Month: July 2007

A Client Story: Communication Styles

A key lesson I’ve learned recently — the hard way — when working with clients is to figure out their communication style.

Some details have been slightly tweaked to protect the clients. Or to protect me. Or both.

There are as many communication style models and descriptions as there are flavors of jellybeans, so for the purposes of this story, I’ll use “direct” and “indirect” as contrasts.

I count myself as a direct communicator (although sometimes I’m wimpy and become an indirect communicator). I like to say what I mean, and for the sake of clients, try to say it as clearly as possible.

I designed a web site for a new client who had heard of me from someone else. We were across the country so did most of our communications through phone and email/Basecamp. Initially, I spent a lot of time on conference calls with the husband and wife so that I could understand their needs and what they were looking for. I would then document my notes on Basecamp to make sure we were all on the same page. However, some decisions were deferred to “whatever I thought was best,” because I was the Designer — the Expert. I would make a suggestion, explain why I was suggesting it and how I thought it would fit their needs and requirements, and they would say, “Okay, sounds good. You’re the Expert!” Who wouldn’t love someone who calls you the Expert — with a capital “E” — on a regular basis?

But some of these decisions became open sores that wouldn’t heal because we would end up picking at them again and again.

Over the phone, the clients would say, “Ummmm… so what do you think about having [feature x]?”

I would think to myself, “Didn’t we already talk about why [feature x] was a bad idea?” So I’d pull up the conversation notes in Basecamp, and on the phone, explain the three or four reasons why we decided not to have [feature x].

“Oh, right. Okay. Yeah. You’re the Expert!”

Repeat every two weeks.

Meanwhile, there were other frustrations building up on both sides. I wouldn’t be surprised if both the clients and I were banging our heads on the table after phone conversations.

Finally, one day it hit me. My clients were indirect communicators! They really, really wanted [feature x] because they thought it was cool, even though it could potentially affect the usability of the site. But because they would just “suggest” it and then backpedal from my more direct communication, I didn’t understand that it wasn’t a question — it was a request.

Once I implemented [feature x], the other frustrations magically dissipated and the process became much smoother, to the point that we ended up really enjoying working together. It helped that I understood their communication style better, too, and was able to interpret what they said in a proper light!

Have you learned a communication lesson the hard way? Please share in the comments or blog about it and link back to this post!

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Saying no, and new books by favorite authors

Finished reading:

The Power of a Positive No by William Ury – I wish I had read this book fifteen years ago. If you have a hard time saying “no” to people, definitely read this book! Even just skimming through the first few chapters in Borders was enough to help me in an actual situation that had come up; I went back the next day and bought it to read it for real.

Ury draws on his own experience as a negotiator and the experiences of others who have taken his seminars to illustrate his three stages of delivering a “positive no.” First, you look within yourself and examine your values to clarify why you want to say no. This is the “Yes!” stage — saying “yes” to your values, your self-worth. Then, you deliver a “no” in a way that is respectful of the other person’s values and worth while maintaining a “plan B” for the worst-case scenario if the other person does not accept your proposal. Finally, you offer a “yes?” to offer an alternative solution that would work for you both.

The book is tightly written, with examples ranging from negotiations between countries to communicating with a teenager. This is one book that will stay on my bookshelf.

Magic Street by Orson Scott Card – Card writes in the afterword that this book was born out of a comment about how you rarely see African-American heroes in books. Magic Street is based in a middle-upper class black neighborhood and starts out with the bizarre birth of Mack Street. Mack, who is pretty much raised by the whole neighborhood, finds that he can explore fairyland in a parallel world. However, there are some dark undercurrents of magic that are slowly starting to affect the real world, and Mack is the only one who can do anything about it.

I definitely didn’t expect to have characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream appear in this contemporary fantasy tale. I found this, as most of Card’s other books, completely enjoyable.

Empire by Orson Scott Card – What would cause another civil war in America? Where would the warring lines be drawn, and what happens when both sides claim true patriotism? This is science fiction along the lines of 1984 — military technology that doesn’t exist yet shows up in the story, but the heart remains with strongly written characters that you can get behind and follow, all in a pointed social commentary about the all-or-nothing state of American two-party politics. This could be a great book for discussion.

The Sharing Knife: Legacy by Lois McMaster Bujold – This is volume two of The Sharing Knife and you definitely need to read volume one, Beguilement, first. These two “romantic fantasy” novels are set in a world where people are divided into farmers (Fawn) or Lakewalkers (Dag), with little love between the two groups. Lakewalkers have the magical ability to sense the “ground,” or life force, in everything, and their main mission is to fight and destroy all “malices” — evil creatures that strip away ground, which can only be killed by a “sharing knife;” knives made from human bone that have been “primed” with the mortal sacrifice of another Lakewalker. Volume one is mostly about the conflict with a malice that brings Dag and Fawn together, and then about how Dag and Fawn fall in love and get married. (It’s more “romance” than “fantasy.”) Volume two brings Dag and Fawn back to his community, where they face conflict both within the community and without (less “romance,” more “fantasy”). Both books feature Bujold’s rich characters and backstory. Bujold is working on another two-volume sequel; I can’t wait for them to come out!

With a bookmark:

(Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • Pistol by Mark Kriegel
  • Doc Halligan’s What Every Pet Owner Should Know by Karen Halligan
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

Library book box:

  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Weekly Update: Back at ’em

As I predicted last week, my productivity quadrupled (or quintupled?) after I finished reading the Miles Vorkosigan series. Not exactly a perfect week, but still significant!

  • Work was much more productive this week. I’m not exactly working with passion (as one of my main projects is cleaning up code…), but I’m working quickly and steadily. The week tracking form has been good motivation.
  • Running is difficult right now. I’m on the injury/rest cycle with my right knee. I hate to have to cut further back as I hoped to be running 3 miles every day by now, but even 2 miles seems to be pushing it on the days I do make it out for a run. On the other hand, Steve and I just joined a gym (his 3-year membership expired at a different gym) so at least other types of fitness will be happening.
  • Routines have been dropped for this week, as well. My sleep is all messed up; slept in on Monday and Wednesday, got up at 6 on Tuesday, woke up inexplicably at 2:30 on Thursday and couldn’t go back to sleep, got up at 3:45 to send Steve off to work this morning and will definitely need a nap. Being tired means that exercise and other personal-health things don’t really happen.
  • Fruits/veggies goal has been less on the radar, as well. The good thing is that I actually cooked this week (last week my unmotivation spread to cooking, as well), and I’ve been successful in making at least one or two red meat-less meals a week. Unfortunately I stopped buying fruit for some reason… when did that happen?!
  • Branding hasn’t moved forward in the form of a web site, either.
  • Harp has still been consistent, practicing at least 20 minutes every day. I have only two more harp lessons yet before I return the rental and start saving up for my own harp.
  • Attitude has been mostly positive.
  • And, of course, the biggest thing this week is that I finally officially started my new business. This was one of my goals for 2007; I’m so excited that I finally got everything together (although I did think I’d be done by April!). Now I just need to see if this will actually bring in additional income or not!

I have two personal goals for myself this weekend that have been on my to-do list for a while: Try to make Chinese sesame balls (crispy goodness with red bean paste in the middle) and make this year’s anniversary picture*. We’re also going to try to add the gym to our Saturday circuit. Last weekend’s goals (library, reading, photos) were actually accomplished. Yay!

Thanks to this week’s visitors for being interactive: Doodah, Kate Davis, Dave Seah, Britt, Samantha, Angela Yee, Kristine, LizB, Penny, Lea, Megan, @Stephen, Yazil, and Marcia.

*Anniversary picture: Each year after our anniversary, I make a full-page ink-and-colored pencil or watercolor drawing that represents the different events of the past year. Most of the ones I’ve done so far are tiny little comic drawings that follow a path around the page. I made a list of the major events from this past year, so now I just have to cut the list down and make the drawing.

Announcing Custom Shadow Box

I am very very very excited to announce that my new “side business” is finally opening its virtual doors. VERY.

Introducing Custom Shadow Box at www.customshadowbox.com!

Custom Shadow Box web site

Business plan? What business plan?

The [rather uncreatively named] business is meant to be a side project for me. I enjoy working with my hands, and this is an opportunity to try to get some additional income while doing something else I love. I’m not expecting a high volume of orders because of the price point, so I expect to show a loss at the end of this year (for the shadow box side business part, anyway). The startup costs weren’t high, but I did invest a nice chunk of change into professional photography in addition to fictitious name filing fees.

Nevertheless, this has been a great (albeit sometimes frustrating) way to learn about selling tangible product in California, which involves getting a reseller license, dealing with sales tax, and all that fun stuff. Making the web site was also a great learning opportunity. More about that in a bit.

Beginnings

First shadow box
It started with a wedding present given to my sister back when she got married. A friend had arranged the invitation artistically in a small shadow box with silk floral accents that matched the colors of the invitation. I always thought it was a cool idea, but it wasn’t until my coworker got married that I finally tried it out. Their invitations were wrapped in orange vellum with a gorgeous patterned ribbon. My coworker had gerbera daisies in her wedding, so I picked some silk flowers that matched the invitation and put it together.

Fast forward to sometime last year. I was brainstorming ways that I could develop alternative streams of income. By this time, I’d created some shadow boxes to display my own wedding photos and invitations and created a couple more for other friends, as several of my friends were conveniently getting married. I played with the idea of making custom shadow boxes for money and sketched out some pricing ideas. Come 2007, I decided that one of my main goals for the year would be to get this new business idea up and running.

Process

First, the logo. Below, you can see the logo evolution. I started with a simple 3D box shape created in Illustrator and eventually made the frame “thicker” to give it some depth. While I liked the inner shadow effect (large upper right), I eventually moved the shadow in front of the box so that I could do cool things with Jason Gaylor-inspired flowers. I liked my original wild tangle of flowers (third row left), but when reduced to logo size it was too hard to tell what they were (my sister Angela’s feedback), so I simplified the shapes for the actual logo itself. I didn’t want the time I spent on the crazy flowers to go to waste, however, so you’ll see that they show up in other parts of the site.

Custom Shadow Box logo evolution

My original logo and web site design color was teal, but my graphic designer sister said that I should pick more neutral colors so that the site wouldn’t clash with my product pictures. Above you can see my attempts at choosing other colors. Eventually I figured out that it would work best to have the shadow box mark in one color and the text and the rest of the site to be in another color. I also made the page titles green to add some additional oomph (that’s a technical term, by the way).

Web site colors

The web site design went very smoothly. I used my wild flower mass as a page background and already had in mind the kind of feel and style I wanted for the web site, which I’d describe as clean and web 2.0-ish.

The web site development, on the other hand, was a fun learning experience and challenge:

  • I tried to use as-clean-as-possible HTML for the markup. I generally suffer from divitis so this was my attempt to use as few divs as possible. (Note – I don’t think the site validates 100% quite yet. Still working out some of the kinks.)
  • I bought DOM Scripting by Jeremy Keith and then completely redid the gallery page to use better markup, with a fancy Javascript file controlling the application of classes.
  • I also used DOM scripting to get the order page more interactive, with prices highlighting as you select options and the bottom invoice amount automatically updating as you “build” your shadow box.
  • I got to experiment with a totally new illustration style. More below.

There are still some challenges with the order page that I haven’t figured out how to deal with. There’s something about my script that won’t allow me to automatically put the focus on a text field after selecting a radio button (such as Calligraphy Options). Also, if you leave the page and then go back to the order form, the radio buttons are selected but the Javascript stuff has all been reset so the prices aren’t highlighted and the order total is “$0.” Not sure what to do about that either. If you’re a Javascript expert and would like to provide some tips or want to monkey around with my code, please do!

Shadow box photo
The next step was to get some product photography. I had put in some temporary pictures into my gallery of older shadow boxes I had created and photographed. Some of the photographs were okay (such as the one used on the home page which had removable glass) but the photos of black frames were generally not usable because of reflections on the glass. I chose Bonnie Anglin from Anglin Art and Design because of her experience with product photography, although I think I offered her a new challenge with photographing glass-faced picture frames! You can see her great results on the gallery page; she took all the photos except the first one and the third one.

At about this point, I also decided that I wanted to put some illustrations on the how it works page, which was text-heavy and boring. I didn’t think my typical comic style would work, so I contacted Paige Pooler to see if she was available. Unfortunately, she wasn’t, but I was inspired to try out a different style of illustration and see how far I could take it. You may remember my first attempts; that specific portrait ended up on my about page. The other illustrations took a while to complete because of a bout of procrastination, but I’m very very pleased with how they turned out. Notice that I managed to incorporate the wild-flowers in the illustrations as well. See the other illustrations on the how it works page.

Custom shadow box illustration

Using code culled from other projects, I finished up the web site by getting the order form to work, then actually shipped shadow boxes (long-belated wedding presents) to test the shipping price. US Priority Mail ended up being the most cost-efficient way to ship. I ordered boxes from Uline although I still need to find a source for bubble wrap (Office Max will do for now).

And this morning, I went live!

Next steps, and how you can help!

Things I still need to do:

  • research bubble wrap costs and find a source
  • create business card and brochure
  • create invoice template
  • finish baby shadow boxes for friends (need to add baby photo) and take photographs for gallery

How you can help:

  • Kindly spread the word! Word of mouth, blogs, anything will help.
  • Provide feedback about the general business idea, site, and price point.
  • See a typo? Let me know!

Cute cat story.

Tofu

We carried two kittens out to the living room to cuddle and pet while watching some TV. They were curious and calm, sniffing around and exploring, for about 10 minutes. Then they realized they were nowhere near the others and started crying.

Nutmeg, who had come out to eat, came over to investigate and meowed anxiously at them. We put the kittens on the floor to see what would happen.

Nutmeg: Mrrrrrr. Mr-r-r-r-r. Mrrrr?

Sophie and Tofu: MEW! MEW! MEW!

Nutmeg walks towards the hallway. Mr-r-r-r-r. Mrow.

Tofu starts doing the cute kitten stagger towards Nutmeg. Sophie turns in circles: MEW! MEW! MEW!

Nutmeg takes another step towards the hallway, looking back. Mr-r-r-r-r?

Tofu gets about as far as Nutmeg. Sophie starts crawling the wrong way.

Nutmeg walks over, carefully grabs Sophie around her neck, carries her to the office and deposits her under Steve’s desk with the others.

Tofu, left alone: Mew. MEW. MEW! MEW! MEW! MEW! MEW!

Nutmeg comes back. Mr-r-r-r-r?

Tofu is still freaking out.

Nutmeg seems to give up on trying to get Tofu to follow her, comes over, grabs Tofu around the neck, and carries/drags her down the hall to the office. (Tofu is a bit bigger than Sophie.)

A short while later, all five kittens are happily jostling for position around Nutmeg’s belly.

A Client Story: Teaching Photoshop

On Sunday, I visited a local toy store for some initial consultation. The husband-wife pair, who had taken over the store about a year ago, were going to add a bunch of inventory to their online store and wanted my help. I went in-person to observe their process so that I could see if I was the right person to help them or not.

The previous owner had put together an ASP web site linked to a database. As it turned out, the actual process of entering product information was pretty easy, just time-consuming. The big hangup in the process was that they didn’t know how to use or leverage Photoshop properly to create the web versions of product images.

I told them that they should find a cheap student to help them enter in product information but offered a half-hour of paid training to show them how to streamline their Photoshop setup. Rather than have me come back another time, they opted to have me do the training right then and there.

I created an action that would crop an image and save three versions for the web site. I showed them how to reorganize their product image folders so that they had two folders to use for “processing.” Then I stepped aside, had the husband sit down, and walked him through the magic of automation and batch processing. I also gave some other gentle tips for being more efficient with the computer in general — changing the Explorer view to “thumbnail” so that he didn’t have to try to remember the filename but could look at the picture visually, using the keyboard to flip through Photoshop commands instead of tedious point-and-clicking, how to Shift- and Ctrl-click multiple files at once, and uploading multiple files at once instead of three at a time. At the end of 30 minutes, his eyes were alight. “This is sooooo cool!!!! I can’t believe how much time this is going to save!” The energy and enthusiasm in the room were palpable.

This experience affirmed a relatively recent Thing I’ve been learning about myself: I like to design, but I love to teach. I like helping others to get better at things, get more efficient. I like sharing knowledge — and getting paid for it was nice, too. I’m not dropping all my current work to dive into teaching, but I can see myself moving more towards situations which would involve some teaching or training.

Kitten photos in Flickr

I finally opened a Flickr account (I know, a bit late in the game) to help expedite the uploading of kitten pictures. Here are some of the better ones:

Compare ear sizes:

July 10 (about two weeks old): (eyes just opening up)

Rocket

July 13:

Rocket

July 21 (three and a half weeks old):

Rocket

We still occasionally find Nutmeg sleeping in ridiculous positions:

Nutmeg sprawled out

Teeny tiny kitten butt:

Kitten butt

Where did Rocket go?

Missing kitten

This was pretty hilarious. One of the kittens was back by Nutmeg’s tail and got stuck when Nutmeg brought her leg down:

Kitten stuck

The kitten tried desperately to get out. His tiny paws scrabbled against Nutmeg’s fur.

Kitten trying to get out.

Ughhhh! Ehnnnnn!

Kitten trying to get out.

The kitten finally got halfway out.

Kitten stuck

And promptly fell asleep. I love the paw dangling down.

Kitten asleep.

Tofu is really adorable — okay, they all are. If we were to keep a kitten, she might be the one:

Tofu

Rocket observes safely behind the chair-leg.

Baroo?

Nutmeg crawled under Steve’s arm for some lovin’, and Tapioca crept up and then stared at Steve for a very long time.

Tapioca staring at Steve

Cutest picture of the bunch: This showcases the baby blue eyes that all the kittens currently have as well as an especially adorable feature of Rocket — when you hold him under the arms, he does the paws up/tail tuck thing that most kittens only do when picked up by their neck.

Rocket in tail-tuck mode

View the 253 photos (as of right now) in the Nutmeg and kittens Flickr set…

Finishing Vorkosigan Saga books

Finished reading:

I’m finally all done with the Vorkosigan Saga, which hopefully means that next week will be much more productive.

Miles Errant by Lois McMaster Bujold – Includes the short story Borders of Infinity and the two books Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance.

Borders of Infinity – This was my first time reading this short story. Miles is in a Cetagandan prison camp and engineers a daring escape.

Brothers in Arms – After severe damage and losses from their last adventure, Miles and the mercenary fleet flee to earth for some much needed rest and repairs. Miles finds himself under the command of Duv Galeni, a Komarran whose family member was killed under Miles’ father (Komarr was a planet conquered by Barrayar). Miles finds himself having to balance his two separate identities, then finds himself to be the victim of a clone plot, all while desperately trying to scrape together money to pay for the repairs to the ships. Of course, all ends well, but it’s a close call in the meantime.

Mirror Dance – Miles’ clone, Mark, co-opts the mercenary fleet to go on a foolhardy mission. When Miles goes to the rescue, he gets killed. His team manages to cryogenically prep his body, but the cryogenic chamber gets lost! The rest of the book follows Mark’s visit to Barrayar, where he finally gets to meet his parents, and Miles’ recovery and resuscitation by a mysterious scientific group where all the women look alike. Both Mark and Miles survive, but with some pretty deep wounds.

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold – The cryogenic revival has some bad effects on Miles; Miles then makes an even worse decision that results in him being forced to resign. Simon Illyan, the head of Imperial Security, then falls ill. Miles suspects that there is some foul play; in the midst of solving the mystery, he gets appointed as an “Imperial Auditor.” This new job title sticks.

Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold – Miles, as Imperial Auditor, is sent to Komarr to investigate the collision of a ship with the solar mirror and starts falling in love with his married hostess, Ekaterin Vorsoisson. In the meantime, old political tensions mix with new science to result in a terrible plot that Miles must somehow defuse and Ekaterin’s husband gets killed. Ekaterin actually ends up having quite a pivotal role in the plot’s resolution.

A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold – The Emperor’s wedding is the perfect event for everyone else to have romantic and domestic problems. Miles, trying to “subtly” court Ekaterin (who is rather allergic to marriage) runs into problems with his courting methods and deals with some nasty rumors; Mark, back from a year of therapy and school, has his own set of problems. Throw in some cockroach-like “butter bugs,” and, of course, some political drama, and you have another very entertaining Vorkosigan Saga book that will make you laugh out loud.

Winterfair Gifts in Irresistable Forces (Catherine Asaro editor) by Lois McMaster Bujold – This short story is housed in a collection marketed as “romance meets fantasy/sci-fi” and starts on the eve of Miles and Ekaterin’s wedding, told from the viewpoint of Miles’ armsman, Roic. Is Ekaterin having a bout of nerves about the wedding? Or is there something more sinister going on?

Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold – Miles and Ekaterin, at the tail end of their postponed honeymoon, get sent to Quaddiespace on an Imperial Auditor mission to straighten out a sticky situation. We encounter Quaddies – bioengineered people who have four arms (instead of legs), perfect for gravity-free environments. The sticky situation turns dangerous, of course, and Miles has to figure out how to save everyone — and himself — before it’s too late…

With a bookmark:

(Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • The Power of a Positive No by William Ury
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

Library book box:

  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • Magic Street by Orson Scott Card
  • Doc Halligan’s What Every Pet Owner Should Know by Karen Halligan
  • Empire by Orson Scott Card
  • Pistol by Mark Kriegel

My career path

Yazil asked in a comment:

How did you get into becoming a freelance web designer if you majored in mathematics? I’m sorry for all of these questions, but I’m just very interested in web design myself. I have been since I was a freshmen in high school. I will be graduating next year from SJSU with a major in Business Management and am hoping to get into the Nursing Program soon.

How did you start off and find clients? I am very interested in becoming a part-time web designer myself so I can pay my way through college.

So, here’s a summary of my career path:

  • Childhood: I have two older sisters (10, 11 years older) who were convinced that I was a baby genius, so they taught me to read when I was 4 and how to touch-type when I was 6. I think it says more for their patience than it does for me, because my development has definitely leveled off since then. 🙂 My family has always encouraged me in the areas of art and writing, so both of those interests were strong when I was young.
  • Teens: My oldest sister got a degree in graphic design and began working full-time and eventually moved to freelance. One of my first paid jobs was helping her align endpoints in technical diagrams in-then Aldus Illustrator. I also generally had free access to her computer(s) and graphics programs, so played around quite a lot with Illustrator. This enabled me to be general go-to graphics girl for high school and later, college organizations that I was in. I also continued to develop drawing skills — or at least keep from getting rusty — by taking art classes during school and during the summer. Some belated thanks are due my parents for paying for summer art classes and not forcing me to take more “academic” electives, as well as to my sister Angela for letting me “help” her during my formative years. I did very well in school, which does help on resumes.
  • College – Math: I majored in math at UC Davis partly because of an awesome calculus teacher and partly because I was getting tired of people sticking me in the “art box,” which seemed to imply that I had no brains other than making things pretty. Seeing someone’s eyes slightly widen in respect when I casually mentioned that I a math major became rather addictive. In hindsight, this is a terrible reason for choosing a major and I would not recommend it. On the other hand, as a math major I had to take two computer science programming classes; this was the first time I had any exposure to programming languages, debugging, etc., so I think that was pretty valuable in the long run. Again, doing well in school is good for resumes.
  • College – Graphic Design: I took a few art classes for fun, mainly studio art, so didn’t do anything formal with graphic design. I would still like to do that someday. However, being a student carried an awesome perquisite of FREE access to the best computer equipment and software, including Photoshop and Illustrator and PageMaker and all those other yummy programs. I would bike over to the lab to make fliers for organizations, t-shirt designs, etc. My biggest project was helping to research, update, and produce a new edition of a short book, Windows on the Past, which talked about the people the campus buildings were named after.
  • College – Internship: My other sister, Leslie, and her husband, Ling Yi, took it upon themselves to help broaden my horizons and paid for me to fly out to Cambridge (MA) to live with them for a summer after my junior year. They even lined up a phone interview for me for a summer internship with Co-nect, Inc., a web-based education company. At this point, I thought I would try to be a math teacher, so I think they were looking for an education-related opportunity for me. As it turned out, this became a critical turning point towards web design. As an intern, I had to learn some basic HTML to help update their site and create new sections for projects using BBEdit and Photoshop. Meanwhile, at my sister’s house,  was making use of an extra computer and their super-fast cable internet to make a new, free yahoo and geocities accounts and build a content-heavy graphics-light web site for myself.
  • College – New computer: This led to my very first purchase of a PC for myself (eMachines). Up ’til then, I had a hand-me-down Mac Plus and a really nice laser printer which basically enabled me to check email and type papers and track household expenses in Excel. Now, I had a color monitor (oooooooo) and, ahem, illegally obtained software (I plead ignorance; back then I didn’t know what was legal and what wasn’t) that allowed me to completely revamp my personal web site and start offering myself as “web developer” for the various student organizations I was in. I think I had it a lot easier back then than now (we’re talking 1999) because there wasn’t much competition in the sense of anyone else knowing how to both code HTML and make non-cheesy graphics. Now I have people like my 11-year-old niece building web sites. Sheesh. Thanks to the waybackmachine archive, you can see one of my sites for a college religious organization here. I think I’ve come far. 🙂
  • Post-college, first job: After graduating and going on a summer mission trip to Africa, I came back to Davis with no job lined up. I was determined to stay in Davis (not live at home), so I had to find a job that was local. And, I didn’t have a car, only a bike, so I had to find something really local. My solution was to pull out the yellow pages and look under “internet services.” There were three companies listed. Two (let’s call them A and B) had web sites (which makes me curious why the third one was even listed). Both web sites were very clean and cool-looking, one was an all-Flash site, even. I fired off an email to both with my resume attached. B never replied back (and as it turned out, their web site was designed by A anyway). A emailed me back to offer an interview in a couple of days. The office was a 8-minute bike ride away. Less than a week later, I had a full time job with a low-ish salary and later on, benefits. Looking back, I really have NO IDEA why they hired me; I was such a newbie to the web design arena.
  • Full-time employent: Thus began an idyllic season of full-time employment with Advantrics (parent company of PixelMill). My job was to design web site templates (starting out, only for Microsoft FrontPage) and the occasional client web site that came along. Eventually the senior designer moved on, and I got an in-name promotion. We collected really cool people to work with. The hours were fairly flexible, I could bring my dog to work (where it wrestled with the president’s dog), and for a season we even had free Mountain Dew in the fridge. Even better, I could learn and research on company time. I got really good at building tables-based layouts, would write support articles as I was learning about stuff, played around with Flash and data-driven Flash movies, and eventually got into CSS and CSS-based layouts. I was never a real “programmer,” but learned how to tweak ASP code by osmosis; just don’t ask me to build anything from scratch!
  • Forced into freelancing: Unfortunately in early 2004, internet sales tanked. All of us were laid off, although I was retained as a freelance consultant for something like 15 hours a week. I did a few odd jobs here and there, but the layoff happened to coincide with a big event/campaign at our church, so I ended up putting most of my daytime hours into volunteering and coordinating it. Not until 2005 did I finally get into seriously becoming a freelancer by building out my own web site and pursuing word-of-mouth referrals. At that time, I also increased my hours with Advantrics/PixelMill to something like 30 hours a week, so I still had an almost full-time job there.

And that brings me to where I am now. Currently I have a small handful of regular clients who I do some basic web maintenance for, and another handful of clients that I’ve done significant new projects with. Most of these clients were through word-of-mouth from other clients, friends, or acquaintances. I’ve been blessed to not have to seriously look for clients yet; my guess is that after asking my current networks of friends and clients, I would start with the plethora of job boards that are available for freelancers.

I don’t think I’m the best model for a would-be freelancer, as most of my contract work is still through a company that I used to work for. I’m also definitely not the best model for someone who is job-hunting (as I recall, when I told my sister that I had sent out two resumes, she said, “WHAT?! You should be sending out something like THIRTY!”). My career and financial — if not “success,” at least … um… “solvency,” has come about through a combination of luck and others’ good-will, with a dash of natural artistic “eye” and skill.

Does anyone else have actual advice for Yazil?

Lazy week update

As I may have mentioned, I’ve been incredibly unmotivated and lazy this week. Nonetheless, some progress was made in different areas… okay, just two areas:

  • Routines went well. Put a post-it on the mirror to remind me of evening routines, played harp every day, went running or walking every day (except today).
  • Checked one more item off my new-business to-do list by shipping a “product” to get a good idea of shipping costs.

The motivational week update/earning tracking form helped a teensy weensy bit. More to the point, however, I predict that when I finish reading the Miles Vorkosigan series, I will be able to focus a lot better. 🙂

This weekend we actually will be in town! So I’m hoping to pick up more books from the library, do some reading, and, perhaps, actually post some photos.

Thanks to this week’s visitors for posting comments: LizB, DIYSara, Organising Queen (Marcia), Yazil, TesTeq, Doodah, Penny, Britt, ddrdancer, Samhallife, @Stephen, entropicon, Angela Yee, and rosalva.