00:40:58] Nolan Erck: I've had one or two that were like kind of small, just, reaming websites, basically. I'm like, okay, this one I'll just do for the flat rate and that's all you need. Cool. Then here's what I want. Pay me half an hour and half when I'm done.

[00:41:09] Nolan Erck: And, one of those went really well. One of those went really badly. every contract since then has been, if we have to make significant changes to your requirements, I'm switching to time and materials at this rate. And that's just the way it's gonna be. what I'll usually tell people too, like if they have an existing website or web app rather, usually that they don't know how much it's gonna take to, you know, we have to add these features, we have to fix these bugs.

[00:41:30] Nolan Erck: Our developer left, we can't get ahold of them. How many hours do you think it will be? Often I'll tell the clients in that situation, well, let's start with like a maybe a four or six hour discovery block and say, I'm gonna bill you my regular rate for six hours and at the end of six hours, If I can fix your bug or fix the issue or whatever in less than that, I'll bill you for whatever time it took and we're, we're done.

[00:41:53] Nolan Erck: So if I, you know, if you say we have this crazy bug on our app, we can't fix it. We don't know what's wrong. I'll say, okay, let's block off six hours of time, and if it only takes me two and a half hours to fix it, I'll bill you for two and a half hours and we're, we're finished. If I get to the six hour point and I'm not done, what I'll do is I'll stop and write up my findings and go, okay, here's what you've paid for, for six hours.

[00:42:12] Nolan Erck: I think it's one of these, the things here. Here's my, you know, recommendations, what you should do next. And then I hand those notes over to the client because they've paid for that information. That was the six, what the six hours bought them. And if they want to hire me to finish what I told them, they have the right to do that if they want.

[00:42:27] Nolan Erck: And if they wanna just take the info that I wrote up for them and kick it to somebody cheaper or whatever, they could also do that. and usually that works really well because that four or six hour discovery period builds a relationship with the. I almost never have them take that info, go, thanks, see you later.

[00:42:42] Nolan Erck: We're gonna hire somebody overseas for 10 bucks a day to do it. They always go, cool. Nolan knows what he is talking about. I trust this person's information. Please go ahead and continue the next part of the project. So, things, yeah, things like that. Usually how I come up with the rate for projects and then the teaching gigs are usually a flat rate per day per number of students in the room.

[00:42:57] Nolan Erck: So if it's like, come here and teach this room of people, you know, angular JS for two days, I go, okay, how many people are in the room? And then it's usually in like chunks of five, up to five students. I'll do it for X. If it's six to 10, I'll do it for x plus this 11 to 15 that are plus five. Because the more people in the room, the more questions there are to field.

[00:43:16] Nolan Erck: The more technical issues there might be with laptops not connecting to the internet and other stuff like that.

[00:43:21] Ben: Adam recently did a taffy, workshop and he had tried to, for, forgive me if this is, I don't wanna share on your behalf here, but one of the things that he was attempting to do, or one of the options was that he was willing to give them a discounted price if he could. Then, was it recorded? And, and posted as like training materials.

[00:43:41] Ben: Was that what, what you

[00:43:42] Adam: I was exploring a lot of different options. I did record it with their permission. I didn't ever do anything with the recording cuz I just, it didn't go the way that I would've wanted it to go for a recording. I think what you're thinking of though is that, I gave them the price and I said, and if you're willing to share the experience, cuz at the, it was, three people from this company that wanted the workshop.

[00:44:03] Adam: And I said, you know, if you're willing to make it not just your company and not just about your stuff, your problems, and you wanna make this more of a general workshop and you can help me find other people to take the workshop, then I will, you know, reduce your ticket price. Right? So instead of paying $800 a seat, you know, for every person that you help get me to, to sign up, I'll, I'll lower it by a hundred dollars a seat or something like that.

[00:44:23] Adam: Right. So, the, and they were like, no, we don't wanna do that, just, we'll just pay the full price

[00:44:27] Carol: Yeah, because then they have you to come in and troubleshoot too. Like to go through their actual problems.

[00:44:32] Adam: Right.

[00:44:33] Carol: Yeah,

[00:44:34] Managing Projects

[00:44:34] Adam: well, I, I wanted to ask you, Nolan, you've talked a lot about, you know, communicating, requirements and expectations with your clients. Do you have specific tools that you like to do this? Or do you just use like, let's email spreadsheets back and forth for all of eternity?

[00:44:47] Nolan Erck: I try to avoid the companies that still email everything back and forth. yeah. so if they have a system set up of theirs already, then I'll just jump in and use whatever their, their system is. for projects that I'm doing more of the project management part of the responsibilities as well. if it's a very technical project, we're starting to use Jira in my team to do that sort of thing.

[00:45:04] Nolan Erck: And for things. not as technical and maybe not quite specifically tied to like branches in GitHub. I'll use Asana pretty often for, for,

[00:45:11] Nolan Erck: collaboration projects. I like Asana except for one thing. the pro the tasks don't have numbers, and that was the biggest factor in why we need to use Jira for technical things is because I wanna be able to call my dev team and go, where are you at on 3 45?

[00:45:23] Nolan Erck: Where are you at with ticket 5 0 2? And I wanna make branches that are 5 0 2 underscore fixed,

[00:45:28] Carol: Yep. Mm-hmm.

[00:45:30] Nolan Erck: 7 underscore user profile thing, you know? so that's, that was the big, I was on a sonic exclusively for a long time. My previous office manager loved it and set us all up with it, and we just kind of kept going with it for a while.

[00:45:41] Nolan Erck: And actually within the last month, I finally just, I'm on a project right now with a big enough team. It was getting really, really tough tracking down who worked on which code and which branches correlated to which ticket. So I just finally drew the line of the sand and said, you know what? We're switching to.

[00:45:55] Nolan Erck: I tried a number of Asana stop gaps, like using Zapier and if this and that to try to automatically rename us on a task so they have a number at the front. It wouldn't work. So either Jira or Asana for the project as a whole. And then for my own personal day-to-day stuff, I used Todoist,

[00:46:12] Carol: Oh

[00:46:12] Nolan Erck: is a nice little to-do app.

[00:46:13] Nolan Erck: It does a lot of the same kind of things. You can categorize your, your tasks, you can break 'em up into projects and sub-projects and sub-tasks and all that sort of stuff. and it's really nice because I get to have one screen I look at that'll combine all of the stuff I have to do today from however many projects there are into one specific view.

[00:46:31] Nolan Erck: And I can prioritize those things. And then it just gives me like a nice little focused list of stuff I have to do today. Even if it spans across three clients and some internal stuff. And I'm meeting with my accountant and walking the dogs, like I just get my checklist of here's what I do and, and then I just kind of copy and paste the parts of that that I need to back into Asana or Jira as needed.

[00:46:51] Ben: to totally random thing that just popped into my head. Do you have a, if, if for no other reason separating costs, do you have a business credit card that like you do all your business transacting on and then personal credit cards for everything else?

[00:47:04] Nolan Erck: So I didn't for the longest time because I was a sole proprietor and lived by myself, and it was just easiest to have one bank account, one everything. And that's where it was. and now that there are other humans that live with me and other bank accounts involved, I'm in the process now of separating out all the work, all the consulting stuff is gonna be in one bank account and all the personal day-to-day life stuff.

[00:47:24] Nolan Erck: live separately and, when I'm, yeah, when I'm by myself, it was fine. but with, as life got more complex that that had to be separated out a little better.

[00:47:31] Managing Work Time

[00:47:31] Tim: How do you manage the amount of work you got coming in? I'm sure, you know, having once been self-employed, just like I wanted to make sure there's, it was constant right, and continuous, you know, but then I didn't want to overcommit and then fall behind and then I didn't want lags or I'm like struggling to try to find work.

[00:47:49] Tim: So how, how do you manage that?

[00:47:51] Nolan Erck: that is sometimes a, a challenge. I often panic when it looks like there's gonna be a lull in the work and scramble and I start hitting up my trusted resources for, you know, where can I find another project. Like if the training companies that I've done work with, I'll, I'll send them a reminder message, Hey, remember me, I'm still around.

[00:48:07] Nolan Erck: Got anything coming up that you need help with? Or the agencies I've done work with, I'll shoot them a message like, Hey, wanna go grab tacos next week? And, you know, see what your project load looks like. And, and I'll send those Christmas mixes every year and just little things to like, remind the entities that I deal with.

[00:48:21] Nolan Erck: Hey, I'm still around and available for, consulting work that works pretty often to. Bring the lulls back up to a level where my, you know, heart is not beating at a high rate and causing problems, on the other side when, I have a lot of work coming in and, you know, not enough hours on the day to do it.

[00:48:38] Nolan Erck: I'm fortunate enough that I've been doing this a long time now. I know other people that do similar types of consulting work and have their own similar sole proprietor businesses. We'll often split projects together that way. And so when that happens, like my consultancy is called South of Shasta, so when I have a project that requires maybe two or three people, I'll call other people that run developer consultancies and just say, can I just umbrella you under south of Shasta for the next three, six months, whatever, and let's split this project together.

[00:49:04] Nolan Erck: And, that works quite well too. So I don't bring in as much money personally that way, but the project gets done and it keeps us both employed for, you know, however

[00:49:12] Tim: Yeah. Last thing you wanna do is start turning work away. Right? I mean, people will be like, oh, we, we tried to use Nolan last time, but he was too busy. He's probably too, too busy now. Right? So you wanna, you wanna say

[00:49:22] Nolan Erck: kind of avoid that if you can, like,

[00:49:24] Tim: yeah, that makes sense. So, so better to have, better, to have too much to do and then kind of outsource some of it than it is to have not enough.

[00:49:30] Nolan Erck: I think so. I've always kind of in, just in life have a lot on my plate. I don't like sitting still very much. And so it, I feel more normal when I have several projects going at one time. anyhow. So for me, that works pretty well.

[00:49:44] Tim: Then on the flip side, how do you schedule vacation?

[00:49:47] Nolan Erck: vacations are challenging. what I've done the few times I have taken vacations is I'll try to piggyback it onto dates that I know the clients are also not gonna be in the office.

[00:49:56] Nolan Erck: Thanksgiving week works really well because everyone's out Thursday and probably Friday I can take Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday off and get like a good nine day chunk of time where no one really cares all that much that I'm out. and then the same thing too of, splitting work with other consult. Several of the people I split work with live in Europe, they don't celebrate Thanksgiving there. Makes it really easy to take us holidays off and still have staff that I trust that are gonna come in and put out fires if something happens while I'm, outta town. I also try to give my clients a lot of heads up when those date are coming up, let 'em know I'm gonna be out this week.

[00:50:28] Nolan Erck: I'm gonna be out, you know, brief reminder, I'm gonna be out. Another brief reminder, I'm gonna be out, you know, coming up on these days. And, yeah, it's not quite as easy as just clicking a PTO button on the company intranet and being done. But, it's possible. I had one client several years ago that he wanted to be able to call me twenty four seven, whether I was on vacation or not.

[00:50:46] Nolan Erck: And early on I let him get away with it because I didn't really know any better. And then as time went on, I finally told him like, no, you'll be, you'll be all right. You know, you'll be okay if you don't have, have me on speed dial for two or three days. I'll talk to you next week. And, that worked fine for, However long it was that we continued working on projects together.

[00:51:02] Firing a Client

[00:51:02] Adam: Have you ever had to like fire a client like you? You're just a nightmare to work for. I don't wanna work for you anymore.

[00:51:07] Nolan Erck: Oh yeah. yeah. I've had clients that are just sure I've had amazing clients. I've had clients that went sideways in every possible, you know, version you can think of. I had one client that started out really, really well, and they just got more and more demanding, for no real good reason either.

[00:51:20] Nolan Erck: I was getting blamed for things that were not my fault. I was getting accused of, you've changed something on the website. I have not, and here's the GitHub report proving I have not done it. But because he was not technical enough to quite know what that was, I was talking to the calls like, no, the, the site's not working.

[00:51:36] Nolan Erck: Like, okay, I assure you it was not me. What else happened? and eventually I kind of got tired of that guy and I just told him, I think you need to find another consultancy to, to do your work. yeah, I've absolutely told clients no. no longer, you know, a couple of times over the, over the years.

[00:51:51] Carol: So when you're looking at new companies to go work with or new clients, are there any big red flags that you see when you're vetting someone, you're like, oh, that's a red flag. We're gonna go ahead and pass on that.

[00:52:01] Nolan Erck: yeah, I guess so there are, and the red flags probably vary a little bit depending on how much other work I have coming in at that point in time too, like, I personally like working for smaller outfits where I feel like I can make more of a difference. So smaller design agencies and tech startups and things like that are just more fun to work for than giant state contracts for my, my personal, you know, preferences.

[00:52:24] Nolan Erck: but the more corporate outfits also probably have money in the bank, and so they're easier to make sure you get paid from the universities and the medical outfits and such. Then it is, The mom-and-pop company down the street that, you know, they're, they kind of have a paid when paid relationship with some other agency they're waiting to get paid on from.

[00:52:41] Nolan Erck: And,so I really, it's, it's been a little bit of, everything.

[00:52:44] Ben: This might be kind of a sideways comment, but Adam and I were, were sharing a thought in a, in the Google doc here, there's a presentation from like, it's gotta be

[00:52:55] Adam: A million years ago.

[00:52:56] Ben: Yeah. And excuse the, the Quack Fest is about to have, but the, the name of the presentation is, You Pay Me.

[00:53:03] Ben: Has anyone ever seen that?

[00:53:04] Nolan Erck: I remember hearing about it. Yeah.

[00:53:06] Ben: it's like, it's, it's basically like a bunch of punchlines where the client is constantly asking for random stuff, extension stuff, and the guy's response is always like, you, pay me. And, just how hard it is sometimes to get what you're owed from

[00:53:20] Ben: your clients.

[00:53:21] Nolan Erck: so one thing I learned. The hard way is every client signs a contract before work gets done. I've done websites for my uncle who I've known my entire life, how I've spent dozens and dozens of holidays with over the years. And when he called two years ago and said, wanna build a website for this company working for, I said, you betcha.

[00:53:43] Nolan Erck: Here is a contract. And it wasn't even a big website, it was like a brochureware five page thing. He got it. He wasn't offended or anything. He's like, sure, just paperwork. Here you go and sign it and brought it back. and do it. and that worked and that worked fine. I had a client several years ago, they referred to me from another agency and said, you got, do you wanna do this work for them?

[00:53:59] Nolan Erck: No. 'em, they're not a good fit for us. Sure. They started out as the model client. every conversation I had with them on the phone, the nicest people ever, they'd fly me out to their office. Nolan, would you like us to pick you up from the airport and drive you into the, the office? Sure. Like when I go to lunch today?

[00:54:14] Nolan Erck: Sure. Can we pray for you at lunch? Lord, thank you for bringing us, Nolan literally doing these things when I'm out there visiting them. Right? Signed every invoice, took every recommendation I had. This went on for a good three, four years, like perfect. And I called me up one day and, and I was babysitting three, like legacy web apps.

[00:54:31] Nolan Erck: Somebody else had built them just kinda doing patch and fix work for 'em. they called me up one day and said, we have an investor. We want to delete all three of our legacy apps and build three brand new ones with the latest and greatest cutting edge web tech on everything and a mobile app that talks to all three of them too.

[00:54:46] Nolan Erck: And I told them about all the pros and cons of like, here's reasons. Maybe you should not delete everything and start over. They said, Nope, we, we understand. Do it anyway. Hire people. We wanna get rolling on this. Hire people. I said, okay. I hung up the phone, they called back the next day and said, have you hired anyone yet?

[00:55:01] Nolan Erck: I'm like, no. It's been a day. I went, no, seriously hire, get rolling on this. We've gotta get going on this. They've been a model client for three years just doing patch and fix work. It never occurred to me in that conversation to make them sign a new contract. I called three of the best consultants I know and said, clear your schedules for six months.

[00:55:18] Nolan Erck: I've got a dream project for us. This is gonna be rad. And the guy calls me back like a week later, I, I'd booked everyone. And the guy calls me back a week later and says, we just signed a deal with Coca-Cola. I'm like, that's awesome. He goes, yeah, they already have a web app that does everything yours was gonna do, so nevermind.

[00:55:34] Tim: Geez.

[00:55:35] Carol: Oh

[00:55:35] Nolan Erck: just the wind fell outta my sails. I, my heart sank. Every bad feeling you can think of happened. And I said, call the guy back. And begged and pleaded professionally. And every way I can think of, of like, I've staked my reputation on this. I've told multiple people to clear their schedules. I'm on the hook for a lot of money.

[00:55:55] Nolan Erck: Like my reputation is on the line, my business online. How do we make this right? Come on. You've been a really, really good client for years. How do we do this? And he, every time they talk to him, went it, it's just business.

[00:56:05] Tim: He said, I'll pray

[00:56:06] Tim: for.

[00:56:06] Nolan Erck: wouldn't, he wouldn't budge, he would not budge the least on this thing. Like, it, it killed me.

[00:56:11] Nolan Erck: I'm like, you're, you're Dr. There's nothing really. And he went, well, if you wanna set up a backup process to make archives of our existing server so that that gets back up to the cloud somewhere, so we can take it offline, we can have you do that for a couple of days. But that's all that we don't have anymore work.

[00:56:25] Nolan Erck: It's just business. So I paid my team, I drained a bank account to do it, but I kept my reputation and business intact, right? So, but these guys are like, okay, they're, they're never gonna be a client again. They're gonna

[00:56:35] Nolan Erck: leave. But from that point forward, my paperwork got thoroughly detailed and every project, whether I'm teaching you for a, a half day workshop or building, you know, the next microsoft.com or whatever, like you're signing paperwork before I'm doing anything.

[00:56:52] Nolan Erck: fun, fun story about that client real quick, if you don't mind. So they, I did their backup thing and got their backup server set up like here. It was still a public facing intranet app that they just kicked off to the side and let it sit there in case they needed something off of it. Meanwhile, they're using this, whatever the Coca-Cola thing was.

[00:57:08] Nolan Erck: So months and months later, he calls me up and goes, Hey, that server you used to maintain forces doing something weird, you willing to log in and fix it? And I wrote him back and said, I am, I'm, well, first I wrote him back and said, no, go find somebody else. And he called, came back a couple months later and said, no, no, we really need to fix it.

[00:57:23] Nolan Erck: And said, here's a contract for a one day rate of, not a terrible amount of money, but, but enough to make it worth my time to drop everything for day and help this guy out. And he was like, maybe $1,500. and he wrote back, he's like, oh, how about, eight hours? Huh? How about two hours? Like, no, I'm not negotiating with you about this.

[00:57:39] Nolan Erck: This is the rate. If you want me for a day, this is what it's gonna take. And he went away and he tried again a few weeks later. How about three and a half hours? Like, no, this is the rate. If you want me for a day. This is what it's gonna take. Talk to somebody else if you want to. I kept, I kept trying to get him to go away.

[00:57:52] Nolan Erck: Yeah, exactly. So finally he calls, he finally, he signs a contract and says, okay, please spend one day looking at a server and figuring out why it's acting funny. And the info he gave me made it really, really sound like either his SSL cert expired or maybe the ColdFusion service had, crashed. And he just didn't know how to reboot it.

[00:58:09] Nolan Erck: So I thought, all right, worst case, I'm gonna spend an hour or two of my day installing a new SSL cert, rebooting the server, doing a little bit of debug, you know, r and d and I'll be outta here. I logged onto a server and found that they had been hacked and everything was encrypted. It was all being held for ransomware,

[00:58:26] Carol: Oh.

[00:58:26] Nolan Erck: of it.

[00:58:27] Nolan Erck: So I contacted the guy and said, I've logged into your server. I have some bad news. Here's the situation. The hackers want, I think it was $2,500 by Friday, or they're going to keep everything, or it's, the rate's gonna go up to $5,000 after that. And. So there's your info, you know, thanks for the, and I made him pay me upfront.

[00:58:45] Nolan Erck: So I got my check, and then I delivered this news, before I got paid, before I knew that was the problem, just for clarity there. and he's like, oh my God, really? Like, oh, what do you wanna do? I'm like, I think you need to call the FBI and you need to call your insurance company and you might need to put a fresh release out saying all your data's been compromised based on whatever you, yeah.

[00:59:01] Nolan Erck: He's like, oh man, can you triage that for us? And can you help, like, talk to the IRS and talk, or talk to the FBI and talk like, yes, I can. Here's my contract,

[00:59:10] Carol: here's a new contract. It's just business.

[00:59:12] Nolan Erck: it was exactly, and it was the most money I have ever charged anyone in my life by a decent margin. And, it was, by the way, you have to pay me in advance before I'll do anything for you.

[00:59:23] Nolan Erck: Like, oh, really? Oh, how about can you gimme a better rate? No. And I got to tell him it's just business. I'm like, Nope. Here. So, that part, that kind of made it worth it when the, the crazy mess happened beforehand, but, I was very fortunate that he was unfortunate later. It doesn't always work out that way.

[00:59:37] Nolan Erck: Sometimes when I have screwed up, it's just been I screwed up and I cost myself time and money or you know, the project went south or whatever.

[00:59:44] Tim: Karma. Yo.

[00:59:45] Nolan Erck: Seriously.

[00:59:46] Adam: That was, that was a fantastic, way to finish it up. I don't know if anybody has any other great

[00:59:50] Tim: you can't top that. That's, you can't top that.

[00:59:53] Adam: Alright. Well, Nolan, I don't know if you have time or if you knew this, we also are gonna go record our after show after this where, so the patrons of the show get to stick around and listen to us babbel about any old thing.

[01:00:05] Nolan Erck: Yeah. I'm down.

[01:00:06] Adam: Awesome.

[01:00:07] Carol: can we start with telling people how they can find Nolan?

[01:00:11] Nolan Erck: Sure. that is a good point. Yeah. Who is this guy? so they can find my, consultancy stuff@southofshasta.com South, like the compass direction of Shasta, like Mount Shasta. I'm also on Twitter at south of Shasta, and Facebook. and then if they wanna find my personal stuff, I'm at nolan.com and I'm also on Twitter at at nolan.

[01:00:31] Adam: And we will put links to all of those things in the show.

[01:00:34] Nolan Erck: Cool.

[01:00:35] Adam: All right. So, as alluded to, we're going to go record our after show tonight on the after show. Carol's gonna tell us how her 24 hour steak or beef butt thing turned out.

[01:00:45] Carol: Mm. I'll just start with.

[01:00:47] Adam: Yeah. well, okay. Spoiler alert.

[01:00:49] Tim: beef butts and.

[01:00:51] Adam: And well, hey, it can't be any worse than your stuff, Tim.

[01:00:54] Adam: And,

[01:00:56] Tim: My snake.

[01:00:57] Adam: and, since Carol got her free hour of consulting, I wanted to talk to Nolan about doing workshops. So, I want my pound of flesh anyway,

[01:01:04] Patreon

[01:01:04] Adam: So, this episode of Working Code is brought to you by turning Rocks over into pools. It's the best way to find scorpion snakes, lawyers, and accountants, and listeners like you.

[01:01:12] Adam: If you're enjoying the show and you want to make sure that we can keep putting more of whatever this is out into the universe, then you should consider supporting us on Patreon. Our patrons cover our recording and editing costs, and we couldn't do this every week without them. Special thanks to our top patrons, Monte and Giancarlo.

[01:01:27] Thanks For Listening!

[01:01:27] Adam: If you'd like to help us out, you can go to patreon.com/WorkingCodePod your homework this week, I am going to ask you to leave us a review, go to workingcode.dev/review. That will take you to the Apple Podcasts Review thing for your locality so you can leave it in your home language. I know we have a lot of international listeners and that's, I think that's awesome.

[01:01:48] Adam: and so yeah, leave us a review. We would really appreciate that. And, and apparently it's supposed to help with the algorithms and stuff, so. Alright, well that's gonna do it for us this week. We'll catch you next week. And until then,

[01:01:59] Tim: Remember, your heart matters. It's just business, but your heart matters.

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