11 Months On

Worryingly, it has almost been a year since I graduated and started running the business full time. In recent weeks, I have taken the plunge and hired out an office space to accommodate my ever-expanding filing system. The office is also great for productivity, and I would recommend it to anyone setting up business or freelancing full-time.

So as I approach 12 months, I thought it useful to take a glance at what has happened, is happening, and what I hope to see happen before the 1 year mark.

University passed very suddenly, and the prospect of running the business full-time became very real. Thankfully, I had a couple of projects that I had been working on part-time, and a couple of leads that were ready to go as soon as I graduated. This provided some reassuring work for those first tentative weeks.

During this time, I tried out trading under the pebbledot moniker, but after a couple of months dropped this and reverted back to trading under my own name. The reasons for this were two-fold; firstly, suffixing your company name with the word 'dot' does nothing for people struggling to catch your website address on the phone (pebbledotdotcom); secondly, as more work came in, time to build a branded website seemed to become more and more of a dream.

Projects in the first few months were generally on-going smaller jobs for existing sites I had worked on., but a few larger projects did come in.

I worked with Fuelstretcher, whose innovative boiler-control system required a fresh online presence. Fuelstretcher required an easy-to-manage site where they could quickly modify content using Contribute, and manage access to external documents by way of a member-authentication system. The orange-glow Fuelstretcher site launched late in 2006.

At around the same time, I was also contacted by Harris Cox Woodcraft Ltd. Harris Cox design and manufacture shop fittings and interiors for some of the biggest names on the high street, including Arcadia (Burton Menswear, Dorothy Perkins, Top Shop etc.), New Look, Moss Chemists and many more.

Harris Cox had not previously ventured online, and their brief was to launch into the market promoting a smart-professional and contemporary image. They also wanted to portray insensitivity to location, being as they are well away from the capital. The sleek black-style Harris Cox site was launched October 2006.

I also worked on smaller projects for RecoverSW, SubSub Skills, and the University of Plymouth where I delivered a 12 week course in ActionScript.

The Present

The ongoing projects are still there - I am, where I find spare moments, building up HostManager 2.0. HostManager continues to have a strong following and licences are selling, despite an absolute-zero marketing and promotions policy (not on purpose - just through sheer lack of time!). I feel quite annoyed that HostManager development has been so slow, especially as I no longer have the excuse of University finals. I have subscribed to an Apple Select Developer membership to get hold of the updated developer tools, and hopefully speed up the development, yet it turns out that it's a much bigger project than expected, and several new ideas have been thrown into the mix that I hope to make public soon.

Meanwhile, I am currently working on several commercial projects which will be launched over the next few months. I recently completed some content-management modules for Gusto Creative, and have a couple of ActionScript-based apps quietly under development (I am quickly wrapping my head around grips with AS3.0 for the Apollo Adobe platform).

My biggest current project, though, is a bespoke e-commerce application. The complexities of the project required that it be custom-designed, and I spent some time figuring out the best approach. After some tinkering, I discovered the incredible symfony framework for PHP. symfony is like Ruby on Rails, but for PHP. Unlike other PHP frameworks I tried (including Prado and Cake), symfony's documentation and learning-curve is second-to-none. I forewent much tutorial work, and instead invested in the paper-book and dived head-first into building the e-commerce app. With built-in AJAX, backend-generation, form validation, a rock-sold MVC implementation, extensive plug-in support, and lots more besides - it's not difficult to see why symfony is gaining fans in high places.

I am now looking at using symfony in any larger Web project that comes into the office.

The Future

So what needs to happen? Well, it is a total embarrassment that after all this time, I still don't have a working portfolio site. I have this blog, and some screenshots of what I've been working on, but it seems nothing says it quite like a nice portfolio. So I would really like to get something up and running before the year is up. This is especially true of the HostManager page which is, frankly, awful.

I'm also again trying to think of a trading name to put the business under. This is primarily because I am now working with other people, and would like to build up the business with associations. But we will see if a suitable name is forthcoming (it's still no easier to think of a name that it was last year).

I'm also keen to get back into the mobile development arena. I've been doing some work with Duncan Shingleton developing his RFID MIDlet application for the Ludic Society, and with the recent developments in the provision of mobile internet, I can finally see purpose for some of the projects that have been sitting at the back of my mind this past year.

In Conclusion

It's been a bit of a roller-coaster year, and certainly the hardest learning-curve I've travelled. I recently read this post by Jesse Skinner which was reassuring - his experiences tend to tally pretty well with what I have found over the year. There have been some serious lows, but they are always offset with a high that occurs at just the right moment. Now, with the move into the new office, there is a sense of energy and reinvigoration to push and expand the business much, much harder in 2007-8.

So to start it all, I have this week ordered all-new stationery to be printed up. Who said work couldn't be fun?