A Letter To My Clients

This is a letter I just sent out to several companies and individuals I do web design/development subcontracting for. I thought it was worth posting here. I’m not particularly secretive about what I charge (or, as you’ll see, am going to be charging from now on) for websites, so I don’t think it’s inappropriate to put this here.

Some of you may think that there’s nothing here I shouldn’t have been doing years ago. I agree. The fact is that I have been very bad at business for a long time, and my desire to be helpful to people with small budgets for their web projects has ended up costing me a great deal of time and money. As I am a married man now, I can no longer afford to be “cool”. I have to be responsible.


Hi there folks!

You’re receiving this email because you’re one of the people I regularly do web design/development business with, and I’m announcing a few changes in my contracting policy.

Effective immediately, I will not be undertaking any website projects with a budget under $1000. This is non-negotiable. I may take on design projects (such as logo creation or non-production site design) for less, but this is the baseline for hiring/contracting me to make a website. In addition, I will require a minimum of one-third of the project’s fee to be paid up front, non-returnable, as a sign of good faith. This is also non-negotiable. I will also be providing scope of work documents for each project, to be signed by both the client (or the client’s representative, i.e. you) and myself, so that each party is clear about their own roles and responsibilities within the scope of the project. I will also require that any changes to the project during the course of the work be given to me in writing (via email, preferably) so that there are no misunderstandings or confusion about what needs to be accomplished. Changes made during the project will also require a renegotiation of fees.

Each project will include, as part of the negotiated cost, a fixed, reasonable amount of hours dedicated to phone or physical meetings with the client (or with you). If this amount of time is exceeded, I will bill the client $25 per hour of meeting/phone time. Hopefully this will encourage the client to contact me via email, which is my preferred method of communication, as it is much less ambiguous and easier to refer to.

In addition, I will be extremely selective in taking on any projects with less than a two week turnaround time; any such projects will be considered “rush jobs” and I will add an additional 50% of my estimated fee to their total. Also, any timeline specified by the client will be understood to begin when the client provides deliverables such as branding and content, as well as any and all pertinent logins and password for the client’s domain name registrar and hosting provider and any contact information for the client that needs to be included within the project’s content (such as an email address for a contact form to send messages to).

Please note that these new policies do not affect any projects I am currently engaged in with you, or projects for which I have already agreed to work on for an existing fee — merely new projects going ahead from here on out. I will carry out any existing projects for the fee I’ve negotiated with you. It will, however, apply to any and all projects that are not yet begun. If you’re unsure whether a project falls under my new guidelines or not, feel free to contact me about it.

I apologize if these changes and requirements are inconvenient for you. However, after a great deal of consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is simply not economically sustainable for me to work on projects with budgets below $1000. After doing the math I’ve realized that my current policy of working on small sites for small money means that I am a 33 year old married designer/developer, with sixteen years experience in every aspect of website creation, who makes roughly the same amount of money as a Starbucks barista. (Less, actually: they make tips. I don’t.)

Also, frankly, I’m tired of dealing with small clients. They’re pushy, they contact me at strange hours, they don’t have even basic understanding of how the Internet or even their own websites work, they make absolutely unreasonable and unfeasible demands (both in terms of website functionality and turnaround time), and they don’t pay on time. They are, to put it bluntly, a pain in the ass.

Ultimately, it makes more sense for me to seek and take on three or four larger projects a month than seven or eight smaller ones; they’re easier and less stressful to manage, and are more financially lucrative in the long run.

If you find that you or your clients cannot work within these new policies of mine, I will be happy to refer you to another designer or developer who can better service your needs.

However, if you find my terms acceptable, I can guarantee that your clients’ projects will receive my full attention and the full benefit of my long years of experience in this field and my considerable creativity and professionalism.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

Josh Ellis

That’s the last time you put a blade in me, you hear?

I’m really intrigued by the Switch, a multitool that you can add or remove components from yourself.

The circular hole/pivot point reminds me of my own pocket knife, the Gerber Remix, which I carry with me constantly.

The Remix is a skeletonized…well, remix of the older Gerber Chameleon, of which I owned two before I got this one.

When you use this knife, you slip your index finger through the hole that the blade opens around. This has two benefits: 1) it’s nearly impossible for your hand to slip off the knife handle and onto the blade, sparing you the possibility of stitches and a hospital trip, and 2) allowing you to hold the knife and your hand in a far more natural position while cutting. (If you’re the paranoid urban prowler type like me, it has a third benefit: if you have to pull it in a fight, it’s basically also impossible for anyone to take it away from you.)

It seems like such an obvious, valuable design…and yet I’ve never seen another knife that uses the open pivot point this way. It looks as though the Switch might, but I can’t really tell from those concept pictures. (It looks as though the body of the tool might be too wide to comfortably put your finger through.)

Imagine how much safer all knives would be if they had this simple feature! I mean, it would work for fixed-blade knives and even for kitchen and utility knives.

This, to me, is what clever design is all about.

At A Crossroads

So I’d like your advice, my dear Internet.

I have a software project called dbasr that I’ve been working on for a while — several years, on and off, in fact. Weirdly enough, it’s actually probably more relevant and useful now than when I started it.

I’ve rewritten the code base several times, but I think I’m on the final iteration for a beta release now. There’s nothing really to look at unless you’re a coder, but I’m literally working on building the UI right now.

I’ve been keeping the exact nature of it under wraps, because I wanted to simply drop it on the world. Not that it’s a secret — I’ve told a few people about it — but I’d like to be the first to market with it. (I can tell you it’s a combination of a web application and a service. If you know me and my interests, you might be able to fill in some gaps from that.)

Unfortunately, it’s a pretty substantial project for one person, and the reason I haven’t finished it is because real life intrudes. It’s a lot of code and a lot of UI design and there aren’t enough hours in the day. I’ve tried to get other people on board, but understandably nobody’s been particularly willing to invest themselves into a project with no immediate paycheck.

I’ve talked to a few people I know about securing investment money — going the traditional angel-funding route. But after a lot of consideration, I’m not sure I see the point of doing so. I don’t need a lot of money — really just enough to pay my expenses while I finish writing the software, and a very little bit of hardware and running costs.

I also don’t trust anyone else to run this. My experience tells me that if I get money from angels or VCs, they’ll expect to direct the company’s business decisions, and I don’t think that’s a good idea in this case. In fact, the reason that dbasr is such a unique concept is not because I’m necessarily that smart, but because everyone who’s ever tried anything similar has ended up letting money people make the decisions on how it ought to work. I won’t do that.

I keep looking at tools like Kickstarter and Indie Go Go, which several people I know have successfully used to fund projects, and I’m thinking about using one of these for dbasr. Doing so means telling the world what it is and committing myself to a particular set of features, but I’m probably okay with that right now.

What I’m afraid of is somebody else running with the idea. In this case, I think it’s a cool enough idea that I’d be happy to simply see it out there…but I’d also like to make some money from it, and I think I’ve figured out ways to do that which are completely non-evil.

I’ve run the numbers and done my homework and I don’t think I can reasonably expect to get super-rich off of it, but I do think it will be profitable pretty quickly and make me enough money to live comfortably, and possibly expand into a thriving little business. “Little” being the key here. It doesn’t need to be a megacorporation. It’s a simple software platform that can be maintained by a small team, maybe even just me by myself to start.

I think it’s a tool that could seriously affect the way a certain subset of business in the world is done. Certainly the people who know about it have all seemed enthusiastic.

Look, whether you like me or not or think I’m a windbag, you have to admit something: I’m good at understanding where holes in the market exist. I’m neither capable nor interested in filling most of them; when I came up with an idea for an augmented reality device in 2003, I ditched it because I didn’t have the faintest idea of how to actually build something like that, even though I had most of the broad strokes of an iPhone in mind (digital compass and GPS with gyroscope, camera on opposite side of screen).

But this hole I can fill. And it might change the world, at least in a little way. It won’t cure cancer or feed starving children or teach Beyond Petroleum how to build an oil rig…but it’s pretty goddamned cool, nonetheless.

So here’s my question to you: do I go for it? Do I make some UI mockups, set up a Kickstarter fund, ask for money, share my idea with the world even though it’s not even ready for internal testing? Or do I keep soldiering away?

If I could just work on this 8-10 hours a day, without having to worry about paying rent, I’d have it done in just a few months. And it would be amazing.

Tell me what you think, in the comments here or on my Twitter @jzellis.

VGrid for CSS nerds

Here’s a little something I just whipped up for my own uses, but you might find it useful as well: vgrid.css, a CSS style sheet for handling vertical height of objects by em, as a sort of companion to the 960 grid. It’s got vgrid_x classes from 1 to 100; if you’re assigning onscreen elements to be more than 100 lines high, this probably isn’t the tool for you.

I mainly whipped it up for use with input forms with textareas, so that I could easily assign a height to textareas, but it’d probably be useful for other sorts of line-by-line layout as well. I just thought someone else might find it useful.

If you’d rather just cut and paste, the CSS is below:

.vgrid_1{ height: 1em; } .vgrid_2{ height: 2em; } .vgrid_3{ height: 3em; } .vgrid_4{ height: 4em; } .vgrid_5{ height: 5em; } .vgrid_6{ height: 6em; } .vgrid_7{ height: 7em; } .vgrid_8{ height: 8em; } .vgrid_9{ height: 9em; } .vgrid_10{ height: 10em; } .vgrid_11{ height: 11em; } .vgrid_12{ height: 12em; } .vgrid_13{ height: 13em; } .vgrid_14{ height: 14em; } .vgrid_15{ height: 15em; } .vgrid_16{ height: 16em; } .vgrid_17{ height: 17em; } .vgrid_18{ height: 18em; } .vgrid_19{ height: 19em; } .vgrid_20{ height: 20em; } .vgrid_21{ height: 21em; } .vgrid_22{ height: 22em; } .vgrid_23{ height: 23em; } .vgrid_24{ height: 24em; } .vgrid_25{ height: 25em; } .vgrid_26{ height: 26em; } .vgrid_27{ height: 27em; } .vgrid_28{ height: 28em; } .vgrid_29{ height: 29em; } .vgrid_30{ height: 30em; } .vgrid_31{ height: 31em; } .vgrid_32{ height: 32em; } .vgrid_33{ height: 33em; } .vgrid_34{ height: 34em; } .vgrid_35{ height: 35em; } .vgrid_36{ height: 36em; } .vgrid_37{ height: 37em; } .vgrid_38{ height: 38em; } .vgrid_39{ height: 39em; } .vgrid_40{ height: 40em; } .vgrid_41{ height: 41em; } .vgrid_42{ height: 42em; } .vgrid_43{ height: 43em; } .vgrid_44{ height: 44em; } .vgrid_45{ height: 45em; } .vgrid_46{ height: 46em; } .vgrid_47{ height: 47em; } .vgrid_48{ height: 48em; } .vgrid_49{ height: 49em; } .vgrid_50{ height: 50em; } .vgrid_51{ height: 51em; } .vgrid_52{ height: 52em; } .vgrid_53{ height: 53em; } .vgrid_54{ height: 54em; } .vgrid_55{ height: 55em; } .vgrid_56{ height: 56em; } .vgrid_57{ height: 57em; } .vgrid_58{ height: 58em; } .vgrid_59{ height: 59em; } .vgrid_60{ height: 60em; } .vgrid_61{ height: 61em; } .vgrid_62{ height: 62em; } .vgrid_63{ height: 63em; } .vgrid_64{ height: 64em; } .vgrid_65{ height: 65em; } .vgrid_66{ height: 66em; } .vgrid_67{ height: 67em; } .vgrid_68{ height: 68em; } .vgrid_69{ height: 69em; } .vgrid_70{ height: 70em; } .vgrid_71{ height: 71em; } .vgrid_72{ height: 72em; } .vgrid_73{ height: 73em; } .vgrid_74{ height: 74em; } .vgrid_75{ height: 75em; } .vgrid_76{ height: 76em; } .vgrid_77{ height: 77em; } .vgrid_78{ height: 78em; } .vgrid_79{ height: 79em; } .vgrid_80{ height: 80em; } .vgrid_81{ height: 81em; } .vgrid_82{ height: 82em; } .vgrid_83{ height: 83em; } .vgrid_84{ height: 84em; } .vgrid_85{ height: 85em; } .vgrid_86{ height: 86em; } .vgrid_87{ height: 87em; } .vgrid_88{ height: 88em; } .vgrid_89{ height: 89em; } .vgrid_90{ height: 90em; } .vgrid_91{ height: 91em; } .vgrid_92{ height: 92em; } .vgrid_93{ height: 93em; } .vgrid_94{ height: 94em; } .vgrid_95{ height: 95em; } .vgrid_96{ height: 96em; } .vgrid_97{ height: 97em; } .vgrid_98{ height: 98em; } .vgrid_99{ height: 99em; } .vgrid_100{ height: 100em; }

New Red State Soundsystem wallpaper

To celebrate the upcoming release of Red State Soundsystem’s first album, Ghosts In A Burning City, here’s a Red State wallpaper for you. This image will also be available soon as a signed print, or as part of the deluxe album package.

Red State Soundsystem wallpaper, 1280 x 1024

Red State Soundsystem wallpaper, 1280 x 1024

Red State Soundsystem wallpaper, 1440 x 900

Red State Soundsystem wallpaper, 1440 x 900

Fear The Panda t-shirt now available!

You can now buy a “Fear The Panda” t-shirt from Zazzle.com!

Who wouldn’t want the Zenarchery panda on their chest, big as life? Losers, that’s who! Cool people want to buy the shirt! Buy it! Give me a few dollars! I need money! It’s awesome! It comes in like eight zillion colors and sizes! Hella buy it! Obama wants you to buy it! Buy it now! Please, for the love of God!

I chose Zazzle because their print process was highest rated in several reviews I looked up online. I’ll be building a small store here for this and my other forthcoming products.

(Seriously, buy one. I need money. And it’s a cool design, I think. If you’d like a customized version, contact me and I can design one for you.)

"Monster Fashion" video

Jarret Keene asked me to make some videos for the spoken-word pieces on his album Monster Fashion. This is the first one, the title track. The clips are made up of bits of things from the Prelinger archives and YouTube (mostly the former). It’s not exactly David Fincher, I know, but it’s cute.