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Business is Hard Part II

People are not always who you expect them to be.

I behave mostly the same whether I am at work (IRC), in person, or in IM/regular chat I try to behave the same way in business dealings. I am not going to intentionally fuck someone over for me to make an extra couple dollars. I also will not intentionally leave a project that we have a contract for unfinished. I will work to deliver everything that I agreed to deliver and if I cannot I will refund accordingly.

I have found out, over the last week, that not everyone is like that. I recently had the misfortune of renting from a person I had known for about 10 years. I knew he was a smart business man otherwise he would not have made the 100s of millions of dollars he has in the bank or the summer homes in New Zealand but I never thought he would fuck me over.

In renting from him I chose the best possible location then went through the list of available buildings his being the only one in my price range in roughly the right vicinity so I took it. It was old and cold. The floor was an awful ugly brown, there was a huge back room with cracks in the doors and windows that air would directly blow through.

When I first moved into the building there was talk of the ceiling leaking and that it would be fixed by the first weekend I was there. The work crew came out and “fixed” the roof and I thought everything was cool. Two weeks later it rained and the ceiling was leaking again, turns out, the work crew didn’t actually repair the leak they only replaced the ceiling tiles to make it look like they had done the work. We immediately called the landlord who came down and looked around. We told him about the numerous violations for electricity and wiring in the building and he said, “You make better detectives than tenants” and then he told us “If you don’t like it, get the hell out.”

Get the hell out.

I had not anticipated that as a response I would get, knowing this guy for the last 10 years I would have thought it would be something like “We’ll fix it, give us a couple days” or even “It’s going to take a week to get it fixed” but never “Get the hell out”. So now I am left scrambling. I have about 20 computers in a building with monitors and all sorts of electrical equipment with a ceiling that is raining. I have clients who have been to the building that know that is where we are located.

I make arrangements for the computers to be stored out of the weather. Now what? Broken and beaten we begin to look for another storefront, some guy offered to let us use part of his building. Do I want to be bounded by his hours? No. Do I want to be stuck in some shitty corner of town? No. Do I want to have my business directly affected by another person? Not only no, but hell no. I have too much experience with business to know that this is a bad idea.

Now I go looking through every other building in town. I found one! The perfect fucking building, downtown, right in the main traffic area, big enough to hold all of the equipment and still have space leftover, but not big enough to kill me with the heating bill. (The old place cost $175 for power for one month.) The only problem was the landlord. He had, to that point turned down 7 potential renters. There was an arcade, a lawyer, and a few other tenants that definitely made more money than we did and had bigger community ties than we did.

Some people really are good people.

I called and talked to the new landlord expecting that we would get rejected out right without even being looked at completely. The landlord told me to write up the information he would need to make a decision and process our application. Since I figured we had no chance at getting the place I was brutally honest about us and our financial situation, as well as, 2/3 of us having extremely bad credit. I was also extremely forthright about our services and lack of ability to get into the building for another month because of the financial situation caused by the first rental.

Over the next couple of phone calls with a good word put in by our prospective neighbors (whom we all knew and liked) it was settled that we had the place the very next day. I called the landlord back to let him know we couldn’t accept because of the financial situation. The landlord agreed to drop the rent with security deposit from $1200 to just the $700 for rent. After pouring through my finances it wasn’t possible for me to pay that much after all of the damages done from the first place.

On the call following this the landlord

insisted that the first payment be $500 rather than the $700 and that we have 17 days of free rent

. Yes, you read that right, he insisted that we have 17 days of free rent and that we only pay the security deposit. In which world does this happen? Until now I had no idea that there were people that were this “good”. Of course, we accepted and signed the lease as soon as his wife could get there to give us the papers.

If you try, sometimes things will work out.

Three days before this we were broken and bruised not knowing if we could succeed without a building. Now we were set up with a better location in a better building with less wasted space.

Lesson learned here:

Be the Juggernaut; break through every fucking wall anyone can throw at you.

Taxes, business, and FreeAgent.

I, finally, made my yearly pilgrimage to the accountant to have my taxes done. The previous 3 years taxes were *extremely* easy to do since I only worked one 1 job and had 1 W2 form that needed to be done.  This year was much different, I owned a business, worked for a company based in a foreign country, and spent 8 months working for a company that issued a W2. After  2 hours of sweating the inevitable words “You owe” I came out with a $1500 refund instead. (Thanks to Obama and my $7,000 worth of school expenses).

During the 2 hours I spent in the accountants office when she was asking me for reciepts for expenses I knew I had but  didn’t have the receipt for, things that could have helped out more with the refund. My accountant noticed my level of disorganization as well, she ended up getting an accounting ledger that she had in her own supplies and giving it to me so that next year when tax time comes things will be easier on her. I’m not a ledger kind of person so I began looking for some online accounting app that would take the actual work out of it.

I looked at the normal suspects LessAccounting, FreshBooks, and Mint. They all have similar features but one thing I absolutely hate is their tiered pricing, I am limited to the number of feature x as long as I am on plan x. I don’t want to be limited to x because I don’t want to spend $300 a month to buy plan y. I want all the features available or I don’t want the service. As Matt Gemmell said here: “If you’re an employed adult who objects to paying $10 for a piece of software, you should be utterly ashamed of yourself.” I agree. I don’t mind paying for software, however, I won’t pay $300 a month for my business doing well, that doesn’t fucking compute. So I finally on Twitter found FreeAgent. FreeAgent is a set $20 per month, no worries about the number of invoices I was able to send, no worries about the better I do the more I pay.

FreeAgent is really great accounting software, I have taken college level managerial accounting classes with Quickbooks and this is much nicer. Quickbooks is slow even on a fairly high end machine it is extremely slow…and UGLY. The UI seems to have been done not by UI designers but by accountants who want as many buttons on the screen as possible. FreeAgent is not like that, it is very cleanly designed. As for speed FreeAgent is very fast, provided you have SSL caching turned on in your browser. My only complaint with the speed of FreeAgent is Chrome doesn’t support (as far as I can tell) caching for SSL pages. Switching to FireFox where I already have that turned on made things as fast as they should be.

Using FreeAgent is as easy as can be. I imported my bank account transactions and within an hour I had gone from a handful of receipts for who-knows-what sitting in random piles on my desk and through my files to a full balance sheet and profit and loss statement for Quarter 1. It is indeed worth $20 per month and with their awesome discount scheme http://www.freeagentcentral.com/support/kb/misc/the-freeagent-referral-scheme it can be cheaper, if you have enough friends they’ll even pay you to use it. If you need to keep track of your finances and don’t want to be punished when business picks up, I definitely recommend using FreeAgent!

Building a community, 1 year invested.

Building a community is hard work. There are a lot of steps that have to be taken to attract visitors, draw them in, and retain them. Fortunately, this project came with a community that was already there, just dispersed across 3 or 4 different sites on forums; 1 point for us. The downside is that the hunting/fishing crowd are not really very technical, are used to sites that are visual trash like this one, and are habitual people so they don’t leave the community they are already in if there is not some incentive to move.

One year ago today my company launched our first site, trackmytrophies.com. Of course, the company didn’t actually exist yet and wouldn’t for over a month, we were brand new to the technology stack we were building the site with, neither of us were extremely familiar with design or design tools, and we both had full time jobs working for someone other than ourselves. The site was built on Pinax 0.5.1. There was an early beta of Pinax 0.7 at that point but, for people new to the Django/Pinax world it was completely impossible to deploy, I spent ~17 hours, over 2 days, trying without success to deploy the site. At that point I decided to revert to the stable Pinax 0.5.1  which still took me 8 hours to deploy, but deploy I did.

Over this last year a lot of things have changed: we have become a lot more familiar with the platform we are using, our design skills and tools have increased, and we are working for ourselves…technically (we actually work for WebFaction). We have experimented with different layouts and designs, worked with serving our own ads (OpenX community is shit, don’t use it…), we’ve broken shit, read upgraded Django to an incompatible version, and we’ve even helped patch a minor bug upstream.

Enough of the boring stuff, here are some community stats:

  • 297 registered users
  • 612 uploaded photos
  • 10,000 total visits

…and we are not done yet. We have  a lot of ideas that we are still working on; there is a completely new design coming along with *many*, other backend upgrades that will be transparent for end users.

Here’s to the next year ending stronger than the first!

Business is hard. Part 1.

I am behind on my #P52 by a couple weeks so I am going to be catching up over the next few days.

Self help books and thousands of books on the Internet would have you believe that starting and running a business is easy, that it doesn’t take much, and that you will be better off for it. Web based businesses are touted as the ultimate business venture, you can make large sums of money building Web sites and web services for people, because you’ve a book on PHP and MySQL…what else is there to the web?

That is bullshit.

Starting a business is easy, building value is hard, in the State of Utah you simply go to http://business.utah.gov choose your business name, type, and enter the required information. Once you have completed those steps you pay your fees and get your FEIN from a link on their page and you’re set. You have a running business. Now what the hell are you going to do?

Now you, if you believe the hype, start working on your gold mine, Web sites, right…

Chances are you are still working a day job so that you can pay your bills which limits your time working on your own projects so you need to work extra hard if you want your own business to succeed. If you get a couple entry projects chances are you will realize you didn’t know exactly how some integral piece of the project works. If you are extremely unlucky you are also a student, have a family, or both.

Now the problem of time management rears its ugly head: how are you going to spend every moment of your day? There are not enough hours in the day to do what you need to do. Here’s how you might spend a day:

  • 8 – 10 hours at the job that pays the bills
  • 4 hours for school
  • 1 – 2 hours for homework

That is a total of 13 to 16 hours, now add sleep 11 – 8 hours, you haven’t eaten no time has been factored in for commutes or waiting…and you haven’t spent any time with any one other than the people you were in direct contact with at one of the above places. Of course, you will have days off or days without school so there are brief times when you can catch up on things that you are not getting enough of, like sleep or homework time.

How long can you viably sustain this pace? How many days of straight work before you are just too tired to do anything? What about support? If you *have* customers there is going to be a time when they need help or have questions and, if, you get a client from hell you will spend *a lot* of time dealing with his/her issues.

The time table above also doesn’t add any time for your new business or recreation. What do you cut out to make room for everything? What part of your life suffers? Who do you cut-out?

I still don’t know.

Quick post this week.

Edit: It seems that the publish call didn’t go through all the way so I am publishing it again.

As a contractor I spend a lot of time working on projects other than my own. To keep track of the things I need to do for each project as well as University classes I have been using Things recently. Both Things Mac and Things iPhone have greatly helped in keeping me organized between my work, client work, and University classes. Not to mention home. The price is a little steep for both of them. I don’t really know if it was worth the entire $60 since there is no push feature. I am confident from CulturedCode’s awesome status page that the features will actually come out so I considered it a future purchase.
For time tracking I am currently using Billings and Billings Touch, together both are fairly expensive as well $55, if you want to be able to sync between them. I tried a couple different web based apps as well as a couple other Mac
specific apps for time tracking but the rest were not as comfortable or powerful enough for me to use. Billings takes a second to configure and isn’t very intuitive slips can be marked as done but when a project over laps a month it doesn’t really seem to be useful.

All in all Things and Billings are just the apps I have been looking for to help manage my time and task list.

TextMate to VIM and back, why I made the switch.

About 6 months ago I made the switch from TextMate to MacVim because of a couple things:

  • TextMate is kinda, not really being developed anymore
  • Many other options are out there
  • TONs of Python developers post about their editors all the time
  • VIM is hardcore and installed by default on many Linux systems (which I work with all day)
  • I wanted to take a side in the holy war (Emacs vs. VIM)

After doing a lot of research on the editors that were available I tried out Aquamacs and played around with it for a while. Emacs is powerful, as long as you install the right plugins…and know LISP(ugh!). Emacs is just too much pressing of the control button and shift and other modifier keys, I have carpal tunnel  and pressing Control + (modifier key) is too much if I have to do it repeatedly.

I switched to MacVim, fewer modifier keys, much simpler to use and no knowledge of LISP is required. VIM syntax is much better, but still coding to be able to code isn’t really ideal for me. Luckily I found the right plugins and the right tutorials and got everything working, I even switched to MacVim as the default editor for everything. I spent the next 5 months learning how to use MacVim and since, I got a new job, doing support for the best hosting company in the world, using VIM was very helpful.

Recently on Twitter I saw this: http://justinlilly.com/blog/editor-stats/ After looking through the screenshots of all of the different editors that are out there I began to miss using TextMate with its Cocoa-ness and modern feel, VIM is very archaic and keyboard dependent, while being ideal for some people is not idea for me). I installed all of the bundles that I wanted, and, there was a bundle for everything that I wanted. IMO, using “svn co …” is much easier than downloading, unzipping, and copying the files to the right directories and editing vimrc to make sure that the new modules are being used when they are supposed to be.

So now I am back to using TextMate as my default editor and I am enjoying it tremendously. There is no coding involved to change the background color, no command to invoke to have the sidebar open, no navigating with the keyboard only when using NERDTree, no more having to type NERDTree, and most of all bundles are so much better, faster to install and modify than with VIM.

I am still, eagerly, awaiting the release of TextMate 2 but for now I am happy to be able to change things without code so that I can spend my coding time doing something productive instead of configuring my editor.

Freelance Time Tracking

I just found the best client/invoice/time tracking application ever. The rundown:

  • 3 free users
  • 3 invoices per month
  • $9.99 per month to get unlimited invoices
  • more users? $3.99 per user from there
  • your own subdomain
  • open name spaces on your subdomain
  • your logo on the invoice
  • unlimited clients and projects
  • mac widget
  • browser based tracking tool
I cannot find anything that beats it. No iPhone application support which sucks but I am hopeful they will fix that soon. Check them out!
free time tracking

***Update*** The reports are a little bit odd but it works.