Well, this is awkward.
I don't know why you would be reading this, other than:
- Having read everything else on this blog and finally getting to the very first post, aka, here;
- or, because you're one of the people waiting for this website to launch and this was the only post available.
Either way, this is an awkward place to be right now.
I don't think this post will be very valuable to your time, because the only reasons I'm writing it is (a) I need a first post of anything for my website and (b) I need to get feelings off my chest. So, I'll be talking about myself, a lot.
Let's dive in.
This website is a mess.
If you don’t know this already, or you are thinking any variation of
“ Well, it looks fine to me ”
then, who knows, you may yourself become a website critic by the end of this.
I’ll also go over some of the basics of having a focused, efficient website.
If you have a website yourself or want one and you don’t already know my website is terrible, you may learn something worthwhile.
Why is my website a mess?
When I tell my friends and family that I don’t like my website and want to redo it for a fourth (fifth?) time, usually their response goes along the lines of:
“ Aren’t you a professional? Don’t you know what you’re doing? ”
The short answer is, yes, I’m a professional, and usually, I know what I’m doing.
The long answer goes in lengths on how I’m a spineless child.
This website’s history
Before I go over the reasons behind my website's try-hardiness, let’s have a quick overview of the development process.
Baby’s first business website
At first, I wanted a website to promote my web development services. Simple enough, yeah?
I started the development of my website shortly after Sebastien and I (and the Quebec government) decided on our business name. This was April 2016.
It made sense to just get a free theme just to launch faster. This was a good time. I was starry-eyed, I wanted to offer everything: web design, maintenance, security, marketing, social media, name it.
So I browsed free themes and got to work.
I originally was fine with it: I’d show off through the assets, I thought to myself. I wanted to show I was artsy and going overboard in design and thus was born the paint-style icons.
However, they slowly began to wear me down. Looking at the website had me think “this is so basic. Why would anyone want to hire me based on this basic-ass website?”
I couldn’t shake the feeling off: with free themes, I couldn’t have a good-looking website. And most paid themes are either a chore to work with, I decided to make my own theme because no free themes would satisfy my need to show-off.
This, obviously, was a mistake.
Baby’s first from-scratch WordPress template
At this point, I had convinced myself “well, if I’m going to have my own design, might as well make my own template with it. And also, make that template reusable and perfect.”
Of course, this only meant adding out-of-scope elements that weren’t necessary. But I wanted the best for my business, to hell with everything else.
Design-wise, I remember wanting something that reminded space, because Flaredust was a space-based name. It doesn’t make sense for a web-service business to have an unearthly focus on space elements – it only made sense in the game-focused context – but logic didn’t matter to me. I wanted a flashy, starstruck design, so I turned Photoshop on and got to work.
It was an OK design. This looked nice enough for selling web services. I even learned how to do SVG animation so the lines in the buttons would gradually draw themselves and they'd look awesome.
But I never got to code any part of it, aside from the cool buttons (which I lost, so I can't show them here and I'm too lazy to redo them).
Anyhow; busy months went by. I focused my energy on my client's stuff, so my website wasn’t getting any traction, and God forbid hiring anyone to do that website in my place. I had to do it myself. Only *I* knew how to do the most perfect reusable theme base. Anyone else obviously would do something short from perfect, and I'd have to fix it. No way.
Obviously, I didn’t realize this was absolutely not necessary. I should have hired someone to build this in a couple months. Then, I wouldn’t be here complaining about it.
But nooo, my egotistical brain had to delay everything.
And, suddenly, we were in January 2017.
My website’s Launch Countdown was set for September 2016. Since that day had passed, it was counting up that whole time. The count-down code would just carry on, upwards.
Although, for some reasons, instead of working on my website around that time, I made my new logo! Up until then, I just had used Berkshire Swash, a free font for commercial use, and our company name in lowercase as logo. I thought it was time for something that would define our brand.
What best for our space-brand than a salamander?
Clearly, a lizard was the best animal to choose from to represent our web design services. /s
Obviously, I wanted something for our game’s brand, not the web services. Nonetheless, it launched my website towards another redesign, because now our colors weren’t just yellow and orange, but purplish-red and deep blue.
Thus ensued a couple rounds of redesigns.
Those were already better looking, and it was time to code.
I worked on this intermittently. Several months later, I had the entire website layout done in CSS. I just had to do some finishing touches and the mobile version, and we were good to go.
However, these “finishing touches” ... they ended up taking forever.
I didn’t just want something to put text in, promote, and call it a day. I wanted a page builder, with all the fancy layouts. I also wanted the latest tech and whatnot.
At this point, Sébastien was begging me to give up. “Just launch the website,” he pleaded. “This is taking way too much time, this is useless, please, let it go”
“Look,” I kept replying, trying to rationalize my destructive behavior. “I did a page builder in a week before. In fact, I used to do a whole whopping website in two to three weeks. I know I can do it again! It definitely didn’t murder my soul then. Plus, I still have the code written down, somewhere...”
There was nothing he could argue to make me change my mind. He eventually gave up and focused on his side of our projects (which, as of May 2018, I’ve yet to touch).
But the task was too daunting for my own website. I choked, over and over, unable to summon an ounce of willpower to go through what I wanted. Months passed, and it started to gather dust, again.
Baby’s first paid WordPress theme
When October 2017 rolled in, I started to pay attention to Evento’s Black Friday deals.
At first, I wanted tools, like plugins and whatnot. I was purposefully avoiding paid themes.
This was when I received a slap in the face from up-above.
A friend of mine was struggling with his side projects. Being a side-project lover myself, I decided to buy him a copy of Just Fucking Ship, by Amy Hoy (Stacking the Bricks).
I personally bought it for myself when I was still working full-time back in 2015, and I loved it. I knew he could make use of it. Plus, I took the opportunity to buy all the other goodies Amy and Alex brought up for 2017’s Black Friday.
Doing so, I went and read the e-book again, thinking about my game projects that weren’t being done. It wouldn’t hurt to get my things back in order, right?
Weeeeeell, it did hurt. My feelings.
The book literally says:
“Don’t fall prey to NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome.”
Which was exactly what I was doing this whole damn time.
This brought me to shop for a paid theme. I thought to myself “fuck it, screw everything, I just need a damn website at this point.”
The current website you’re browsing from (as of May 2018) was done using the paid theme we chose, Albedo (affiliate link, because thank you).
The drive to just ship it was nice for a moment... when I finally had my new theme and I set up my pages, I took a look at it and my brain thought “I could fix this design. I just need it to be a liiiiittle more space-y.”
Thus ensued a 50-hours butcher job.
Baby’s first paid WordPress child-theme
To edit a paid theme without touching any of its files, you need to make a child-theme.
This was a counterproductive effort because I hate making edits to any theme, let alone paid ones.
I always think they’re overly complicated. I was judging the theme I bought while trying to take stabs at it. It was an unpleasant experience, but I did it anyway.
I turned what is essentially a basic business page builder into our monstrous over-the-top game company look. Seriously, just have a look at the demo and compare it to this website. It's literally day and night.
Anyway, midway in the butcher job, it dawned on me:
I didn’t need any of this.
The sunk cost regret hit my shame right in the guts, which in turn gave me enough drive to finish the job. I couldn’t just stop, now that I was this close from being done. Not to mention the arguments this started between bae and me.
Finally came April 2016, and everything was done. All I needed now was some content and we were good to go. Hence this blog post!
Baby’s first client from hell
This project drove me mad. And by the end of it, I realized something:
I was doing exactly what I dreaded from my clients and bosses.
I became my own Client From Hell.
- I had my mind set on an idea and wasn’t budging;
- I thought I knew better;
- I wanted something pretty, even though most of it was useless;
- I wasn’t even focused on making this website efficient;
- My website was focused solely on myself, not my clients/users;
- and, worst of all, I wasn’t marketing and doing my best for my online presence despite having no website yet.
How could I, a web developer, who knows web projects, who kept telling clients how to be more efficient and straight to the point, end up being this disconnected?
Something had to have gone wrong along the way. But what?
My relationship with web development
I think it's important that I highlight my relationship with this type of work.
I love web development. I always have. I used to manage a web project for a raising game when I was 10, along with some friends, because I didn’t like the direction Neopet had.
I aimed for world domination.
Of course, being 10, this didn’t work out. But I learned a bunch trying.
I think it’s important to understand what working looked like from my perspective when I was fresh out of college, hired as a full-time developer.
Then, I was working in web studios and I had a terrible time trying to value my opinion. I wasn’t able to say no to whatever my superiors wanted that I didn’t believe in. It happened at least once a day. It still happens today in my current part-time job, though I try to make a point and argue when I feel something is off nowadays.
There was a lot I was told to do that I would rant endlessly against to my colleagues over lunch, yet did anyway. I had no self-respect and I didn’t care enough about the projects to say anything about it. It just was easier to roll with it.
Not knowing how to express myself and say no eventually shot my motivation down the drain. I started to resent web development. I eventually hated to work altogether, when I used to be the first in the office and the most motivated kid out there.
I used to work in a studio during weekdays, then I worked during weekends at a part-time on another website, and I had some clients on the side I’d tackle in the evenings as a freelancer.
I ate web development for breakfast. Doing websites was my die-hard passion. It still is, but now it’s more of a concealed passion. A weary one.
Nowadays, I’m only really happy while dissing and critiquing websites, as it provides a release to all the little things I needed to tell before, but couldn’t bring myself to.
Web development burned me, but it wasn’t the development itself that was bad.
It was my own inaction, my own lack of spine, that drove me where I am now.
I still can’t bring myself to do new websites, to this day. If I accept new projects, I know that I will end up clashing with my clients.
The biggest problem is that I don’t know how to do that without yelling. I get mad so fucking fast.
Maybe I should brand myself as this hard-ass expert everyone wants anyway, like Gordon Ramsay. However, I definitely don’t want to aspire to that brand if it only serves to excuse my verbal abuse. Gordon Ramsay wouldn’t be proud of me.
The real culprits behind the bad decisions
Regardless, avoiding this to assert my opinion hurt a lot of the projects I worked on: it encouraged artistic ego; enabled scope-creeping to thrive; wasted a lot of time doing useless things, which then added to the loss of the project’s focus along the way. I’m not proud of most of the websites I’ve worked on to this day, even though my clients are (still) satisfied with them. I know they could have been simpler, better for less, and more efficient all-around.
If you’re a freelancer and have worked for clients in any creative aspect, you may know about some of these things. I’m going to go through these and explain how I sabotaged myself, despite having better judgment.
I define artistic ego as such: the artist’s ego (already a loaded subject, but bear with me) is conflated into their art; the art must then represent or attest to its creator/client. It doesn’t have to just be pleasing to others: it has to please the creator themselves, to a rewarding extent (this can be positive or negative).
Usually, I would argue that artistic ego is fine. If you’re a painter or a sculptor, having a massive ego doesn’t actually hurt what you do. An artist that understands themselves may have a strong ego that is reflected in their art, and sometimes that’s what makes the art interesting. After all, art is art.
However, I’ve learned the hard way that it can be damaging if you let artistic ego touch anything related to business – your business isn’t about you, it’s about who you serve. Unless your business is quite literally about you (artists, celebrities, et al.), your website really shouldn’t be stroking your ego too much. Beyond all else, it should have meaning and purpose for your ideal clients, delivered as fast as possible. Artistic ego always tampers with that.
In my case, my ego was front and center. The entire design process guaranteed that. Deep down, I knew it was useless, but I wanted it anyway.
Scope-creeping is a term better known in project management circles: it means that a client (or a developer) wants to add elements to a project that are technically outside the scope but are at risk to being creeped-in without approval or time extensions.
The creeping-in part is usually due to the elements being either assumed as being there, despite not being mentioned in contracts whatsoever, or it’s so closely bound to another element (though still optional) that developers/clients/managers will say “let’s do it anyway.” And thus, the project is bound to take more time than what was estimated.
Websites, with their almost infinite amount of features, are a target for infinite scope-creeping, especially if you let your ego take over. There are so many things you can do with your website, it’s not even funny anymore.
In my case... let’s just say, whenever I saw something new, I found it a use for my own website.
Lack of focus
Fortunately, the best way to avoid both these things is to plan your website and have a clear idea of the strict-minimum it should have to be launched.
Of course, *I* didn’t do that for my own website. I thought “hey, I’m a web developer! I can do ✨everything!✨ I know what I want: a pretty website that shows my awesomeness in web development, but also my video games, and my art, and my rants, and my cat, and --”
You can easily imagine how my ego was conflated into my website and the scope-creeping party it enabled. Meanwhile, my focus was spread thin, and it shows on this website. I still try to do too much at once.
Obviously, my business website couldn’t be all of these things; I would need a personal website instead, and personal websites usually don’t make money, unless you’re popular enough already.
However, what’s important to understand is that even just two of these things I wanted for my business would be too much: how can you focus on your services (in my case, web development for small businesses and freelance) and your products (video games for nerds) if they have both very wildly different audiences?
As I’m writing this, my website still tries to serve both web development clients and video game development. The way I see it, there’s a connection between the nerds interested in video game development and freelancers or small businesses owners looking to have a website: they’re both trying to do something different online and (maybe) sustain themselves with it.
But even that isn’t very defined. My website really struggles to walk that line. I just keep switching between one and the other, hoping everyone will relate.
The very basis of my company, flaredust studio, is a shaky one; the web development part only stayed because that pays the bills, but really our passion is game development. The latter is obvious: my whole brand shows just that. Why couldn't I focus my website on that, then?
At times, it feels like being a snake with a head on each side trying to go different ways: not much will end up being done effectively.
If I were dead-serious about my video games, the first thing I should do to help this confused website would be ditching the entire web dev part and focus on video games.
I have been unable to bring myself to do that. Why? Is it because I still need to show I’m open for web development? We haven’t done that in a whole year, as I’ve been referring all my clients elsewhere. So, why would I keep the web development part in there, when it’s hurting our focus, and it’s not even a priority?
How to fix this website
Find the underlying needs
I’ve noticed a pattern where people who are prone to scope-creeping, artistic ego and lack of focus all know what they want.
It’s quite easy to know what you want. When you don’t, you at least know what you don’t want. Sometimes you see something your competitors do or your favorite business do and you want it. Wanting is simple and easy!
But wanting may also be just decorative and not that important.
It’s important to know what you truly need. And not just need as in website-needs, like checklist and to-do’s, but your person’s real needs. Why are you even in business to begin with? Is it just for money, or do you have some sort of mission behind it? You need to find that mission, the thing you can’t remove from what you do. What drives you in your day-to-day interactions.
For me, it’s really simple: if we look at how I spend my time, at least two-thirds of my interactions with people is helping them make money online. Half of what I read online are ways to do so. I love to help people in many different ways, in ways that work for them. Everyone is different and I know the Internet is a great way to accommodate everything. It’s awesome.
And while making and marketing video games may make money for myself, and writing about it can help other nerds creating video games also make money for themselves – what I truly want is to help makers and teachers, whatever their gig is, do the same. Not just the ones making video games.
And I know a lot about websites. I know I can bring people to understand what they need to truly succeed and make something worthwhile. To make something important.
This is why web development stays. It’s a shaky reason, and I may not be able to pull it off, but I tried for months on end to remove it and I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
And, honestly, I probably should make another company for the web part. I think. For now, we’ll see if I can pull this off first, though I can clearly see it hurts my website’s focus and it bothers me already. I just need to reflect on the execution part a bit more.
What can you do for your own website?
Discover the minimum requirements for your online business
I always recommend people to start small when setting your online business. Start with the very first thing: how are you going to reach people online? In developer (agile, w/e) circles, we call it having a MVP (Minimum Viable Product). So, find your own MVP that works for your business.
Minimum Viable Pokémon pic.twitter.com/LSjCKsBJZQ
— SwiftOnSecurity (@SwiftOnSecurity) April 25, 2018
It doesn’t even have to be a website: you don’t actually need a website. Yeah, I know, I just made a whole rant on my website, but really, I didn’t even need it. I just wanted one, because I’m a web dev and I happen to have a massive ego.
I could have posted on social media and online groups and forums about the games we’re doing to get exposure and exist. Drip feed content on Twitter, start discussions on Facebook, show-off on YouTube. We didn't even do any of that yet, under the pretense we didn’t have a website. But the need for a website is an illusion, a facade, an excuse.
We never needed a website to simply reach people and let the world know we were developing video games.
If what you need is to reach people with your services or products, all you need is a presence. Sure, a website does that, but Facebook is ten times more efficient and easy than a website. Websites are isolated, you still need to market them. They need serious planning, and continued maintenance. An unplanned website will strain any business who isn’t ready for it. It will become a dead weight and can even add a risk to your business, if not handled with care.
The true questions your business’ web-project should be driven by
Who is your business for? Yes, you’re the person or business running it and, yes, people have to know you. But outside of your “About us” page, you shouldn’t focus on yourself. Unless you’re an artist or a celebrity, yet even then, your audience is there for something. Give them that. Focus on that.
What are your underlying needs behind your business? It’s important to isolate the drive that makes us go to work every day. They’re not always inspiring and flashy; it’s fine to need money, just bare survival. But, if you have the energy, see if you can find another motivator – an intrinsic need to do or to help someone do that you can focus on when you build your website’s actual list of needs.
Focus on those two things.
No matter if you sell services or products, you’re doing it for your audience and ideal clients. The focus should be on your clients, then what you choose to do should be driven by that underlying need that drives you to do it in the first place.
Whatever you choose to do – a website, a Facebook group, a Tumblr blog – you’re doing it for a reason. Whether this reason is simply using your skills to make some money or your life passion coming to life, you’re still doing it for someone else other than yourself.
Unless you’re not. Then, please enjoy throwing all this time and money into a website all for yourself and scream into the void. I’m doing it too, so I’m not judging.
A note on hypocrisy
Until now, I always had said one thing and did the other.
I’m showing off my terrible website and how to do better, and yet, I’m keeping my terrible website.
Plus, I don’t even have a web presence, while I help people on the side doing theirs.
For years, people trusted my expertise to do their websites, while I didn’t even have one.
And finally, I nearly always folded when I wanted to do better, which lead to sub-par results advertised as “working-as-intended”.
I piss myself off. I’m a hypocrite.
But, despite all this, I had one important takeaway while working with myself as a client.
Yes, I did hurt my business by delaying having an online presence and wanting so many things on my website. But I didn’t know how to manage myself. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that I never knew how to manage any clients I had in the past.
I didn’t understand what was really going on in their heads and therefore what they needed me to do for them, to really help their project.
I didn’t understand I needed to manage expectations, right at the start. Before anything, before even getting hired, I needed to have the basic expectations loud and clear.
Of course, I couldn’t have the most perfect website with all the latest tech ASAP. If anyone else would have gone to me and asked the very same thing I made for myself, I would have a good hearty laugh at their expense (though I probably wouldn’t do it in their face, I honestly should. Come on, inner-Gordon-Ramsay; help a girl out.)
Right off the bat, I should have sat down and made a list of my key audiences and my underlying needs behind my business. I should have written down all my “wants” and match what was important according to the underlying needs, then prioritize. Everything that wouldn’t be top-priority for my audience would be done at a later date, so I could be focused on shipping this website/project earlier and get shit done efficiently and effectively.
No unfocused mess allowed.
I always was mad at the picky and useless things. I knew they distracted from the important work the business was trying to do through their web project, and it angered me to have to do them anyway. The people who knew me at the time (and still to this day) heard me rant plenty of times about very precise examples of shitty ideas and stuff I “had” to do.
Some sort of conclusion?
In short, your online business should be serving your audience, not you, and it should at first be the strict minimum in features and elements. Anything else is asking for a probable mess, as your online presence won’t be as focused as it can be.
This post is a bit of a mix between a statement, a rant, and maybe something useful to someone somewhere. It’s also a mess, which is on par with the course.
I wish I knew what Return On Investment (ROI) was 5 years ago, and I wish when I did learn about ROI that I had a spine to make it valued and heard by the people who hired me then.
Sure, some of my former clients don’t care today and are happy with their website. Although I’m sure they added a sneaky strain on their business, without really providing much help in return. Some of these websites are creeping weights to the business, looking efficient and maybe like working-as-intended, although it’s not providing actual proof of doing so. They’re just sitting in the void, adding management and training time that leads nowhere.
I don’t think I can manage projects better than what I did then, and that’s mostly why I’m not taking any clients for new websites. I can’t do that yet, I need a plan to tackle expectations in a way that doesn’t hurt egos too much, and preferably without any yelling involved, since I can’t channel Gordon Ramsay reliably enough yet.
For now, this is fine. It’s only slightly better than having no website, but only because we don’t have a coming-soon page that’s counting up.