Blood In The Water

  • Posted on: 27 September 2014
  • By: Shawn DeWolfe

This Wednesday, I am starting at UVic on an eight month-plus stint as a web developer. Why? On the face of it, it promises to be a cool set of projects. It would be good to have UVic time on my resume. On another level, it’s because I have been worn down by four years of constant financial, creative and intellectual warfare. I battled against cliques of twits who support each other and waste everyone’s time. I battled against a city where people cannot get anything done. I battled against an abnormal cost of living that defies logic with equal parts of run amok expenses and scant opportunities.

Three months ago, I started searching for work in earnest. I knew where things were going. Finances are a locomotive. The engine car went off the rails when a business I set up to sell a SaaS could not be sold (buy me a coffee or a beer I can weep into while tell the tale of a service that no one turned down but could not be sold). It meant a series of emergency steps. My preferred step was to earn my way out of harm’s way; but I am not as good at marketing as I needed to be; the Internet is a fickle sea; and local businesses are not rigged to do business.

I am looking at this job as an opportunity for some stability. The last few years have been a time of boom and bust. When people have asked, “Are you busy these days?” The answer is always, “Yes.” I am busy doing stuff: underpaid work, unpaid work, prospecting, make-goods on projects where budget strapped locals didn’t know how to match their appetites to their stomachs, and sometimes working on my own stuff. The more telling question: “Are you making a living from this unending toil and strife?” The answer: nope.

I struck out on my own to do products. They can take a long time. They always have to launch. With the launch comes the marketing. If you prep a product, it has to get out there and get sales. Even done right, there is no guarantee.

When Russian Roulette didn’t work in my favour, I started to take on client work. I’ve known for a decade that client work was a dud. You cannot scale. Clients introduce their own rules to your game. Imagine walking into your doctor’s office and saying, “Listen Doc: gimme an MRI, then 300 metformin. My cousin is studying to be a doctor, so he’s knows this stuff.”

In addition to my own work, I also did subcontracting. The subcontracting didn’t work because I couldn’t build a portfolio. I couldn’t admit to the work I did. Worst of all, some of the contractors would make me wait until they got paid before I got my discounted income. If their client went squirrely, it was implied that I would eat my income. In the end: I got all the risk, and ¼ the reward. I take some perverse joy in looking at the two bad standout subcontracting gigs. One is in a literal death spiral after boozing his way out of a six-digit contract. The other had a long list of team members and now that long list is down to two people (him and someone who has not run for it. Yet.).

Why is it so hard to make a living? Victoria’s community of business people are allergic to deals. They’ll meet. They’ll talk. They will promise to follow-up. Along the way, the deal will get whittled down, features will get packed on, or both. Six months ago, I had an opening discussion to tweak a website. That became a meeting six weeks ago. For a re-theming and some key improvements to the site, I pitched it as a $600 job. A decade earlier, it would have to have been a $3000 job because of the scope of the work. The technology has improved and I pass on the savings. I got an insight in the client’s business: they juggle 30 clients at a time for $400 per month; and had the capacity to get to 36 clients. My $600 in changes would have been grossly paid for with the first two new clients on their first month. He came back a few weeks after my pitch ask for a $300 cut of the work that removed some of the tasks. The inherent cheapness of Victoria businesses and cultural reluctance is what got me into these financial straits. If the selling cycle is six months for $300, I have to line up 40 new clients per month and keep that hopper full. When you see a web design company with page after page of client screenshots, they have done that: they have committed to a massive pump of clients to get the volume high enough to offset the allergies in corporate Victoria. C’mon: it’s a web page. Let’s just do it, so that you can get your marketing message delivered. Those web design companies that keep dozens of projects going have to keep their foot on the gas or it all goes to Hell: their income plummets and people ask, “What’s up with so-n-so?”

Why are Victorians Cheap?


Last updated date

Friday, September 29, 2017 - 01:50