Friday, June 25, 2004

I did ask

Many thanks to those who responded to my call to help me find a good domain name for my part-time business that I'll be using to fund my development of Sydney.

I am a bit disappointed that nobody seemed to like my suggestion though. Still there's no point asking a question though if you already know the answers you're going to get. There's also no point asking a question if you ignore those answers also.

I was thinking this naming thing would be a non-event and that I'd just go with the name I used when I was doing this at Uni, but I guess I should put more thought into it. I'll digest the suggestions and resources over the weekend and delay registering anything until at least Monday.

I don't want to get too hung up on this though. It's just the sideline business, I don't even want it to be too successful, just bring in a little extra for beer and movies, and leave me plenty of time to work on Sydney.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Now for the domain name

Next on my list is to register the domain name for the part-time home computer help business that I'll use to support myself while I develop Sydney. My plan is to use the slogan I used while operating a similar business back in my Uni days. My only problem is that it's quite long.

Imagine we were talking about bicycles here, and my slogan was phrased as the question "Problem with your bicycle?". If I registered the name I'm curious as to whether you think that would be too long.

Is it easy enough for someone to remember?

Is it too hard to type without making an error?

I expect that a fair number of my customers will have poor keyboard skills so forcing them to type a long URL may be asking too much of them. Then again, you really only ever type a URL once these days, the auto-complete types it every other time. Does everyone use auto-complete though I wonder?

The alternative I'm considering is to reduce it to an acronym. To use the bicycle example again, it could be Much less characters to type but it's very obtuse and not very memorable at all. The more I think about that the less I like it.

Anyone got any feedback on the name itself? Think computers instead of bicycles and you've almost got the domain name I'm thinking of (sorry, just making sure nobody nabs it and tries to sell it back to me).

I like the fact that it's a question posed in a conversational style. This part-time business isn't going to be a slick operation and I don't want it to come across as one. I want people to feel that they're just calling a friend of a friend or a guy from down the street to come and give them a hand.

I'll think I'll wait and see if I get any feedback on this and then register whatever domain name I decide on tomorrow morning.

Cross off number 1

First on my to do list for my part-time home computer help business was registering a business name and a domain name. I was really only going to register the business name with the Department of Fair Trading so I could secure a domain name. Australian domain registrars are more restrictive than US registrars about the domain names they give out, they won't give you a domain name unless you have some sort of legal claim to it.

I've since found out though that it won't be necessary to register a business name since I already have a Pty Ltd company and can register an unrelated domain name as a service of that company.

So I can cross task number 1 off my list and save myself the $126 registration fee.

Attention FeedReader users

If you're using FeedReader right now, I wonder if you'd do me a favour and post a quick comment (anonymously is fine) in reply to this post. I'm trying to establish how many people there are reading my news feed and I suspect that FeedReader is skewing the Feedburner stats slightly. Thanks very much.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Hello hard work and poverty

OK let's get down to business

First things first. Developing a software product is all well and good but inbetween now and when the dollars start rolling in I've got to eat and pay my rent.

These are the three ways I'm currently looking to meet my weekly expenses

  • Servicing the remaining clients of my IT consulting business
  • Starting a part-time home computer help business
  • Finding some casual work, perhaps in a local pub

Hopefully the first two will be enough to allow me to keep buying fresh fruit and choice cuts from the butcher but if they don't I'll look more seriously at the third option.

So what's first?

The existing consulting clients will just call up when they have a problem so there isn't much that needs organising there right now. What does need work though is the part-time home computer help business.

Here's my to do list

  1. Register a business name
  2. Register a domain name
  3. Design some advertising material
  4. Develop a basic website
  5. Start up a relationship with a local hardware supplier
  6. Be able to accept payment by credit card or EFTPOS
  7. Organise an answering service

Working with Leah today we decided to set Tuesday, 13th July as the target date to start advertising and hopefully take some calls. That's quite some time away, but I'll also be working on Sydney and doing the odd consulting job too. Between those three I expect to be very busy for the next few weeks.

Hang on tight, the rollercoaster is about to begin, this time for real.

Goodbye day job

Around midday today I received word from my major client that they will be using someone else for their integration project. I don't necessarily think it's the best option for them but it's certainly not a bad option either.

I sincerely hope they find the right person for the job. They're going to need all the help they can get over the next 12 months. They're up against some extremely tight deadlines as a result of some very aggressive business decisions.

It would be nice to be able to help them more with this but I have to keep focused. I'll probably do some occaisonal maintenance work for them on a few legacy systems but that should be about it.

I've supported this client for the better part of a decade now and I'm quite proud of the part I've played in keeping them running. I hope they're around for a long time to come yet.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Less people to answer to but more to please

I was speaking recently to someone who is feeling a bit dissatisfied with their own day job. They expressed that if they had something to go to they'd love to be able to go out on their own like myself.

We had a bit of a discussion about the pros and cons of running your own business. For the past 9 or so years I've been an IT consultant/contractor and although I refer to my major client as my day job, that's really just because I've been with them for so long. My independent status means I'm pretty flexible with my daily work hours but it also means I haven't had a holiday since the nineties.

One thing that I did tell this person was although you are your own boss, there's still plenty of people you have to jump through hoops for. In fact in going from a salaried position to running your own business there will probably be more people you'll have to please as you'll (hopefully) have multiple clients or customers.

Yes you can tell them to "go jump" if you want to but nobody ever does that. At least nobody who wants to stay in business. And unlike a salaried position you won't receive performance reviews and second chances if you fail to live up to expectations. Instead your customers just won't come back and you may not even find out why.

While discussing all of this I was reminded that if my own plans for Sydney are even moderately successful the amount of people I'm going to have to please is going to increase exponentially. At the moment I only have to please about half a dozen clients on a regular basis. A successful wide release software product would mean I'd have to keep thousands of users happy. That's a big challenge for a single developer company to confront and one that I'd have to plan for well in advance.

I'll have to make sure I take that holiday well before Sydney is ready for release.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Everybody falls sometime

I went ice skating last night for the second time in my life. I think I did pretty well despite some shocking hire skates that twisted my left foot into yogic positions.

As a kid I was always terrible at these sort of things so I've been pleasantly surprised that as an adult I seem to have developed some coordination and balance. Of course as an adult I approach them in a more scientific manner, trying one thing at a time to see if it helps, adopting if it does and discarding it if it doesn't.

Here's the list of things that helped rather than hindered me as I cruised the rink at slow to moderate pace.

  • Watch the other skaters and copy the best ones.
  • Keep your head up, watch where you're going and don't worry so much about your feet.
  • Be brave, stand up straight (well just about straight) and let go of the side walls as soon as you possibly can.
  • Keep your cool, breath slowly and regularly even when you think you're going to fall.

I'm sure you can see where I'm heading with this. I won't dwell on it other than to say there's some substantial parity with these techniques and how I'm trying approach Sydney.

The only thing that disappointed me about the night is that I didn't fall at all during the whole 2 hour session. You've got to expect to fall sometime in whatever you do. If you don't you're obviously not pushing hard enough.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Still no word

It's 2 days after I reduced my availability to my major client. I expected to hear from them yesterday but as yet I still don't know whether or not they want me to work on their integration project. I'm assuming this is because they're investigating how difficult it will be to find someone at short notice to work on it instead of myself.

I'm feeling somewhat indifferent about whether they want to bring someone else in to do it or not. If they do decide to use me I'll be reasserting my position, that being that I build the integration mechanism only and will only be available for a limited amount of time each week.

That's actually where my strengths lie, in learning new technologies and building mechanisms and frameworks for others to use. In my opinion the ideal situation would be for me build on those strengths to develop the mechanism for the integration. The developer of the custom system would then build on his strengths and knowledge of his system to complete the data matching using that mechanism.

Unfortunately the developer of the custom system is snowed under with bug fixes and new features. I understand their predicament but a lack of developer documentation for the custom system means he's going to be involved in the integration in a big way no matter what happens. I would really like to be able to do more to help them out of this, but to do more I fear would bind me to them for several more months at least.

So maybe they'll contact me today and let me know their decision. In the meantime I'm starting to make preparations to get a replacement income source happening. More on that soon.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Regrets, I've had a few

Playing my hand yesterday is very likely going to mark the end of my time with this client. Over the past 8 years that they've been my major client I've helped to grow them from a micro-business to a company employing over 100 people. Although they've recently been acquired by another company I still feel a strong sense of loyalty to them and I have been quite conflicted as these days approached.

With hindsight I probably should have raised the issue of my reduced availability with them last Tuesday. Even though I was unsure of both the scope of their project and if I wanted to work on it, it probably would have been a fairer thing to do.

On the other hand, there comes a time when you have to start furthering your own goals. I've been putting the interests of the client above my own for a long time now, sometimes with disastrous results for my own business. So I guess hedging my bets for 1 week isn't so bad when you measure it against 8 years of service.

I think you have to recognise that whenever you leave a job you are going to leave others in the lurch to some extent. It's only recently that I've come to that conclusion, if I'd realised it earlier I may have followed a different path these last few years.

Still I've had a good run with them and on the whole it's been a beneficial relationship for both sides. In a sense as I'm moving away from them, they're also moving away from me with new owners and a new focus. If this does mark the end of our association I will wish them well and hope they do the same for me.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

And the situation coming out

Going in I wasn't sure that I'd go through with it.

Once I was there I wasn't sure I was going to get a chance to do it.

Then at the end of the day just as the project manager was leaving I managed to snare him for a few minutes to discuss my availability for the project ahead.

I told him that I had another project that I was working on and that I wasn't willing to devote 6 weeks full time to their integration project. I said that I was available for 4 days per week for up to 4 weeks but after that I'd be looking to reduce my involvement to 2 days a week.

He said that he needed to know if I had other commitments and if I was tending towards those. I said I had other commitments and was tending towards those.

I said that I was interested in building the mechanism that performed the integration but not interested in doing a comprehensive field by field data matching between their custom system and Great Plains.

He said that while he didn't really know he felt the project would need a full time person for at least 6 weeks. I said that if the scope of the project demanded that then I would fully expect them to find somebody who could guarantee that availability.

He asked me not to do anymore work on the project until he'd had time to think it through and discuss it with upper management.

So that's the blow by blow description. It went very much how I expected and was very civil. I think I'll wait until tomorrow before making any further comment.

My position going in

OK let's see if I can walk the walk as well as I talk the talk.

I'm about to go off to start work on this integration project for my day job. This project, which came out of the blue last week, is the last major thing that I expect to do for this client for a while. After that I'll be working full time on Sydney.

What I don't want though is for this integration project to grow in scope or for myself to become so indispensable to it that I'm caught up with it for another few months. Adding to that risk is the fact that my client has just acquired another company and from August onwards will be integrating the IT systems of the two companies. If I'm still doing work for them then, it will be even harder to break away when a new round of integration work starts.

So I'm going in there today to make my position clear. I am prepared to

  • work 3-4 days per week on the current integration project,
  • work for a maximum of six weeks with a gradual decrease in the amount of weekly hours,
  • will set up a mechanism to facilitate the integration of their custom system with the Great Plains system,
  • will perform a limited amount of data matching between the two systems on essential fields,
  • will provide clear steps on how the remaining data matching should occur for the remaining unmatched fields,
  • do not anticipate being available for any significant amounts of work when it comes time to integrating with the newly acquired company.

So that's my position going in. I'll post again later tonight and see if I managed to keep my resolve or if I caved and agreed to work 6 weeks full time.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

I met with a business coach

Thursday morning I met with a business coach, Leah Maclean. I met her through a small business networking group that we're both members of. As it happens she also worked with a good friend of mine at Motorola a few years back.

Why are you meeting with a business coach?

I've been running a small business as an IT contractor/consultant for about 8 years now. Along the way I've made enough mistakes to learn quite a bit about both how to run and how not to run a small business. This new venture though will be quite different to what I've previously experienced as a business owner.

I met with Leah to chat about what support she could potentially provide me with as I go through this new learning curve. I did most of the talking, bringing her up to speed with Sydney, my current day job situation and how I intended to fund the project. She voiced her thoughts on what should be my immediate priorities and said the next thing we had to look at was the viability of my beer and movie money plans. We've already got some healthy disagreements on one or two things which I think is a good sign.

What are you hoping to get from this?

I guess the most important thing I want to introduce to the project is some checks and balances both on myself and on the product. Leah should bring an impartial viewpoint to the project and will hopefully help me to recognise if I'm losing my way.

It will also be good to have someone to bounce ideas off and challenge my assumptions. That sort of feedback is invaluable when you're working on your own. It's far too easy to delude yourself that you're doing everything right or to reject winning ideas because you're unsure of their merits.

So why have you decided on this particular business coach?

There are a few reasons. I've known her for a few months now and my friend highly recommended her to me. I like the fact that she has a somewhat technical background and experience in dealing with technical types like myself. From her bio she also appears to be actively involved in the business coaching community which is a sign of someone who obviously takes their profession seriously.

Does she have experience in bringing a software product to a global market?

I'm don't believe so. My understanding is that most of her experience is with small businesses who primarily service their local areas.

At this stage I'm not too concerned by that. I'm not looking for someone to develop and bring a product to market for me. That's my job. Leah's job will be to make sure I don't look back on next year and think, "Well I really could have done a much better job of that."

If it becomes an issue later on I can always approach others for advice as well. In fact pointing out when I should be speaking to others for advice is one thing that I would expect a good business coach to be doing.

Is a business coach anything like a life coach?

I hope not.

I've heard Leah say she focuses both on the person and their business and when you're talking about a sole proprietor that's fair enough. I don't mind getting a kick in the pants every so often to keep me moving, but I'm not looking for advice on how to run my life.

Are you ready for a business coach? Aren't you still at your day job?

Yes I am still at my day job. Thanks for reminding me.

It's becoming a bit of a now or never proposition. I've been talking to Leah about engaging her services for a few months now. Each time I'd speak to her though I would put her off saying that I just want to get the day job out of the way and then I'd be ready.

This time around though, even though the day job isn't yet out of the way, I've decided to get things moving. Leah's first bit of advice to me has been to firmly allocate my time and to be firm with the client about how much time I'm willing to give them. Nothing I didn't know already but having someone on my back about it might mean that I actually go through with it.

Friday, June 11, 2004

The body clock strikes again

Once again last night I woke at a ridiculously early hour, fully alert and unable to return to sleep. This is the second time it's happened since I last posted on this and the fifth time since I went back to normal sleeping patterns.

I think I've identified a contributing factor though. Both times this week it's happened I've been out the night before at the pub. I'm not sure but that may have been the case with the other three nights as well.

If that's really the cause I have no idea why I'm suddenly waking up probably at the same time I'm sobering up. I don't like it though. Maybe I should use my beer and movie money more on movies and less on beer until my body clock settles down again.

In the meantime I've got a can of energy drink sitting here on my desk, as I wait for the inevitable early afternoon slowdown.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Not much clearer

I'm back from this morning's meeting with my client and I'm not really sure how to proceed from here. Going into the meeting I wanted to find out whether this was going to be a 6 day or 6 week project. At the moment I'm thinking that the interesting parts might take 6 days and the boring parts might make up the difference of the 6 weeks.

I'll be meeting with them again probably next Tuesday when I'll have to let them know whether I'm going to commit to their project or not. Between now and then I need to become more familiar with their requirements, the technologies involved and my finances.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

An unexpected reassurance

While speaking to a friend of a friend at a dinner party last night, I gave him the very general 5 word description of Sydney.

I was very pleased when he responded with "You know what would be good..." and then proceeded to describe almost exactly my vision of what Sydney will become.

Let me tell you, when you're on the brink of quitting your day job, having a non-technical person like him voluntarily suggest your own idea back to you is most reassuring. I'll be keeping his comments in mind in the lead up to Tuesday's meeting.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

A fistful of dollars

I've just got off the phone with my major client who I'm about to depart from. They have a new project for me integrating their custom software with a Great Plains system. On his description it sounds like an easy job, exporting some data to some XML files and querying the Great Plains SQL server to retrieve data for their custom software.

I was instantly interested because it sounds like an ideal project to be able to do 2-3 days a week and have wrapped up in maybe 1-3 weeks. That would leave me time to get things moving on Sydney and keep some money coming in.

Then he told me that he's setting aside 6 weeks to do this. That's 6 full time weeks since I haven't yet told him that I'm planning to only make myself available part time to them.

I had a feeling something like this might happen. If he's right and there's 6 weeks of work there it's a very tempting offer. The money would give me an extra few months safety net and there would be the chance to get some exposure to Great Plains. On the other hand if I don't get started on Sydney soon I might find myself doing this sort of integration work for the next 12 months which I definitely don't want.

I'm meeting with him on Tuesday morning to flesh out the requirements a bit more. Hopefully by the end of that meeting I'll have a better idea of whether it's a 6 day or 6 week project. If it's a 6 day project great, I can do it part time and get things moving with Sydney. If it's a 6 week project, I'll have a hard decision to make.

News feed working with FeedReader

Matt Shobe from FeedBurner has notified me this morning that they've found and fixed a problem that was stopping FeedReader clients from reading my feed.

Thanks Matt for your help and for providing the great SmartFeed service which dynamically provides either an RSS or ATOM feed depending on the type of client used.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Revenge of the body clock

For the last 4-5 months I've been waking and going to bed very early to try to find extra time to work on Sydney while still working my day job. This was working pretty well for me, I was able to double the amount of time I spent on Sydney during weekdays and then could revert back to more social hours for the weekend.

With the day job about to come to a halt and with other changes happening in my life I decided about a week or so ago to shift back to slightly more regular hours.

Shifting back has been a bit harder than I expected.

I think my mistake was I tried to shift my sleeping patterns over a single night. I only wanted to adjust them by about 3 hours so I just stayed up until about 11pm one night and set the alarm for 7am the next day. No problems so far so I just continued on the next night and the night after that.

I think it was about 3 or 4 nights afterwards that I went to bed around 11pm only to wake up around 3am for no real reason and unable to return to sleep. Energy drinks got me through a very long day at my day job and I fell soundly asleep soon after getting home that night. I thought it was a minor aberration until it happened again another 3-4 days later. For someone who has never had any sleeping problems it was annoying but I could persevere through it until I readjusted myself.

It's just happened again though. Another 3-4 days later and the night before last I woke, again around 3am, and again not able to go back to sleep. I guess my body is telling me something so I'll go back to waking up around 4:30am and slowly move my waking time back towards 7am.

It's strange that I didn't experience this sort of disruption when I first shifted my sleep patterns 4-5 months ago. I guess body clocks are just funny things that you really shouldn't mess around with too much especially when you're pushing yourself hard.