[MI: Update 9] Third Year, Still Here…

Last September marked the start of my third business year. This is a big deal for me. Firstly, around a third of businesses fail during the first two years, apparently. Secondly, banks see more financial stability when it comes to borrowing money, eg. for a personal mortgage (which has been a blessing), and finally, it validates Modest as a business to my clients and me.

I’ve looked at each business year as an opportunity to experiment with my business model which helps me decide in which direction  to grow. It helps me answer questions like what’s best for revenue, what’s best for lifestyle, and what keeps me feeling the most fulfilled.

Year One:

Modest Industries was set up for the sole purpose of containing all of my on-site freelance business. Not long after incorporating I went travelling for 6 months (still taking on some remote day-rate work though), so the experiment was actually more like half-a-year. When I came back my work was almost exclusively on-site with clients.

Year Two:

Upon reflection, I realised the downfalls of freelancing – namely if I’m not working, I’m not earning. I adopted another approach by seeking and accepting only project-based work. Aside from some client meetings, all I had was the brief, and a deadline for the deliverables, able to get the work done by any means I saw fit, whether that was hiring other people to do it, doing it myself on my own time (i.e.. not on-site 9-5), or a combination of both.

Year Three:

Both ways of working have their merits and drawbacks, and after throwing myself into both I came out with a better idea of how Year Three should be shaped.

Freelancing on-site for a day-rate is nice because you can turn up, get the work done, leave for the day and not have to think about anything until you’re next there, but if you’re not there, you’re not earning.

Project work is also good, you get to do the work on your own time, though it’ll always be at the back of your mind. You get the freedom to structure your day – spend it all day enjoying the sun, then hitting up the cinema before plugging in at night to get some work done, if that’s what you want. It also allows you to take on more clients simultaneously.

On one project I rented an AirBnB for four nights with another developer. We locked ourselves away with some food and a coffee maker, getting done the equivalent of ~2 weeks worth of work .

With all of that in mind, this year has been a steady mix of both project-based and on-site freelancing.

It was actually a bumpy start trying to take both on together.

I agreed to give four days on-site to one client with one day being devoted to my other clients. Initially it was okay, but when other clients needed attention, only having a single day started to turn my life into a juggling act.

Little did I know that it was going to get worse before it got better.

Another client needed urgent help on-site, so I did some reshuffling and ended up dropping form four to three days a week with one client, and giving two days to the other – leaving me with nothing. I couldn’t attend client meetings, it made it hard to maintain existing relationships, my new business proposals were shambles, and doing anything for Modest was completely out of the question.

April was intense. Commuting and working on-site during the day, catching up on other work in the evenings, and even having to work both bank holidays to keep everything balanced.

It’s a valuable learning experience, and being busy with work is never a bad thing – but burning out is. After my April responsibilities were complete I took a step back, agreeing to less and getting my workflow back to a good state. May was mostly managing that transition, and now it’s June everything is ticking along at a good pace. I can focus on everything that needs my attention, as well as jumping back onto building another Modest Product (which I’ll talk about at some point).

September will mark the end of my third business year, and until then I’m going to continue as I have this year. Year Four will be more innovative with the introduction of another (hopeful) revenue stream in the form of a new product/service or two.

Dead Wallet

dead-wallet-logo-avatar

Ever since the demise of my old pet project, The Cheese Grater, I’ve had an empty void that needed filling. Something to take care of and grow. Five years later and that void may very well be filled by my new pet project, Dead Wallet. Armed with more knowledge of front-end and back-end technology, as well as a much deeper understanding of WordPress, now is the perfect time to do something.

Dead Wallet is a website dedicated to curating really, really, ridiculously good looking cool stuff. Stuff that you’ll want to buy, and probably will. It’ll probably kill your wallet. Get it? Dead Wallet?!

Nice.

I was toying with this idea for a while after getting a few Amazon gift cards. I didn’t like the idea of spending those on stuff I actually needed because, well, where’s the fun in that? So I started looking for come random bits that I thought were cool, but for some reason Amazon is more insistent on showing me Pressure Washers and Gift Ideas for Kids rather than something awesome like a Gold Casio Calculator Watch!

No biggy.

That gave me an idea and the kick I needed to get this going. Obviously at the time of writing this post it’s still in very early stages – it’s actually only a few days old, but that’s okay. I built the theme from scratch and plan on developing new features over time depending how it evolves.

That’s all. S tay fresh.

Famous Ankles – Dr Martens

marcus-michaels-sol-jubrail-dr-martens-social

Some fine looking ankles right there.

You’re probably thinking “of course they’re some fine looking ankles, you fool, these guys are obviously professional ankle models!”. If that’s what you’re thinking (and there’s no point in lying to yourself), then you’d be oh so wrong. That’s me and my buddy Sol.

Okay, you can’t even tell it’s us and there’s not really much to talk about but still… I’m stoked about appearing on the Dr Martens’ homepage. We even had a stylist to keep everything fine tuned for the photographer.

marcus-michaels-sol-jubrail-dr-martens

I’m also stoked because they threw in a pair of docs to sweeten the deal. So fresh.

Thanks @drmartensofficial for the damn fine shoes. I love free stuff. #freshtodeath

A post shared by Marcu$ (@marcusmichaels) on

 

[MI: Update 8] Pitches, Proposals and Presentations

What up, good people of the internets?

Here’s a quick rundown of the latest happening. I’ve put together a keynote document that now contains a template for use on future Modest Industries presentations.

It’s nice.

Clean, minimal, uses the modest icons and isn’t too word heavy (because who likes to read boring pitch fluff?). The first client document to use this new style is being used for retainer information. I’m still pushing for those monthly retainers.

The MailChimp email template is built and has already been sent out to a select few people. If you want to join this list – let me know.

Now. I want to share some wisdom on the perils of pitching for new business. Something I kind of had in the back of my mind but didn’t really think of as an issue until recently experiencing it first hand.

Putting a proposal together for a company and pitching it with a slick presentation is a long, drawn out process that can eat up more time and resource than first anticipated.

Development projects in-particular can quickly become a painful endeavour.

Research and scoping goes into putting an as-accurate-as-you-can-get price estimate together. Firstly there’s the initial meetings to outline the client’s problem. That’s step one. Now you need to figure out a solution before moving on to the process of exploring the right technology to use going forwards – which is great if the project is being built from scratch – if not, then you’ll need to dive deep into what currently exists…

You need to get into the nitty gritty bitty bits. The content, content management system, the database, it’s structure and entries, existing programming logic, what’s doing what, when and why, etc. etc. blah blah blah. It’s easy to see how someone can spend a lot of time delivering a quality estimate. Even then there’s no telling what hidden hurdles will unveil themselves when the project actually kicks off.

So what’s the solution?

In my eyes, it’s simple. Go after it if it’s worth it.

What’s worth it though? For me, if it’s something that I’m personally passionate about, and just the thought of pitching gets me dribbling with excitement, it’s worth it. Or if it’s the kind of client that with a little perseverance now, means I’ll reap the rewards of repeat business for years to come, then I’d say that’s worth it too.

Everyone’s different when it comes to valuing the worth of a project. It get’s complicated if you’re working with a partner company where a project means more to them than it does to you. Although it’s important to keep a good relationship, it’s also very important to stand your ground if you don’t think a project is worth going after. Perhaps recommend another company to take your place on that one.

Is that it?

Nope. There’s another solution which is common practice in other industries. Quoting for a quote. In practice I see this as having two routes:

  1. A free, very rough ballpark estimate on what you can look at and take at face value with pre-existing knowledge. This approach works best for visual jobs such as design, photography and videography.
  2. A quote for a quote. Meaning that the client pays, just to know how much they can expect to pay. It sounds counter productive, but when you consider what’s involved to supply a well researched timeline and cost, it makes sense.

Option 2 is best for bigger development jobs. The information needed isn’t usually visible by simply visiting an existing website (if one even already exists). It’s behind the scenes written with letters, angled brackets and passive aggressive developer comments.

There’s extensive technical research, knowledge and strategic foresight, sometimes needed from multiple people to pick apart the problem and forge an elegant solution. It’s a lot of time and effort and that deserves compensation.

What if – after paying for the quote – the project is too expensive?

If the project is going to be more expensive than the client can afford then it’s definitely better to know beforehand. Otherwise you’ll be looking at one of two scenarios:

  1. Spending far more than anticipated on something that may not be worth it to the detriment of your business, or worse…
  2. Running out of money half way through the project and having something half-built and useless that’ll never see the light of day.

I know what I’d prefer.

Key of Confidence

Today I was in an office supply store and stumbled across some mini cash boxes. These are small metal boxes that are lockable by key. Nothing new there but then I got to thinking… what if you used it as a kind of get-away box?

Allow me to explain my thinking here.

What if you could go through life with more control over how you live? I’m talking about the everyday restraints we adhere to. For example, let’s say you’re in a meeting at work, one of the senior people there makes a decision that you don’t agree with for whatever reason. People often worry about offering a conflicting opinion, with good reason. You don’t want to air your concerns and get on the wrong side of someone that can impact the progression of your career, right?

So what do you do about it? If, worst case scenario – you lose your job and don’t have a backup plan, you’re screwed.

The aptly named Key of Confidence is the key to this little mini cash box. The idea here is in addition to your regular savings, not instead of. Also, remember it’s almost always better to pay off any outstanding debt first before putting money into savings.

Here we go:

  1. Figure out, if you were to lose all source of income tomorrow, what steps you’d need to take and how long it’d be until you start earning enough money to live the life you’re living now.
  2. Calculate how much money you’d need to support you during this time and get things up and running.
  3. Keep that amount in a mini cash box, lock it, hide it well, and keep the key with you everyday.
  4. Use it. Use the knowledge of knowing that at the drop of a hat, you can walk away from everything and start again fresh. Use it as courage to stand up to your dickhead boss without fear of retaliation. Use it to make the right decisions for your life everyday.

Bam. That’s the Key of Confidence. Also known by it’s acronym as the FCKU Box.

[MI: Update 7] Hello London Office

 

Business time in LDN
Business time in LDN

Time flies when building a company.

The website has been live for half a month now and it’s still going down well. The Modest Industries Instagram is alive and kicking (hint hint, go follow it!) and I’m still pushing to make a new icon everyday, though I’m conscious that it’s slightly slipping… must work harder. Aside from what you already know, let’s talk about some new stuff.

New Business:

I’m currently working on a Modest Industries branded email template that’ll be sent out with MailChimp. I’m figuring out how best to build my list of email addresses, whether I target people to give me their details on the website or if I should make contact first and sign them up that manually. The latter has a more personal touch so maybe I’ll make two lists. Website emails and personal contacts. Either way, the email is almost there so with some small tweaks it’s good to go.

I want Modest to work with my local councils to provide some strategic thinking with some design and development resources. Their current online presences, on the whole, doesn’t do the community or area justice. I’d like to change that, however I’ve had no responses to any of my emails yet. My next step is to find the names of the right people and email them directly.

Other than trying to do good for my local area (just because I’m a really nice guy), I’m also attending more and more meetings to talk through ideas, opportunities and partnerships.

My goal for this business isn’t how far I can take it alone, but to see how many people share my vision and help it grow. I want Modest Industries to be that company that has happy workers with meaningful benefits, good pay and great working conditions.

Office space:

The hot topic since the website launched – where will I lay my hat backpack?!

I’m happy to confirm that I’ve moved into a top floor office right behind Oxford Street (more specifically Eastcastle Street). This is great for a number of reasons — I’ll be mixing with a number of other likeminded people, I’ll easily be able to get round London for pitches and meetings and it also means I can make better use of my Hospital Club membership.

How long I’ll be there is undetermined but for now, I’m in a good place.

Moving forwards:

The next steps are obviously to get more business through the door. Once I’ve got enough consistently coming in every month then I’ll be able to hire some new people.

Designers and developers with creative minds ideally…

Modest Industries already has the vacancies page up because I want to build a bigger network of talented people who I can work with going forward. If you know or are someone like this. Please get in touch. I want you. I need you.

That’s all for now but I think the next few months are going to fly pass and once a few projects have gone live I’ll need to start work on a Showcase section for the site.

That’s all for now folks, stay fresh. Stay modest.

[MI: Update 6] Website Launch + New Business

modest-industries-responsive-website-launch
Modest Industries – sleek and responsive. Nice.

Yesterday was a big day for Modest Industries. Yup, we launched the website! Let’s break it down real quick.

Website:

It’s done. Well, it’ll never be finished, but that’s the nature of a company website – it’ll forever evolve as we grow. Right now though, it’s perfect. You can see it at modestindustries.co. All the illustrations are done and I’ve kinda fallen in love with making them, which leads us perfectly into the next section…

Iconography:

All the icons/vectors/flat images – whatever you like to call them were created in the past week. After creating a few I put some on the @thisismodest Instagram to tease out the style and as a way to get some public feedback on them.

The icons – individually showcased – has (thankfully!) had a really positive response. Over the past week the account has organically grown to around 50 followers with an average of 30 likes per image. I’m happy with that.

Originally I was doing them purely for the website but now I’m making as many as I can think of because I can see these being a bigger part of Modest’s identity than I originally anticipated.

New Business:

The 1st of February was my self-imposed deadline of getting the website up and running and getting other company assets sorted. I haven’t quite done everything I wanted to but the website and business cards were my main priority so I’m in a good place.

I still need to work on pitch documents, rate cards for individual services and some other bits to give out when drumming up new business, however, it’s only day 2 of being available for work again and the pipeline is almost already full, which is great.

It’s almost worth setting up a new-client waiting-list. Well, not quite yet. Almost, though.

Office Space:

This is an exciting topic for Modest right now. I’ve met one of the co-founders of a design and branding agency who have offered us working space and use of their meeting room. Here’s the kicker – it’s just off Oxford Street. Perfect as a base for getting around London, although surprisingly, a lot of Modest’s clients are just down the road.

Staff:

The clients I accept now will likely shape how Modest Industries grows as they dictate (to a certain extent) who will be hired. I’m heavily aware of this so I’m being careful who I accept as a client. From the beginning Modest has never been a money-driven venture so it’s nice to have the capacity to refer work elsewhere.

I’m keen to keep our client workload a good mix of content creation, design, development, and conceptual work. Currently it’s mainly development with a touch of design so as far as hiring people, my first full-time employee will likely be a front-end developer or a designer. If unicorns exist then someone who does both of these well would be perfect.

We’re offering teams tailored to the work we receive so this will shape the business hiring people as it becomes necessary. In the mean time I have a nice network of freelancers with a varied mix of skillsets so the workforce is a fluid one, fluctuating as needed.

Rest & Relaxation:

Nope.

[MI: Update 5] Doodles and Deadlines

Modest Industries Iconography
From watercolour sketches to beautifully rendered vector icons (if I don’t say so myself!)

It’s the final week of my self-appointed deadline to get the website live and everything else done. Working solo for the past month has been an experience. Good and bad. The good is that it gives me thinking time, I can get things done without needing to worry about processes or interdepartmental conflicts. The bad is that it can be hard to motivate yourself every single day and also it can get hella lonely. Everyone’s bloody working! It’s great not having to bump and grind on a daily commute to the office and having almost-empty roads whenever I drive somewhere during the day. Moral of the story – I need more some self-employed coffee shop friends. Maybe I’ll organise a working meet-up.

Now, what have I been up to this week?

Website:

The code is pretty much there. It works how I want and it scales well on different screen sizes. I’ve written the majority of the copy too which has helped a lot in visualising the end product.

After writing the copy I needed to make some changes to the layout. Lorum Ipsum is great but it’s also too easy to make look good so once I added copy there were inevitable tweaks that needed to be done. Mainly the sections where there’s alternating image and text side by side. I wanted to also have them align vertically to each other – which as other developers will know, vertical alignment can be a bitch – especially if the height needs to be dynamic and you’re also using nth-of-type and floats. Either way, it’s in a happy place right now.

All that’s left with the website is to finish making the accompanying icons and to take some photos.

Iconography:

I changed direction with the main style of my imagery from being borderless photos on white backgrounds to a flat, vector doodle style. The photography style will still be incorporated where people or physical products are involved, but for the majority of the site I’m now going with a bespoke set of icons I’ve been designing. You can check out some of them on the Modest Instagram. The more I make, the more ideas I have so the rest of this week will be making these and fitting them into the website.

Business Cards:

My first batch of business cards from Moo were terribly aligned so they gave me a reprint. The gold foiling on the original batch where I had the gold badge on the back bled into the detail too much so this time round I enlarged the gold badge and it looks kinda awesome. Think police badge mixed with American Psycho business cards. They’re badass. Aside from a few of the cards not having the gold foiling, I’d say about 90% of them were perfect.

Office Space:

I’m meeting a guy in London about office space this week. I’m not sure exactly what he’s thinking or what will come of it and I won’t know what the plan is until after meeting him, but it looks like a London office is a strong option on the table regardless of what happens here, the other option is Hertford as it has good connections to London and I’ll be moving in to a new flat there in March.

New Business:

It’s getting round to that time where I’m going to have to start scouting for new business. So far only some emails have been sent. Once the new website is live there’s going to be a big push for clients though even before the launch happens there’s currently potential for a couple of monthly retainers (design and development work), as well as website build and branding projects so it’s a good start. The feelers are also out for some employees. There will be a Vacancies page on the website when it goes live, chances are I’ll need one developer and one designer but these are dependent on the genre of clients that come through the door and the type work we’ll be delivering for them.

That’s all for now. Take care and don’t forget to follow Modest Industries on Instagram.

 

[MI: Update 4] Almost Business Time

Concept sketches of header image for Modest Industries
Concept sketches of header image for Modest Industries
Week 3 is almost over and things are starting to come together. Week 4 will probably be manic while I try and get all the loose ends tied up before the soft launch. Here’s a run down of the past week.

Business Cards:

They arrived and as excited as I was, they were printed off-centre. There’s usually a 2mm error threshold with printed jobs but this was so off-centre that it looked terrible so I requested a refund which was credited to my MOO.com account. I ordered another set.

The card stock is beautifully thick, the gold foiling is a really nice subtle touch, though for smaller details it bleeds a bit too much. I’m hoping my new ones are better aligned so I can give them out proudly. Credit where credit is due however, MOO does have some fantastic customer service.

Website:

This is the big one. It’s coming along nicely – I built all the pages as static HTML and then gave them a dynamic header and footer with PHP. Eventually I’ll build it out into a full on WordPress theme and use that as the CMS but for now I don’t need to as it works, is fast and I have control over every pixel. I’ve also built the contact form that people can use to send the company enquiry emails, which is nice. In case your’e wondering how I’m viewing the PHP files, I use MAMP for my local server (it’s how I develop WordPress themes locally too).

The website is being built ‘mobile-first’ so I’m making it to be displayed well on small screens as a priority. My main consideration initially was having a menu that works on smaller screens which is navigationally important user experience. It’s nothing fancy, a simple menu button that once clicked animates as it opens/drops down with a nice ‘x’ appearing under the original menu button. I built it to animate using JavaScript and made it dynamic by programming a simple algorithm that counts the menu items and adds some base numbers to determine the height to animate the menu’s container to. Simple. I needed to make this as dynamic as possible (i.e. the website knowing what to do when new menu items are added) because it will make things easier going forward as the website develops.

Office Space:

Office space, office space, office space. The bane of my life. Finding that right balance of cost vs. space vs. location vs. lease is a tricky one. Ideally I want a monthly contract to begin with in a place easy to get to by train or car, but the more I look the more I’m thinking I should get space in London or get a longer lease around here. I’m optimistically hoping by next week I’ll have something sorted.

Photography Studio:

I’ve ordered some photography studio gear which will arrive next week.  From past experience, having a clear area to take a few photos for whatever is a must. Sometimes we’ll need a photo of something simple that takes an age to find in the right style on stock photo websites, other times it’s getting those impromptu head shots or making on the fly professional videos. It’s useful to have and IMHO something every agency should have instant access to, even if it’s temporary and can be set up when needed. Modest has a borderless image style and we’re taking all of the photos for the website so the equipment will see good use from day one.

Reaching out:

I’ve started to reach out to friends and companies who I’ve previously spoken to about, and have shown interest in working with Modest Industries. I’m not going for the big push yet because good work at this stage is important to me so organically growing the client list and building solid relationships are key. Anyone that has shown early interest therefore has first dibs.

 

Pizza in the wild

pizza-icon-by-marcus-michaels

I love seeing the things I make and put out in the world get picked up and used by other people for their projects. That’s the reason I love making icons and contributing them to The Noun Project. I’ve seen my icons used in a number of projects but my favourite one (because I love the real thing so much) is my pizza icon. It was one of the first icons I ever uploaded to The Noun Project and to date it’s been my most popular at over 2800 downloads.

The only problem is that if people pay for the icon, they obviously don’t have to give attribution so I don’t get to see a lot of the work, but some do and today whilst browsing Uncrate I saw the book Where To Eat Pizza (by Daniel Young) staring me right in the face.

This is tremendously exciting!

I did a little vanity Googling and found a few other places it was being used – one of my favourites being this Pebble project on GitHub: A watchface for the Pebble watch that does nothing but display “Pizza Thursday”. It was created for the monthly Pizza Thursday at Catalyst IT http://catalyst.net.nz.

An honourable mention also goes out to this Late Night Slots game because it’s all about junk food and slot machines, and that’s awesome.

Love it.