TOTD 1/2: Small Business

Mine, that is.  Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the startup of my LLC, and also marks the year my total of independent employment exceeds my years as an employee of others.  Although the legal details were prepared and registered (quietly) in December of ’02, fifteen years ago today, three of my peers and I simultaneously resigned from the industrial systems integration firm of which we were senior employees.

We each had discussed our frustrations with the 51% owner’s management style, and his apparent intention to never yield any more ownership to future partners.  Gaining ownership was a five-year goal I had stated outright when I interviewed for that job, with that owner, four years before.  Or more precisely, when asked for my five year goal, I answered “Ownership of or partnership in a company like yours.”

The early years were quite difficult, as we had taken the high road with existing customer relationships — no hint whatsoever what was to come prior to our actual startup.  A few customers followed us to the new company, but most took a wait-and-see approach to the new startup.  And our old boss wasn’t shy about sharing his feelings about his former staff.  Our partnership’s (actually an LLC operated as an S-Corp) size fluctuated in the first few years as the rigors of full independence exposed some flaws and highlighted some opportunities.  The LLC stabilized at three members by the end of 2006.

The downturn of 2008 hit my last two partners quite hard, as their customer relationships were dominated by residential and commercial building products manufacturers.  With Obama’s economy failing to bring any normal recovery, they both left in 2011.  The first solo year for me was a great year, as I discovered that my own projects were quite profitable under the new low-overhead regime.

Juggling multiple customers entirely alone does have its downsides, and I put a fair amount of effort into cultivating complementary relationships with other contractors with related skill sets.  I also expanded the scope of the business to include more software content (SCADA in particular), something my less-geeky former partners were never comfortable pursuing.  The slowly morphing direction of the company has inspired other changes: for the first time, the company (me!) hired an actual non-owner full-time employee.  Given that one can’t actually hire someone out of any engineering school with the combination of skills that make me valuable in the market, I went outside normal procedures and hired a non-degreed whiz kid that I knew from a Linux users’ group.

I’ve not regretted it.  First, a non-degreed employee is cheaper to hire.  Second, you don’t get any mistraining in industrial concepts that engineering schools are prone to produce.  And if you pick someone with demonstrated self-motivation and an aptitude for technology, you can expect their skills to match a degreed individual in relatively short order.  I’ll probably have to pay this kid’s way through a tech degree to keep him, but I expect it to be worth it.  I’ve poured more resources into the company this past year than in any previous year (training the new minion, mostly), and am looking forward to the rewards of business risk-taking.

It almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if Hilary had won.

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Illustrating a magazine article

This is one of those posts about the kind of job you do. I do graphic design and also quite a bit of illustrating – the hand-drawn kind.

One client I have is a trade mag for the hotel industry, for which I illustrate an article a month. I don’t know a whole lot about that industry, but when the editor emails me the article she answers any questions I have. Recently an article concerned the dilemma some hoteliers face when their brand headquarters demands they implement a PIP – that’s a Property Improvement Plan. Some hotel owners go through with the PIP to upgrade their hotel, but others opt to sell the hotel outright or ‘flip’ it to a new flag (hotel brand). Each of these choices has its own issues, expenses and time-consumption. The editor wanted me to illustrate the quandary of choosing between these options.

I try to keep my illustrations fun if I can, because the articles can be a bit dry. Two ideas came to mind for this article and I sketched them roughly in pencil – a game show harkening back to Let’s Make A Deal, with Curtain Number 1, 2 and 3, and an agonized hotel owner on the spot:

– and also a board game idea, with owners losing a turn or skipping ahead to win at their dizzying game of Pip or Flip:

I email these sketches to the editor. Now, when presented with more than one idea, you can always count on the editor to choose the most complicated drawing possible. Of course, the editor liked the game board! so I drew it up a bit tighter, with quotes and tips from the article:

After I got some edits from the editor, I drew it on illustration board in prisma pencil, and started painting in bright gameboard colors in acrylic washes –

and splashed in a loose color background for the finished art –

I scan & email this as a jpg to the editor, and they publish from that.

I’m working on another rather dry article now – how hoteliers can streamline their insurance applications if a natural disaster causes a lot of damage to their property. It’s a got mess of terms, moving parts, hoops to jump through – hmmm – time for a Rube Goldberg machine!

 

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