Nearly a full year has passed since I embarked on this incredible journey, and the folks at WebSmith (who have been serializing this diary in their magazine) have asked me to look back on the past year and draw some conclusions. What have I learned? Am I still having a good time? Am I making any money? If I had it to do all over again -- would I?
The short answers are: I've learned a lot, I'm having a wonderful time, I'm not making much money (yet!). And I absolutely, positively would do it all over again. In a heartbeat.
One pleasant surprise is that maintaining the webserver has been less of a chore than I feared it might be. I'm a programmer and a writer by trade; my hardware background (especially in regard to networks) is very weak, and my knowledge of the Internet was (when I started this project) a little on the sparse side. And sure, things have gone wrong: The phone company has had serious problems with my ISDN line on at least four separate occasions; my ISP's name service acts up at the worst possible times; I've had to disable my SSI access counters because they kept crashing my webserver. But the good news is that the problems have all been solved, none of them have been very serious, and I've learned valuable lessons from each and every one of them.
One unpleasant surprise is that finding business has been tougher than I expected. For one thing, competition has increased dramatically since I started doing this a year ago; it seems that everybody who has ever looked at a computer is now in the web service business. Marketing and sales are not my strengths; I suppose that I was foolish enough to believe that customers would beat a path to my door, but it hasn't happened. I also came down with a bad case of "big-sale-itis," which means that I made the mistake of concentrating on selling my services to large companies, hoping to find that one huge customer that would give me so much work that I could develop their site and then retire. Since I'm still here, it's safe to say that that hasn't happened. Instead, I discovered that selling to big companies involves a long sales cycle, with lots of memos, demos, meetings, presentations, and frustrations.
But the best part of this journey, hands down, has been the people I've met along the way. According to my access log, about 50 people a week continue to read this diary, "cover to cover," week in and week out, as they have been doing ever since I began writing it nearly a year ago. Many of them write to me; some ask questions, some offer to help, some thank me for showing them that it can be done, some thank me for warning them that it can't. Some have become my customers, some have become my friends, some both. I never know what to expect when I open my Emailbox, but I know that's it going to be a surprise, and I know there's a good chance that it's going to be exciting.
At some point, if my income doesn't improve, I suppose I'll actually have to go out and look for a <gasp> job -- but even if that dreaded day comes, I'm sure I'd still do web service on the side. I'm having much too good a time to stop now!
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