2015 to 2016

Posted on Wednesday, December 30th, 2015 No Comments


2016

Happy New Year! This is a text-heavy “current state of things” post to let everyone know where I’m heading in 2016.

What do I really want to do?

As you can guess from the title of this website, I like Zen-style philosophy (and I’d like to be an enlightened master 😉 ). Recently I’ve been asking myself how I can best spend my time here on Earth, since I am currently in this physical body that has to live here.

My work history has encompassed a big variety of things related to websites. I’ve been working on websites for so long, and in so many capacities, that people sometimes doubt that I have experience in all of the things that I do. Over the years I’ve been involved in web design, content management, social media, email marketing, technical support, digital publishing, content writing, technical writing, copywriting, SEO, ecommerce, business operations, and analysis. For the most part, the reason I’ve done all these things is because I worked with very small companies where I was the only one, or one of two people, who were available to do the work. So I learned as I went. Any time I needed to do something that I didn’t already know how to do, I researched enough to get started and taught myself along the way.

There are upsides and downsides to this. I get bored if I’m not learning something new, so it suits me to have a job in which I can do a variety of things. The big downside, though, is that it’s just too much. I can’t really become an expert at something if my time is divided between a thousand things. (It also makes it hard to write a resume.)

I’m interested in a lot of things and I see business opportunities everywhere. I want to learn how to play the piano, learn how to sculpt, learn how to build apps, and learn sign language. I want to design my own fonts. I want to be an illustrator, a writer, a composer, and a programmer. Sometimes I want to design t-shirts, sometimes I want to run a movie theater, and sometimes I want to open a local electronics store. But every time I come up with a new idea, what I’m most excited about is making a website for it, whatever “it” happens to be.

And that’s what I really want to do. I want to make websites. I’ve loved making websites since the moment I was first introduced to HTML in 1999. Like in Office Space when they’re pondering what they’d do if they had a million dollars, building websites is what I’d do on my own whether it was a job or not.

Does this mean that I’m going to quit or refuse work that’s not strictly web development? Of course not. What it means is that I’m going to be directing my energy toward web development instead of trying to keep up with the details of a thousand inter-related industries. I’ll be learning much more about web design and development, and my work will still include a variety of things like graphics, HTML, CSS, WordPress, design principles, website structure, onsite SEO best practices, conversion optimization, web analytics, and ecommerce (basically, whatever goes into building and maintaining a website). This is mainly a way to direct my focus long-term to start pulling in the work that I’m most excited about. If you’re a current client, don’t worry at all that I’ll suddenly stop what I’ve been working on with you.

WordPress Development and Skills Update

So the next question is: how exactly can I spend more of my time making websites? 

My answer to that is WordPress theme development. I have long wanted to build my own WordPress themes, but it was always beyond my programming capabilities. I can already hear you saying, “But there are so many people and companies that develop WordPress themes. How can you possibly compete?”

For me, it’s not about competition in the slightest. This is much more about following my passion than it is about a business plan. In fact, I’ll be releasing my themes for free. Any money that comes in will be in the form of new clients who found me via my themes and want customization work. After I get better at building themes I might also release some paid themes with more functionality, but the main idea is that it’s a way to introduce people to my work.

WordPress is a great CMS to focus on because it has an engaged development team and it’s user-friendly for the end user. I researched WordPress theme development in the past, discovered some starter themes, and tried to learn from the Codex. I even installed the XAMPP server on my computer with WordPress and MySQL for local development. Of course, before all this I’d worked on many WordPress websites and done a lot of theme customization, but most of the PHP was foreign to me so I didn’t understand enough to learn more on my own. So in early November I decided to take an actual class on WordPress theme development, and started looking around to see what was available. There are lots of good online web development schools. I decided on Treehouse because it has classes specific to WordPress development. It’s only $25/month for access to all of their courses, and I think that’s a very reasonable investment (especially considering that I pay $50/month for Adobe CC).

The great thing about Treehouse is that I’ve also been able to update my skills in HTML and CSS. The last time I took proper classes in this stuff was 1999-2001, and web development was very different then. CSS existed but wasn’t widely used yet, and responsive design wasn’t a concern because things like smartphones didn’t exist. SEO was completely different, there was no such thing as social media, and the earliest blog platforms were still very new. I’ve taught myself a lot over the years, but taking classes again has been a very helpful way to get a large amount of quality information from an updated viewpoint. This is another reason why I want to narrow my focus — this industry moves so fast that it’s necessary to keep taking classes to update your skills. All of the related industries move just as fast, so it’s quite difficult to keep up with them all.

Over the past two months, I’ve spent most of my available time on courses at Treehouse. I’ve already built a basic WordPress theme while following along with the WordPress courses, and I’ve gotten through the majority of their Web Design and Front-End Development tracks. I’ve also picked up some additional skills in Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop, design, SQL, and PHP. Now it’s a matter of building my own theme to release to the public. I’ve already created a design mockup in Illustrator, and the next step will be to write the main HTML & CSS for it. After that I’ll work on moving it into WordPress and adding customization features.

The folks at WordPress recently announced that JavaScript will be more and more important as time goes on, and their recommendation is for all WordPress developers to really get up to speed with JavaScript. I’d like to do that anyway, for my own purposes, so into 2016 I’ll be doing the JavaScript courses at Treehouse and I’ll be taking Zac Gordon’s JavaScript for WordPress Master Course when it’s available.

A Recap of Updates

This is also a good time to do a recap of recent things that you should be aware of:

  • I don’t think I’ll be renewing my DocuSign account this year. It’s a great service, but I don’t use it frequently enough to justify the cost. That means we’ll be going back to paper documents in cases in which they need to be signed, unless I can figure out another digital method.
  • I plan on keeping my rates the same in 2016. Generally that’s $65/hr for individual projects and $45/hr for retainers or packages. You will always be able to find someone who charges more and someone who charges less, but I think this is a fair rate for my experience and knowledge.
  • Invoicing will remain the same, but I’m getting a little stricter with it. Anyone who is beyond a first project will get an invoice on the last day of the month for work done during that month, and payment is due by the 15th of the next month, unless I’ve already made a different arrangement with you.
  • I removed SEO from my Services page. I could give a long explanation as to why, but it’s basically because of all the reasons in this post along with the fact that SEO kinda doesn’t exist anymore. Read this. “It’s no longer just about optimizing your website for Google. It’s about optimizing your presence across the web.” In my opinion, that’s not SEO. That’s the practice of marketing, and it is what SEO has become. (Again, this doesn’t mean I’ll stop helping you with SEO. It just means I’m not trying to get new SEO-specific clients.)
  • I replaced SEO with Technical Writing because I often end up doing a lot of that on website builds anyway, and it’s something that I have a unique skillset and talent for.

I think that’s it for now. As much as I’d like to shed all physical trappings and live as an awakened light-being, we’re all here for another year, so, onward!




Posted in Zen Web Updates.