I didn’t take the cake.
You’ve heard the phrase, “You really take the cake.” But you can’t apply that to me.
When it first became apparent that Charlie could not go to daycare because of his special needs, and thusly I could not get a job, welfare and foodstamps and charity were suddenly thrust upon us.
I went to the special needs office in West Des Moines, Iowa and there was a special area set up with donations from local merchants. There were cakes from Hy-Vee – the local supermaket. There was a really pretty cake that I knew Charlie would love. It was free for me to take.
But I knew, in my heart and without a doubt, that if I took something from that table – I would be defining us. Defining us to me, and to the city and the state and the universe – as a charity case. I just couldn’t do it.
I left that cake on the table, went and bought an espresso from Starbucks that I could not afford, and proceeded to hunt for work on Craig’s List – anything I could do from home that would pay.
That is how my business was born – from little WordPress jobs on Craig’s List. Because I would not settle.
And because I did not take the cake.
[ This is part 8 of an 8-part article - Read Part 1... ]
But I made it through that. My son started school, the large blog was launched, and more business was pouring in. I’ve had some very short periods of slowness with my business since then, but they are always short-lived, and I wind up with almost more business than I can handle very soon after every dry spell.
My very first client is still a regular client, as is the Seattle attorney who hired me to finish his web site. I have many regular clients and gain new ones all the time. My biggest client ever is now working with me on business development, and there are some exciting changes in the wings for Blog Solace in the very near future!
What is amazing to me is that, yes, I worked and educated myself and was prepared for this opportunity. But currently owning a successful back end web development business would not have been possible if I hadn’t been *forced* into it. If Kindercare had been the right place for my child, or if adequate care for him had ever appeared, I would be an Administrative Assistant right now.
Instead, I’m a Work At Home Mom who owns her own small business, and the future is bright! That’s how I accidentally started my own business and became a WAHM. I guess it’s a lesson in making sure you never stop learning and being open to change, following your passion, recognizing opportunity when it knocks, and following through on it no matter how hard it is.
Never give up!
[ This is part 7 of an 8-part article - Read Part 1... ]
So I decided that even as much as I hated the idea, the time had come to put my son in daycare and go back to seeking an Administrative Assistant position. I knew I was over-qualified for that position by then, but that I would never get a web development job without a college degree.
So I took $200 and took my son to Kindercare on a Monday morning and started my job search in earnest. I went back to Kindercare to pick him up on Monday evening, and, with apologies, they handed me back my check and told me they could not keep my son. It was not safe for him there, and he needed to be in a specialized environment.
I spent a huge amount of time after that attempting to get specialized care for him that I could afford, trying to get help from the state (he was diagnosed as Developmentally Disabled when he was 4) and hitting brick walls every time I sought out help.
Time was passing and rent and car payments were coming due. I had to borrow money from my sister, and right when I was to the point of desperation, a large job rolled in. I decided to work as hard as I could and get through the summer, and when school started I would be able to concentrate even more on getting new business.
Taking care of my son while trying to work on my business was not very effective and beyond frustrating. But it was my only option. I fought through having almost no money, caring for a constantly-interrupting and behaviorally challenged child and trying to develop a large corporate blog from the ground up all at the same time. I’d say August of 2008 was probably the hardest time in my life.
[ This is part 6 of an 8-part article - Read Part 1... ]
That was in early February of 2008. Over the next month or month and a half, I scoured all the cities on Craig’s List looking for WordPress gigs in the Computer Gigs section on Craig’s List. And they were out there! An advanced theme customization for a stocks web site built on WordPress in Austin TX, some layout changes and customized widgets on a sustainable gardening blog in Washington D.C., a real estate blog in Florida… The list goes on.
Lot’s of small to medium sized jobs paying me actual money to do something I absoloutely *love* to do! I was in heaven! During a bit of a lag in business, I posted my first ad in the Computer Services section in Seattle and got my first really big job. It wasn’t even WordPress. It was finishing a web design that some designer had desserted for the owner of a Seattle Law Firm. That job drove home that this business was real, multi-faceted, was something that I could do and was booming.
This was great for a few months, but then a very slow time hit. As in hit the wall! Business just stopped for a few weeks, and I was scared. My instinct was to ride it out, but with a young child counting on me, I felt the responsible thing to do was to go back to work.
[ This is part 5 of an 8-part article - Read Part 1... ]
So as I did all of this as a hobby, something else was happening concurrently with that. I lost my job as an Administrative Assistant and my developmentally disabled son was becoming harder and harder to deal with. I was not able to find a new job for about 6 months after losing that Admin job. I was on food stamps and unemployment and absolutely desperate.
So I started poring over Craig’s List ads in every city in the country looking for *something* that I could do to make a few extra dollars. I was looking in the Computer Gigs section for something like data entry or something like that – I didn’t know what I would find. I just needed to find *something* I could do and do quick and get a paycheck.
Low and behold in the San Francisco Computer Gigs section of Craig’s List section I found an ad asking for “WordPress Help.” What??? WordPress? Hey, I can do that! The pay was listed as “A Little Moo-La For Your Latte.” I didn’t know what that would equal exactly, but it was more than I had at the moment, so why not give it a shot?
The need, as it turned out, was for a customized widget for the sidebar on a blog for car enthusiasts. The pay wound up being approximately $20. I had done that particular thing before, but there was something unique about the theme this site was using that made it a bit of a challenge. So I think I spent about 3 hours earning that $20, but I didn’t care. I was ecstatic! I had $20 in my PayPal account headed towards my bank, I had learned something new about WordPress, and I had hope! An opportunity was knocking, and I wasn’t about let it go by.
[ This is part 4 of an 8-part article - Read Part 1... ]
Diary-X was gone, but my Diary habit was well-developed, and I really missed it! I tried making my own site, but the dynamic nature of diary entries made it impossible for me, as all I had were HTML/CSS skills and no programming skills to make something work dynamically.
I tried a couple of different options for self-hosted installations of blogging software, and wound up liking WordPress best. WordPress is a wonderful, beautiful, clean blogging/content management application that gets installed on your own web server. It’s easy to install and has a web-based dashboard where you can write new blog entries with the newest entry appearing first on the front page of the blog. Every time you create a new entry, the new one appears on top, dynamically! It also automatically creates archives by month, categories, tags, etc.
The way WordPress does this is by combining HTML, CSS and a new (to me) ingredient: PHP. PHP is a programming language created specifically to affect, organize and render web pages in HTML and CSS.
So I had one more thing to learn! You don’t need to know PHP (or even HTML or CSS) to write entries in your WordPress blog. But if you want to configure or create your own theme and make customizations to widgets and the layout, understanding at least a little bit about PHP is necessary and a strong understanding of HTML and CSS is critical.
And I wanted to have my own theme for my blog. Boy did I! It was a pride thing – no pre-fab themes for this self-taught handcoder who works in notepad and considers Dreamweaver and Front Page to be products of the devil!
Anyway, struggling through, and eventually learning, the ins and outs of WordPress as pertains to PHP and paths to the theme and how the widgets and plugins work really started to give me an edge when it came to all things WordPress. I even gained some some web server knowledge and understanding that helped me troubleshoot some frustrating issues when it came to upgrades and other problems that would pop up.
[ This is part 3 of an 8-part article - Read Part 1... ]
Eventually I got divorced and had a great need to generate some extra income. A friend of mine suggested I go back to doing web sites, but things had advanced so much that my design/coding was looking really dated. CSS was all the rage, all of a sudden, and I didn’t know it at all. And I guess my faith in my ability to teach myself new skills had waned a bit.
But my friend really pressed me to give it a shot, so I built a few basic sites in CSS, and just did like I did when I learned HTML. I immersed, analyzed and absorbed. Then came the practice and practical application and voila – I had the foundation of a new skill set.
Something else that was happening at the same time was that I was keeping a diary on a web site called Diary-X. I had been doing so for about 5 years when the server running Diary-X had a catastrophic hard drive failure and every diary on that site was just suddenly *gone* never to return.
[ This is part 2 of an 8-part article - Part 1 ]
In 1993 I got my first computer. I got access to the internet via Prodigy Classic, and Prodigy Classic went from being just e-mail and bulletin boards to actually having a www browser in about 1995. And if you wanted to, you could have your very own web page! Oh my gosh!
I wanted to make my own web page in the worst way. I don’t even know why. But this was suddenly my new thing. I was the first of everyone I knew to have my own page. I started simple, then added and expanded whenever I learned something new.
I started by viewing the source of the page and immersing, analyzing and absorbing the HTML. Then applying it and experimenting with it. Then I learned how to add graphics, make links – very simple stuff, but no laymen knew how to do these things back then.
Soon after I started Fluffy Net. This was an idea my sister and I had – a web site where every pet could have its own home page! We had the idea to add a list of No-Kill Pet Shelters, organized by state. The web page for pets idea never took off, but Fluffy Net has been popular for the no-kill shelter list for about 12 years now.
I created several web sites over the next several years but none really as popular as Fluffy Net. A lot of things happened in my personal life, and I didn’t really keep up with internet trends as far as design goes, and things got away from me a bit.
EVOLVING MY SKILLS [READ PART 3]. . .
I started my own business, Blog Solace, completely by accident. Actually, I was more *forced* into it than anything else. How? Well, my unique circumstances and special child made becoming a WAHM (Work At Home Mom) a necessity.
I have a developmentally disbaled child who can’t be looked after at places like Kindercare. Specialized care is too expensive, and I am in that special little niche where my income is too high to get any financial help and too low to actually live on, let alone afford any child care at all. So my choices were to either go on welfare or start my own business. I wound up starting my own business with the html/css/WordPress skills I had acquired while blogging and making little web sites for fun was a hobby of mine.
I never went to college. Well, I did attend 6 weeks of junior college after I graduated high school. But unfortunately that did nothing more for me other than just give me a *taste* for higher learning. And I did have a strong taste and desire for it! In that short time, I had chosen to take classes like ‘The History of Music in Western Civilization’ which immersed me in wonderful music. And my humanities course concentrated on the arts – I specifically remember Renaissance art and Roman architecture.
But unfortunately I could not continue, due to circumstances beyond my control. So my experience at college had been a big tease! The amazing culture, color, music, and gateway to the world that I was exposed to in that short time, however, whetted my appetite for learning (in a way that high school never did), and I became insatiable for anything that I could learn.
I read literature I felt I should be reading in college, I taught myself advanced composition and writing skills by reading and practicing. I learned everything I could about some things I felt I should know and *many* things I wanted to know. I continue to learn about Florence, Italy and its architecture, Renaissance art, the Medici family, Edgar Allen Poe and more.
But the main thing I taught myself was how to teach myself. How to learn virtually anything I wanted to know simply by honing my curiosity about a subject and applying myself. I became a detective and a forensics specialist, so to speak. I took things apart and put them back together. I immersed, analyzed and absorbed. In other words, I gave myself the ability to learn and do virtually anything I wanted to do in life.