Time for change

March 19th 2021
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Reading time 8 min

Since COVID-19 business started slowing down for me, as for many others. I was used to the luxury of not having to do acquisition at all. Every new job opportunity followed the other quite seamlessly. Therefore I didn't feel any need to maintain my website properly or be active on social media. Why should I? I had enough work. Then COVID-19 hit and I started noticing requests for new websites and design work started slowing down. At the time I wasn't too concerned, I was still doing work for existing clients, of which one was pretty big. Besides, with not being super busy I had finally some extra time to start updating my own website.

Fast forward to may 2020, the big client was struggling to become profitable and it turned out they weren't going to pay me. A month later it became clear another client that had a big payment due wasn't going to pay me neither. Even though this time was super frustrating because of all the phone calls I had to make and emails I sent to get paid, I hold no grudge. The only one who is to blame is me. In retrospect I let it happen, there were many signs along the way that indicated things wouldn't end well. I was just being too naive and thought that things would eventually work out if I just had enough patience. Big lesson learned; trust your gut and don't sit idle for too long. Because of all the energy that went into this, I neglected updating my website.

Things start to pick up again

While still recovering from all the negativity I knew I couldn't sit still. Around august I had the opportunity to work on a really cool project but the budget was small. However, I knew that if I would do my best it could become pretty big and get me a lot of work, and it did. I was able to spend a lot of time on it and get paid properly, the hard work paid off.

Although things were going a lot better now, I was spending too much time on that project and again I didn’t allocate enough time for my own website again. This happened to make me very vulnerable. I was getting more dependent on that one client while not spending enough energy to get new ones. Things went well with the project up until the end of 2020. I was lining up many new features, betting even more heavily on the project to continue like this. Unfortunately it turned out the demand for new features completely halted.

I spent a month trying to persuade my client to agree on the new features by designing all the screens. I imagined that if I would make it all really visual it would be a no-brainer to want those features. I had success with this tactic in the past but I knew it was risky. The client liked the screens a lot, but they said that the current features were sufficient and they will get back to me when they have extra budget for the new ones.

Back to the drawing board

So there I was, with work almost completely halted and I still did not have a proper website. Why stress so much about your website you might say, and not just go out and reach out to businesses and throwing yourself out there? Well, I just didn’t feel confident at all to do that without having a website I’m proud of showing. I also imagined it would be really hard to get the right projects if I wouldn't be able to showcase the kind of work I'm looking for. So instead of doing acquisition I chose to work on my website first. This also gave me the opportunity to better align myself and my business and start on actually positioning myself in the market.

After a couple of weeks of writing and wire-framing I had made little progress. I was struggling a lot with structuring and writing the content. I also found it hard to dig deep and figure out why I do what I do. To stop myself from wasting any more time I did what I always do when I have to solve a hard design or coding problem. I broke up the problem in smaller bits and work on one bit at a time. 

I first got clear on the vision I wanted to communicate and then decided on what should be the absolute minimum set of pages and build that first. I would then launch and build the other sections in the next weeks. This would allow me to build my website a lot quicker. I knew it wouldn’t be complete at launch but that feeling would be my incentive to actually build the rest of the pages.

I'm on to something

The great thing I realised is that this approach allowed me to get feedback from friends, family and clients early on in the process. Therefore applying changes to text and structure didn't cost a lot of effort and I was able to pivot easily. Also making things measurable made a lot of sense. By using analytics more heavily I would be able to see what pages would do well and which don't, so I could act accordingly. Which would mean I would further optimise the pages that were doing well and improve or radically change the ones that didn't.

Before, I would add an analytics tool to a website and not look at it that much, only when requested by the client. I think this is a huge missed opportunity and would also be beneficial for the relationship with the client if I would focus on this more. I would then design a website, build it, and then track it to spot area's for improvements. I could then reach out to the client with my findings and suggest improvements. When I would rinse and repeat this, I would be able to get more work from projects once they've been launched.

Time for action

Although this concept was still based on many assumptions I thought it would be worth it to put it to the test. I have now finished the first version of my website (https://platform11.nl - the website is in Dutch only for now) and I'm planning to publish new content on a weekly basis. With the new website live I feel way more confident doing acquisition now. Besides, I have no excuses left to not do so ;). Well, maybe one more. This blog.

At the beginning of this year I knew I had to start doing things differently or things would not end well for me. One of those things I had in mind was starting this blog. I liked the idea of having my own space on the web and document my journey as a solo designer/developer. Besides, I have a vast amount of knowledge related to the work I do. It only exists in my head, but I know it will be beneficial to others as well. This blog will allow me to share that knowledge. 

What's next

With having my business website and this website finished I can focus more on publishing content. I plan to write one blog post a week and send out a newsletter every last Saturday of the month with an overview of the published posts for that month.

The ideas I have in store for future blog posts will be mostly technical and hopefully shorter than this one ;). If you liked this story and would like to stay up to date about my journey on doing more acquisition and share what's working for me and what doesn't, please let me know. You can reach out to me on Twitter (@nckrtl) or send me an email (nick.retel@gmail.com). I'd love to hear from you.

A final note on the technical posts; I will mostly write about Laravel, Vuejs, Inertiajs, Tailwindcss and Statamic as they are my tools of choice. I have a very cool concept in mind to write about which combines all these tools into one powerful development stack which I call the Monostack. If you would like to know more about this, make sure to follow me on twitter (@nckrtl) and subscribe to my newsletter as I will present this idea in my next post.

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Lets connect

If there is anything unclear in this article or do have any feedback to improve it, always feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or email.