Archive for the ‘Entrepreneurship’ Category

Wow! Another year has gone by. Whatever happened to time? Doesn’t it always make us wonder.

But for me, I felt the year going by. The year 2009 had been a year of major changes. My life has taken a new path!

The year started a bit rocky for me. I was not seeing eye-to-eye with the owners of the company that I was working for. So the year started with me contemplating my future. It was clear that I was not going to have any future working there.

The good thing that came out of it was instead of looking for another job, me going into business for myself. I turned into a freelancer. While I was transitioning from being a monthly paid normal office worker to a uncertain and new territory of freelancing, my wife was expecting our son.

While all of this was going on, our son came into this world. That made us forget all our woes and enjoy his arrival. I think he truly brought in a new dimension to out lives. I stepped into the unchartered waters without much excitement or nervousness, initially. And I have to thank wifee for standing by me through all of that. She was brave to accept that I might have to go for sometime without a proper income or any income at all.

For me, things didn’t turn out that bad. First of all, a friend of mine came into my rescue by giving me a project. That kept me busy initially. And during the first month itself, I landed a gig with a LA web development company. And I am happy to say, 8 months and few projects later, I am still working for them. And we are exploring the possibilities of taking business to the next level.

Freelancing turned out to be better than I bargained for. Of course the initial couple of months, though I had an income, it wasn’t what I used to get in the job. That was mainly due to my erratic schedules and getting used to being my own boss slippages. But once I came to terms with my new life and the fact that no ones going to look over my shoulder to make me work, but it is the paycheck at the end of the month that will suffer, if I don’t out in solid work, I turned out pretty well.

Actually from about the third month of being a freelancer, I caught up with my salary and from the month after started to exceed it. That was the best thing and also took away my worries of financial stability. I have been earning much more than what I had earned in any job, for the past four months as a freelancer. The beauty of this is, if you have the capacity freelancing gives you the option to earn more. But if I was in a job, I would have had to wait for the annual reviews and all the other bullshit to get a raise. Even then, with the current economic condition,that was a far cry. With my last boss, it was definitely a non-starter.

And the other major thing is that we are going to be moving houses. We are moving to our own place and we are currently in the process of doing it up to our tastes and needs. And that gives me an opportunity to setup my ideal working environment. I have already designed the furniture and setup. Now it is just a matter of getting them done.

All in all, 2009 has been a good year. An year of changes, but looking back, it is an year that I am happy about. It has been an year of achievements. Looking forward to the house move and starting 2010 in a new house with a new lease of life!

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Ever since I started working from home, one of my biggest challenges had been being productive. When you are working from another room in the house, the opportunities for distractions have been far greater. Whether it is to satisfy an urge to get something to munch from the refridgerator, or to go play with the kids, or to get a quick update on match on TV, etc, the list can be endless.

Over the past few months I have found a few things that worked for me and I thought of sharing them. The motivation for sharing is partly because some of these tips I picked up from a variety of blogs on freelancing and work@home.

I had to adopt some strategies as some attributes that help successful freelancing do not come naturally for me. One of the worst being I used to be a champion on procastinating.

Practice some sort of GTD:
You don’t have to be a champion on GTD. But it helps to have some sort o a workflow that you follow. GTD proposes a great workflow and I use a slimmed down version of that.

One of my main challenges has been in finding the tools. I am yet to find my ideal tool. But between a notebook (the paper type, not a computer), my iPhone with a few free task applications, Google tasks, I make an attempt to record all the stuff that needs to get done.

I also a great fan of unfuddle for managing software projects. It provides a tool that is more geared toward software projects without the overkill or the complications of major project management tools, which is ideal for small projects with small teams and short timelines.

Find the times that work for you best:
All of us have times that we are more productive than the other times. These are the times when our energy levels are highest and our concentration is sharpest.

For me these times are the morning and the night. So I have planned my work day in such a way that I can make use of these times.

I schedule other activities such as meetings that requires me to go out and meet clients to those times that my energy I low. Having to go out and meet people is better option when you’re energy is low rather than trying to work on your own.

But I am not always able to dedicate these times for doing paid work. Go instance some mornings I have to drop and pick my daughter to school. An sometimes there are other errands or family matters that need to be done at those times. If that happens I shift my work hours to other time slots.

Stick to a schedule as much as possible:
One of the first things I tried to do when I started out was to get rid of all schedules. And that was the biggest mistake I made. Nothing hardly got done without crunching everything at deadlines.

Set targets:
This is something that helped me to get things done and also to keep my income in check. I target to do a cetain amount of work everyday. There is a monthly target and a weekly target and a daily target. Sometimes I may exceed the daily target but sometimes due to other tasks that I have to attend to, the weekly paid time target may go off target. I try todo my best to cover the weekly target. If I fail to meet my weekly targets, I know that it will result in a dent in my monthly income.

Time box:
This is something that has worked out for me really well and help me deal with procastinating and meeting targets as well. When I work I try to work in a chunk. Spend a chunk of time like 2 hours on a task. I reward myself with a small break after the specified time was spent on the task.

This also helps me meet my targets without getting burned out. This also helpse pace out my day.

Be flexible:
The greatest of plans go off th track. So the key is being flexible and having th ability to adopt the changes and disruptions. I still get irritate when my work plan gets disrupted. But I am trying my best efforts to be flexible. One of the advantages of freelancing is it gives greater freedom to become flexible.

These techniques and this work flow has helped me keep my productivity at a higher level. This also helped me to keep my income in check. One of the great worries of freelancing is the fluctuating income. While getting work is the primary fact in meeting this, once you land work, getting things done will ensure that you deliver on the work that you have taken up.

I have taken the plunge. And this post comes one month late. Since the start of April 2009, I am a full time freelancer and an entrepreneur. I made the decision and moved ahead with it. Severed all my strings with the cubicle nation and started in the environments of home sweet home. I felt the fear, but did it anyways (that phrase sounds strangely familiar)

And I have been feeling better than I felt for a long time. I felt peacefulness that i had not felt for a long time. All the stress I had boiling inside me just vanished. I had to drag myself to work some times during the past few months and all that pressure evaporated.

Now I work the hours that I am comfortable (honestly I work far more hours, but I do it joyously), I spend quite a bit more time with my family (my daughter is thrilled that both her parents are at home), cut down time spent in commute, am doing projects that I want to do, learning new technologies every day and actually enjoying the work the that I am doing.

And there is no chance of this work getting bored as the projects that you do as a freelancer tend to be more short term and you are constantly working on new projects. This is a major departure from my last gig, where I was maintaining and developing an old system built on deprecated technology.

The transition had its own set of complications. I was moving from a salaried position to becoming a freelancer which meant that my income was going to vary from being the fixed income to a variable income. This was a major decision to make as I have fixed expenses due to debts apart from day to today expenses. But I had this major confidence that I would be able to earn the minimum that was needed to sustain our family and the first month has been successful in that regard.

Secondly, I was looking at the upside more. As a salaried employee my income was more or less FIXED. But as a freelancer and an entrepreneur the upside is unlimited! I read somewhere that a risk assessment should concentrate more on the potential upside and not the potential downside! And if you see your cup as half full, you know what I mean.

Thirdly, I wanted to always try my hand at starting a business. I have attempted this as a side project a few times, but the conflict of interests and work commitments kept me giving such a project the true effort needed in one. Being a freelancer is in a way, you doing your own business. And it gives me the opportunity to build a company around the services that I offer, do it in a more expanded manner that goes beyond a

single person. So I am finally giving wings to my dreams!

Hopefully, this will enable me to blog more often, do things that I truly enjoy doing, work the hours that I want, spend more time with my family, reduce my carbon footprint (no daily commute for me), exercise more, create more value and earn far more than I DID!

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Came across this interesting post which was trying to compare the difference between permanent and contract positions. Where.Deers.&.Antelopes.Play It is a post that has started a very diverse discussion from different view points. What triggered me to write this post was because I was also once a contractor and I faced a few issues by virtue of being a contractor, especially in the case where I needed to raise some capitol from banks.

In Sri Lanka, no bank will ever lend you any money if you are a contractor. They seem to have taken the notion that permanent jobs are forever and contract jobs are temporary. I guess what they have not realized is the fact that no job is permanent, whether it is contract or permanent.

When I took up that particular post, I had no hesitations on taking up a contractual position as I had confidence on my self. I was confident of being able to get a renewal at the end of the term. I always believed in giving back my worth to the company that work. If I feel I am not doing my worth, I get worried before anyone else does.

So for me it was not much of a differentiator. What I was more interested in was the challenge and the environment. I was more concerned about delivering what was expected out of me, because one thing that I cannot bear, is being a failure in my own eyes.

But in general I think the environment also has to adopt to be more flexible towards contractors, specially in Sri Lanka. If the banking system shuts down contractors from basic needs such as getting a housing loan, car loan etc, then that is going to force some people to seek permanent jobs. This will create an undue demand for permanent jobs as well as makes it harder for companies to fill short term man power usages through contracting.

A lot of contract staff in Sri Lanka tend to work for foreign companies. This practice is adopted by these foreign companies to stay more flexible because of old labour laws that are in place, which makes it almost impossible for a company to fire an employee, unless that person commits some serious crime. So in order to not to get locked into carrying un-necessary luggage they prefer to get people on contract.

If the government wants to promote foreign investment, they will have to work on bringing in legitimacy to the contract workers, by amending laws that would ensure that they are treated in the same level as the permanent employees. If this is done, I think eventually Sri Lanka will also have a talented pool of contractors who will be able to quickly move in to a job and fulfil the requirements. This will also enable the companies to be more agile as they will have flexible access to talent; proven and exposed talent. People who are exposed to new technologies and more diverse situations, thus providing solutions that are proven and tested, avoiding the invention of the wheel over and over again.

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I found these ten principles in a mail that I received from a colleague. This was a publication by the Institute For Business, Technology & Ethics.

  1. Treat all employees as unique, valuable individuals – Never treat anyone as though (s)he is dispensable, without value or just a number.
  2. Support each employees freedom, growth and development – Never view anyone through stereo types and images, or as fixed and unchangeable.
  3. Communicate to employees by name with respect – Never use or impose demeaning, trivializing, or derogatory names on others.
  4. Model and encourage a balanced life of good work and rest – Do not adopt policies or make demands on employees that undermine balanced lives.
  5. Honor and respect employee families –  Never undervalue the significance of families and friends of employees.
  6. Protect employees' life, safety and health – Never harm or jeopardize the physical well being of anyone.
  7. Create a working environment free of sexual harassment – Do not allow communication or activity that is sexually inappropriate.
  8. Be fair and just in financial matters – Never tolerate unfair wages, prices or financial practices.
  9. Communicate honestly and truthfully –  Never mischaracterize people, products, services or facts.
  10. Cultivate a positive attitude towards others and thier accomplishments – Do not give in to envy or the temptation to take credit for the work of others.

I think these are very good practices for any business leader to follow. These practices will build trust and faith. The relationship between the leader and the employees will be one based on trust and this will naturally lead to better results. Because now that the leader will discover that his/her employees are motivated than ever.

As the saying goes, the relationship is worth more than any short-term result.

If you look around there are plenty of smart people, far more smart people than rich. And if you really look around not all the rich are smart. I mean they are smart, but not as smart as some of the not-rich smart guys. But it is generally accepted that in order to accumulate wealth you need to have intelligence. But being intelligent does not ensure wealth. Have you wondered why? Well I did, and here’s what I came to conclude. 

The way I see it there are two things to this. If you’re intelligent in common things, like if you have really good common sense, making you a smart guy, then you are as good as the next guy with common sense. Common sense prevails because it is common sense. And if you are going to apply common sense to making your fortune you are going to end up doing all the common things the rest of the folks will do. And you are going to be in a very crowded market. 

And if you are really smart, smart as in uniquely smart, you will apply something very uncommon into making your riches. That way you’re intelligence is going to guide you towards something that others with common sense will not think of. But just getting the start is not enough, because once you do this uncommon thing, you are going to have people who take the queue and follow suit. 

I will tell a pretty good example of this kind of scenario. Sometime back, in the town that I was living in, there was a very successful communications bureau. These guys were pretty good and had a pretty diverse portfolio of services. After seeing their success, communication bureaus started to mushroom around the town. At the height of it, along a two kilometer road stretch there were some 60 odd communication bureaus. But the original guys kept on diversifying and managed to stay ahead of the competition. 

Naturally, all these businesses were competing for the same business and were not very profitable. Then around town there were a few pharmacies that were doing very well. So what happened next? Most of these Comms bureaus were converted to pharmacies. This conversion happened within a time span of one year. What happened to these pharmacies is anybody’s guess. 

So ideally, your approach will be very complicated that it is hard to comprehend. Thus your road to riches will be quite unique and you will have a pretty good chance of success. When you talk about business there are few things that you should incorporate into your business, in order to stay ahead of the competition; to stand out from the crowd. It is said that your business should be based on resources that are rare, valuable, and hard to copy and doesn’t have good substitutes

This may give us some idea as to why all the smart people are not rich. According to this theory a ventures success is based on a formula that is hard to copy and impossible to substitute. Implicitly this means that formula eludes common sense. This is a result of inability to understand the successful formula. If it is not understandable, it cannot be copied or substituted for that matter. It is said at times, even the successful ones themselves do not quite understand why or how their formulas are working. 

In economic terms your knowledge is not valuable if it is known by many or knowable. In other words, if your knowledge is common, then there is not much value in it. But if your knowledge is rare, valuable, hard to copy or substitute, it certainly will have a higher economic value. 

So now I know why I am still not as rich as much as I am smart 😉

Okey, I have come up with a personal mission statement. If I keep this till I prefect this, I may never publish it. So I thought about just going ahead and putting it on here. So if I do make changes, I will add a new version. Anyway, I think publishing it is like officially adopting this as my creed! So, I am making a commitment to it.

Personal Mission Statement of Sampath Dassanayake:

  • I will be a light, not a judge.
  • Succeed at home first – I will love my family unconditionally and will be available.
  • Excel at work – I will give 100% to the job at hand, without worrying about the next promotion or the job.
  • Be proactive –  I will act before being acted upon. I will be my own creator.
  • I will create my own destinity (Begin with the end in mind)
  • I will organize my life around deepest priorities. (First things first)
  • I will seek a win/win solution at all times.
  • I will seek to understand and then be understood.
  • I will look for Synergy in life.
  • I will work on balanced renewal of physical, mental, spriritual and social dimentions of my life.
  • I will develop at least one onew proficiency a year.
  • I will not fear mistakes nor failures. But I shall never forget the lesson.
  • I will work towards becoming financially independent.
  • I will keep my expenses within my earnings. I shall not get into debt beyond my earning capacity.

I have also created another mission statement around the current roles that I play. Here it is:

Roles and Goals:

  • Individual – Myself is my greatest asset. I will seek balanced renewal of my spiritual, mental, physical, emotional and social dimentions of my life.
  • Husband – My wife is my companion and best friend. I will be honest and true to her and will love her unconditionally and will accept her for who she is.
  • Son – I will love and care for my parents to the best of my ability.
  • Brother -I will be there for him as a friend whenever he needs me.
  • Employee – I will give my best to the job at hand without worrying about the next job or promotion.
  • Entreprenuer – I will work towards achieving my entrepreneurial dreams.
  • Teacher – I wil share my knowledge freely and willingly.

 

The above article appears on wired.com. This is an interesting article and the author is talking about two of the most influential persons in today’s tech world.

It is amazing how each of these individuals have been able to build contrasting public images. As the article examines, it is Bill Gates, though hated by many, is more noble in his actions, rather than Jobs, though lved by many, seems very selfish.

I think it is an interesting article and I completely agree with the author. I always thought, teh reason Bill Gates was hated so much because of his geniousness, which all the others envied. I think it is him who made a computer revolusion, by making computer software easy to use.

This is an interesting blog entry by one of the leading authorities on .NETCF development – Chris Tacke.

Here he is talking about how one client has played them down for $ 12,500. Wow! The client has taken thier goodwill for a ride. And he is trying to counter this by creating bad press for the client. Here is what he’s got to say in his blog entry called The downside of running your own company

Are you looking for mobile software for a Pest Control or Pest Management business? Something that your field technicians can use while in the field to quickly update the status of traps, bait, etc.? How about an application that synchronizes back to an enterprise server so your pest management data can be stored globally for quick reporting as well as updating the technician’s daily schedule and routing? Well I suggest you choose anything other than the ePM Solution from Eye-On Solutions of 4720 Montgomery Lane, Bethesda, Maryland (headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA). Josh Roberts, the President of Eye-On Solutions, LLC had the application developed and is selling it, yet paid nothing for it – essentially stealing it from OpenNETCF Consulting, a company who also developed the SDF.Choose any of their competitors you’d like. Start at the IPMRC for general information or purchase from Insight Direct, PestPAC or anyone else in Pest Control Magazine. I just ask that you do not purchase any product or service from Eye-On Solutions. Thank you.
I posted that snippet here because this is a very real danger that independent software contractors face. We take up to do projects for clients and along the way, you assume that you have a trusted relationship going on, so you release all the source code to the client, hoping they will accept it and release the payments, and they make a run with your work!

I guess the only way to avoid such situations is to work through 3rd party intemediataries and by placing the contract amount in an escrow. This way you are assured of the money if you finish the job properly. The downsize is probably you will have to foot the escrow charges. But I guess that is the cost of doing business.

I have worked through several escrows. But after a while and you build up the trust you can work directly with the client. But even then, I prefer to work on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule, where I release work done in iterations and get paid for that, minimizing the risk of not getting paid at the end.

Good Luck Chris. I hope that you manage to get your money!

I have been toying with the idea of becoming an Independent Software Consultant (ISC), which is a glorified name for a freelance programmer, for sometime now. There was a time that I was quite confident that I could make what ever I make in my day job very easily as an ISC in a couple of weeks, provided I find work.

The biggest worry was not having a steady income, although the potential for earnings was higher. The only way to ensure a steady income was to work a dedicated amount of time for a client every week.

For this, I did find one client in the US, but his timings were not very practical for me. Working for him required me to stay up for most part of the night for six days a week. And that was taking away the time that I had to spend with my wife. So after a couple of weeks, I said no to that deal.

Then I had very good deal going, where I was maintaining a software for another client. This was a web-based application and the client, who was a software development company themselves, had me maintaining a system they had developed for a client. It was developed using ASP.NET, a skill which they did not posses, and they had got it developed by a freelance programmer who was not available anymore. They used to send me the bug lists, which I received in the morning, and I use d work on them during the day and upload the deliverables to their server by my evening, which was their morning. And I billed them by the hour.

This was a deal that worked very well for me for a few months, until my contact point there suddenly decided to leave that company. He introduced me to another contact person, but he was rather non-responsive and I was left in the dark. I did get paid for my work though. But right now, I am without a proper long term working arrangement, so my recurring ISC work has come to a halt.

But on the bright side, I have two freelance projects that I have taken up which needs to be finished. So I might as well use this time to complete these and get them out of the way and then start looking for more projects.

And who knows, I may get landed with a few long duration projects and I might actually become a full time ISC, and say good bye to my low paying day job!

Last week I made a decision. I decided to let go of a very lucrative part time job inorder to spend more time with my family, i.e. my wife.

My offer was to work online everyday from 9.00 PM to Midnight for a US based client. ANd the pay was very good compared to Sri Lankan salaries. But the tradeoff was it was the time of the day that I had for my wife.

I tried it for a couple of weeks. The pay was good, I could see a lot of money coming my way. But we hardly got any time together. Had no time to take her out, even to go shopping after work or to go out for dinner. I had to rush back home and log in by 9.00.

The result was I was always tensed up everytime I got caught to a traffic jam on the way home from work and my wife had to do all the things by her slef, so everywhere by her self. This was not something we were used to doing. We were used to doing things together. And we were missing each other even though we were in the same room.

So I quit the job. Now I may have lost my additional income stream. But I have got back something much more valuable. Time spent together with the person that I love most!