Toward a personal blueprint

Last night I was just starting to doze off when I remember that I had left the shed unlocked. I put on my sweatpants and went outside, and was shocked to find the sky afire. The heavens were flashing like a strobe light to the northwest, multiple flashes going off every second, one after the other, making the sky seem like daylight. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. I locked the shed and came back to the porch and sat down for a few minutes, tired as I was, wanting to witness this amazing display for a bit longer. There was no thunder, although for the most part I had no direct line of sight to the lightning itself. Most of it was occuring over beyond the treeline to the west of our property, and I tried in vain to find a vantage point where I could see better. Occasionally a small cluster of lightning would light up far overhead in the sky but I never heard the sound of thunder. It was very eerie.

I tried to capture the phenomena on my phone, but between it’s camera and display, I wasn’t able to tell if I was capturing anything other than a blurry flash of light. I’ll find out later this morning when I show the girls.

I had trouble getting out of bed this morning, and only rose when I heard Elder mulling about in her room. I’ve been having trouble sleeping falling asleep the past few days, perhaps due to drinking too much on Friday and Saturday. I feel rested enough, and so far Elder seems in a good mood, and is actually doing her school work right now so that she can watch a show later.

Last night I wrote a lengthy message to my client, trying to salvage whatever personal and professional relationship can be due to the way that things have been turning out. To be honest, I’m ready to move on. I wrote that we had gotten off on the wrong foot, mostly due to the casualness that we entered into the arrangement. I also felt that charging a fee without a proper contract or scope of work was detrimental. I obviously had a longer time frame for delivery of the goods, and envisioned a perpetual arrangement, but failed to communicate this to them. I again expressed my desire to keep working on the project, explained where I thought the failures were, and tried to provide a way forward. I made sure to end on a positive note, trying not to make this a bad breakup letter. I said that I hoped to see an encouraging word from them on my phone sometime this morning and have a call this evening to continue showcasing and testing the work in progress. If I don’t, then I’m just going to move on.

Sending the note relieved the last vestige of stress that I had been carrying about the situation. I’ve been trying to maintain a clear head about it, but on the other hand I am very disappointed. I have learned a few lessons that have spawned a few requirements that I will need to adhere to moving forward.

  • First, I will need to incorporate my LLC first thing this morning. Everything up until now has been through my sole-proprietorship, but I need to protect myself from liability moving forward.
  • Some sort of formal document detailing the time commitment being made by both parties. I can’t afford to spend thirty or even ten hours in a month for the small monthly retainer that I’ve been charging. If I’m to do more than a few hours a week, then I’ll need guarantees that the relationship is going to continue.
  • Additionally, I’ll need to set realistic expectations about deliverability. I can’t have clients thinking that a fully designed web site is going to manifest itself in a month without frequent feedback from the client. And I’ll need to provide a price sheet detailing the true cost of services (compared to the competition) along with the discount that I’m providing. This discount must be considered against my time commitment. No more overages, unless some sort of annual agreement with termination clauses can be negotiated.
  • Also, I need to set requirements about acceptable communications. I pay a lot of money each month for BaseCamp, and have yet to get any traction among my clients with it. I think I’ll continue with it for now, but it’s my biggest monthly expense right now. If I can’t get clients on board with it then I’ll have to dump it. It’s extremely useful for keeping myself organized, but I’ve got to get clients using it to contact me instead of ping me with text messages. Perhaps some sort of primer will be needed.
  • And absolutely no, no work without some sort of scope of work agreement, even if it is just a memorandum of understanding. It’s just bound to end up with miscommunications and hurt feelings.

I am going to work on fleshing out these documents for the next engagement. It’s time to get to work.

Fast, good, cheap

Pick any two

It’s been a little over one year since I started blogging in earnest. I’ve been taking a look at the archives from last July to see what I was writing about back then. When I started, I think I gave myself a three hundred word target, just to get in the habit. Today, these posts routinely run two to three times that length, and with some posts in excess of fifteen hundred words. The content of those early posts were more focused; I had the habit of writing a post for every book or magazine that I read, but today these posts are mostly journal exercises for the most part.

My most popular posts have been on technical issues, two about a WordPress hack and an Windows server issue seems to drive most of the traffic here. My exploration into Facebook’s Prophet machine learning tools gets another trickle. I’ve yet to find a focus for this blog beyond whatever strikes my fancy for the day, and I’m content to continue with it as is, making small adjustments as necessary. However, they say that no one ever got where they wanted to go without a plan, so some critical fascimilie of a plan might have to come together at some point if I want this to be a part of a long-term career strategy.

For now, it serves enough for it to be a place where I practice my writing muscle. If I write, I am therefore a writer, so it goes, and every day that I write the better I get. I’m closing in on three hundred posts here, including ones older than a year old. (This count doesn’t consider the archival posts that are monthly roll-ups from the previous incarnation of my WP database.) I’m hoping that by the time I reach five hundred I’ll be even better. We’ll see if the traffic to this blog increases along with it. Time will tell.

The kids have been incredibly difficult this morning. We all got up pretty much at the same time, and I was unable to get much done till after they left for their grandmother’s house. Younger has been especially sensitive this morning, but both of the girls seem intent on making a sport out of disobeying me. I was unable to get either of them to do their studies this morning, and at one point I had them both taking timeouts in the kitchen, which they made into a game where they tried to laugh at each other while I made lunch. I shouldn’t be mad but I did lose my temper briefly from having to repeat myself whilst being ignored repeatedly. Hopefully they’ll be better behaved when they come back.

I’ll admit that part of the reason for the discord here in the house is due to a text I got from my WordPress client basically firing me from the project. When we had set out, I thought I had made perfectly clear that this was going to be done quickly. I believe my exact words were something to the effect of being on the cheap and good areas on the project triangle, and that if we needed to move to the fast that they should let me know. As we entered the third month of our engagement, they let it be known that they were frustrated with the pace, and that I had expressed some doubts about my ability to deliver the project. I had expressed some frustrations about the work that I had inherited. This was mostly due to the amicable arrangement that we had started out on.

I think one of the major mistakes I made taking on this project was not properly scoping it and setting expectations. Another WP developer in my area charges twelve hundred dollars for a basic, four or five page WP site, and this project involved a major redesign and restructuring of an existing site. Easily a six month project at the rates I was charging. That obviously wouldn’t have flown if I had proposed that at the beginning.

I did identify several aspects of the redesign that I wasn’t going to be able to deliver on my own, mainly image assets. I was having a hard time gathering stock photography to match what they were asking me for. When I made this clear to the client, and told them that delivering everything I felt needed to be done within the accelerated timeline was going to be difficult, they told me that they had other developer resources that we could bring in. I said by all means.

This hasn’t been going quite the way I hoped it would turn out. In anticipation, I wrote up a project summary, invited the outside dev to my Basecamp, where I had all of the project notes and tasks, and spent several sessions building out a backlog of things that needed to be done. I told the dev, a PHP and Laravel dev from Pakistan, that I needed their assistance with one particular task: setting up the MemberPress plugin for us.

It doesn’t seem that any of that has even been considered. When I got the text, to the effect that development would proceed from scratch due to the difficulty in determining what I had done, I checked logs for the staging site and saw that no one besides myself had even logged into it. So something else appears to be going on. I suspect that besides the English language barrier, the outside dev might be more of a Laravel developer than a WordPress one. And I find it highly ironic they’re starting from scratch, when I literally spent two months trying to figure out what the last dev did.

I’m trying to tread a fine line here given that this engagement is with someone I consider to be a friend. We had gotten into some heated discussions about this, and you know the old saw about mixing business with pleasure. Still, my friend is enough of a intrepid entrepreneur that I considered this a baby step into what should be the start of a mutually profitable enterprise for both of us. When they broached the subject of terminating the arrangement with me a few weeks ago, I was so held by a sense of honor that I basically volunteered to finish the work for free. That’s why this morning’s message stung so much.

I replied back with as much tact as was possible given the cortisone flowing. I told them that the outside dev hadn’t even given a cursory look at what I had done, and I asked that they take another look at the progress I had made in the past few days before they pulled the trigger on a redesign. Further, I said, even if they did insist on moving forward with a new project, I intended to continue my development on the staging site until I was satisfied that I had fulfilled my promise to deliver the redesign and the membership features by the end of next week.

This project has taught me a lot already, both about WordPress development, but aslo about managing client expectations. I have got to spend more time focusing on the business side of the relationship, and establish some formal contracts and work blueprints so that expectations are better managed up front. For now, I’ve got about twenty hours of work left in the month in which to deliver and salvage this project. Failure is not an option, and neither is ruining this friendship.

Looking forward

cupcake with candle

A review of the past year and goals for the next one.

Yesterday was a mess. The kids stayed up too late the night before and were fussy all day. I probably wasn’t in the best mood myself, and wound up losing my temper several times at them. In and out, in and out of the house they went. Made a huge mess in the garage with a mudpile, and even had the gall to take a delivery off the porch to use as part of their games in the back yard. I spent the morning working in the yard. I repurposed one of our unused flowerbeds as for some pepper plants, and what I assume are pumpkin plants that I salvaged when I dug up a tree stump in the back yard. Then I cut the grass.

The girls spent much of the day doing decorations for my birthday today. The dining room is off limits, and I’ve managed not to peek. Something tells me that they chose a Star Wars theme. We’ll see.

I managed to keep to a regular schedule last night. I quit playing Factorio at ten and spent another forty minutes or so reading in bed before I turned off the lights. I got up at seven, and feel pretty well rested right now, Elder has been up, and I hear the rest of the girls rousing. I hope everyone is in a good mood today. My father is coming over, for the first time since the Lockdown, and Missus has arranged a Zoom part with my mom and who knows who else.

Last week was ok. I give it a ‘C’. I can’t really think of any accomplishments that stand out, although I did manage to write every day, including another two thousand word article that went up on LinkedIn and Substack. Building that will take time. I didn’t spend as much time as I should have working on my consulting gigs, but I ran into some technical issues that set me back. And I didn’t apply to many jobs, other than the long-shot for Invest Like The Best.

Looking back at what I accomplished this past year, it’s hard to imagine that a year ago this time I was still involved in a tense political campaign. I wasn’t writing about it then, and it’s probably a good thing, because I still haven’t talked to my campaign manager since. It was that toxic. Finishing school is no doubt my biggest accomplishment, but I’m not quite sure what I would consider my number two. I’ve learned a lot, and completing classes were their own projects considering, but I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished that much.

I’m in the middle of listening to a podcast interview with a serial entrepreneur who spent several years building a successful company and now runs a firm based on Berkshire’s model. He said he doesn’t have the drive to start a new company these days, but that it happens “accidently” from time to time. He much prefers to leave the day to day operations to others, and prefers to swoop in to which ever firm is having problems and fix them. This allows him to shift his focus every two weeks or so.

At one point he mentioned someone he knows who had an idea and was able to execute it in two or three days, and now makes some fifty thousand a month in revenue. It’s sort of mind boggling. I’ve been toiling away at my day job at Zombie and Boss still hasn’t been able to make it sustainable. I’m still working on my consulting business, but neither of my clients are at the point where they are bringing in any money. We’ll have to change that this year.

Right now I have two goals that I’ve set. FIRE by 2024, and Sixty Days to Six Figures. So far, all we’ve managed to do with the first goal is lose our mortgage insurance, which we’re rolling back into the mortgage. This should shave about four years off the life of our mortgage, which should put us somewhere around 2036. My consulting business has about six months run, but I’ve got to finish the project before I can take on more business. Or, more importantly, before I start another one of my own.

The big question for me in the next year is whether I can build a business, a real business, that can bring in four thousand dollars a month in revenue? I’m not even talking profits, but just revenue. And do so in a way that requires minimal effort on my part? I’m thinking like an ecommerce store or something similar, like selling a book on Amazon. There are lots of questions about how to go about this. Do I build it all myself, or do I use some capital to hire assistants or outsource it on Fiverr or somthing? Do I code it, or do I use a service like Shopify or some of these other no-code platform?

I should correct that. The question is not whether I can, but how fast can I?. There’s no doubt in my mind that I can make it happen, but the real question is how to make it happen amidst everything else happening in my life, at the speed I want. Two hours a week isn’t going to cut it. I have to find a way to work on it every day, to keep pushing things forward faster. To balance being a dad, and a husband, all while working a day job and everything else I got going on.

I feel up to the challenge, so it’s time to work. Here’s to the next trip around the sun.

Choice overload

I don’t seem to have issues finding flow. I guess I’m lucky like that. I don’t have any problems delving into a problem for hours on end and really disappearing into it. I seem to have a different kind of problem. Focus. It’s a situation where I find myself with too many options and I’m not sure what to do next. I guess it borders on feeling overwhelmed, but I don’t really feel that stress. The only thing that stresses me is the feeling of the immediate, the reacting. As one that works in support, I call it firefighting, those situations where something is broken, a server down, or some other critical application or service that brings me out of flow and forces me to go from what I want to do to what I have to do. Sometimes these situations are self inflicted, but other times they’re just disasters. A virus on a client server that brings them to a standstill, and requires my full undivided attention until the issue is resolved. These are the only moments in my life when I’m truly stressed.

The other problem I struggle with is deciding what to do next. It’s probably a prioritization issue, and I’m either ignoring my list of todos or otherwise procrastinating. I pulled out my copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and skimmed through the first third. I read it years ago and tried to implement some of it as a best practice, but I’ve struggled to really find something that works. I started using index cards for the wife and I to keep track of things. We’ve tried Trello in the past, but she didn’t really stick with it. I personally found Nirvana to be the most pleasant for me, but I quickly ran up against the limits of the free plan. Of course when I do pay for something, I quickly forget about it, and once I’m reminded about the bill and cancel the service, I start using it again.

The golden age of apps that we currently live in presents more and more of a choice paralysis for me. My various clients have their own stack, but it seems like every new startup has their own, and I seem to get bogged down in figuring out what works, what’s new, how to manage it, and most importantly, how to get buy in from the team. I could think of dozens of examples, the choices are everywhere. As someone who makes their professional calling as the ‘trusted advisor’, I get lost in a sea of possibilities. It’s hardest when you’re planning a new organization, or one that is using a lot of manual and paper processes.

In the past, it’s been trivial to take a few simple steps to get an organization moving along. A few examples: creating mailing lists where the organizer was using personal email; Setting up Google Apps for email and file sharing; registering a domain and setting up a basic website. But the longer I go on with this, the harder it’s proving to nail my preferences down to a few apps. And depending on the organization, it’s proving almost impossible to get buy in from everyone. I have one volunteer group I’m part of where they still insist on massive group chats. I recommend Signal, and things go nowhere. Trello, or Asana for task management, and everything falls off after a few weeks. The more involved I get with an org, the more convoluted things get. Having different apps for time tracking, billing, CRM, issue logs, and so on and on just gets cumbersome. Having these apps talk to each other is nice, but trying to design a solution over and over again is just sapping the energy out of me.

Which is how I found myself playing around with Basecamp last night. I need a system that I can use for my freelance work, that will allow me to add clients as needed and allow me to collaborate with them and their clients. I’m not saying that it’s the answer, but it does seem to do a lot of what I think is needed within a team. It doesn’t do it all, and I’m not sure that it’s best at all of these things, but I’ll settle for simplicity right now. What I need is less options, so that I can get back to work, and stay in flow. I need something with which I can track tasks, assignments, time entries, billing, documentation, source code if need be. There’s just too many solutions out there, and at some level it seems like some sort of entrepreneurial masterbation to be messing around with all of this crap.