2012: My Personal Year In Review

I debated writing this. I have a TONNE of stuff to do, but I thought: it’s New Years Eve. The year is played out. No matter how much I have on my plate, going MIA for an hour it's going to cost me some project's completion. The ship is going to sail or sink. I’m not going to drink to excess, so I can work tomorrow if I wish, while others sleep in and nurse hangovers.
I speak in pop-culture metaphors. It’s the best way I can describe what I want to convey. Forgive me. Darmok at Jalad.

Business : This Year
This is my first full calendar year of self employment. The year prior was a partial year of self-employment: I opened 2011 working in a non-starter start-up (yeah, I won’t admit where. I wish them well, moreso if I don’t wish to associate with them or scuttle them). I am always leery of tech start-ups that consider the technical element to be a technicality. I came to know much more about the tech business (more on that later).
When I set out on my own, I had the intention of doing so to create my own products. That’s my vision. Also, it’s my greedy goal. If I solely wanted to help others, I wouldn’t charge for web design, I’d find some high variant on the lifestyle of a Buddhist monk and I would beg for a bowl of rice from passersby. No: I want to do good work that helps others, and I want a cut of their return on investment (ROI: give me $10,000 to save you $20,000 or more). I know how to do web design. I’ve done it for years (16 years and counting). I know what works for clients, how to steer them out of choppy waters and into calm seas. I also know that for all of the expense loaded onto client’s, it doesn’t pay very well. Solely consulting can be a bit of a Bataan march. You need to keep the relationship going with the clients and you need to keep your income stream going. Those two needs can be at odds. I like people. I like talking to people. I don’t like the idea of socking people with a bill whenever there is a discussion. I have nearly died from the death of a thousand cuts before-- little 2 minute calls that distract me from other work and are impossible to bill for. I had one client for whom every hour I billed for, it took an hour in explanation as to what the bill was for when it arrived. I had another client who would book days with me in person. When I book a day with someone that means I cannot book a day with another client or doing other work. Then they cancelled. I would give them upwards of three days per week with cancellations on all the days. The days are shot. If I bill, it’s for nothing. If I don’t bill, then 60% of my week is either unbillable or it becomes pick-up work where I do work I discover. I have had clients who book me for days and all I would do is commiserate with them about the state of their web site. That’s a killer. I like results. My portfolios needs to show results. My capacity for empathy looks like an empty square when presented in a portfolio.
I can do the design work and work with the clients. I am keeping consulting as a part of my business, but ultimately, I want to do something more. I went to this awesome talk by Andrew Wilkinson (as part of the Start-Up Meet-Up in Victoria). He built MetaLabs from pick-up work to a massive business. He did it in 5 years. He did it by using consulting to continue to bring in work, bring in revenue and to bring in portfolio fodder. When he was big enough, more people came on board. Eventually, he started a line of products. I have met guys who just look for investment money. I have seen people who have played the long game of bootstrapping (SEOMoz gets VC money). One self-described non-recovering alcoholic ranted that people should just go get money, talented people and get it going. What I have learned this year: some people can put lightning in a bottle and some people are lucky to not get electrocuted. Andrew Wilkinson laid out his approach and was able to hold up a jar full of lightning. Here’s a video of the Oatmeal cartoonist doing the exact opposite. Telling me that he got a lot of traffic doesn’t say anything. I know he gets hits. Google gets hits. Getting a lot of traffic is easy to fathom. How get a lot of traffic is the question. So, I’m following what I’m calling the “Andrew Wilkinson approach:”
  • Get income. Consulting is a bonny way to do that. Part of getting income is being kind and diplomatic to your customers. Keep some bandwidth for your body of clients and come up with a strategy for expansion where you keep in contact with your clients.
  • Plan your big idea. Developing is only a part of the formula (see below). Plan for its lifespan.
  • Execute your big idea. Doing this while keeping the other balls in the air can be a tricky affair.
Oh, and I got into SEO this year. SEO is a thankless arms race. Were it a global war, SEO would be fought best with chemical weapons and landmines; and those who honored treaties would be thrown in prison. The weaselly tricks work well. They efforts are large and results are so-so. I know people who have it figured out. Ask me and I will connect you with a good guy I know.

Business: Forecast
In the “make your own product” part of my arena, I put out Meatsplit.com to allow people to collectively buy meat. People love the idea. Friends have been signing on. People have been telling people about. But my dirty little secret: no one is using it to split meat. It’s like the high school dance where all of the boys are one side of the gym looking at all the girls. It’s time to dance. Getting people to dance needs social connectors and people willing to take this for a practical test drive. In my forecast, I need to get better at marketing (or get help).
I have been working on another project with a friend. She’s smart and has figured out a market niche. We’re honing, polishing and debugging. We have sales. Next week, we’re going to incorporate so that we can fill the orders and accept the cheques (always a good thing for a business to do). In my Big Plan (see below) of things, this is ideal, but we have to get there. We have to realize this plan. I saw this great video about comic books (http://www.independentsdoc.com/) that really summed it all up: sure you can have talent, but if you don’t finish stuff, you won’t accomplish anything. So: we’re capping off this development and getting the venture underway ASAP. When we launch, we’ll talk about what we’re doing.

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