Freelance Can Be the Pits

September 23, 2005

This blog has been quiet for a few weeks because I've just been too busy to write, and if I hadn't been, all I would have done is complain. Besides putting out fires and running around doing last minute changes to sites about to launch, I ran into the stickiest problem I've so far encountered in my short career as a web designer--and the problem had nothing to do with CSS. The problem was [I'm hissing these words] streaming video. In particular, QuickTime streaming video. Neither of the video guys I worked with knew how to prepare a video for streaming. Nor did a local video replication company. Nor, it turned, did the "Geniuses" at our local Apple store. For three weeks I scoured the web, called in favors, tweaked and re-tweaked settings, uploaded and re-uploaded and...nothing worked. Yesterday I finally talked to someone who's put many videos on the web and doesn't stream any of them. He just compresses them down to tiny .mpeg files. He offered to crunch down my video, and I said something along the lines of "Hell, yeah, thank you, thank you, thank you." My real problem isn't with QuickTime, though. I finally figured out that what's really wrong is I'm too isolated. I'm a freelancer who works alone, has never studied web design formally, and doesn't know a single other soul who designs for the web. I'm operating in a vacuum, with no references and no guide posts. That's the real problem. Whatever I know about web design I either got from a book or the web...or I made it up. For the most part this works fairly well. But once every month or so, I find myself wasting an enormous amount of time and energy trying to figure out something that a more experienced designer could probably set me right about in 3 seconds flat, or less. I'm wondering how other freelancers deal with the problems of being isolated. Do you already have a support system of other designers in place before you strike out on your own? Did you find a community on the web? Or is there a group in your area that you can hook up with?