A look back at 2010

I always like the reflection that comes with a new year, along of
course with the anticipation of what the year ahead will bring. A lot
happened with Ideal Project Group in 2010; most of it good, some of it
bad, and all of it worthwhile and educational. I learned a ton,
worked with some new people, checked out some new tools, and launched
some new services and new products. Here's a random assortment of the
things I've been looking back on.

New Skill of the Year

I learned a bit of Ruby on Rails this year. It was by far the best
thing I've done in a long time - in terms of being able to add more
value to the projects I'm working on. As a result of picking up Ruby
on Rails
, I ended up learning how to use .git (code source control for
the non-technical folks), learned a whole bunch more HTML & CSS, and a
lot of technical things related to deploying and maintaining
applications. I released thirtydayproject.org after taking part in
the little first follower dance party inspired by Derek Sivers and
Andrew Dubber, which gave me the confidence to make even more
applications. That led to the launch of Notifire, the product I created, and the easiest way to
add live chat support to a website.

New Service of the year

I started making websites for individuals and small businesses this
year. I started by using WordPress themes, then some pre-built HTML
and CSS templates from Themeforest, and now code some of them from
scratch. Just under 10% of my net profit this year will have come
from this new service and I plan to aggressively expand it in 2011.

At just under 10% of my net income, and even less in top line revenue,
Why do I look at this service as so successful? In large part because
of what the naysayers said. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • "You'll never get people to pay you to make a website using WordPress."
  • "Have you ever even had anyone pay you to make a website for them?"
  • "Why would someone pay you to do something they could learn to do themselves?" (Because no one pays to have their oil changed, their hair cut, their nails painted, or any other service that people often pay for.)
  • "I thought you were just a project manager".

Success of the year

I started out the year with a new business model - one where I charged
a flat monthly fee for being engaged on a project instead of charging
hourly. It was bumpy at first, but ultimately led to some great
projects, working with great people, and making great things. I
remain convinced that developers, designers, project managers, and
pretty much any type of freelancer can do more for themselves and
their clients by charging a flat rate instead of hourly.

Failure of the year

One of my biggest successes was launching Notifire. I love this
little product because I needed it, I use it, and it's the second true
product I've ever released into the marketplace. And, over 100 people
have signed up for the service as well - with a steady clip of new
users being added each week. I had one huge failure with it though -
and in November the service was down for about two weeks. Which of course is an
eternity in the internet world. It's like a store being closed in the
physical world for two years. This was a terrible failure on many
levels and it will not happen again.

Developer of the year

I've probably worked with over 100 developers since I've been running
software development projects, and one of the best people I've ever
worked with is a guy named Tawheed Kader. He's the founder of a
company called Braintrust and Co., a product design and development
company based in New York City. He's launched a couple of his own
products, and he provides freelance/consulting development services
for a few select companies. I'm thrilled I was able to work with him
this year and hope to keep working with him for many years to come.

Tool of the year

I started using a little content management system called Perch this
year after Ryan Singer from 37signals recommended it on Twitter. If
you make websites for people you should definitely check out Perch.
It's easy to use, easy to install, and easy for clients to pick up.

Events of the year

In the summer I helped host a little REWORK (the new business book by

Jason Fried and David Heinemier Hansson) meetup, and in the fall

helped Seth Godin and Ishita Gupta organize the Chicago Road Trip
visit. In addition to being able to meet Seth Godin, Jason Fried, and
Ishita Gupta, each of these events introduced me to some really great
and inspiring people - all of whom I hope to have the chance to work
with again sometime soon.

Lesson of the year #1

My project management work has consisted much more of freelancing gigs
than being an entrepreneurial business. I need to think long and hard
about whether I'm building out Ideal Project Group as a BUSINESS THAT
ULTIMATELY RUNS ITSELF, or if it's the business through which I do
freelance project management. It can also be both because I may build
out the custom app development and product business through Ideal
Project group, while also doing some freelance project management.
Either way, the answer will have a dramatic impact on the decisions I
make in 2011, the people I hire, and the direction my company heads

Lesson of the year #2

Constant travel sucks. One of the projects I've been working on this
year has been a great project, but it required me to travel about once
a week for the past six months. The problem with this kind of travel
is that it causes a ton of collateral damage to the rest of your life.
When you have recurring, once a week travel scheduled, it takes first
priority and as a result has a huge impact on your family, friends,
creativity, productivity, and general happiness. Here's a small
example of what can happen when you have travel once a week built into
your schedule. This was my calendar for a couple weeks in November:

Monday morning - fly to Detroit
Tuesday night - fly home to Chicago
Friday morning - visit friends in Vegas
Sunday afternoon - fly home to Chicago
Tuesday morning - fly to Detroit
Wednesday night - fly home to Chicago
Saturday morning - fly to California with family to visit my in-laws

Now, looking at this schedule, is there any way someone could be
expected to maintain high levels of creativity or productivity? Of
course not. And, how good of a father did I feel like I was being
when I didn't see my kids for about half the time? And how good of a
husband did I feel like I was being when I left Maile with two
toddlers for half the time?

And yet, all I did (not related to my project) was have a weekend
where I visited some friends I haven't seen in 8 or 9 months, and then
go see my in-laws for Thanksgiving. Two completely and totally normal
life things to do. And so what happens is you become travel weary,
these kinds of trips get cancelled, you become less close to your
friends, and suddenly you find yourself tired, crabby and spent. I'm
not saying that I'll never travel like this again - but if I do I'll
go into it eyes wide open with a true understanding of what the cost
is - and make sure things are lined up accordingly with the project
and my life.

Looking ahead

It's fun to look back at a year gone by, but not anywhere near as fun
as looking ahead to the new possibilities that a new year can bring.
New products created, new services introduced, and the endless
possibilities - only some of which we can choose to explore. I'll let
you know which ones I'm planning to explore in 2011 in my next post.


Happy new year everyone!