SWM ISO of Software Developer for Causal Encounter
July 16, 2008 6:08 AM   Subscribe

Dearest Hivemind, I am looking to hire a freelance software developer to create some sort of workflow management tool for a small arts business. Apart from web designers/developers, I have never done this kind of thing before and am wondering if anyone could possibly have a look at my list of demands, and point me in the right direction to find my dream developer? I'm using Macs btw.

So it goes like this: I run a boutique illustration agency, and after our first year of operation, business is booming, and my files and folders are need of some serious discipline.

This isn't a project management issue, as we use Basecamp for all jobs, and that works a treat. It's managing the actual assets of each job which I file locally which is the biggest headache.

Every day I open anywhere from 1-4 new jobs. Each job needs to have a specific folder structure, and depending on the type job there is a master indesign file that contains layers for all the necessary paperwork related to the job. Then there are folders for sketches, final art, work in situ, briefs, etc.

From there, I used to have a simple spreadsheet that I entered each job into and then things like the status of each job, so I could quickly glance at it and see which invoices were overdue, which artwork was still embargoed for publicity, etc. This quickly got out of hand as there were too many different states of status to keep track of, and it developed to this completely insane method of colour labelling, which is starting to confuse even me.

I am soon going to be hiring an assistant, and the whole process needs to be overhauled so that anyone can essentially step in and do it.

My dream workflow would be as follows: (and yes, I realise this is probably impossible, but who knows)

Initial interface: When a job or quote request comes in, I enter the relevant details and it creates the necessary files/folders on my system

Paperwork Generation Pt I - During this process, certain information is used to populate a quote/agreement/estimate form and creates a PDF and automatically files it in one of the new folders it just created and emails it to the client.

Automatic Asset Filing - When assets come in either via basecamp or email, I can use some sort of contextual menu to file it to the appropriate job.

Asset Filing Pt II - If asset is a high resolution image, it is automatically converted/resized for web uploading.

Paperwork Generation Pt II - When the job is to be closed, an invoice is generated and automatically emailed.

Secondary Interface - As jobs are filed or in status, they can be sorted by which are in progress, archived, unpaid, etc.

Phew, so thats the long and the short of it. Again, I realise this may not all be possible, but I just wanted to put it all out there because honestly, I have no idea what sort of person to look for or where to start. Filemaker came to mind, but I have no idea if filemaker can interact with the finder in that robust of a way. Even if it was a cobbling together of existing software or starting from scratch (probably cost prohibitive, but I would consider it if it was feasible).

Most other things I could usually rely on word of mouth, but again, I have no idea what I am actually looking for. A miracle worker perhaps?

Hivemind, can you work your magic? I can be emailed directly at jwortsman at gmail dot com or via mefimail.

ps- I am located in Melbourne, Australia if that makes any sort of difference.
posted by LongDrive to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Normally I'm all about suggesting hiring an actual software professional to create the right hammer for people, but in this case, have you considered that most of what you want can be accomplished by creating a folder called "template" with the dummy structure, the documents with no actual names or costs filled in, etc., then copying that into a folder named "Client" whenever you have a new one?

That said, this can certainly be done, but I have no recommendations on your side of the world, and this would be a pretty weighty project (and may not even be completeable by the time you want to hire an assistant).
posted by shownomercy at 6:38 AM on July 16, 2008

Response by poster: Thats my current system, and It's been working up to a point, but with the number of jobs coming in now, its too time-consuming to manage myself and cross reference with the spreadsheet etc. It literally eats up probably a day of each week.
posted by LongDrive at 6:42 AM on July 16, 2008

this seems easy enough, it could probably even be implemented as a largish set of macros in Excel or Access. Perhaps a good local Microsoft VB programmer could help you?
posted by sandking at 6:48 AM on July 16, 2008

If you're a Mac user, look at Automator. It's like writing scripts, but instead you just drag and drop in actions, so you don't even need to know how to write (apple|shell)scripts.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:56 AM on July 16, 2008

I don't think any of this would be impossible, although I don't think you could get an all-in-one program off the rack.

"Initial interface" could be accomplished using a relatively small Applescript or Automator workflow (or other -script perhaps).

"Paperwork generation" is the kind of thing typically handled by project-management or invoicing apps. There are a bunch out there. I haven't really delved too deeply into any of them myself, although I hear good things about Studiometry.

"Asset management" could perhaps be handled by Hazel or an Automator workflow.

You might try playing around in Automator to see if you can make it do some of what you want. You could also try contracting the work out to rent-a-coder, but you've got to be comfortable specifying the software in great detail.
posted by adamrice at 7:59 AM on July 16, 2008

An important question that you should answer up front is whether or not you are trying to grow your business, or do you plan on continuing at the same scale.

Also, it seems like all of your business processes are being run on one computer, is that right? If you are planning on continuing the operation at the current size then maybe a macro/scripting solution is the way to go. I believe Automator is a workflow/macro/scripting tool for macs. Surely you could find a MAC developer on craigslist - try posting to the gigs section.

Even if you want to stay small there are some very good reasons to stay away from a filesystem based solution. Namely disaster recovery (backup/restore), searching, document sharing and version control. I guess Basecamp goes a long way towards solving some of these problems but these are issues you should be aware of. Basically I think your problem is best solved on a server, and using your laptop to get the data as needed.

If you are planning to expand your company I think it would behoove you to spend some time (and a bit more money) to build a more robust type of system. It is so much easier to get these types of systems (business process automation) up and running early when you can define a process than it is to put them in place after the fact.

Should your company grow, and you are running your solution on a single mac, or the solution developed is geared towards a single user you will run into problems -- guaranteed.

Furthermore, I wouldn't look for a completely custom solution. It will end up very being very expensive, difficult to maintain and modify. Basically you will be beholden to the developer for life.

Typically the best approach is to find a software platform that can do 80% of what you need it too, and a well documented API and find a developer that can customize it to suit your needs.

If you do end up going the COTS (customized off the shelf) route, I would suggest prioritizing your requirements, and break the big project into a set of phases. This not only gives you the opportunity to 'test-drive' consultants, but eases your transition from the old way of doing things to the new.
posted by askmehow at 8:19 AM on July 16, 2008

Not to state the obvious, but perhaps you should consider the salary of a full-time project administrator who does nothing but organize these jobs and tasks using your current system, but without the overhead and stress of also doing your job?

It seems to be a pretty low-level, almost secretarial job, and so it would be inexpensive, and you could train someone to do exactly what you need.

Sometimes technology isn't the right answer. My productivity and billable hours tripled when I hired a personal organizer/assistant to do the task-data-management stuff, and 3x my billable hours is a lot more than she costs. So think about your own time, here.
posted by rokusan at 11:27 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

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