I started my own business (digifi inc.) back in 2006 to provide new media solutions, mostly through complex custom web applications to help clients run their businesses. I built a website to advertise digifi and peripheral web applications to help me administer it. I had several clients, reviews were good, and the future was bright. I was never able to keep from needing a day job though, and some personal problems in 2007 impacted my ability to devote the time I needed to take my business where I wanted it to go.
Over the next several years the industry continued to evolve and I stayed up-to-date as best I could and continued to enjoy a fairly steady stream of clients. When you’re busy you tend to neglect your in-house projects (ala the successful plumber with leaky pipes in his own house) and the digifi website sorely needed to be updated. In 2011 I finally pushed to give it a fresh look and new content and for a brief while it looked really nice.
Then my father died in early 2013 while my own young family was just getting started and everything became overwhelming. Immediate client work provided obligation as a motivation to keep pushing on, but updating digifi’s website after that was a task that seemed too insurmountable to start and thus was simply easier to place onto the back-burner.
Not addressing the website came with a cost of its own, though. After that last 2011 update, mobile devices and responsive design came to the forefront and my box-model website rapidly became stale and unusable on the rising number of smartphones and tablets. Visiting, or even thinking about my own website brought pangs of guilt; an explicitly visual reminder that I had been neglecting my business. But what little energy I had needed to be directed to billable projects and so the sacrifice was thus justified.
After 2013, the rise of template website builders like Wix and the gradual maturity of the highly insecure WordPress changed the dynamic of the industry, too. There were fewer and fewer people interested in getting custom web applications built from scratch, especially when a graphic designer adding some plugins to WordPress could create a “good enough” solution at a fraction of the cost. I was also a victim of my own success: web applications I had written back in 2006 and 2007 were still stable and functional in 2013 (indeed some still run today), and clients almost never came back to pay for technology and style upgrades.
Anyone who does gig work knows that eventually you want to transition away from piecemeal projects and build systems that generate passive income, but I couldn’t find a way to break into that space. I considered going into mobile app development, but the idea of having to learn a brand new platform for every device you wanted to support, just to then contend with the gatekeeping of the app stores made the idea distasteful to me. And since mobile browsers were catching up and standardizing it made more sense to just write one responsive app that worked on everything instead. I still stand by that decision.
Work dried up, bills and debts piled up, depression was the norm. I can do amazing things as a developer, but that circa-2011 website was still there, and I’d get mad at myself and tell myself that imaginary potential clients were walking away because they saw the site and judged me on how stale it was. Who would hire me to build awesome things when my website looked so terrible? I’d regularly get spam emails from companies telling me they could redesign my website for proper SEO and get me all the clients I was missing, which, while I was aware that it was just spam marketing, was another cut of the knife.
I tried several times to start a new version of the website; responsive, more in tune with where I wanted to business to be, etc. but I’d always get hung up on some feature, or some detail, or I thought it didn’t look professional enough and I didn’t have the funds to hire a graphic designer and pay them properly to make the best website, etc. and the initiative would fizzle.
By 2015 I was seriously considering shutting the company down, even though internally the thought of doing so seemed like accepting complete failure. But every time I’d be ready to quit a client would come out of the blue with a small project that kept the lights on for a few more months. A larger project in 2016 revitalized things for me and I was able to afford a new computer, which I built for game development as I knew I wanted to transition into that space.
In 2020 the pandemic offered a lot of programmers working side hustles the ability to pick up contracts from businesses suddenly scrambling to have an online presence and ecommerce available, or simply to invent solutions for the new problems of the lockdown. I honestly tried a few things but nothing took off. I also faced a new challenge I never had encountered before: a lack of isolation. I’m a massive introvert and I tend to need long periods of seclusion to function properly; indeed I do my best work when I’m alone and isolated. But with the lockdown (and subsequent restrictions) came the situation where I was in a closed space with five other people 24/7 for months on end. I couldn’t work on anything and got severely depressed because there was never a time to decompress.
The relaxing of pandemic restrictions in 2021 changed things for me. I was still working my day job 100% remote but everyone else in my house went to school or work…I could be alone again for brief periods of the day. My mental state improved. I wrote my first novel. I continued to work on my animation project Drawn, which lead to me kicking off my new project Vash a few months ago (which I mentioned in a previous post).
But digifi’s website was still that 2011 box model monstrosity. It gnawed at the back of my mind like a rat chewing through drywall. Something had to be done. At the very least, it needed to be replaced with a responsive page containing an “under construction” graphic.
With everyone else in my house occupied with their own interests or obligations, I sat down on Labour Day 2023 and looked at website templates. The nice-ish ones were nice because they had great graphics of smiling, attractive owners and clients that I couldn’t replicate or replace. And these sites weren’t really “me”. I’m a web developer; using someone else’s template is basically cheating.
I quickly got frustrated and created a single dark-themed page with my logo in the middle. I then added a tagline to describe what digifi is…only to realize that “new media” doesn’t mean much to most people and the business actually does a lot of stuff. So I changed the tagline to be dynamic, appearing to type and retype all the things digifi does. For the first time in forever, I liked something I had done with respect to the digifi website.
I researched smooth scrolling and other fancy CSS tricks that I don’t normally use for web applications and added a few sections below the fold, then a few more. By dinner time I was finished and had a responsive, clean, concise, and slightly sardonic single page replacement for my 2011 antique. A few hours ago I turned off the old page and turned on the new one and it’s live.
One day. After years of fretting and hating myself, it took me only one day to create a replacement I finally like. Though I’m not sure I could have done this before today. Today just happened to be right.
I don’t know if there’s any sort of moral to this story. Glorious tales of perseverance aside there’s no guarantee that updating the digifi website will make any marked improvement to my business.
But I feel a bit better about it today.
And if you’re in a similar situation to the one I’ve been in for the last ten years maybe this will resonate with you. If it does I hope it’s a positive experience.
I also hope you like my new site design.