2012: My Personal Year In Review

  • Posted on: 31 December 2012
  • By: Shawn DeWolfe
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.

[ header = Personal, Well, not that Personal ] Personal: This Year
It has been an odd year. Health-wise, things have been great in one column and lousy in another. I had one cold. It really annoyed me because of the pitiable novelty of it. I blame it on my temporary lapse in taking 5-HTP in getting sick. I also have IBS (I’ve had it for years), but when I stopped eating bread (specifically yeast-based bread), my IBS went to sleep. Flour is okay. Sourdough is okay. Yeast is the culprit. The impact of IBS on daily life can be pretty significant. It’s dormancy is welcome. In the other side of the balance sheet is my big fat gut. I got really angry about my static weight. No matter what I do, diet-wise, my weight hovers inside of a 10 lb. range. I was able to nudge it downward by going on a 600-calorie/day diet, but that’s a tough diet to follow, like when Gary Sinise’s character in Apollo 13 had to figure out a start-up sequence that didn’t overload the spacecraft. So, I eventually stopped that diet and my weight went back to its float point. The weight problem has left me angry at the social stigma and purposeful research blindness at the situation. Obesity is shorthand for a moral weakness and lack of self-control. In other words, fat people are idiots. It’s like saying that women should be ashamed of getting periods; or men should be manly enough to not experience erectile dysfunction. Bodies malfunction (or that is, they function in a fashion we do not enjoy). If you have restless leg syndrome, there’s a drug (really?); but if you can’t lose weight there are mood altering drugs or drugs that give you a metabolic kick to the head. There are many obesity drugs in the experimental stage, but they may not get the greenlight and why should a fatty like me wait for that rescue-- just buck up and lose the weight. Next time I see someone using a cane, maybe I should kick out the cane and tell them to try walking better and that their situation stems from a lack of moral toughness or that the root cause is what we will dwell on instead of addressing their current situation.
Emotionally, it has been a draining year: there’s no way to spin it otherwise. Being self-employed is an endurance test. A small project stretched overlong (lots of road re-paving). In the last couple months, I took on two side gigs. It’s subcontract work, so I won’t discuss what I’m doing, the compensation or how much time it takes. I won’t show off the work: the gigs are black holes of work that jet out a little bit of income (no, it’s not porn or similarly objectionable).
Before the new gigs, I took on some writing projects. One paid okay, but another two paid VERY poorly. So, when I got busy, I jettisoned the writing gigs. Really: I want to write. It’s what I did when I was a teenager. The money from writing was never great and ultimately, I don’t want to be poor and creatively fulfilled. That’s the tug-of-war that gained additional contrast this year. If I can get our new venture going and going well, it may be able to produce a trickle of income. The more income I can trickle in, the more I can devote to creative projects. That’s the Big Plan. If you know me, you know I am seeking a “passive income.”-- consulting is the exact opposite. When you work at your job-type-job and you stop to take a personal phone call or play Mafia Wars on Facebook, you still get paid. When I stop typing out code, I stop getting paid. At a crappy retail job, I was told that all sorts of lapses in productivity were indeed theft. Looking out a window: theft. Coughing fit: theft. I live in the polar opposite of that situation. I’m all about productivity. What I want to do is get to a point that my digital flying monkeys (aka websites, apps and products) earn the income and I can look out the window again.
My windows have become unduly familiar. Our cat was diagnosed with a chronic thyroid condition. He needs pills twice a day. My vacations have to last less than 12 hours. If we take him to a boarding kennel, they and the vet will charge for each attempt to give him a pill (daily vet fees plus the surcharge from the vet can add up fast). Cats are good at avoiding pills. Kennels are good at killing animals (yep, I’m not deleting that statement). A vacation of any noticeable size is a death sentence for the cat. So, I did a day trip to Vancouver in April, a couple drives to Nanaimo (also day trips). Europe? Nope-- I won’t get there. New York? Nope-- I missed the World Trade Center before it got greased. I will likely miss New York before it faces a similar fate (c’mon: every disaster movie glasses New York). I don’t have the exotic capacity to travel to different cities. With clients that book days of my time and then yank the appointment at the last minute, I have to stay hunkered down at my desk either making good of cancelled / freed-up time; or I am scrambling to make multiple obligations stack on my shoulders.
[ header = Big, Big Stuff ] I am pissed off that the global economy continues to spin in the wrong direction. It's a shell game. Some people are getting crazy rich from simply having money. It's like getting a dozen eggs by having ten eggs. I wish we could move to an economy of scale and a less blended economic model. But then, that's not a global thing-- I can live by a resource based economy and find a way to prosper at it. The "how" is tricky. But I will seek that out. After all: Black. White. Straight. Gay. Old. Young. The nub of the problem isn't the color of people's skin-- it's inequality. Prosperous people living in abundance don't rebel. If we can come to a position of plenty, we can end most of the world's problems.

I found that the Newtown Shooting left me overly shaken. Thousands of children needlessly die every day, but when a failed human brings it about, it's different. It was the enactment of all of my fears. A vengeful moment of lightning strikes down some little kids during their school day. The whole matter has left me polarized. I am very anti-gun, now. Here's what I have to say to people with guns:
  • Gun owners a bad people.
  • If you support guns, I hope someone shoots you and that you can maintain your viewpoint and zeal. Mean and petty? Yes. But being shot is a horrible thing to consider, but whenever a gun owner produces a gun, they either intimidate, injure or kill others. If they wish to visit that fate on others, they should be okay with it being their fate.
  • I hope millions of people join the NRA, co-opt it and make it into the largest and most motivated anti-gun lobby in America. I would join the NRA if I could for this specific reason.
  • If the NRA believes in guns, they should not bar them from press conferences. I think it's a sad irony that the NRA has a problem with guns.
  • You need a gun because you are a coward.
  • You need a gun, because you are not right, but you still desire to win arguments through intimidation.
If you are like me and dislike guns, I have this to say:
  • Join the NRA. As per above, an organization acts in accordance to its membership. Join it. Change it.
  • Lots of people protest abortion clinics. It's time you started to protest gun shops. Both sets of protestors would be theoretically protesting places that bring about death, so the method of effecting change is valid.
  • Alienate people with guns. Employers fire people who do drugs on the weekend and then don't deliver a clean drug sample. As an employer, don't hire anyone who owns a gun. You can ask them that one-- it's not a religious or sexual question.
At the close of 2012, I can say, "I still own a home." I can also say, "I am alive." And that’s good.

Last updated date

Saturday, December 26, 2015 - 18:22