Hiring Lead Developer

The Blog Studio is adding a Lead Developer to our core team. In the three years or so that we’ve been in business, we’ve worked with a broad range of clients, including Turner Broadcasting, Fox News, Unicef, and 100s more all over the world. In addition to our client work, we’re about to launch a fully funded network of socially driven content sites, designed to compete with the very best on the web.

In order to help us grow, we’re looking to add a full-time lead developer to our core team. This person will work with the project manager and myself on project planning, strategic direction, and implementation.

Our ideal candidate is a master of PHP, with mad skillz in javascript, xhtml and css. Ideally you have experience with CodeIgnitor or other PHP frameworks. We do a lot of work with Expression Engine and WordPress, so experience with those content management systems is a big plus. You should also have some degree of experience setting up and configuring Linux servers.

Although we’re located in Toronto, we’re not super picky about your location. We’d prefer to meet in the same location a couple of times a week, but are willing to be flexible for the right candidate.

On the money front, we offer a competitive salary, extended health if you’re Canadian, and shares in our new media wing.

If you’re interested in this position, please watch the short video above for further details. Resumes can be submitted to jobs@theblogstudio.com

Running a web design and development business. Part 1 of ?

There’s been a fair bit of talk recently about the need for more business writing in the web design and development world. I agree. There was more than one occasion at sxsw where I said “next year, I’m putting a panel together about running a small web service business.” I will too, but there’s no need to wait till next year to start the discussion.

For good or bad, I have a lot to say about running a business. I’ve owned businesses both online and off, selling both products (expensive bicycles) and services (graphic and web design). I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and have tried to make the most of them.

My business, The Blog Studio, is in an interesting stage. We’ve almost made it through the first two years, and have the scars and wisdom to prove it. We’re in transition to a more mature business model. I’m finally fulfilling my grandiose title of Creative Director, and am directing some design, instead of doing it all myself. I’ve also given up writing markup and css (something I love to do). The reality is that I am more valuable building my business than I am fulfilling one of its tasks. By giving up coding, I have some (theoretical) time to work on the business itself.

To that end, I’ve recently signed up with a business coach. I’ll hold off on the details for now, as the process is just getting underway. If anyone is interested I can write about why I decided to do this. Let me know by email or in the comments.

Other topics I may well cover include documentation, project management and how to do it badly, the vital importance of covering your ass, dealing with clients, over promising and under delivering, things I know we should be doing but aren’t, and other such “let’s learn by watching Peter run into a wall” moments.

Of course, I may well abandon the whole idea. It’s not the idea that’s the hard part. It’s the follow through.

In which I wax rhetoric and reflect on the past 18 months.

Holy crap.

Where do I even start? Let’s start with the setting. It was April 2005. I was working full-time as an in-house designer for the nicest and most boring people in the world. The pay was pretty good, but it wasn’t enough to support my Toronto-sized mortgage and family. So like most of you, I was doing a little something on the side.

The thing on the side was called The Blog Studio. I’d been thinking about blogging an awful lot, due in large part to the huge benefits this blog had brought me. It also seemed like a smart idea to hop on the Long Tail and go after a really narrow niche. Blogging was a lot smaller back then. Most companies were just starting to hear about blogs. There were only a handful of people working in blogging at the time – competition was thin.

So I set up a website, and started writing about blogging. It was an easy subject to write about. I was passionate. Really into it: I drank the kool-aid. To make a long story short, I made some great friends online. One asked me to do fill in on his blog with another couple of folks while he was away. That’s where I met another new friend. Together we redesigned her well known blog and shared the process. That led to a lot of exposure, and a lot of new business.

Before I knew it, I was too busy to go to my day job. To be honest, I had to leave. My back was in really rough shape, and the long commute was killing me. It was tough to walk away from full benefits. Together as a family we’d been through some really difficult times. The reserves were tapped. So we were really forced into making the jump to full time self-employment: the lure of being able to pay our bills was in the air.

Six months earlier I’d sworn I wouldn’t own a business again. It was too much stress. It wasn’t worth it. There have been a couple of times during the past 18 months where I’d have agreed.

Trouble started almost right away. I didn’t know how to say no. I was terrified, you understand. I *had* to make a certain, relatively large sum of money. So when someone offered me work, I said yes. Learn from my mistake: do not do this.

I had no idea what I’d gotten into. I have a retail and marketing background. I’d never owned a web design studio. I knew how to manage projects, in general terms. But the specifics – forget it. All I knew was that I was in the right place, at the right time, and that I had to catch the wave.

That’s a pretty great analogy actually. I had three choices: paddle like crazy to catch the wave of growing interest in blogging, let it pass me by, or get crushed by it. I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I let this one go, so I paddled like my life depended on it.

I worked every minute I possible (and then some). I hired a guy full time. Then another. I took on a partner, then hired another guy, all in less than a year. The growth was amazing. So were the growing pains. The work wasn’t getting done on time. I hated to hear the sound of the phone ringing. I cringed when I checked my email. But we were up front and honest with our clients, something I know saved a couple of important relationships. We lost a couple that way as well. We took our knocks and kept our heads up. We were learning as fast as we could.

A guy can only pound his head against the wall so many times before he realizes it’s not improving the situation. Having staff in-house wasn’t working. I was convinced that having a team under one roof was the way to go. And hey! I was wrong.  Paying everyone except yourself isn’t a lot of fun. There are a couple of reasons the in-house experiment went the way it did. First and foremost, we weren’t charging enough. Secondly, I was distracted and being pulled in too many directions. Thirdly I’m a crappy project manager.

Of those three points, the first is the most important. If you charge enough, you can cover up an awful lot of mistakes. Don’t charge enough though, and your billings become a magnifying glass for every single inefficiency and hiccup in your business.

I credit the fact that The Blog Studio is a viable business today to a willingness to let our egos take a pounding, and to learn. A couple of years ago, I was forcibly taught that it’s ok to make mistakes, that it’s part of business, part of life. Because of this, instead of trying to sweep our gaffs under the carpet, we examined them. We’re a moderately smart group of people, so we avoided a lot of the really big mistakes. Still, we were taken for a couple of grand a couple of times. If you’re starting out, be prepared for that: it will happen.

Today we’ve got a business structure that makes sense. My partner Lucia manages clients and projects, I manage design and technology. We work with a close team of contractors (including the above-mentioned former full timers). Our processes have matured to the point where we know what we’re doing; our clients keep calling us to do more work for them, so something’s gotta be right! Most months I can even pay my bills.

The past 18 months have been one hell of a ride. But then, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Safety is all fine and good, but unless you taste danger, you’ll never know how good you’ve got it.

My 'Hey I'm back!' post, version 2234

So! I’m back. I’m not going to give any of the lame ass excuses you’ve heard so many times before. Suffice it to say, lots happening. Almost all of it good, but some of it also painful.

Here’s a point form update

*The Blog Studio redesign finally launched last week.* Getting this thing up was like pulling teeth. Designing for yourself is always hard. This time felt particularly difficult. I had a number of ideas I wanted to explore, and that was the motivating factor in the decision to redesign. Our previous site was very well received; having been featured on most of the gallery sites. So I put that design aside with some trepidation.

It’s important to me that The Blog Studio site be a testing ground for ideas. I want to know whether a particular way of highlighting content or displaying comments or what-have-you is going to work before trying it on a client’s site. So this version of the site is set up to allow for greater experimentation.

We’ve also moved from Textpattern to Expression Engine. I love EE. It’s power and flexibility is achieved in a way that’s both elegant and logical. It’s a treat to use.

From a visual standpoint, the site is a big departure from our previous design. It’s closer in spirit to the site that predated the last generation (that site used a close up of a painting for the header). I’ll be honest, I’m not fully satisfied with it, and will be making changes here and there, probably until I just redo the thing. But maybe that’s a good thing; it will keep me involved in trying new things, experimenting, and otherwise messing things up.

*The business itself is going quite strongly.* We’ve done a whole lot of learning, and are a lot wiser (and just a little battle scarred). I’ll write up what I’ve learned to date in later posts.

It feels like the business is getting ready to go to another level; things are coming together internally. I’m learning to wear different hats with a bit more ease – it’s still a fairly horrid, grinding lurch to switch from marketing, strategy and management to design or code – but I’m getting better at it.

*My mind has been very full* for some time now. I’ve been trying various things to keep it from overflowing. I find that nothing beats simply being present in the moment to bring a sense of peace and well-being, even in dark times.

That fullness has been the reason for my recent retreat from blogging. I simply haven’t wanted to let any new ideas in. I’ve had nothing to say. I’d have been terrible to have a party, these past few months. I’ve been spending a lot of brain cycles on more inward facing stuff.

After a few months of that though, I’m craving ideas and discourse. I’m excited to do some blogging again – a feeling I haven’t had in months. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned so far running a design firm, and possibly share some more insights into what’s going on inside as well as outside. It’s an interesting trip; one I’m sure I’m not taking alone.

What do you charge?

Hey designers, what’s your hourly rate? I ask this in reference to the Guide to Working with a Web Designer I mentioned a couple of days ago. If you missed it, I’m writing a short pdf meant to give our clients (that is to say, _yours_ and mine) a quick education in the how’s and whys of web design and shopping for a designer.

So… how much do you charge per hour? Feel free to leave your comments anonymously if you prefer.

What do you wish your clients knew?

I’m working on a short pdf document called A Guide to Hiring and Working with a Web Designer. It’s purpose is to help bring our web clients up to speed on terminology and expectations. It will include examples of what we submit as roughs and in-process comps, typical hourly rates, what to consider when hiring, all that good stuff.

This will be an open source thing – I’m not doing it just for “The Blog Studio”:http://www.theblogstudio.com or for “Flashlight Design”:http://www.flashlightdesign.com (new site coming soon!). My hope is that this will make all our jobs just a little bit easier by helping our clients understand some of the ins and out of what we do.

My question for all my fellow web designers and developers out there then, is this:

*What do you wish your clients knew?*

I’ll include a selection of questions in the pdf, and will credit you with a link to your site. Leave your answers in the comments.

Web Developer Needed – the sequel

We’ve actually decided to do away with the in-house requirement for the web-dev position I wrote about recently. It’s a full time gig, but we’re willing to go virtual for the right candidate. So if you, or someone you know, are looking to fill your days doing cool stuff with the web, shoot me an “email”:mailto:peter@theblogstudio.com

Web Developer Needed – the sequel

We’ve actually decided to do away with the in-house requirement for the web-dev position I wrote about recently. It’s a full time gig, but we’re willing to go virtual for the right candidate. So if you, or someone you know, are looking to fill your days doing cool stuff with the web, shoot me an “email”:mailto:peter@theblogstudio.com