Some Updates, and Goals vs. Systems

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The last month…well, even just the last few weeks…have been an absolute whirlwind.

Let me start with a history lesson.

WaltersWorks has been a long time in the making…I first got the entrepreneurial bug back in 2006, but I was tinkering with web design as early as 2000 or 2001. Back in the days of Tripod and Trellix. I never put a lot of effort into it, however, and even through 2010, I wasn’t working on any big projects or anything, just goofing around. But by 2012 I picked up my first real client (a client I still have, by the way!) and then a second, and a third, and on average I’d be maintaining three or four websites. All this while I worked a full-time job, so my web design was always done off-hours.

But by 2012 I picked up my first real client (a client I still have, by the way!) and then a second, and a third, and on average I’d be maintaining three or four websites. All this while I worked a full-time job, so my web design was always done off-hours.

2015 and 2016 were hard years for me professionally. I wasn’t happy with my day job and so every now and then I’d get the urge to take on more web design clients. Then I’d take one or two on and realize just how little time I had for anything else, and I’d panic. Those were herky-jerky years. I’d get really busy, freak out, and then take some time to get things back under control before pushing again. It was stressful – having one foot in and one foot out at two different jobs. To be honest, I hated it.

2017 rolled around and I went all in. Really, I started in late 2016 but by 2017 I was adding multiple clients every month and my income from the first couple months of ’17 surpassed my entire annual side income from ’16. Of course, this meant less time for everything else – including my growing family. And I struggled to keep my work worlds separate.

SO

My reason for sharing all of that is to say that I have officially left my day job and I’m now devoting 100% of my work time to WaltersWorks. It feels awesome and scary, and ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING. I’m picking up work via word-of-mouth and freelancing sites like Upwork. So far it has been good, but as with any self-employment, there is always the reality that there will be good times and slow times. It’s a big change in how we think, how we budget, and how we live.

ADD TO THAT the fact that we just bought a new house! My “office” in our old rental was the corner of an attic that had been converted into a bedroom. I sat on a backless stool, hunched over, peeking around my mic to see my laptop and my notes which were often stacked on top of one another. In our new home, I have a dedicated office/library room and it is wonderful to be able to spread out and work in semi-comfort. I still need to get some new furniture but for now, a fold-up table and a folding chair are better than the old stool. I’ve also got the room for a 32″ monitor on my desk which is amazing.

I’m excited about the new possibilities.

So enough about all of that life-changing stuff. As I consider the new possibilities that self-employment offers, I also do a lot of thinking about the new challenges. In particular, losing my steady income and trying to replace it with irregular income has led me to reach out for financial advice. I just started reading Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and I’m hoping I can get my wife on board. We’re liquidating my pension to pay off most of our debts and eliminate revolving credit, but as Dave alludes to on his show and in his writing, that’s often a temporary solution. Changing attitudes and habits is the key to long-term success.

I think that is true for many things.

Dilbert author Scott Adams wrote something a while back about the difference between goals and systems. I was struck by the idea that systems are more valuable that goals because they speak to action, not to an end result. Coming from a corporate background, “goal” was a buzzword we used often. Goals, however, are elusive – for example, I can say it is my goal to lose 20 pounds but unless I provide the “how” it’s a pointless statement. Systems, however, are based on habits and lifestyle changes…I’ll let Mr. Adams do the talking:

Compare the goal of exercising 3-4 times a week with a system of being active every day at a level that feels good, while continuously learning about the best methods of exercise. Before long your body will be trained, like Pavlov’s dogs, to crave the psychological lift you get from being active every day. It will soon become easier to exercise than to skip it – no willpower required. And your natural inclination for challenge and variety will gently nudge you toward higher levels of daily activity while at the same time you are learning in your spare time how to exercise in the most effective way. That’s a system.

Source: http://blog.dilbert.com/post/102964992706/goals-vs-systems

Brilliant. True story – I lost almost 50 pounds from 2013 to 2015. NOT ONCE did I “set a goal” or pick a number that I wanted to get down to. I did it by finding exercise activities that felt good and then doing them many times. I also came to peace with being hungry and eventually I trained myself to avoid most of the really bad foods and drinks. It worked wonderfully.

So consider how the difference between goals and systems unfolds when you get outside of weight loss. Say you want to build wealth – you can say “I want to save $1,000 for a rainy day,” or you can create a system that you *enjoy* and change your spending and saving habits accordingly. The guy who sets the goal…he might save that $1,000. Or he might not. If doesn’t have a plan for *how* he’s going to do it, chances are he’ll never take the first step toward accomplishing the goal. But if the guy creates a system and puts his spare coins and change in a big ol’ jar and enjoys watching it accumulate over time, he’ll eventually get that money saved up, and then maybe he’ll even go on to save more because WHY STOP THERE?

That’s one of the big differences I found – a goal is the end of the road for a lot of people. Even those who attain their goals probably wind up feeling aimless once they’ve reached them. Who likes the idea of goals leading to more goals, leading to more goals, on and on forever? This is where systems win again. In a system, you’re changing habits and lifestyles to create long-term success. And you can *have* a goal too – let’s just call it something else. Perhaps we’ll call it a “milestone”. So your system’s end result is to “be active every day by running at 6 a.m.” The idea is that you’ll enjoy this, so if you don’t like the idea of running early in the morning then use your imagination and come up with an example you like. You can add a milestone to your system – say, if you do this activity for six months you’re going to adjust your mileage from 2 miles a day to 3 miles a day. At that point it’s more of a good thing, right? Or perhaps you find that you’re losing weight and you hit a point where you don’t really want to lose more – time for a new milestone. Adjust the system.

I’ve got a lot of areas in my life that I need systems for – physical wellness, emotional wellness, spiritual wellness, financial peace, better parenting, satisfaction with self-employment…so I’m going to try to create systems rather than goals, and we’ll see how that goes. Heck, writing on this blog can be a system too.

Have thoughts about anything you read here? Leave ’em in the comments!

Advances in Technology are Outpacing Teachers’ Ability to Learn

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<rant>

Microsoft launched a slick new laptop today, and they’ve also recently dropped some “mixed reality” tech that some people are raving about. This news has a similar feel to Google’s release of the Chromebook, which folks quickly realized could be a game-changer not just in the consumer space but also in fields like education.

I get it…technology will continue to shape education. Education will look different in five, 10, and 20 years. I’m not debating that at all.

The point I do want to make is that advances in technology are happening more and more frequently. We get more options every day. Competitors are constantly matching and one-upping each other.

As someone who has spent the last 10 years working at the intersection of education and technology, even I’m starting to get exhausted by the constant chase for the latest thing that will revolutionize teaching and learning. It’s hard to keep technology in classrooms for five years now because after year two or three you’ve already heard about the next big thing that some other school started using and you start to feel like your existing hardware and software have already been made obsolete.

For sure, this is a big reason why schools have started to lease technology. If you bought all those iPads, or Chromebooks, or whatever, you’ve got to hang onto them for at least five years (maybe more) in order to get a solid ROI. If you lease, at least you can go to your vendor after year two or three and ask for pricing on the latest thing.

But now look past the hardware/software rat race and think about the people who are affected by this.

You could probably stick anything with a screen in front of elementary students and within a couple days they’ll have a pretty good idea about how they can use it to accomplish basic functions. By middle school, kids are starting to develop more specialized needs…but it still doesn’t take them very long to get up to speed. You get to high schoolers and the demands have gone way up. They might need some serious training on digital citizenship and in-depth how-to’s to help them use the wide variety of applications they’ll need to get through the year. Your worst-case scenario is that the early adopters and students who already have the latest tech at home become your go-to gurus, and maybe you open up a “genius bar” where kids can show other kids how to use the new tech.

What about teachers?

The kids may be able to jump from device to device every few years and not bat an eye, and the new hires may be adept enough to keep up for a while, but – and I don’t mean this in a derogatory fashion – your seasoned veterans who are still figuring out how to use Google, or how to use their smart phone, or what the difference between a tweet and a snap are…they’re going to struggle. They’re great teachers – there’s a reason they’ve been teaching for 10, 20, 30, even 40 years. But as you chase the latest tech trends and switch devices and jump from Microsoft to LibreOffice to Google and back to Microsoft again, you’re leaving them farther and farther behind.

A balance must be kept – the balance between making sure you’ve got the best technology in your students’ hands while making sure that all of your teachers can model good digital citizenship and employ best practices using these new solutions. If the kids are learning with this new tech, teachers have to be teaching with it.

So we have a Catch-22. Districts are being pushed toward the 1:1 model and are focusing their efforts on keeping up with the tech trends, but after a few more advances in tech there won’t be enough people in our schools who can actually use the technology we’re giving to the students.

Do I have a solution for this? Nope.

But it’s a reality that we need to confront head-on.

If there is a solution, part of it lies in strategic planning and putting the decision-making in the hands of people who really understand how technology can be effectively used to transform the teaching and learning process, not just act as an expensive substitute for paper and pencils.

</rant>

Quick Thought on Politics & Economics

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Believe me, I’m no economist. I have enough trouble with accounting classes.

I’m reading the New York Times article entitled “Arthur Laffer’s Theory on Tax Cuts Comes to Life Once More” and the focus is on the Laffer Curve. Laffer states that it is possible to increase tax revenue by cutting taxes. In theory this sounds great – as the article states, “…an ambitious tax cut would unleash businesses that now feel constrained by one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Corporations would be freed to build plants and create jobs in the United States instead of in foreign countries, and would bring home money that currently is sheltered overseas.”

But this is where we run into one of the main issues with Republican policies – the idea that if you give people more freedom, they’ll do what they should do. If you remove some of the tax burden on businesses, they should build plants, create domestic jobs, and shelter less of their profits overseas. Operative word: should.

Since when, however, did people do what they should? I’m not saying that every business leader is corrupt or greedy. But even if some of them are, doesn’t that mean that the Laffer Curve may not produce the revenue that it should?

There’s a big difference between will and should, and I find that a lot of Republican policies discuss the possible effects of legislation in terms that cause the public to believe the outcome is certain, and that’s a problem for all of us.

What I’m Learning Lately

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This is going to be a list more than anything…

  • Accounting – my UoPeople course this term is Financial Accounting 2. Honestly, I’m really struggling to keep up with my “formal” education given my current workload. I got an 88% on my first exam last night – not bad, but not great either. I’d really like to get an A in this course.
  • MailChimp – kinda of unintentionally, which is how most of my learning happens. A client requested that I prepare an HTML email template for her and rather than start from scratch I decided to use MailChimp’s visual editor to get me to a point where I could start to write custom code. I would up figuring out all of MailChimp’s little shortcodes in the HTML and in-line CSS that open up editing options in their visual editor, which was fun. I also found myself copying and pasting code between MailChimp’s editor and Mozilla Thimble to play around with options before finalizing the template and sending it back to my client.
  • JavaScript – I’m making some educational videos for Udemy that cover the basics of web development, and in the process I’ve brushed up on my JavaScript. Which is nice. (By the way, if you’d like to take my course, you can sign up for it here.)
  • Google Adwords – I’ve got a meeting next week with a client who needs help with pay-per-click advertising, and Adwords is the best place to start. However, I’ve never used Adwords. So I’m taking some time every day to study up and get the basics down before I go off formulating a complex strategy…I want to make sure that whatever strategy is selected will actually work! So far I’ve covered keywords (including negative keywords), dynamic display ads, Adwords extensions, and I’ve even created my first campaign for WaltersWorks with a very limited budget.

I know there’s more but I’m out of time for today! What have you been learning lately?

Moving into Online Learning

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Look, I get it – not everyone has the time or inclination to manage their own websites. Business owners, nonprofit leaders, government employees…they’re busy adults with many important things to do.

But every now and then I run into someone who has a desire to really get their hands into things, and it frustrates me when they’re pushed out by greedy web developers and designers who justify their exorbitant rates with the excuse that nobody can do what they do.

Baloney. This is 2017. Anyone can manage a website.

Sometimes all that’s needed is a little support, and that’s where I can step in. I’ve saved businesses thousands of dollars by setting up user-friendly websites that they can manage on their own, and if they ever need me, I can step back into the picture.

Up until now, I’ve only been able to provide support in person or remotely using WebEx, Join.me, or another remote troubleshooting tool. Today, I’m throwing out a new method – online tutorials.

Using my professional audio equipment and screen recording software, I can prepare carefully-crafted and easy-to-follow video content to help individuals and organizations manage their own web presences.

Here’s just a sample of the kinds of courses I can prepare for you. Interested in hearing more? Contact me today.

Web Design, Art, and Making Things Look Different When People Want Them to Look the Same

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As I sit here looking at my portfolio, one thing stands out to me – I’ve done a great job of diversifying my work. Over the last five years I’ve made a lot of websites and I’m proud to say that none of them look the same.

In this templatized world there are so many websites that are nearly identical. From a technical standpoint, templates make sense – it’s easier to modify than to build from scratch. While my websites may not look the same, I’ve used plenty of WordPress and Webflow templates and undoubtedly there are other sites on the web that are nearly identical.

But from an artistic standpoint, I hate the thought of giving two or more of my clients the same look and feel for the web presence. Especially if there is proximity – competing businesses, geographically-close organizations, or overlapping social networks. I don’t want any of my clients to get feedback that their site looks like somebody else’s. I know I wouldn’t like that if it happened to me.

So when a client was browsing my portfolio and asked me to make something that looked like one of my existing designs, I wasn’t quite sure how to feel – I’m glad to have their business and I want to deliver a site that meets their needs, wants, and expectations. But as an artist, how can I differentiate the two sites from each other?

screencapture-dubs-for-judge-webflow-io-1486943424011

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Too similar? Different enough? I’m conflicted. I’ve only been working on the latest project for a day so I’m sure I’ll continue to find ways to make them different *enough* artistically, but I want to be sure that my client’s vision is brought into reality.

Ranked

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For the last five years I’ve been running WaltersWorks as a side job, just some extra cash here and there. And it shows – my revenue last year was just about $3,500. Nothing to write home about. I was intentionally unsuccessful – I knew that as long as the business didn’t get too big, there was no conflict with my full-time job. I didn’t have to try very hard, just keep doing some work here and there and leave it at that.

I just found out that WaltersWorks is ranked #20 in the Central Penn Business Journal’s list of top web design companies in Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry, and York counties.

I feel like being ranked changes things.

When you’re ranked, you can gain ground or lose ground.

That’s why I’m setting new goals for 2017. No, I’m not going to aim for that #1 spot – the top dogs in the area are making millions in revenue and have upwards of 50 employees on the roster. But if there’s ever going to be a year where I break out and make big gains, this is it.

What’ll it take to make the leap? A commitment to every client that I already have, and to all those that I will have, to provide the very best service when it comes to web design, graphic design, social media marketing, SEO, and audio/video content creation. Every web site needs to be brilliant. Every graphic and logo needs to be pixel-perfect. And I need to provide outstanding communication and customer service in every aspect of the business.

I just opened up a Yelp account and turned on Facebook reviews because as I make these gains I want to make sure that my clients have an outlet for their feedback. I hope that every client has great feedback and loves what I do, but I also need to hear when I haven’t met expectations. So, if I’ve provided you with a product or service, please feel free to let me know how I’ve done.

And if we haven’t worked together yet, maybe now is the right time to start?