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By Tom Geller | Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Want to freelance? Five tips to get you started

Who willingly leaps from a warm bed on a rainy morning? Yet that’s a question you might ask if you want to start freelancing. The world awaits, while the familiar comforts. Even if a difficult situation motivates you—a bad boss, job dissatisfaction, or unemployment—fear of the unknown can freeze even the intrepid.

But take heart. You’ll still be the same, familiar, human being; you’ll only become a new human doing. Here are five tips to help you use what you have, stay what you are, and get what you need to prepare for a transition to freelancing.

1. Collect your assets.

You have a professional history: use it! Make a portfolio of your past work, even if it’s not directly relevant to your new freelance practice. The online version can be built with WordPress, Drupal, Muse, or any other web software, and it should contain tangible results of your past work, such as print or digital samples. (If your work is service based and doesn’t produce tangible output, replace portfolio samples with client endorsements and illustrations of your work process.)

By Tom Geller | Friday, March 22, 2013

Staying motivated when business is slow

Most freelancers live a feast-or-famine existence. We’re either pushing hard to finish a client’s urgent project—and aren’t they all urgent?—or we’re wiling away the time, wondering what to do with ourselves.

When there’s a feast of work, clients define your activities and goals. But during famines, you’re on your own. You want to use the time well, but don’t have an external authority guiding you. Uncertainty can freeze even the most intrepid freelancer into inactivity.

By Tom Geller | Friday, February 15, 2013

Automatically Back Up Your Drupal Site's Database

You do back up your computer, don’t you? It’s an easy process, even if you don’t use a utility like the Apple Time Machine: you simply move a bunch of files from your one place to another.

But if you try that with your Drupal site, you’ll leave out the most important part—your site’s content and configuration. That’s because those parts live in your site’s database, which is stored far away from the site’s files. The solution is to export the database as a file, then save that file along with everything else. Doing that manually can be a pretty awkward procedure, but the Backup and Migrate module makes it easy. Here’s what I do:

  1. Install Backup and Migrate the usual way (shown in the section “Expanding a Site’s Capabilities with Modules” in Drupal 7 Essential Training).
  2. Define where you want Drupal to store private files by clicking Configuration > File  system. Be sure to secure the destination by following the link on that page. If you don’t, your raw database file could become accessible to everybody.
  3. Configure Backup and Migrate to save the database into that directory. (I set up a schedule to save it once a day.) The video Backing up with the Backup and Migrate module in Drupal 7 Advanced Trainingshows you how.
  4. Save that database file when you save the rest of the Drupal files.

A conservative strategy: Backup and Migrate set to save six months of backups.

One last step: Be sure to practice restoring from that backup to make sure it works, as a bad backup is the same as no backup! Note that this is not the same as a straightforward MySQL export: you’ll need to use the Drupal Backup and Migrate module itself to reestablish your site. But while unusual, I’ve found this procedure to be far easier (and more foolproof) than noodling with my site’s Drupal database manually.

By Tom Geller | Friday, February 08, 2013

Plan for Drupal 8, build for Drupal 7

Rumor has it that early computer maker Osborne folded because it promoted its next-generation (but not-yet-released) model over the adequate (but sellable) one. People decided to wait, starving the company of revenue.

But while Drupal 8′s release is mere months away, there’s no reason to wait. Here’s why you should build your site now, in Drupal 7:

  • Drupal 7 will be good for a while. The community officially supports Drupal with security updates for two major releases. Drupal 6 came out in early 2008; Drupal 7 followed in early 2011. If the pattern continues, Drupal 7 won’t be obsolete until 2015 or later.
  • You’ll (probably) be able to upgrade your site to Drupal 8 later, as core Drupal is always upgradeable. The potential problem is in add-on modules and custom code, which sometimes lag. The good news is the biggie: Views is becoming part of Drupal core.
  • The cost for waiting is too great. While you wait for Drupal 8, your site stays locked in your imagination. There’ll always be something “even better” on the horizon.

So don’t fall victim to the Osborne Effect—build your dream Drupal site now!

By Tom Geller | Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Making data dance: A peek into the new Drupal course

Tom GellerTom Geller here, author of lynda.com’s Drupal Essential Training, which I posted about in my blog. The success of that course suggested that we bring out another—but on what subject? We decided to try a new direction, and the result is Drupal 6: Online Presentation of Data.

“Presentation of data… isn’t that what Drupal does already?” some might ask. “Doesn’t that describe every Web site?”

Well… yes and no. Every page, blog post and comment is, technically speaking, data. But beyond such narrative text is a world of other applications that enliven both business and personal Web sites—and that Drupal does exceptionally well. Consider collections of data such as membership lists, photo galleries, catalogs, and maps.

Each of these applications is a collection of entries (called “nodes” in Drupalese): people, images, products, and locations, respectively. Each node contains multiple fields: For example, a point on a map might contain not only its latitude and longitude, but also its street address, name, image, and description of why it’s important.

In Drupal 6: Online Presentation of Data, I’ll be showing how to assemble these “atomic” pieces of data into useful, engaging, and attractive forms. Mostly this was done through two add-on modules for Drupal, called Content Construction Kit (CCK) and Views. But I also get a chance to show off how to plan such applications from the beginning, and some advanced techniques for creating calendars and charts.

As with Drupal Essential Training, it was a blast to work with lynda.com producer Kirk Werner and everybody at the lynda.com office. I look forward to its release later this summer, and to creating the next one!

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