These last three weeks have been incredibly busy. First, the first batch of Elfin Diaries arrived from the printer at least three weeks earlier than I’d expected, while I was still trying to unravel the structural mess that is the Astrological Association website and before I’d got the Elfin Diaries site sorted with new e-commerce software and a new design.
Then, I went down with a tooth abscess. The previous bouts of tooth pain I’d had before mild compared to this time. After a weekend of increasing pain I was was in a bad way by Monday, desperate enough to see a dentist. Came home with painkillers, antibiotics and instructions to return next month for extractions, fillings and drillings. Oh well. Was ill for a couple more days, occupying the sofa for much of the time. But now fully recovered.
Anyway, managed to get the diaries website up and running in record time, sent out hundreds of newsletters and am now busy dealing with orders. And still trying to sort out the AA site…
Sigh. So I’d best get on with it.

Hmmm. Don’t seem to be doing anything worth writing about these days. I spend my time in front of the computer, busy with lots of things – putting the 2013 Elfin Diary together, checking emails, reading Facebook and blogs.
Today, I’m updating the Oakleaf Circle site – there are updates that have been waiting since last October! I also found that the site’s contact form hasn’t been working for at least a month – mysteriously the entire contact form software had been deleted from the site, and I have no idea how. So I had to spend half an hour installing and configuring.
My ankles and knees still aren’t good enough for walking, the weather’s cloudy and cold, no great disasters – not a lot to write about, really. So I’ll go and make myself a cup of tea….. And maybe think myself lucky for not living in exciting times right now.

Well, got rid of all the first consignment of Elfin Diaries and still got hundreds of orders to fulfill. Another consignment should arrive any minute now. I’ve tidied up my desk, got all the labels and printer ready, got the order lists printed out.
So now I’m sat here just tapping my fingers.

I’ve decided to give up web design work. I never had many orders for it, never found it easy and spent all my time boning up on the latest techniques (there seemed to be new ones coming along every week). I reckon that publishing and distributing the Elfin Diary is going to be pretty much a full-time job for several months of the year at least. So I’m simplifying my (online) life, unsubbing from forums and email lists; I won’t have the time to read them all even if I was still professionally interested.
But all the work ought to be worthwhile; I’ve done the figures and the Diaries, while not making me a fortune, should be a decent little earner. After years and years of scrimping and doing without, I can’t wait to have a little spare cash.

…Yes, I’m not posting here much lately, am I? That’s because the Elfin Diary is really taking off now – orders are coming in daily and I haven’t even had the first batch of Diaries delivered yet. If sales continue at this rate, I’m on target for breaking even; in fact, I could quite possibly make a profit!
It’s keeping me very busy – for the first time in my life, I’m running a business all by myself. I’m having to talk to suppliers and shops, engage with customers, keep accounts and records, keep a very close eye on finances and constantly stay ahead of deadlines. It’s both frightening and exciting.
Strangely, I’m not feeling at all stressed (apart from those odd moments lying awake at 4am when I wonder what the hell I’ve got myself into…) Having something to do every day, a purpose and goals, seems to have cured a lot of the generalised ennui that’s been dogging me for years. I’ve even stopped the betablockers that I’ve been taking for years. It’s now been a fortnight and I haven’t had a tachycardia attack yet. Plus I’m sleeping a whole lot better and not constantly battling tiredness. I’ll not throw the pills away; they could come in useful for stressful times.

As I said, I’m busy – too busy for doing quite a lot of things that I used to do. So I’ve decided to give up the web design work. I’ve never had a lot of web work coming in and I’m not all that good at it anyway. So I’m retiring my web design portfolio pages on here. I won’t necessarily turn work away, but I will be putting the Elfin Diary work first. That’s going to pay rather better, I think.

So now the Elfin Diary site has been live since Monday, and taking orders for 2012 diaries and T-Shirts for the last 24 hours.
I’ve sent out an email newsletter to the 350 or so people on my Elfin Diary mailing list and so far I’ve had three Paypal orders. Hopefully, people will eventually be ordering by post as well; as soon as my new printer toner cartridge arrives tomorrow, I’ll be printing out copies of the order form and stuffing them into those 500+ addressed envelopes that Caroline left for me. I now owe rather a lot of money, so I need to sell this stuff! To that end, I’ve been beavering away at the site’s SEO; it’s now on the 2nd page of Google for “astrology diary 2012”, which I reckon is pretty good in such a short time.

Well, looks like I am now a businesswoman. I’ve been having to work on details like profit margins and unit prices, and working out pricing – you have to strike a compromise between charging too little (and not making any money) and charging too much (and losing customers). So far, I seem to have got the pricing thing about right and should end up making enough money to justify the work involved. And there will be quite a lot of work!

So let’s get on with it!

Well, I’m landed with the Elfin Diary good and proper. Before I took it on, I had some idea it would be easy; after all, wasn’t most of the work in the laying out of the pages, the entering of the data, the research, the proof-reading and so on? I was already doing all that, and it was pretty easy. Naturally, I hadn’t given much thought to what was involved in actually selling the thing – the advertising, the distribution, the suppliers….
Gah, the suppliers. I wasn’t allowed to touch any paperwork when I went to Caroline’s house, let alone copy stuff off her computer (I’d bought along memory sticks and recordable DVDs, naively thinking I’d be welcome to take the business information that I needed.). So I have no idea of which shops stocked the Diary, who printed her T-shirts, where she got her special incense from and all the rest. I’m having to start right at the beginning and source my own suppliers.

At the mo, I’m trying to get a proper computerised mailing list of customers organised. This is not easy. Caroline was a technophobe and kept a lot of stuff on paper only. Her “mailing list” consisted of two boxes of addressed C5 envelopes – one box for people who had bought the 2011 Diary, the other for past customers who hadn’t. Worse, the envelopes are all handwritten, so I can’t even scan the names and addresses into an OCR program and digitise them.
I do have one customer list in digital form. It’s the one from the e-commerce shop on the website, of people who bought the 2011 Diary only. There was an option to download it in CSV format, which can be imported into a spreadsheet; the file duly imported but the result was incredibly messy, with fields and data all over the shop. I’ve just spent the entire morning tidying it up and now I’m going through the envelopes to weed out the website customers from the rest; I already have their email addresses and I can save postage by using email.
I’m not even going to attempt to enter the undigitised names and addresses into the computer – I’ll just use the envelopes to send them the one flyer each and only put the responders on the computer.

There are approximately 400 envelopes to sort through. Caroline was organised enough to file them alphabetically; I’ve just finished going through the Bs. Not far to go now….

Have spent the whole day designing! Decided this morning that the Elfin Diary site needed a spruce-up before the shop site opens and next year’s Diaries go on sale.
Didn’t ask Caroline about it, and haven’t heard what she thinks of it. But even if she hates it and tells me to put it back as it was before (which I can do it about four clicks – I saved the old site), I’ll still be cheerful.
Cos I’ve been designing! Yay!

Don’t worry fans – I’m still here. Just not felt moved enough to write anything for a long time.
Busy getting on with work, putting a customised ZenCart shop together for Elfin Diaries. It’s the first time I’ve worked with this particular ecommerce platform, and the last two weeks have been a steep learning curve. But I’m more or less on top of it now and the site will probably be live in a couple of days – provided the company responsible for processing credit card payments from the site stop being silly buggers and get on with providing the necessary templates.
And once that’s sorted, I have plenty to get on with – I’m back to laying out the annual Elfin Diary; plus, I’ve been offered work designing website templates. So things are looking up. And also getting very busy – I seem to be chained to this dammed computer some days. But it’s going to pay some bills, which is always a bonus.
Right now, I’m on my own for a couple of days – B has gone off to a camp without me. No, we haven’t fallen out, it’s just that I don’t especially like camping any more – I really prefer a soft bed, a warm house and my own kitchen.
Have to admit that it’s a bit strange being in the house without him – I’m not used to it. Which is why I’m sitting up way past my usual bedtime; been passing the time today cleaning and tidying, so I should be dropping with tiredness, but I’m not.

Anyways, will try to sleep now. And I will try to post here more than once a month.

I wish I could get more of a focus in my working life. I’ve got some web design projects I want to get on with, but can’t decide which to get on with properly. I start one, then decide I want to do something else for a while, then I find some interesting web page to read, then it’s time to eat or do some housework, then B wants me for something, then it’s time to go out shopping, then it’s time to sit down with the paper and a cup of tea……
And nothing really gets done. Of course, if I had some paid work to do, a deadline to work to, it would be different. It’s hard for me to work steadily without a motivation, without structure, without feedback. At the moment, all I’m doing is faffing……

Well, not altogether. I’m reading up a lot on web design, particularly the aesthetics and theory of it, like this article:

Designing a great website that delivers the right message means that we have to look into the colors, typography, imagery, information architecture, information design, usability, accessibility, resolution on different screens and browser compatibility. All of these factor into how a user sees our creation and forms their opinion of it.

And there’s plenty more like that for me to read and digest. Underneath all the faffing, I think I’m finding my way to being a designer.

The last few weeks, I’ve been thinking quite hard about getting much more business-like with my web design work. The web has a lot of helpful advice for design freelancers who want to be more professional – John O’Nolan has a couple of good articles (it helps a lot that he’s British – US business practice doesn’t always translate).
One is on web-design mood cards, which are basically screen-shots of a wide variety of websites; looking through them will help a client define to you what they want their site to look like (“Something like no. 39 – but with much less black, and a lemony-coloured background, oh and a picture of my cat…”). They can be actual cards, or a web-page – O’Nolan has very helpfully designed templates for both, and you can download them for free. That’s deffo something that I’ll be doing.
The other useful article of his is on setting payment terms for clients (there are also lots of useful ideas in the comments section). After reading through it, I’ve decided that for future business clients, I’ll insist on 50% payment before I even start work, with the rest to be paid after the design is signed off but before the site goes live. In other words – no pay, no site.
Additionally, I’ll work up a questionnaire for clients – what the site is to be used for, will they want ecommerce facilities, who the site is aimed at etc – so that I’ll have a clear idea of what work is needed before I start. And I may even write out a contract for them – there are plenty of templates I can use.

Yes, this is the year I’m going to get my web design business sorted. No more “Um, will £X be OK?” or letting the client tell me what they’ll pay – yes, I’ve actually allowed that in the past, and got shamelessly ripped off. But that ain’t gonna happen again.