Tuesday Afternoon Staff Meeting

Tuesday Afternoon Staff Meeting

Happy 2010! It’s interesting to find myself in the mush of daily business-oriented activity and wearing multiple hats. The general desire is to keep making progress and also book income. The tension I’m feeling having to make the materials that help bring in income, yet not having said income, is palpable. Maintaining clarity in this state is really important. I’m reminded of some lean times at other companies I’ve been involved with, so it’s a familiar sensation. The reason I bring it up is that it’s critical to maintain the right attitude for sustainable and continued growth while also handling incoming jobs.

So far, the Agenceum Project has gained a couple of clients who have agreed to be “guinea pig clients” to help figure this whole thing out. I’m sticking to the the $75 price point for the template-based sites, but have found it necessary to define a boatload of additional services and information. The primary question is “What does $75.00 get you?” The answer I have is it gets you a web site, based on an available template I provide,  installed on your web host + a ZIP archive of the files. As it turns out, this is just merely one of several sticking points that clients encounter, which prevents the quick-and-dirty deployment I envisioned. So, adding the website to the following list, here’s really what people are looking for:

  1. Can I get a website designed?
  2. Hosting and Domain Names? What does that mean, and how should I do it?
  3. What do I write to put on my website?
  4. How do I change what I put on my website?
  5. Where do I get a logo?
  6. I want the website to match my business cards and stationery, but I don’t have them yet.
  7. How do I promote my website? And my business? How do I compete?
  8. How did you do all this?

And that, my friends, is what the basic challenge is. That means I need to expand the basic service offering beyond websites into essentially what becomes the Small Business Starter Package, which just happens to include the website. This can be broken down into an ala carte service offering. I think this is the way to go, and it becomes more than merely a $75.00 proposition. That is what I’ll be addressing in the next week.

Simultaneously, I am planning bringing an actual David Seah Design entity into existence, separate from the Agenceum identity. If I were to make a retail analogy, I see DSD being the custom shop and identity (i.e. “The Brand”), with Agenceum and the various Printable CEO initiatives reflecting its values through particular products.  This will take some time away from Agenceum, but it’s all kind of tied together anyway.

With that executive statement, let’s start the Staff Meeting!

What’s on Deck

I have a couple of clients that I’m moving slowly through the pipeline. If I include the free work I’ve been doing for local associates, then I have something more like six clients. This is creating some production pressure, and the free work has been delayed. This is exactly the kind of scenario I want to avoid, because no one is happy when it takes a long time to get their changes made even if it costs them nothing. It creates bad feelings. Every client, regardless of what they are paying, should be handled in a timely manner. So fixing the production pipeline is a concern. I haven’t been regularly attending it.

That said, there is a problem because free work then essentially takes away time from paying work; the justification that I tend to use, which I believe is a common one, is that since the free work is free, it can wait so I can put food on my table. We generally don’t expect people to sacrifice their well-being on our behalf. However, as I said above, having to wait for a favor that never seems to manifest is not a favor at all. It’s empty words at that point, and at a certain point it becomes an insult. This is a good reason not to make promises you can not fulfill on the spot.

On the plus side, these pressures have made it clear to me that I have to implement some kind of generic solution to allow clients to edit their own work, and that I have to get a better grasp on my CSS templating system.

Allowing Clients to Edit Web Pages without Blowing Up the System

For generic solutions to editing, I’m looking at ModX, specifically the latest Revolution release. This is a PHP-based system that has an enthusiastic development team (I always try to pick technology that has enthusiastic developers behind it). It’s somewhere between a generic framework (example: CodeIgniter) and a blogging system (e.g. WordPress) in terms of capability.

The primary reason I’m looking at ModX is because I happened to read that WordPress had one some kind of award for “Best CMS Platform”. Being me, I wanted to see who else had been nominated, and ModX was one of the winners. Despite  It’s taking me longer to wrap my head around the ModX way of doing things, because their documentation suffers from the usual technical difficulties: labeling key parts of their internal system with words that have ambiguous, non-explanatory meanings, describing the system from the bottom-up instead from core concepts on out. I’m a mechanical-minded visual-verbal person: I need to know what produces the power, what converts it into the desired form of energy, and what regulates it. Then, I need to see where the specific interfaces exist in terms of inputs and outputs, followed by a list of parameters grouped by conceptual function. Do this, and you can write kick-ass technical documentation. The ModX documentation isn’t really there, but if you are the tinkering type that likes to work from example tutorials instead of first principles, there’s quite a bit of stuff to look through.

I’ve kind of figured out the underlying principles, and am now starting to piece together how to actually use ModX with my own code. The big advantage of using ModX is that it has a nice control panel where users can be assigned roles and edit text directly. I don’t really like the way the UI works, however, but I’m going to stick with this and deploy it first, then perhaps look at CodeIgniter and finally learn how to roll my own admin panel. It’s the kind of skill that I haven’t wanted to devote brain cells to, but I’ve been curious about this stuff and want to get my feet wet with it.

The upshot: ModX integration is a top priority for me, because a whole slew of other projects are dependent on it. Then, I may re-evaluate use of this platform.

Getting Better with CSS

Even though my name shares the exact same letters as CSS guru Dave Shea, my knowledge of CSS is fairly minimalistic. For one thing, I don’t like the underlying design of the CSS declaration language, with its lack of constants and counter-intuitive box model. Did graphics programmers really have anything to do with this specification? On top of that, CSS implementation has been uneven for years across browsers, but recently this has become water under the bridge. And despite my grumbling, the community that’s grown around CSS is frankly amazing. CSS is the ultimate stock fixer-upper, and everyone is building websites with it. You can just hack something together, or you can race-tune your website with exquisitely-crafted CSS statements and Javascript. Frickin’ amazing what you can do these days, thanks to the generosity of the people in the community. That makes me feel like a jerk for complaining, so I am shutting the heck up now ;-)

Now that I have the idiosyncrasies of CSS under nominal control, I’m grudgingly starting to enjoy making things with it. There are a few common things that I’m learning to roll my own solutions for, based on the work of the thousands around the world who have written about their own trials and tribulations. Starting to enjoy it is really important, because before I was less likely to start the production work with joy. Now I’m kind of getting into it, my natural desire to optimize now that I understand kicking in. Since I’m documenting what I’m doing as I go, I also have a good chunk of material for a future useful blog post or two. For now, I’m stuffing it all in my lab notes wiki.

What’s Next

Building building building the ModX deployment, so I can start slamming out these websites. That’s the goal this week.

Also, forming connections with other freelancers who offer services related to serving the small business owner who’s just getting started. Already I’ve met a few people who seem like decent folk. They are uniformly experienced and competent, with a desire to deliver clear insights and value without trying to rush you into a decision. These are the kind of people who you recognize as being good to know, because they think of your interests and situation before their own desires, seeking mutual and balanced benefit.

Ok, back to work!


  1. kelli wise 13 years ago

    David, Great point about “Every client, regardless of what they are paying, should be handled in a timely manner.” I’m going to print that out and post it in my office as a constant reminder. I’m really enjoying watching you evolve this process.

    It seems you’re running into the same thing that spurred me into starting to do some freelancing. I’m a massage therapist and former engineer and I do web design. I try to sell other therapists on the “get a web site, it’s your best advertising ROI” idea. Most of them agree that that would be right, but I’ve had several say “I have no idea where to start, could you help me.” So, my niche is for small, template based sites for sole proprieters who need some hand holding. The ala carte pricing is still something I’m working on. One thing I do is have them come to my office with their business credit card and sit with them for an hour and register their domain name and set up web hosting. I have a hosting service that I use that is reliable and cost effective, they don’t get to choose. If their 1st choice domain name is taken, we can run through a few alternates right then to find one that’s available. I then bill them for the equivalent of an hour of my time. They like the hand holding and, by limiting it to an hour, I can do it cost effectively for both of us.

    I realize that templates and site builders are available for free, but my clients aren’t tech savvy enough (at this point) or too fearful to utilize them, so I’m helping them get started. It is a high maintenance client base, but there is a big need.

  2. Author
    Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Hi Kelli,

    That’s a great idea, holding the session to an hour. It might be interesting to go one step further and make a really simple billboard-style website at the same time, just to get the juices flowing. Ideally, if I can get the process down to being able to deploy on-the-spot, that would be awesome.

    I have actually picked up a massage therapist client, coincidentally.

    If you have a website, feel free to post it in the comments…I’m collecting a geographical database of people who are servicing people getting started on the internet :-)