A great quote

I just stumbled across this quote tonight and felt it was pretty relevant to me.

It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live.

Re-enforces my earlier post, that work should co-incide with life, not dictate it.

To be happy with both, you must strike a balance.

Make sure judgement doesn’t cloud the journey

Earlier today I was laying in bath (as you do, with a broken ankle) one leg dangled out the side, rather uncomfortably. Attempting to relax, I kicked back, reflecting the last few weeks of life. As an overview, they’ve both been fortunate and unfortunate in different ways. Almost as if one was meant to happen to help improve the other.

So what am I going on about? Well, a little under 5 weeks ago today, I broke my ankle, after a heavy & damn right clumsy (arguably malicious) challenge on me at football. This was both painful and inconvenient (and still continues to be so), but what it did give me was plenty of time to think, and with the wonders of technology work from my bed. The extra time, which I might have normally filled with other activities, I used to plan and re-evaluate my working life.

For those of you that don’t already know, I run an web based media company called Bytewire and have been doing so for 3 years, since we first started up. I kicked straight out of uni into this and it’s been a roller coaster ride from day one.

Anybody who regular reads my blog will remember I wrote about a bit of a predicament we we’re having after being 3 years down the line and having not really achieved our goals as a company (least not the dream). If you didn’t read it, catch it here – Why web design is something I got into »

It’s definitely worth reading first before this post.

Now, in this previous post I promised a follow up post, so here we have it.

Another few months have past and it’s been all change with my working life and company direction. After a great deal of thinking and deliberation we sat back and said, you know what.

What do WE want to be getting out of this?

Personally, professionally, and everything else that come’s with it. And it was really refreshing, like, really, really refreshing. It felt like alot of what we buried our heads in the sand with, previously, was finally being addressed.

Now I guess you’ll be wondering what sort of things we talked about and what that meant. But I want to keep this post on a strictly personal level, so i’m not going to go into all the ins and outs of our start up company Bytewire’s improvements.

As any Entrepreneur or business owner will tell you, you start out with a dream, something you think will be huge, even if it is totally unattainable in your mind right now! You’ve got to dream big. Those that do will change the world. We set out 3 years ago to build a game, then further that with follow up titles and expansions.

Truth is, we never quite made it. We received investment from a company and we blew the opportunities this very well could have opened to us. Reason we blew it, in-experience. We thought hey, you know what, we can keep all this investment money and try and make it ourselves and we would be better off. WRONG. So very WRONG. People are STRENGTH. More people equals greater STRENGTH (given you get the right people of course). Expansion was the lost KEY.

Lesson: Never consolidate in a start up, always try to expand. Of course use your head to make logical decisions. But never sit, not making the most of your resources.

What this meant for us, is, we slowly dwindled away vast amounts of our initial investment money. To the point we we’re at a couple of months ago. We recently made our final payment on our current office, leaving just 3 remaining months (probably less) before we would need to commit to more time their, find another, or leave.

After discussion, this would likely be our penultimate few months, if no improvements we’re made.

It was a stressful time.

During the few nights I spent in hospital I began to think once the last rent payment is made, it is make or break time. 3 years down the line just turned 25, i’m no longer a kid with a big dream. I’m an adult who want’s to get something out of life, like a house, a new car, perhaps even a family (shudders), fly the roost and all that etc etc.

It dawned on me that, we need to make work more about us, what we need, and what we enjoy. Work should fit around our lives, not dictate them. We needed to start taking ourselves more seriously and doing all we can to make things work, in an all out attempt to make it WORTHWHILE. And in the end be able to sit back and say you know what if this isn’t worthwhile, then maybe we should do something else.

And this is the KEY for me. I love what I do, but in reflection we did it the wrong way round. We’re now at a point, as developers, we should have been at from the very start, ideally. Which hampered our ability in the beginning. But Cest la vie, such is the card we dealt.

As all start up founders will know the people that have to make the greatest sacrifice are ME & YOU, the owners. When you start out, you have to accept, long unsociable hours, little financial rewards, and generally difficult times. And we most certainly have done this, for 3 years now. It’s gone past it’s honey moon period, when enthusiasm was rife. It’s gone into, this seriously needs to be working, or we cannot simply carry on blindly doing it. Life needs a shake up every now and again.

What we did was to both go away and identify things we would like to happen, a few things cropped up. One obvious thing was financially things had to improve, best job on the planet or not, if someone working in a Supermarket pulls more than our average wage a month, then something is wrong (of course absolutely no offense meant by this, i’m just using it as a benchmark, people can relate to). Learning new things, and tools to do our jobs better we’re amongst other mentioned things.

What I suggested we did was treat the next 3 months as if it we’re really a game. Stop all this long term thinking, like if we do that we won’t have any money left in 3 months. I mean who the f*ck cares if there’s no money left if what your doing does not financially support you right now! And you’ve already given it the time you feel it was due to flourish. Right?

Or planning for events like making no more money. If you don’t make any money in 3 months there’s a real business problem, right here, right now. Solve it, or it’s never going to be worth it.

Do not mistake what I am saying here for the fact we do it just for the money. It’s really not true. But as mentioned earlier it’s a key factor in life, moving out, and growing up. It cannot be forgotten.

Which leads me excellently to the title of this post. Judgement might tell you that, paying yourself more or rewarding yourself more often, can’t be done unless you’ve hit ridiculous milestones in your bank account. But you shouldn’t be thinking about that. Do not waste your time planning for the long term until you have something worth planning / protecting for! Focus on the short term, make yourself happy (don’t be greedy), focus on the reasons you work for yourself, and more importantly the benefits.

In business you must strike a balance between risk and safety. Without risk there can be little gains. Risks are everywhere you’ll take them all the time, but when it comes to money, some people, are just less comfortable with taking risk than others.

As people we’ve all got a bit of stick or twist in us, how you answer, with personal money in your hand should be different to business money.

With business you must leave your personal money management at home.

Don’t get me wrong there is a big difference between reckless and calculated. And only you can decide where the line may lie. But with everything in life, you do need to be able to draw lines under things and have the integrity enough to hold your head high no matter what the outcome. And also the knowledge enough to walk away from things which are not working, but still having gained valuable and useful experience.

It’s all about the experience and the journey. If a ship opens its sails, it’ll most likely go somewhere. If you sit ashore, unsure of where the open water might take you, you’ll sure as hell go nowhere.

When you get somewhere, a long way down the road, then you plan for the future.

Right now, just live for the moment.

Web Design, Should I have? The follow on..

As a few of you may remember, a few weeks ago I wrote a blog summarising alot of my feelings surrounding my own experiences with starting a Web Design and Development business. In which I stressed some of the things, that we’re currently on my mind and a brief evaluation of my experiences thus far.

If you are planning on reading the rest of this post, I strongly recommend you at least give the previous article a little skim through, you can find it here

This post is very much a continuation of expression, using my blog as my tool and in doing so following on nicely from the post I wrote a few weeks ago.

Ok, so, onwards, a little over a week ago I took a short holiday and hoped to use it as a nice bit of relaxation and reflection time. Normally while i’m away I tend to lay on the beach thinking of ways to do things differently, the next big thing or just illustrating an idea in my head. However something rather strange occurred to me about half way through the holiday, I hadn’t done any of this. This was very weird, i’d taken the time to read a few great books from abookapart but other than that i’d thought about nothing relevant to work or sat their wondering what was going on back at home, without me. I tried to kick back and analyse why I thought this was, and, in honesty I didn’t find the answer. However I had drawn some conclusions from it. I was obviously stressed, tense, and wound up about work and releasing that largely over the weeks building up to my holiday, combined, with the perfect excuse to forget about them, I found myself happy enough to not be thinking about work and it’s in’s and out’s at all. Bliss.

The ability to attach and detach yourself from work is always a good one to have, at least for your health anyway, but when its your own company as many of you will know, this really is not easy to do. I still felt perhaps something more fundamental had changed. So since i’ve been back, i’ve been trying to work out what I thought that might be, and, why. I’ve drawn this from my feelings; over the last 3 years i’ve poured my life and soul into starting my business, my social life and my free time, and a whole lot of blood sweat and tears. Although i’m not going to sit here and complain, i’m open to admit, i’ve not got as much out of it as i’ve put in. However, it has given me the chance to be thrown in at the deep end and learn the tricks of the trade, admittedly very much the abnormal way round, but its been great none the less. My passion for designing and making things has definitely not waned in this period, which to me, is a great sign, as hopefully i’ve found something I really do love to do.

But what pouring your whole life and soul into often makes you forget, is that, life exists outside your little bubble, and if you just take a step back once in a while, quite often you’ve missed quite a bit. Just because things perhaps aren’t working out, it’s not the be all and end all of everything, theirs plenty more to come and plenty of other avenues and options to explore. So i’ve decided to try and relax about thing’s, learn from previous mistakes and just enjoy developing when I enjoy it and stopping when I don’t.

I also thought; you know what i’m going to think about what the downfalls of the last 3 years have been and how I might do them a little differently. One area that I particularly wanted to talk about was risk. That big scary word RISK. Avoid it like the plague some would say, other’s learn to embrace it, the best approach, who knows. Both can work, but they are fundamentally very, very different. We adopted the approach of avoiding RISK like the plague, looking back, i’d have liked to played my cards differently. Although RISK oftens shortens the time in which you have to develop projects under a budget, employing one or 2 more staff, also shortens the time needed to develop projects and brings 2 more heads into the business, 4 heads are better than 2 right? We only took the plunge to get ourselves an office 2 and a bit years into the 3 and a bit years we’ve been doing this. Again, something we should have done long ago. What taking no risk has allowed us to do is drag out what could end up being the inevitable, over a longer period of time.

For me I think the extra time has given me the time to concentrate on improving my skills as a developer, but has turned me into someone who has to do a bit of everything. And as we all know full well, you CANNOT be the best at everything, employing other people is far more efficient, providing you hire the right people of course!

As a web design and development business we could do with a full time sales manager, pulling in work, left, right and centre. But that’s never happened quite that way. We make alot of our own products (mostly online games) which when we’re not busy we get stuck into, either by upgrading or coding add ons. For which we could also do with a content manager, who would make interesting and awesome links between missions, achievements etc and manage the game experience, given to the players in a pro-active way. But who’s willing to work for a profit share these days? And finally a PR who gets our games and products all over the web. Now some of you might be sitting their saying well you could probably do all these things and run your own business, I say, you can’t. I will never be running my business as well as I could, so long as i’m also the Sales Manager, the Director, the PR, the lead Programmer, and Designer. Fact.

For me I say embrace RISK, it will help you reach either the end or the start of something quickly and without wasting years and years trying to build up to it. Don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t suggest you go out tommorow and try to secure a £250,000 bank loan, but perhaps try to secure some funding and take some risks with it. Business is all about risks, some come off and some don’t, thats life i’m afraid folks.

So perhaps i’m acting a little downbeat about things, but i’m feeling cynical towards the end of this post. I think my short break gave me som time to reflect and think about both my business as a whole and how it’s now fitting in with my life goals and personal objectives. I’ve given both of these alot of thought, and, hope I have some kind of master plan in my head. It’s very important to remember too assess how everything your doing fits with you, if what your doing ultimately doesn’t fit with you and your life or even your future, then likelihood is you won’t be enjoying it and thus won’t be making the quality of work / contribution you should.

Why web design is something I got into, but should I have?

Lately i’ve been spending a little time reflecting on my day job (running a small web design firm) and asking myself a few questions as to why infact I do it. I’m not going to go into the reasons why i’ve been taking sometime to think about it, but what I am going to do is use this blog post as a methodical and perhaps helpful way of me expressing myself.

I got into web mainly through 3 avenues; the first of which has been feeding my creativity ever since I started doing it. I’ve always been creative minded, (i.e. I can come up with some decent ideas, amongst, admittedly some not so great ones). Although i’ve never been that great at artsy forms of creativity (cant draw for toffee), i’m not bad at graphic design and designing systems but im certainly no Van Gogh. The second of which, I really love, problem solving, it has to be one of my favourite things, and it can be very satisfying, formulating a plan to solve a complex problem. And lastly my love for computers, since a young age i’ve been into computers, both playing them and getting involved with the technical side (under the hood). I built my first computer when I was only 15, it wasn’t the greatest, but hey, I went onto make better icon smile Why web design is something I got into, but should I have?
I also spent alot of time learning visual basics and creating complex Access and Excel solutions throughout high school and particularly in my year out from university, so coding was at least familiar to me.

I’ve now been solidly working in web design and dev for just under 4 years, am fluent in PHP, jQuery, HTML, CSS, Javascript, MYSQL, dabbled with Python and Ruby and tried out countless other entourages along the way. All self taught. I’ve even now built my own PHP game framework, with hundreds of addon libraries. But truth be told, as the old saying goes “its a developers curse”, the more you know, the more you want to know and we all also know that evantually just like anyone in any position “you’ll fall out of touch, if you don’t keep up”. I often feel that as a developer, especially working for yourself, there’s no one to tell you “hey that piece of work is really ace, nice job.” or anyone to say “hey, you’ve really progressed lately have a bonus”. Tar very much. Doesn’t quite work like that in my world.

Outside of work im an active, sports enthusiast and have a small hatred for sitting down in a chair burning deep down inside, which gets made worse by the fact, at times, I can sit in front of the computer much like I am right now and not even notice that well over 2-3 hours have just dwindled out of my life. I suppose that could be a good or a bad thing, on the one hand i’m clearly not bored, as time flies, but on the other, I need to be active as well and thats also something I love. Balancing the 2 can be interesting, in a rather more shit, than interesting way, lots of early morning gym or warewolf style moonlit runs, are the order of most weeks.

When things don’t necessarily go entirely your way, or even, at all your way. Your first port of call is to question yourself, well at least it is with me, I have to constantly say to myself am I good enough to be doing this? Which I find a right pain in the ass at times. And truth be told the only real answer to this question is within myself and in the evidence of my work. You start asking yourself, are you working hard enough? Could you work harder? Could you start earlier? finish later? work weekends? freelance? twilight? And all these questions often just become a little overwhelming, to the point at which a headache is usually the final outcome. Working for myself, has its perks, yes I can start when I want, yes I could choose to have a day off when I want and yes if I want to have a long lunch I can, but invariably I do none of these things. Maybe I should? Once every now and then. Or maybe I just feel that when I’m earning the sort of money where I feel I can afford to kick back and relax a little more than I can do these things. But in the mean time I just feel like i’m letting myself down if I don’t work as sodding hard as I can.

I also ask myself, as much as I love being involved in the designing/coding/planning stages of all projects, i’m not sure I could see myself doing the “grunt” work forever. Having never worked in the environment where I’ve had the time, to take my time, so to speak, nor the environment where someone will be scrutinising my code, I’ve only ever had coding standards to base myself on and only myself to benchmark and learn from. Which i’ve actually found a pretty heavy burden. I’d far rather be working in a room with 20-30 likeminded programmers all bouncing ideas and what have you off of each other. Much more fun and beneficial way to learn. Alas unless of course my company takes off, then thats unlikely to happen in the near future.

I don’t like to bitch and moan, but I think, or hope, whatever it may be, that their will be some other like minded dudes / dudettes & whatever else out there, with some similar thoughts, maybe even some experience of going through similar things. I’m coming up to 25 years old, 4 years out of uni, and 3 and a half years running my own company, i’ve learnt so much in this time, but i’m currently not sure where its all taking me and what direction i’m heading in. My company hasn’t advanced enough in the 3 and a half years we’ve been doing it to progress with my life (buy a new motor / move out of my parents home) and my friends around me are starting to achieve these things. I don’t mind being the last one or even if it doesn’t happen right now, I just kind of want it to happen at some point and know that i’m heading in a direction which is working. Most things in life, evantually reach a crossroad, knowing where that point is and for how long to pursue it, is the hard part.

In the mean time, I continue to work hard on the projects we are currently working on and hope I can get my head round the situation, so that I can really start to attain some of my life goals. Not that i’m at all one for following a life plan or anything of the sort (just had to get that clear). I guess anyone who’s gone into business with themselves in the past, and things haven’t taken off or quite gone as swimmingly as they would have hoped will have been in a situation like this before and hopefully (not in a cruel way, of course I hope your business did well really) you might be reading.

Hopefully this will be a half decent read and not just a bitch and moan about how hard done I feel, because I don’t, I’d do it all again, just maybe this is the time to put it all under a magnifying glass. Please don’t view it that way, drop any constructive comments below.

I’m really kinda hoping that it might also be useful for anyone else feeling a similar way to have a read.

Do’s and do nots of business websites

Earlier today I decided to have a little think about what makes a business website great and what, well, really doesn’t! The very first thing I thought was it’s, making a wonderful looking website, so wonderful infact that all your clients will immediately be like woah these guys really have talent, I want my site designed by them. Essentially this is a good way of thinking or at least the correct mindset. I’m sure that, I’m not alone in thinking this! However, there’s a little more to a wonderful website than it’s cover. As the sayings go “beauty is only skin deep” & “you cant judge a book by its cover”.

So what really does make a wonderful, purpose serving business website? Good question.

Here are some Do’s and Do Not’s from my own personal experience and view.

Do’s

  • Do make your new site look really eye catching, but more importantly remember the user experience. Don’t make it so eye catching and out there that the average client or onlooker is immediately put off, and won’t bother to find the information they want. Make sure navigation remains simple, nice menus rather than hidden buttons and links. Remember if you look at alot of the most successful websites used by the biggest base of users out there, most of them won’t have any massively out there or exciting UI. They will all have basic, easy to remember, easy to use UI and thats important to remember! Users are thickle and generally make there mind up about a site in the first minute of being on it.
  • Do make sure you don’t hide important information behind too many pages of link depth, users will not want to siv through to much stuff to get to what they want.
  • Do make sure you don’t forget thats its all very well having a nice new site that utilises jQuery or other javascript language to minimise the amount of pages you have in your website, but remember the consequences of doing so. Less content to be ranked, less pages to be indexed and altogether less chance of search engines picking up your site well (this particuarly applies to small businesses, intending to rely on search engine traffic to drive business).
  • Do make your unique selling points readily available.

Do Not’s

  • Do not Hide important information about who you are behind, to tricky or clever UI.
  • Do not hide information that you want a client to see at all, make sure they are confronted as early as possible with the information.
  • Do not make UI’s to clever, that anyone but the designer will struggle to know what to do.
  • Do not make the entire website based on one page (if you wish to rank well for numerous things in search engines).
  • Do not play any annoying sounds on load of your homepage or any other page, a customer who is confronted with loud sound all of a sudden is likely to first port of call close the browser window, that plus its just plain annoying.
  • Do not bury contact forms and ways to get a quote behind a form asking for an information overload, carefully design it so that you get exactly what you need to a minimum.