Sunday, January 15, 2012

Peak Digital Productions: Ruminations on a closed business.

In 1995, I was not long out of high school and working for a large corporation. I hated the job and the atmosphere. I knew a lot of people that were self-employed and that seemed like a good fit for me.

I set up a sole proprietorship named Peak Digital Productions, bought several thousand dollars of equipment for video production, and set off to make a living. I was quickly disappointed by the quality of the video output possible with the extremely expensive equipment. Added to that, the licensing burden of popular music to go with video make the service impossible. Frustrated, I quit offering the video service.

Next I started working with photo restoration. I liked that, and got a fair amount of business from it, but nowhere near enough to support my new family. Dealing with individual customers was difficult, and the volume of work available in my area was inadequate.

Sometime around 1998 I started building websites. This became my primary service for the next several years. I enjoyed this work - especially how it allowed me to utilize all my skills and interests. Photography, videography, graphic design, programming, and more went into each custom-built site. I refused to use template sites or pre-packaged coding, always learning each necessary step and building the project from my own effort.

While I enjoyed the work, making a living was difficult.  Earlier, I had done a major programming project for a local government agency and got spoiled by the concept of invoice=payment.  While I had a few clients over the years that were excellent to work with, I also had a few that caused so much stress I could hardly stand to work for them. I got really tired of having to chase down my paychecks.

I tried various contractual variants to control the lack of payment and communication, but with little success. Sometimes the lack of communication was worse than the lack of payment. My benchmark for frustration was the client whose communication was so sparse that it took 16 months to finish a project that had a total of less than 40 billable hours.

Through the years, I gained experience in many skills. Software development became my primary interest and I applied it to both PC-based and web applications. I also got to use my photography skills for displaying client products, video editing to produce videos to place on their sites, graphic design and page layout for creating printed literature to complement the website, and various other miscellaneous jobs.

I started programming in VBA in Excel, moved to Visual Basic 6 around 2000, used ASP for building dynamic-content websites for several years, then moved to PHP when I decided to leave the Microsoft track. I explored Flex and Air for projects destined for web and desktop applications.  I continued to work on keeping up with current technology, re-learning website design to utilize CSS instead of the old methods.

When the economy tanked, what little business I could rely on disappeared. Most of my clients were small businesses, the majority being one-man operations like mine. As their businesses failed, so did mine. I was left with a huge Accounts Receivable register, which I expect I will never see.

The financial loss was frustrating, but my lack of ability to provide for my family was devastating. My stress levels were at unhealthful levels.

I would like to publicly thank Steve Birrer for stepping up and partnering with me on a software project during that time. His belief in my skills and willingness to support my work were a big help. Unfortunately, the project was unable to be completed due to "scope creep" and other issues, but Steve was the best business partner a guy could ask for. Despite the outcome of the project, he continues to be patient as I work to pay back his financial investment in my idea.

With my software partnership completion always just out of reach, I started looking for a job. In February 2010, I was hired at The Peregrine Fund as their webmaster. (Thanks in part to a glowing reference from Steve.) It continues to be the best work experience of my life. It's an amazing place with great people doing great work.

If you happen to be one of my past client that has a balance owing, and you wish to make a payment, please contact me - I would appreciate it.

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