Among the many unrealistic New Year’s resolutions I make every year, this may be the king of the hill. Project 52 is a petition to write a blog post a week for the whole year. Given that the last 5 years of running this site I’ve averaged about 4 posts a year, and I’m already a month behind, this seems like an impossible challenge. But the point is to dedicate more time to writing and reflecting, so I’m gonna post as much as I can, even if I don’t hit the magic number.

Writing didn’t seem like it would be a very important part of running a web design company at first. It’s about your style and the quality of your code, right? Wrong. So foolishly wrong. The initial exchange of emails and proposals with a client is almost as important as the final deliverable. It establishes the tone of our relationship, determines my capacity to meet expectations and clarifies the steps required to make something wonderful.

Regardless of whether Gridwork is hired for design, development or strategic planning, words play a critical role. On design jobs, it’s the sample content used in initial compositions, the labels on form fields, text in navigation, among dozens of other items that may never even get discussed, but require attention to language. In development, it’s the documentation, training materials, even the way variables are named. Using plain English as much as possible is considerate of the other people who might work on that code in the future.

This all seems obvious now, but without the benefit of hindsight my first year of doing client work was not very successful. After 7 months of exhausting a meager savings, racking up some hefty credit card debt, barely making car payments and crashing in my mom’s cramped (but charming) guest house, I gave myself a few more months to get my shit together. At a certain point, it was clear I’d have to suck it up, update the old resume, accept failure, and move on. Fortunately, in that time of quasi-crisis I managed to scare up enough work to carry on, but not by much, gaining two clients and losing one.

In retrospect, I did two other important things during that period that laid the groundwork for turning Gridwork into a more stable source of income.

The first was launching version one of this site. Turns out having a web site is a pretty important part of starting a web design company. Duh.

And second, I spent weeks designing, editing, writing and redesigning a boilerplate proposal/contract. It’s a document that I reread, revise and customize for each new potential project. In 3 – 5 pages, this document summarizes the project, spells out estimated expenses for each phase of work, defines terms & conditions, and explains each deliverable with ballpark time frames.

Both of those mini-projects required serious thinking about how to present myself, what I am good at, and what I need to work on. The 52-blog-post writing challenge is a chance to extend that thinking beyond the constraints of business survival and contract negotiations.