Lessons Learned (The Hard Way)

Howdy folks!

It would appear my amazing disappearing act has gone on just slightly passed too damn long! My apologies for that. Until recently I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with GrapeShow, so it made little sense updating you. Now that I have a clearer picture, I’d like to begin by filling you in on some old news…

November 28, 2006: blah blah blah … GrapeShow … blah blah blah … failure … blah blah blah … explosion … blah blah blah … severe casualties … blah blah blah … entreprenerd robs bank … blah blah blah … prison!

So, as you can see, GrapeShow went a bit sour and it turns out I am a “miserable failure” (I may have added ‘miserable’). The important thing is I don’t dwell on it <twitch>. I mean, big deal, right? So I put a crazy amount of coding and planning into this thing and never saw it through <twitch>, it’s not like it wasn’t worthwhile. It was a good experience for me <drool> and besides, you never really fail as long as you succeed at learning <massive seizure>.

Seriously though, I did learn quite a bit in the process and I plan on applying that knowledge to my next venture (coming soon). So, in the true spirit of this blog, I would like to share some of what I learned with you now. There were many personal lessons learned as well, but I’ll stick to the professional ones:

1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew

It turns out I am NOT Superman. With GrapeShow, I pushed myself way too hard and tried to do too much too fast. It wasn’t enough that I was inventing a semi-new product, starting a business, and keeping a full-time job on the side (see what I did there). I was also blogging it in real-time, learning a new programming framework, incorporating several new-to-me technologies, and so forth. Which is all well and good, but I was trying to do it at an insane pace and with no help (with exception of design work). I thought I could handle it, but burn-out caught up with me and the rest is history. I’ve learned to take things a tad slower now, be more flexible, get others involved, and ask for help when I need it.

2. Manage your stress levels

This is something I did a horrible job at. As mentioned above, I pushed myself to the breaking point and what’s worse I did almost nothing to help alleviate the stress. They just kept building and building until I blew my top. So I strongly encourage you to incorporate relaxation into your routine and make stress management a high priority in your life. These days I take breaks regularly, I make Sunday a non-work day (for the most part), and I have a tool kit to help me relax my mind and stay balanced.

3. Don’t think too much

The need to thoroughly analyze my plan from every possible angle and make sure there were absolutely no holes caused me to over think things. Obsessive brainstorming and research was standard operating procedure to ensure nothing got missed. Naturally this led me to find what I believed to be potential flaws, which only drove me to more advanced obsessing, and the cycle would repeat. Eventually, when I got tired of searching for solutions to these issues, I began to tell myself that maybe I wasn’t cut out for it and I headed down the path of giving up. It never fails, I start out confident and end up chicken. The irony is, if I wasn’t so concerned about keeping myself from failing, I would probably succeed. Afterall, many of the problems I obsess over may never happen. This is something I am still struggling with but I keep telling myself to stop analyzing so much and just take the leap. The future is uncertain, get over it!

4. Be lucky!

This may sound weird, but it’s a slogan I live by now. I never really believed in luck per say until I watched a program on it and they were talking about the traits of a lucky person. While I still don’t believe in any mystical force, I do believe in lucky people and I’m trying to become one. Most of the lucky people I know have many of these traits:

  • They envision their future
  • They are approachable
  • They are open to opportunity at every corner
  • They keep their eyes open
  • They are positive and know there will be a happy ending

A positive mindset is key! Other than that I would just add that you should be sure you are passionate about what you’re doing and committed to seeing it through.

In upcoming posts, I’ll be writing more about what GrapeShow was all about and what, if anything, will become of it. I’ll also update you more on what I’m currently working on and what lie’s ahead. For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite new quotes:

A ship is safe in a harbor, but that’s not what ships were built for.

Ad Revenue?

Well, looks like another weekend of nothing but coding for me as there is much to build yet and little time. Fortunately, the weather is supposed to be pretty crappy this weekend so that should cut down on outside cravings and permit me to sit in my cave guilt free.

I have a question for all you web developers/business owners/advertisers out there. What advertising model has worked best for you? A good chunk of my income (perhaps all of it) from the appetizer app. will come from advertisers, and although I’ve been trying to push most issues of business and money to the side for now, this has been on my mind quite a bit the last few days so I thought I’d post about it. I am debating whether to:

A. Set up my own pay-per-click system
B. Charge a set fee (regardless of clicks)
C. Use Google/Amazon ads
D. All of the above

I’m leaning towards using a mix of B and C, but curious what your thoughts are?

Web Developers/Business Owners: How do you go about selling ads on your site and how do you accept payments? Do you provide advertisers with a request form and have them contact you that way? Or do you have an automated system that allows them to provide credit card information and be added to the queue on the fly? Do you have them use PayPal or do you accept other methods of payment? How much do you generally charge?

Advertisers: Which methods do you find most attractive in list above? How do you prefer to pay? How long do you generally run your ads for? What do you look for in a site and how much do you generally pay?

These are all questions I have running through my head right now that I will need to find answers to fairly soon. But for now, I will just add them to the rapidly growing list of future Zack’s problems and focus on building this thing. After all, without a finished product I don’t have any of these other issues.

To the cave…

Pitfalls of Business

First, let me point out that I still plan on kicking most business aspects to the curb and focusing on the geek realm for the time being, but I came across a good article recently and wanted to share some observations. Plus after a weekend of non-stop coding, business concepts are a nice refreshing breeze right now.

The article is entitled 8 Pitfalls To Avoid When Starting An Internet Business and it’s written by Yaro Starak, an entrepreneur who appears to have had quite a bit of success. His list of 8 is as follows:

  1. Don’t start a business teaching how to make money online.
  2. Choose non-Internet related niches
  3. Don’t focus on making money
  4. Don’t enter a tiny market
  5. Watch out for tiny margins
  6. Look for leverage points
  7. Avoid self-employment thinking
  8. Be aware of your own limitations

These are all good in my mind, and many of them have been ON my mind quite a bit, especially the last three. From number 8:

It’s important when deciding what business to start that you see how it is possible for you to stop doing the day-to-day business fulfillment roles (delivery of services/products, support, sales, etc) in the future. If you can’t automate, outsource, or hire people to do these roles, then you don’t have a business model, you have a job model.

This is something I took away from the Portland Business Fair as well. To be successful you have to be sure that you are working ON the business, not IN it. This may present a slight challenge for me. As will numbers 7 and 9 for that matter. I’ve always been a self reliant person so to go out seeking leverage and asking for help from someone else so that I can focus on the higher level tasks doesn’t come natural to me. Not because I need complete control or anything like that (wipe that smirk off your face Misty), but because I am used to solving my own problems. I am a “go-to guy” by nature who destroys/covers up problems for a living.

When dealing with the problem of how to build a successful business though, I need to venture out and seek help. I’m getting better about this and the more I do it, the more I find that it comes with added benefits you might not expect. When you leverage people and resources, you can often time find marketing opportunities along the way. For instance, by hiring a designer, not only do I leverage someone else’s skills (much greater than my own), but I also potentially get some good advertising out of the deal as the designer inevitably shows off their work on their portfolio and spreads the word. Heck, just putting out a help wanted ad on a couple sites got this blog quite a bit of attention. The same goes for leveraging a new product/technology. You stand a chance of getting mentioned on the products website/brochure/etc as someone who is excelling/revolutionizing with this product, if you do so of course.

So leveraging can help you market. I am becoming more and more aware of this as time goes on. To get out of the “go-it-alone mindset”, which is just a recipe for failure, I am consciously making an effort to involve more people in the process. I’m hiring a designer, networking more, considering partnerships, trying to use new exciting technologies, etc. These days anything that comes my way get’s processed through the “can I use this to help my marketing/leveraging strategy in any way shape or form?” machine.

Zack Overwhelmed

After researching the million different PHP frameworks that are available now, I’ve decided to use CakePHP for my app. This seems to be a relatively simple and powerful framework (similar to Ruby on Rails) that will help me write clean, manageable, and reusable code fairly quickly. I spent some time last weekend designing my database structure and the classes I think I’ll need, so it’s time to start writing some code.

This will be a bit trickier than usual because of what’s going on in my day job. I will be building a new web app at work using the Java programming language, which I haven’t used since my college days. This is my first major project at my “new” job and, hence, there is going to be a ton of learning to do in the upcoming weeks. At home, I will be using the PHP programming language (which I’m also a bit rusty in as I haven’t used it in a year or so) in a framework that is completely new to me. So I get to build two apps, side by side, in completely different environments. Hopefully I don’t start confusing the two and build mutants by mistake, which would then, naturally, destroy the earth.

My deadline for completing the rough draft of my appetizer is October 2nd. Now, assuming I am a magician on cocaine, this is certainly doable. I had planned on starting sooner but I keep getting sidetracked. There are so many business related things that are up in the air right now that it’s hard to stay focused. Attending the business fair last weekend only put more question marks in my head that won’t get the hell out. These are things I don’t need to worry about right now (office space, advertising, cash flow, etc.) because my main objective is to serve the appetizer. But the more I learn, the harder it is for me to stay focused. All this business knowledge is crowding my brain.

Needless to say I’ve been a tad overwhelmed this week. When starting a business for the first time, I think it’s tempting at the onset to think about all the things that must be done and analyze every single angle so you do everything just right…but be careful! You might just think yourself into calling it quits before you even get started. I think it’s better to try to focus on the 2 or 3 most pressing issues and forget the rest. I’m not saying develop tunnel vision completely, but it does you no good to overwhelm yourself by thinking about all 50 million things you have to get done and then losing focus and fumbling on the execution. Planning is good, obsessing is bad. I am definitely a good example of that this week.

Business Lessons of the Fair

Well, I survived the Oregon Small Business Fair and now it’s time to share what I learned with you good people. First of all, if you have one of these in your area I would highly recommend going. Surprisingly, I learned quite a bit. As I’ve mentioned, the main reason I attended was to network and promote, the learning was secondary. It turned out to be just the reverse though, as I only handed out maybe five business cards. After the first workshop, I realized that these were much more than consultants trying to get clients, they were loaded with valuable information. So I attended as many of them as humanly possible, leaving little time for networking in between. It was my intention to make up for that at the end, but unfortunately, everyone scattered after the last workshop. A mad rush to the parking garage ensued and escaping was nothing short of pure, grade-A, insanity!

It was definitely an action-packed day. I overslept so had to rush to get there and find a parking spot. Then rushed to get checked in and get to the first workshop. Then rushed around as many booths as I could in between workshops. Then rushed out to my car for a breakfast bar for lunch (which is all I had to eat for the day) and hustled back for the lunch-time workshop. There was alot of really good workshops going on at the same time, so I would sit in one long enough to get the hand out and then rush over to a different one to get their info. Then, as I mentioned, at the end of the day I saw everyone scrambling for the door so I desperately rushed to beat the herd…which did NOT happen. I almost had to throw down with an old lady, but that’s another story.

Alright, I guess that’s enough of an intro, lets dive into what I learned yesterday. I’ll talk about the most important business lessons (in my opinion) from each workshop.

Workshop 1: Home Business … Home Office … Tax Issues

She started off by recommending that you don’t have an office in your home. It can really complicate matters and it’s difficult to keep the two separate. She then proceeded with some good tips if we decide otherwise.

  1. If you want to claim an in home deduction on your taxes, make sure that your home office is used exclusively for business purposes. So, for example, if you have a closet full of clothes and you have to step through your office to get to them (i.e. no other way), then you’ve broken the exclusive rule and you can’t legally claim. You don’t necessarily need walls to determine your office boundaries. There are other barriers you can try (e.g. shelfing, book cases, etc.).
  2. Measure your entire house and then measure your office and determine what percentage of your house your office represents. You then use that percentage for all indirect expenses (utility/garbage bills, general repair/maintenance, etc.). Anything you do directly to your office, however, represents a direct 100 percent expense.
  3. A nice benefit to a home office is claiming mileage on your car. If you don’t work out of the home, you can only claim 35 business trips/year if leaving directly from home. If you do work at home, it’s unlimited. Here’s the kicker: you just have to make sure that you step into your home office before heading out to your car. So don’t go directly from kitchen to car, step into office first (class giggles). You also have to be sure that the first place you stop is a business related stop. From there on out you can claim every other stop on your route, business or not. She pointed out that she has a friend that always make it a point to have a business purpose before leaving her house (class giggles again).

Workshop 2: Be Found – Getting Your Web Site To Your Customers

Most of this I was already aware of because I’ve studied search engine optimization tactics, but maybe you haven’t, so here goes. These are techniques to help your site receive visits from people that are visititing indirectly (i.e. you didn’t send them there, they searched on Google).

  1. Figure out what you want your keyword combinations to be. What words will your potential customers search with to find you? You can find out how popular a keyword combination is by using this tool.
  2. Next you need to make sure that these keyword combinations appear at least twice in the readable text on your page. Be sure you don’t use more than four combinations per page. You also want your keywords to show up in the page title and in your meta tags.
  3. You can build pages aimed exclusively at the search engine robots (i.e. not made for human consumption). This is useful if you have a ton of keyword combinations and, for obvious reasons, don’t want them all appearing in your main content. Once you build these pages, link to them with a sitemap, and link to that from your homepage (in small text at bottom somewhere).
  4. Get people to link to you! This increases your ranking on Google, especially if the other sites are relevant to yours in some way. So it would be effective for me to get other “Portland” or “Entrepreneur” or “Web App” sites to link to me rather than irrelevant sites. There are also tons of free directories out there, so Google “Free Directories” and start getting yourself linked up.
  5. Zack side note: Remember though, quality is more important than quantity. One link from a popular site is worth much more than many links from random, non-popular sites. So you should focus your efforts on obtaining quality links to your site.

Workshop 3: Marketing Your Small Business

This guy was pretty funny. In fact when he got up to the podium, the microphone fell over and made a loud thud. He reacted with a “JESUS!”, then realized he said it right into the microphone and responded with a “how’s that for an intro”. His material was a bit scattered though, so it was hard to take notes, but here’s some key points:

  1. It’s not about what you sell. It’s about the experience!
  2. There are too many products and not enough customers. Therefore, you really have to work hard these days to obtain them. Mass marketing is out; consumers want their buying experience to be personalized and they want to feel important. They are more demanding, better informed, and much more value conscious.
  3. Marketing is the art and science of finding customers, then satisfying them, then growing them, then keeping them. And all at a profit.
  4. Give it to them right, fast, easy, cheap, and personalized! Satisfied customers are vulnerable, you have to consistently exceed expectations.

Workshop 4: How To Advertise Your Business

This guy was hilarious as well. He was super old school and you could tell he’s been in the ad business for a long time. He kept going off on tangents about what’s wrong with the world today and how we are entirely too brand conscious. Probably the funniest moment was when he was handing out examples of good advertising from magazines and he came to one that displayed a woman’s torso and legs. At which point he commented “look at this, this is a great ad … I mean graphically IT’S TERRIFIC”. Then he said “well, that’s it, they’re never going to ask me back again”. Good stuff!

Other than that, I didn’t get much out of this one because he passed around these ad-boards, and people kept getting confused as to which direction to pass. Simply put, it was complete chaos! Here’s an excerpt: “did you already see this one guys…how about his one…which direction is this one going…here you take this and I’ll…no wait…I don’t think I’ve seen that one yet…here, maybe if we keep passing them in front of Zack his head will explode.” Here are a couple things I took away from it however…

  1. It’s much harder these days to get a consumers attention. It used to be a one-to-many platform (i.e. television commercial) and now it’s a many-to-one platform. And in this “MTV world” (this guy was great) people want it extremely fast. Take a look at the difference in movies nowadays, each scene is three seconds. Old movies had much longer scenes and consumers had longer attention spans.
  2. All goods and services in a given industry are parity items (pretty much the same), the difference is how they are perceived. That’s where good marketing comes in.

He closed with a quote by Leo Burnett: “The secret of all effective originality in advertising is not the creation of tricky words and pictures, but one of putting familiar words and pictures into new relationships”.

Workshop 5: Controlling Your Advisers

This guy used to be an accountant and is now a lawyer, so he had lots of good information. He mentioned that advisers grade their clients from A to C. You want to be an A client, so don’t be too difficult by yelling, asking for things to be free, etc.

  1. The primary differences between other advisors and Lawyers: Lawyers are the only people that are authorized to draft up legal business documents and they have access to the legal system. Sure you can have others draft up business documents, but they aren’t supposed to.
  2. The first thing you should do is find a good accountant! You will need them throughout your daily business activities. Then go find a good lawyer. You will need them when your are forming your business and when you are in trouble.
  3. Know what you will need from your advisor before you see them (lawyers charge around $275/hour) and make sure you get a written engagement letter spelling out the exact agreement. Don’t just waltz in and say “I’m buying a business” and expect the lawyer to know what to do at that point, because there are several things they could do. So have a plan of action.

Workshop 6: Cash Flow or No?

This was another great workshop and I actually got a cramp in my hand from writing so fast. It was a nice refresher course from my accounting courses in college. She started out very simply with two statements: “Stuff Has Value” and “I made more than I spent”. These statements represent your balance sheet and income statement respectively. So now I’m thinking, ah this is a refreshing change of pace. Before I even finished that thought, she dived in and started talking extremely fast. I think I actually heard my hand start to cry. Let me try to pull out the key points for you.

  1. The balance sheet shows where you are in terms of worth, the income statement shows where you are in terms of profitability, and the cash flow shows where you are in terms of usability.
  2. There are many very talented people that have no business being in business. Before you start a business you should find out if you have deep enough pockets. Ask yourself: If I don’t make money for one year, what will I live on? If you can’t figure that out, don’t start a business! Because you shouldn’t live off the business you are trying to build.
  3. If you plan to hire an employee and you can’t afford 1.5 times the rate you’ll be paying them, then you can’t afford them. This is her rough estimate that she uses to account for taxes, social security, etc.
  4. You should hire a professional accountant when you first setup the books, a few months after to make adjustments, and before you show your financial statements for the first time.
  5. Do not use Quicken for your business. This is a good program for personal checks and income statement type transactions, but is useless for the balance sheet. She recommends QuickBooks.
  6. You’ll probably have a loss the first year, and this shouldn’t be because of cash flow but because of non-depreciation. The IRS wants you to have a profit within the first 5 years though. They won’t punish you for not having one, but the point is why are you in business if you are still losing money?
  7. A cash flow analysis will help you figure out what you’ll need to charge for your goods/services. You should do this before you go into business to ensure you can afford it. Hint: Double your rates! “You’ll lose clients, you’ll sleep more, and you’ll make just as much”.

I’ll close the same way she did: If you analyze your progress, find problems, and don’t make modifications to fix them, you are insane! “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting the same result”.

“Imaginary Business” Cards

business cards
a fresh batch of cards

Well, tomorrow is the big day (small biz fair) and I’ve been spending some quality time tonight prepping. I’ve thought a little about questions I’d like answered and how I will go about discussing my future business and promoting this blog, but today has be a very brain-dead day so I mostly just staired at a blank sheet of paper and drooled.

As you can see, though, I did summon enough brain cells to make some snazzy business cards for the occassion. Now all I need is a business to go along with them. Someday maybe I’ll hop off Mr. Rogers trolly and actually have a real business up and running. But for now, I just have to pretend. Hopefully, I’ll get in some good networking tomorrow and this event will learn me a thing or two. Wow, I better hurry up and finish this memo, I’m getting dumber by the second (brane is done overworked).

Anyways, being that time is such a valuable commodity to me right now (even moreso than usual), and this is an all day event, I sure hope it pays off. I’ll be sure to report back here on Sunday and let you know how it went and what I learned from it all. And that’s all i have to say about that.

Balancing Act

The following is a recent email conversation I had with someone regarding the difficulty of balancing a full-time job and an on-the-side start-up.

Someone: Just curious: how are you keeping the momentum while keeping a day job? I find that it takes me almost the whole evening to get out of my day job mode, so weekdays are out. As for weekends, that’s mostly family time. So I find vacation time is best to really focus. Of course, that’s limited. How do you find the time to focus?

Me: Well it’s definately not easy, I hear you there! Of course if it were, everyone would do it, am I right? Basically it just came down to making a commitment and not leaving a choice to do anything else. It’s tough not being able to spend as much time with the fam, but I keep telling myself that it will all pay off in the end and this is just a means to get there. I set up a schedule with milestones and todos and I stick to it, it’s that simple…and yet extremely difficult. I constantly have to discipline myself. I have my work hours posted on my wall at home to keep me in line. I don’t always stick to them as there are days when I am way too stressed and just need to relax, but for the most part I follow it. I’ll probably take some vacation time here in the next month or so and really goto work on things, but for now I have a limited amount of time and lots to do…so there’s no choice.

Someone: I like your idea of shame the best. That is, since you’ve told everyone what you’re doing (in public on the blog), you’ll be shamed if you fail to give your best attempt.

Me: I agree, shame is definately a good tactic. If I fail I will have no choice but to samuraii myself at once. That is part of the reason I started the blog though, was to motivate me to follow through for a change. Still, I think once I eliminated choice and made this a priority, it has helped me stay the course. It’s basically like a long finals week at school. And during finals week, you generally stay pretty focused on school and know that you can’t do anything but.

So basically my trick is to brainwash myself. How about you? What tactics do you use to stay focused during times when it is incredibly easy and tempting not to?

Leaving the Cube

my cubicle
My home away from home (aka. the cube). Tip: New car smell offsets mold quite nicely.

You know that old saying “use it or lose it”? Well if “it” refers to any resemblance of a social life or social skills, then sure enough, I think I’ve lost it. Sitting in front of a computer for the last 4 years of my life (damn near straight) has put a slight damper on my social activities. I talk/yell much more regularly with a machine than a person these days. And now that I am also working at home, my social life is pretty much non-existent. I think it’s time to face facts here. Somehow I have managed to regress into a workaholic webmonkey of some sort and can no longer communicate with the human species. What are you supposed to say to them? Seriously, I’d like to know.

I guess I’m just not as user-friendly as I used to be. It’s not that I necessarily enjoy being out of touch with the human race, it’s just that I don’t get a whole lot of practice at it. This is the profession I chose and now I must deal with the adverse effects. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy programming, but it would be nice if I could stop inadvertently slipping into binary code mid-sentence. And the worst part is, I’m pretty sure nobody notices when I do (which I don’t…wait, huh?). I guess this comes with the territory when you’re an introverted computer programmer who gets easily annoyed.

I think one of the keys to my success will be networking and building relationships with fellow IT professionals, entrepreneurs, potential customers/clients, etc. So, I need to start spending some quality time away from work and out in the world. It’s time to quit being an entreprenerd and treat social interaction as more of a priority in my life. I need to enhance my networking skills … and I’m not talking TCP/IP here (get it? nudge nudge, wink wink, somebody please slap me). I think it’s time to upgrade to the new Zack 2.0, Entrepreneur Edition. It comes fully integrated with social software and I hear it’s even human compatible! Ok, that last joke only helps illustrate my point…I need help people!

So all those organizations and clubs I never thought I had time for, are now climbing my priority list: Chamber of Commerce, Trade Associations, OSU Alumni Association, Club Whatever. My goal is to attend one meeting/event for each of these in the next few months and see how much networking I can do. It’s time to venture out from my cube and explore the strange environment that lurks outside. I will need to adapt quickly though if I want to survive. But first I shall study their habits…

Zack’s Journal

Day 1: The air in Outer-Cube is oddly fresher than what I am used to. Who can breathe this crap? Fortunately, I brought along my trusty mold-mask to protect me. The inhabitants are very odd looking indeed. Their keyboards and mice appear to have been torn from their limbs leaving these weird dangling digits of sorts. It’s horrible! They also seem to have an evolved spine that allows them to stand up-right and walk away from their computers, for whatever reason. The lack of fluorescent lighting is making me nauseous and there is a strange lack of a strange buzzing noise. What’s that about? I can almost think clearly out here for Pete’s sakes. SWEET BINARY CODE, I think one of them is trying to communicate. What should I do??? I must return to my cube at once…

You see what I did there? I took a joke entirely too far and completely over-exaggerated my situation. This is why 1110010101101010101101111000101010!

(audience smiles and nods)

Who needs a business plan?

To hell with a business plan! My momentum is up and I’m not gonna stop myself and run the risk of a starter going out on me. I’m like the old car Robert Klein jokes about: have a listen. Besides, since I am going to attempt to self fund this bad boy, at least initially, I don’t really need a formal business plan written up just yet. I want to build something, get it out there, learn, and then write a business plan. It seems like business advisors always want you to slow it down and fill out paper work and plan everything out to the smallest detail…screw that, I’ve got it all in my head, it’s time to take action! I’ve been taking it slow for far too long now.

Long story short, I decided to slow it down a bit and write a business plan :). I’m a sellout, what can I say? Not for the investors though, for myself. When I started thinking about how I am going to market my applications with little money and who they are for and what I want to achieve with them and all that good stuff, I realized that I really don’t have as clear of picture as I thought. And the stuff that is clear in my head now, won’t be for long, as the tornado of to-do’s comes through and scatter my brain. It became clear to me that I needed to sit down and think things through up front, while everything is relatively calm out. This would help me get a clear picture and provide me with a reference sheet down the road to help make decisions and stay on track. It’s definitely a good thing…definitely (Martha Stewart as Rain Man).

So I sat down and started writing what my vision of the future is, how much I want to be making in 1, 3, 5 years (I want to be making 100K/yr in 2 years, if you must know), who my target market is going to be, and … well actually that’s as far as I got. I came up with a few different target markets and am still working on analyzing them to see which one represents the best opportunity for me. Once I’ve settled on one, my next step will be to write out how I plan to penetrate it and reach my goals. Here’s a good article about writing strategic business plans by Andrew Neitlich: Write a Business Plan that works.

I’ve spent the last couple days focusing on business structures (LLC = good), visions, goals, markets, finance, trade associations, etc. This is all very necessary and good, but now I am looking forward to spending the next couple days getting back to building my product. It will be a nice break from the business side of things and allow me to get back to my web-dev roots. I’ve decided to spend 50% of my time biz’n (can I just make up words like that?) and 50% geek’n (huh, I guess I can) in order to break up the monotony, keep a nice balance, and continue making progress in both arenas. Warning: these percentages may vary as needed.

One last tidbit, if you happen to be in the Portland area, the 13th Annual Oregon Small Business Fair is going down on September 16th. I’ve never been before, but it looks like a good opportunity to do some learning and networking. I was happy to find out about it beforehand for once, as typically I find out about these sort of things the day after the fact. But not this time boy! You hear that “luck of zack”? I outwitted you at last! It’s probably a misprint and it was last month, but whatever.

Update: I still plan on releasing my appetizer app in a month, so stick around. While I’ve learned that writing a business plan upfront is a good idea, I stand by my original philosophy that it’s important to just start doing something, anything! Too much obsessive thinking and not enough doing is what has held me back these last few years. So my business plan will be relatively short and sweet and, as I’ve mentioned, written in conjuction with the app ;).

Three’s Company

I’ve been thinking in terms of 3 a lot lately. For instance, my dream company right now would consist of the following 3 people:

1 Programmer
1 Designer
1 Businessman/Programmer (me)

My current plan of action consists of releasing the following 3 products:

  1. One small “Appetizer” application that I will build and design myself. This will be a good transition step for me and allow me to crank something out relatively quickly and start getting my name out in the technosphere. I’m hoping this will help me generate buzz as well as open a few new doors and aid me in my networking efforts.
  2. A slightly larger scale application that I will build, but outsource for the design. Hopefully I will find someone with similar goals and aspirations and we can team up on future endeavors as well.
  3. And a large scale application that I may form a partnership with the designer from app. above on, or someone else, or go it alone.

It’s only 3 more months until my 30th birthday!!! Which means I’ve lived 1/3rd of my life already, if I’m lucky :).

And, of course, there’s a 3 day holiday weekend coming up! I will probably spend it working, although considering taking it off and enjoying with family.

Did I mention its now 3 o’clock on the 30th?