Some of you have been waiting for it, and here it is! I left a sinking ship a couple of months ago, and I have been sailing away in my own direction since then. Has it been easy? Nope. Has it been challenging? Yep. Has it been fun? Hell yes! That’s not to say that it hasn’t had its ups and its downs. The month of March in particular has been an emotional roller coaster for me. I ran into quite a few frustrating events. Just a friendly warning: I get quite deep and personal in this post, so if you have no interest for that sort of stuff, I recommend that you stop reading now.
I believe in getting the bad stuff out of the way, so first, let’s talk about all of the things that went wrong. Then I’ll get to the good stuff. When you’re working for yourself, everything is amplified, both the ups and the downs. I would be lying to you if I said it was all rainbows and butterflies, and you wouldn’t understand me if I didn’t share at least some of my personal thoughts and experiences.
Here we go, into the tunnel of darkness…
Entering the tunnel of darkness
Taking a sucker punch to the face
February was mainly smooth sailing, as I was working on my apps and I had website revenue to keep me fed and comfortable, if not as comfortable as a full-time salary. In March, things started to get more turbulent. I took a punch right in the face from a big giant. This caused my website income to plummet down to near nothing. This happened around the same time that my girlfriend was preparing to go to Nigeria on business, so there was a lot to distract me at that time, but once she was gone it really started to sink in.
Website revenue down to about 20% or less of what it was before. Not much revenue coming in from other sources. I still had gas in the tank, but now I had a big hill to climb, and I had no idea how far away the next gas station would be. How was I going to pay my bills this month? How much would I have to take out of my savings?
Alone in the dark
Then my girlfriend left on her business trip to Nigeria, leaving me all alone back in the condo. She’s still there now, but she is thankfully coming back earlier than expected. In the beginning I had to worry about her on top of my own things, but thankfully things turned out to be run pretty well over there, and her location was pretty safe. She was telling me how they are continually stopped by armed guards with military rifles (they even have those inside the hotel!), and it was quite intimidating, but at least it also provided some security. She was also there with other coworkers, and for me that was the most important part: that she wasn’t there by herself.
Before she left, she had been stressed out at work, causing all kinds of symptoms to show up and scaring the both of us into thinking that she was seriously ill, even though all of her tests were coming back clean. That seems like it’s improved a lot now that she’s overseas and able to focus on one mission; she loves her job, but sometimes I think she takes on far too much!
So, we’ve been keeping in touch through Skype, but otherwise I’m at home by myself. It’s one thing to work at home when you have others at home with you, but it’s another thing to work at home when you’re the only one there, day after day. You can turn on the radio, but it does get quite empty and lonely at times. I would compensate for this by heading more often to the library or meeting up with friends. Sometimes it was good to get away from the condo, just to get some fresh air, especially in that week when we had really warm weather.
My bike gets stolen
My emotions were already taking a toll from the impact of getting sucker-punched in terms of lost revenue and having my girlfriend leave for nearly a month, when I took another one on the chin. I was feeling a bit better when the warm weather came around, until I wanted to enjoy it with a bike ride. I wasn’t too happy to find my lock destroyed and my bike stolen!
I went to the police station and filed a report, but I doubt I’ll ever see my bike again. Insurance is no help since the value and my deductible are the same!
An expensive month
I finally went ahead and incorporated as a corporation under Canadian federal law. Why? Well, one reason is that the provincial bureaucracy is a joke (as of this writing, they never sent out the documents for my sole proprietorship and they haven’t even registered my corporation which I had to pay several hundred dollars to file. I wonder how many times I’m going to need to follow up with them to at least get that done, though as I am registered federally, I don’t depend on them to the same extent). The Canadian system, on the other hand, was just great: Submit online and get your documents online the next day!
The second reason is that corporations get taken more seriously. Whether it’s opening bank accounts or what not, just having an “Inc.” to your name automatically gets you more respect. Unfortunately the respect costs a few hundred dollars.
I also had to change my tires, front brakes, and rear suspension after five years of driving. I guess that is normal, but paying another $1300 still hurts, especially when you have little income. With an income of about $1000 for the month and expenses totalling about $3000, that puts me $2000 in the hole for the month of March.
The final emotional blow to happen this month was when I learned that my mother had gone through a major illness, and I wanted to get in touch and wish her well. For the whole story, see “nature versus nurture“. I learned that things haven’t changed — she’s happy with her husband and daughter, their family is perfect, her daughter is smart and in private school (i.e. “better than you will ever be”), and she couldn’t care less about me and has no desire to reconnect. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised — some things just don’t change.
Thankfully, this story isn’t all gloom & doom! I just wanted to give you a picture of what I’ve been feeling inside. This month has had its ups and downs, and things amplify off of each other. Sometimes everything just seems to be working against you. How familiar does this story sound to some? You lose your income, you have bills to pay, and things in your personal life just don’t seem to be working out right. Each event colours the event that comes after it.
So much in life is about our state of mind and our beliefs and emotional moods, and this is more true than ever when you’re depending entirely on yourself to succeed. Not only that, but I know that I’m certainly not alone; people everywhere go through all kinds of crap, whether it be a nasty breakup, a close family member dying, or getting fired from a job after being there for a long time. If I can help anyone else by showing that these kind of events don’t have to hold you down, then it’s worth it. Life throws a lot of punches at us… but it’s the spirit to survive that carries us through to the light.
Light at the end of the tunnel
The first is that I found out my girlfriend’s coming back early! If we are really lucky, she might even get a mission to somewhere a bit closer and I’ll come join her. I got sick more than once, I had fears, I had doubts, I had moments where I wondered if I had not made a huge mistake. However, many good things happened during this period of time, too. I told you that this story wasn’t all going to be doom & gloom. A lot of good things also happened during March; things I can be proud of and things I can look forward to.
I signed a book contract
I can’t talk too much about it until the book is published, but I’m going to be writing a technical book related to my field, with a draft ready hopefully in six months time. This is very cool! This could allow me to branch out into many areas and help solidify my position as an expert in Android development. Maybe this leads to consulting or other gigs down the road. I don’t know, and sometimes I have doubts about pulling it off, but I’m excited at the same time!
My first app launch has been going really well
You guys must be getting annoyed about hearing about this by now. However, the launch has been going really well, and it’s one of my major sources of optimism. If I can pull this off, there will be no need to be begging for a job in a few months from now.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Free version has recently surpassed 17,000 total downloads, with a retention rate of more than 2/3rds and a current download rate of 700+ daily. Things will be really great if this continues following the growth curve I have plotted out in Open Office.
- Paid version launched and getting great reviews as well!
This is really great news. It is usually very tough to get a foothold in the market, especially with literally hundreds of thousands of apps out there. How do you get yourself recognized and known?
My philosophy has always been to deliver great value and earn the user’s respect. I could have gone the same route as many other developers, and slapped a bunch of ads in the product right away and maybe be earning $5 a day now from ads or something like that. However, if I had done that, would I have differentiated myself enough? Would users be happy? Would my ratings be as high? I strongly believe that a big part of the success here is due to taking a different approach and placing a proper value on the long run. It’s not so dissimilar to how the Yakezie works, is it?
I know that you can’t have all of your eggs in one basket, and I’m already working on apps #2 and #3.
Turning around the websites
I also have good news to report on the website front. I’m reaching and surpassing 50,000 page views a month across my sites (I know this is nothing for some of the big guys out there, but it’s a milestone for me), and Geoff from Don’t Do It Yourself had some really awesome advice that pushed me to make some great and seriously needed changes to Invest It Wisely. Amongst some of the changes:
- I switched to showing excerpts only, including for the first post. This helps with readability and load times, and encourages readers to visit and comment on the articles they actually want to read.
- I switched to using LinkWithin, which puts these nice images at the end of the post for readers to click on and visit your other posts.
- I have added a call to action for users to subscribe at the end of the post. Less intrusive than a pop-up!
I have already noticed an improvement in bounce rates, and personally, I feel that these changes do result in a better user experience. Please let me know what you personally think as I welcome all advice and feedback.
My tips for surviving the first couple months of entrepreneurship
I’d like to close by sharing some of my own personal tips, which I have learned from my own battles on the seas. Shawanda has some more awesome tips in her “20 rules to follow after quitting your job“.
- Break early, and break often. Your productivity depends on it. If you start to feel that you’re losing focus, and catch yourself drifting to Facebook or chatting, you need to get away from the computer and move around for a bit.
- No multi-tasking. It might offend some people, but when you’re working, you’re working. It’s not time for “let’s gossip about our weekend on Facebook”. You can save that stuff for when you’re walking around outside or taking your downtime.
- Plan what you want to do in the day, then do it. If you wanted to write two blog posts and get some coding done, then write it down and get it done. You also need to set limits: If you’re losing inspiration and it’s taking you hours to get a post done, stop, and move onto something else. This also goes for email: I have wasted a lot of hours going through emails, and then oh, 5 new emails appeared, let’s check those too, and before I know it I just spent two hours just dealing with my emails. This is a big time waster, and the way to deal with it is by allocating a set amount of time. Still have emails? Unless it’s urgent, they can wait until later.
Most importantly, never give up hope. Everything is exaggerated when we work for ourselves, because there is truly no cop-out. We can’t take a “sick day”, there are no vacation days, and we can’t blame anything on our coworkers or bosses. Everything comes down to us. Whether we succeed or fail, we bear the ultimate responsibility for making it happen.
Sometimes this means us feel excessive doubts and worry when it’s not warranted. There’s no need for this. The worst that can happen is that you lose some money, but there are so many intangible benefits that you gain at the same time. Self-employment is not a final decision: it is part of your career. Treat it as seriously and as professionally as you would any job, be proud of your successes, and accept that sometimes, things just happen. Sometimes you get punched in the face, but you have to get back up and keep fighting. You know the sayings: There’s light at the end of every tunnel, and it’s darkest just before dawn. Every failure is a valuable lesson to learn, and makes you stronger for the future. Never give up hope!
Dear reader, have you recently switched jobs, whether to work at a new company or for yourself? I’d love to hear your stories.