Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

Testing a New Approach

Last month I had my first in-person interview for a programming job. I had almost a week to prepare for it, so I decided to spend the time looking into a few of the tools and JavaScript libraries that I’ve always meant to look into but have never made the time for. It was an intense few days where I picked up a lot of new skills and mentally kicked myself for not doing it earlier.

My favourite new skill is testing. I worked through a course on Mocha.js and Chai.js. Mocha is a test framework and Chai is an assertion library, and together they tie in very nicely with behavioural driven development. In English, that means that when I plan to write a section of my program, I can tell the tests what it should do and then the tests will tell me if my program succeeds or not. This might sound like doing double the coding work for no additional functionality, and in a way it is, but it means that every time I want to test my code I can just type a single command and the program will check itself. If I write my tests sensibly, it means that I can make changes without worrying about breaking something else that I don’t realise is connected to the part of the program I’m working on. If something does break, my tests will tell me what and where it is broken, so I don’t have to spend hours trying to hunt down the problem. It’s pretty neat.

Adding tests to my sandbox websites was simple. Writing the test and the code to go with it was straight forward when I wrote the tests first. My structure just worked naturally, and I was thrilled to see that test driven development was considerably faster for me than manually testing as I went, even with the additional coding required.

After a few weeks of practicing in the sandbox websites, it was time to try adding tests to languagelearning.ninja. This was a very daunting proposition, because I have spent months coding this particular project. It is the most complex thing I have ever attempted, and in the process of writing it I’ve come up with quite a few little work-arounds that I’m not particularly keen to revisit. I did not structure the site with testing in mind, which is painfully obvious in almost every file that I open.

I decided to begin small, with the library module. My first tests just checked if the test suite could access the library files and if the correct languages were present. I expanded the tests to check if each language had entries in each genre that I plan to include. Within the first day I had already written hundreds of tests and refactored my code considerably. As I wrote each new test, I was conscious that these tests would have to handle future developments to the site. This is where I am learning how to scale.

Nine days of intense coding later, and Mocha reports that I have written well over 1000 tests. To come that far has meant restructuring most of the website, and I have barely started drilling into specific modules. So much has been broken down, modularised, and reassembled in a way that is much more predictable. Theories and methods that I have encountered over the past year and never found a use for seem vital now. Business level decisions that I have struggled with for years suddenly became obvious in the test environment. I stopped asking “how can I keep track of this?” and started asking “how can the computer track this for me?” Most importantly, I can now see how other people could work on the project without disrupting my own work. I don’t have to keep everything in my head any more, and it’s giving me the space to finally think again.

I didn’t end up getting that programming job, but I’m not disappointed; there are still a few questions the interviewer asked that I didn’t have good answers for, and if they turn out to be as helpful as testing has been, I will be too busy learning to work for anyone else for quite some time.

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Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

I have spent a lot of time over the last few years working on my business idea. Progress has been sporadic as I have raced through development work for a few weeks and then slammed hard into technical challenges that I didn’t have the skills to overcome at the time. Starting a business feels like one exhausting episode of manic depression, and it tends to follow this pattern:

Monday morning: I am full of creative ideas, for I am a creative goddess! I will write code, and it will be beautiful. When my child has her afternoon nap I will harness these thoughts and I shall type like the wind.

Monday afternoon: I was going to do something about fixing a bug in my crossword. Oh god, what was the bug I was going to fix? I can’t bear to do another crossword right now to see how it is running; I need more words in my database. Maybe I’ll add a few more now, then I can test if they work while I do the crossword. That will be a bit more fun, and I can kill two birds with one stone. God I’m efficient.

Tuesday morning: Right, my child is at crèche, so I have a few hours to get everything done. Oh ugh, I’m only half way through translating those words from yesterday. Translating words into languages that I don’t know is so time consuming, even if it is a great way to learn. Maybe I should get a translator to do it for me, and then randomly check the accuracy of a few? Maybe I should get a second translator to do the checking?

Tuesday afternoon: My database is broken. How can I get other people to help with this when I can’t even stop myself from breaking it? Why is my database broken? Maybe it hates me. My child is refusing to have her nap. Does she hate me too? Probably. Everyone hates me. I hate me. I suck at coding and I need to get a real job.

Wednesday morning: I forgot to close a string. Ha ha. Funny. I am a debugging goddess! Look at all this great code I have written today.

Wednesday afternoon: The back end of my website is beautiful. I wish people could see some of this hidden functionality. What a pity the front end looks like arse. Maybe I should get a designer to make it a bit prettier?

A screenshot of languagelearning.ninja as of March 2016

This design may look like arse…

Thursday morning: I can’t believe how much time I wasted yesterday looking for a designer. That was prime coding time! What was I thinking? It might look like arse, but compared to my first version it’s pretty sexy. I’m getting better at design; I just need to spend a bit more time practicing. Designers are expensive. Translators are expensive. If I do it myself I can save a lot of money, and then I can spend the money I have on something a bit more important for the project.

Screenshot of languagelearning.ninja from March 2015.

…but this older version looks like fat, hairy ass.

Thursday afternoon: Why did I try to go out and do some photography for the website with a 2 year old? Thank god the camera isn’t broken. I hope the camera bag dries before her father gets home.

Friday morning: Oh, right, child isn’t going to crèche today. Bummer, I forgot about that. I wonder if I can look up designers and translators on my phone while I take her to the park. There just isn’t enough time to get everything finished, but I’m such a control freak that it’s difficult for me to let go.

Friday afternoon: I am exhausted. Damn it, that bug is still in my crossword. Next week. I’ll fix it next week.

Yesterday I decided that it was time to stop messing around and to get some help. I took my credit card out of storage, went over to 99 designs, and launched my first contest. It was terrifying. It was symbolic.

Working through the form (which I closed no less than 4 times before I just got on with it and finished) forced me to face a few truths that I didn’t particularly feel like facing:

  • Time is more important than money, and I need to quit wasting it.
  • I am not good enough to finish this project by myself, and I never will be. This is ok, because it would take me so much time to get good enough at everything that I would always be playing catch-up with new technologies and ideas and the project would never finish.
  • My sense of money is skewed, because in the past 6 months I have easily spent that much money on miscellaneous rubbish that I’ll never use (if not more). I can spend that much money in a single month on chiropractic and massage without thinking twice about it.
  • It’s ok to tell other people what I think of their work when they are working for me.

I eventually submitted the design contest, paid the money, and remarkably I didn’t die immediately. It was a great start to the process. Designs are already coming in, and if you’re interested you can check them out here. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a great idea for some code that I need to write before my child gets home from crèche; after all, I am a coding goddess.

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Good Things Happen Too

The past month has taught me something about myself: I struggle to share the positive things in my life. There are a lot of toxic people around me, the sort of people who twist my words and use them to hurt me, and to protect myself I keep a lot of secrets. This habit spills into most of my relationships, but instead of feeling safe I just feel isolated and lonely.

I need to work on this.

In the spirit of getting started, I wanted to share some of the good stuff that has been going on.

Shroomi turned two a few months ago. She’s big, strong and healthy. She can count to 20 in both English and German, and read the corresponding numbers. We’re struggling a bit with the alphabet, but that’s mostly because she doesn’t understand why some of the capital letters don’t look anything like the lower case letters. She is turning into a charming, polite, thoughtful little girl, and I’m absurdly proud of her.

I finally got around to learning French. Once I found a method that worked for me things became much simpler. There is still a lot of work to do with vocabulary, and my pronunciation is probably terrible, but I feel confident to try talking with the natives.

The website that I’ve been building for more than a year is online at www.languagelearning.ninja/. There is an incredible amount of work that still needs to be done on it, but I faced my fear and put part of it up. Users can register, play some of the games, and work with 6 different languages. Originally I was going to work on the language and content side of the project while a programmer I know did the code, and we were talking about bringing a designer on. Working with other people fell through for various reasons, but I still managed to launch by the original date, and with more languages than we originally discussed.

Following on from the previous point, 18 months ago I only knew how to write basic HTML and CSS. Now I can program in multiple languages and I do full stack development on an almost daily basis. I’ve nearly finished two IT units through Open Universities Australia, and for my programming unit I’m currently sitting on a 100% mark. A bit of external validation was just what I needed.

I found a great physiotherapist who specialises in women’s health. Thanks to her I can now go a full week without needing to see a chiropractor for intense pain, and that’s a week full of activity including running, jumping, climbing and baby wearing. My strength is improving daily, and I don’t have to be careful every time I want to do a basic movement. The relief from constant pain has been exhilarating.

We’ve decided to do a bit more travelling. Shroomi and I will spend a month travelling together through Europe before her father joins us for a few more weeks. This trip is going to be a blending of all the success I currently have in my life: my relationship with my beautiful little girl, my increasing health, my passion for language and finding ways to work remotely.

We pay for the tickets tomorrow.

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Change Your Questions

A few weeks ago I woke up in the morning and my mind wasn’t hammering me with a thousand thoughts at once. There was a blessed internal silence that mirrored the peace around me. I was surprised but I enjoyed the moment, because I knew that it might not last.

For years I have put off making hundreds of decisions. Big, small, or somewhere in between, every day a few new decisions have been added to the list. Normally I am a decisive person, so watching myself drown in indecision has been bewildering. I tried every psychological trick I could think of to improve my motivation. I’ve promised myself rewards for getting certain things done. I’ve threatened myself with punishments for failing to sort things out. I’ve written lists, experimented with clothing, and bought new office furniture.

None of the tricks helped beyond the novelty wearing off, but they did leave me wondering if I am not as capable as I believed I am. Could I just be a flake? Maybe I don’t have myself sorted out. Perhaps I am failing as an adult. Or is it simply that I’m lazy, irresponsible, and drifting through life waiting for someone else to bail me out?

No matter how negative my self-talk became, I wasn’t prepared to decide that the insidious questions were correct. The people around me were complaining about how hard I was working, so I couldn’t be lazy. I’ve spent years working on the same project with obsessive determination, so I can’t be a flake. I’ve learned too much in the pursuit of my goals to even pretend that I’m waiting for other people to bail me out.

So what was the underlying problem?

That question changed everything, because it led me to better questions. The problem was that I wasn’t making decisions. Why wasn’t I making decisions? Because I felt as if I didn’t have enough information to make good decisions, and that any decisions I made would be terrible and unchangeable. I realised that I expected to fail, to fail often, and that I wouldn’t be able to correct my mistakes once I saw them for what they were. At that point I stopped asking myself what the best possible decision would be, and how I would fix any mistakes that I had made.

The interesting thing about learning how to fix a mistake is that it is based on a few criteria. Firstly, you have to know exactly what the mistake is that you made. Mistakes are very specific, but success is often nebulous and difficult to define. Secondly, knowing what your mistake was implies that you now have a better plan, so acting on it will make your position stronger. Thirdly, learning how to fix a mistake usually teaches you how to take action in the first place. Asking how to change your appointment time is much easier than asking what the perfect appointment time would be, and you’ll learn how to book appointments in the first place.

Now when I catch myself procrastinating I take a five minute time out. I walk away from what I am doing and find a task that keeps my hands busy while my mind is free. Getting something finished breaks me out of the feeling that I’ve been wasting my time, and it gives me a chance to ask myself what the problem is. Usually I am doing one of two things; either I am focusing on the big picture instead of the small, for instance trying to work out how an entire software library works instead of starting with just the functions that I need to call, or I am fixated on the small picture instead of the big, such as worrying about stationery that costs $10 and ignoring expenses where I could potentially save $1000.

I still have a lot to sort out, but many things that have dragged on for years are now resolved. Dreams have become goals, opportunities have been created, and I can look at my achievements with satisfaction again.

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Don’t Mess With Mum

One month ago I started a new job. This is the first time in almost five years that I have been employed by someone else, and it represented a massive step for me. Returning to full time paid employment meant leaving Shroomi for most of the day. It meant putting her into crèche for a few hours each week. It meant restricting the amount of time we could spend breastfeeding together. It meant completely redefining the roles in my family. And it meant seeing if my body could handle the demands of a normal office.

The past month has been intense. Not only did I learn that there are tiny muscles between the vertebrae, I learned that they can become swollen. Yes, it is as painful as it sounds. I learned that Shroomi wasn’t delighted to have her day time feeds restricted to my half hour lunch break. My partner learned that being at home all day with a toddler is fairly exhausting. I could have told him that, but it was funnier to watch him learn it for himself.

Despite the problems we all faced, I also learned that we are resilient and able to cope with a lot of obstacles. Towards the end of the fourth week I thought that we might have found our groove when things started working for everyone. Shroomi began to understand that she would see Mummy soon, my partner’s stamina improved, and I found a myotherapy schedule that was keeping the pain under control.

Friday is when things got…interesting.

I was alone on my lunch break when my female supervisor came into the break room. She had just spoken with our male manager, who wanted me to stop breastfeeding during my lunch break. He was giving me three weeks, at which point I had to wean Shroomi, who would no longer be allowed on the premises.

I heard myself resign before my fork hit my plate.

The conversation became fairly awkward at that point. She didn’t want to lose me, but she was at a loss to think of a solution that would work for me, my child and our manager. We discussed a few possibilities and agreed that none of them would work. She begged me to think about it over the weekend, which I agreed to do.

Boy, did I think about it over the weekend. Then I read some legislation. I read a lot of legislation.

I have to give it to Boss Man; he was smart. He didn’t say anything to me directly, which meant that he could claim that it was all Supervisor’s doing. Any formal protest that I might make has to include the conversation with Supervisor, and any allegations I want to make against Boss Man would be hearsay at best. He could defend himself by saying it was all a big misunderstanding, that he hadn’t expected her to say whatever I was upset about in particular, and that it was nothing to do with him.

His method for preventing me from breastfeeding Shroomi was also technically within the bounds of the law. As the person responsible for the safety of the site, he can prevent anyone from coming on site that he wants to.

Yesterday I gave him my resignation letter. He was surprised to receive it. He was so surprised that I found myself wondering if he’s never had an employee quit on principle before. Suddenly he was so keen to be friendly and accommodating. And I had guessed correctly: it was all a big misunderstanding. Fancy that. He hadn’t meant to upset me because he loves working through “problems” with his employees. He was sure we could come to some sort of arrangement that would work for everyone.

I sat there silent for long stretches of the conversation while he refused to respect me. The garbage he came out with left me so amazed that I lost my anger. At a few points I cut him off and said that we would have to agree to disagree, because he was hanging himself so badly that it was embarrassing to watch. There were, however, a few points that we were able to agree on:

  1. I am an excellent employee who has been punctual, diligent, and I have responded positively and respectfully to every criticism given to me during training.
  2. Breastfeeding Shroomi during my lunch breaks has not interfered in any way with my ability to do my job, and I have taken no extra time away from my work to feed her.
  3. Shroomi has not been disruptive while she was on site with me. After all, she and I have been do discreet that he didn’t even realise I was still feeding her until Friday when it was mentioned to him in passing by Supervisor. That passing comment was what triggered the whole fiasco.
  4. Resigning from a job is a big step that has implications on me, my family, my finances and the company that I work for.
  5. It’s difficult to hire people like me for positions like this one.

Since Boss Man said Work Safe would have an issue with my baby being on site if the company was ever audited, I decided to take a break from our discussion to go and chat with them. The guy at Work Safe said that yes, my boss is legally entitled to ban Shroomi from the site, but when I told him only a fraction of what had gone on he suggested that I ring the Human Rights Commission to get their opinion on sexual discrimination law. I don’t need to call them for their opinion, because I copied the relevant part of their website into my resignation letter.

There was no way I was going to let Boss Man talk me out of resigning so flippantly. He might have said the company is like his family, and how he wants all of his employees to be happy, but the truth of his actions is that he doesn’t want to have anyone disagree with him. I certainly don’t treat my family the way he treated me. He didn’t offer any apologies for his behaviour, and indirectly tried to explain why I should be the one to do the apologising. He actually thought it was reasonable to tell me that I’d have to come into his office every three weeks and tell him how the weaning process was going.

One does not leave for oneself, one leaves for the next person. Now he has to find someone to replace me, hire them, train them on a system that typically takes two months to learn (although I learned it in two weeks, so I’ve got no idea what he’s talking about there either), and pay for all the expenses involved in that. I could complain to the Human Rights Commission and see if they can force him to apologise to me, but for what? I don’t want to work with him, and I wouldn’t believe him even if he did say he was sorry.

As I walked out the door he told me that I am a strong woman. I had to smile at that. At least, in the end, we found another point that we could agree on.

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Schrodinger’s Start-up

Not all start-up businesses are destined for success. Those that fail do so for a range of similar reasons that are infinitely variable in the details. It might be that the product is bad, it could be a great product that is just marketed to the wrong people, or perhaps it is marketed to the right people but there aren’t enough of them. There could be a lack of resources, either knowledge, funding or time, or simply the lack of an adequate plan to turn the vision into reality. Regardless of why the business fails, it is usually easy to find the problems in hindsight.

Estimates for the number that will succeed are as variable as definitions for success. One estimate that I came across recently is that 50% of start-ups will fail. In this instance failure was defined as the business folding and the owners walking away from it. Failure was not the opposite of success, but rather one of several alternative possibilities. Despite understanding this rationally, my optimistic side has taken it to mean that there is a 50% chance of an idea working.

For the past year I have been obsessively working on my own start-up idea, which is an iteration of previous versions of the idea that I abandoned. I know that there is a potential market, I don’t have a financial barrier to realising my goals, and I know how to close the skill gaps that could stop me from launching the business.

My idea ticks all of the boxes in theory. In practice, I don’t know which boxes will actually be ticked, and I can’t know until I launch and test my business in reality. Until I launch, I am working on Schrodinger’s start-up; it has the potential to be successful and it might be destined to fail. I might be securing my financial future for the rest of my life, but I might also be wasting hundreds of hours that could better be spent playing with my daughter and reading books on my couch.

The emotional response is to hope that continuing to work on it will make it stronger, more robust, and give it a better chance of succeeding. Unfortunately the truth is that delaying a launch in hopes that I can be better prepared just makes my start-up more likely to die of starvation than the complicated Geiger counter Schrodinger’s cat had to put up with. If I want my start-up to live then I have to make sure I don’t let it die. It’s as simple as that, but I won’t know if it works until I open the metaphorical box. Pandora and Schrodinger clearly have a lot to discuss.

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Say Goodbye And Then Hang Up

For the first time in years I am living in a house that has a working telephone. There are probably benefits to this beyond a discount on the internet, but I am at a loss as to what those benefits might be. It is constantly ringing with incredibly rude and obnoxious sales people who just don’t get it.

I’ve spent enough years working in customer service to appreciate that it can be a demeaning and thankless job. I’ve had my share of hostile customers who don’t understand that I have a job to do and have not woken up in the morning with the specific goal of ruining their lives and general happiness. I’ve had to keep my cool when I want to tell someone my opinion because I also understand that when I am a customer service representative I am the face and voice of my employer in that moment.

Because I understand that customer service jobs aren’t as fun as the employment advertisements make them out to be, I try to be compassionate when I am dealing with customer service people. No matter what I am doing when they call me, I make sure I treat them like people. When they ask in their script how I am, I also ask how they are. This is a rare response, because almost every customer service representative I speak to is surprised and I am often told that I am the first person in the day to ask them. It costs me nothing to offer basic courtesies, but seems to make them happier.

Because I understand that customer service jobs aren’t always easy, I try to be polite when I reject their sales pitch. I don’t just tell them that I am uninterested in their product or service; I also take them time to tell them why. I understand that they have sales targets, and I understand that my call is going to be recorded for “quality and training purposes” so I want their managers to know that the lead was too cold to kindle.

Unfortunately there aren’t too many customer service representatives who call that understand this. This afternoon I had a call from a representative at Simply Energy. He asked for me by name, which means his company has bought my details from somewhere since I have never heard of his company before. He pushed his pitch, followed the script in detail, and came unstuck when I said “but I don’t have an electricity account with anyone at the moment.”

If I was the customer service representative at this point, I would have thanked the customer for their time and said goodbye. It is a polite way to end the call that does not alienate someone who has been polite to me. Instead there was just the sound of my phone beeping to indicate that he had hung up on me.

Clearly I was a dead lead for him today. But, just as clearly, I am a customer who has had an electricity account in the past, and I am probably a customer who will have an electricity account again in the future. And will I consider Simply Energy for my future electricity needs? Of course not, because they just interrupted my day and took the opportunity to be gratuitously rude.

I get hung up on a lot by customer service representatives that I make an effort to be polite to, and this time it got to me, so I decided to take the direct approach and I rang the company back. Their response was to leave me on hold for eight minutes before I got bored and hung up. To put that in perspective, their sales manager could have hung up on eight other customers in that time based on the length of my first call.

I’m not able to disconnect the phone in this house because the account isn’t in my name – although a few telemarketers seem to think it is – and I’m unable to add it to the Do Not Call register for the same reason. For now I am stuck taking these annoying calls, adding business after business to the list that I will make sure I never work with. I’d ask them to take me off their marketing list, but unfortunately they’ve already hung up.

Does this keep happening to anyone else, or is it just me? Which businesses haven’t taught their employees how to be polite while cold calling?

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Get Me A Coffee, Would You Love?

Over recent weeks my Facebook feed has been overflowing with posts about sexism in the workplace. An astonishing amount of this seems to be centred on men asking female colleagues to get them a coffee. The request is usually made in a thoughtless way, and not well received by the colleagues in question.

Ladies, we need to talk.

All of the protesting over the last few decades that we’re equals has obviously not taken us very far if so many of you are continually being asked to do the coffee run when you don’t want to. I spent a few years working in administration, where fetching the coffee was actually part of my job description, yet I can assure you that I have never been asked more than once by an individual I was unhappy to get coffee for.

In the spirit of sisterhood and furthering the cause through passive aggression, I’d like to encourage all of you to consider my simple strategy to eliminate unwanted coffee requests.

Step One: Evaluate the request.

Getting a coffee for someone else in the organisation is not an inherently demeaning thing. Sometimes coffee must be purchased from places on the other side of lovely parks, and you know how terribly slow that can be. Oh, how tragic, you must be out in the sun and fresh air while your colleague is stuck at his desk.

However, if this request comes with the modern equivalent of a slap on the butt, then clearly the person asking for this must pay. Dearly.

Step Two: Get the coffee.

If you’ve decided that getting the coffee is actually in your best interests, then this step is fairly boring. Get the stupid coffee and get on with your life.

But oh, what is this? The person requesting the coffee is a total jerk who needs to pay for their attitude problem? That sounds much more fun.

The problem with coffee is that it’s fraught with dangers. If – like me – you aren’t someone who drinks it, then making it is an arcane art that you will never perfect. Ever. Is it one spoon or ten? When they requested two sugars, what exactly does that mean? Two teaspoons? Two dessertspoons? Two packets? Is the drink supposed to be served hot or cold? Since we’re just stupid girls sent on a stupid errand, it’s a bit unreasonable of those clever misogynists to expect us to understand.

That’s such a shame. But do your best ladies. I know that none of you would *gasp* deliberately botch it.

Step Three: Give them the coffee.

Here’s the deal: you wanted me to get you a coffee? Then you’re going to drink it. All of it. And by god you’re going to pretend that you liked it.

You’ll get a range of responses to this one. My personal favourite was the man who began wheezing “are you trying to kill me?” Well duh, of course I am, but I’m not about to admit that to you. It’s much more fun to get all girly hurt and defensive. I do love the sickly smile of people pretending to drink it. It warms my heart in a way that tepid beverages never could.

Step Four: Gracefully accept the end of your coffee fetching career.

There comes a point when nobody in your workplace will allow you to fetch them coffee. My coffee making skills were so legendary in one company that I wasn’t even permitted to carry the pot if someone else had made it. I wasn’t allowed to pour it into mugs. I wasn’t allowed to touch the coffee tin in the kitchen. By the end I wasn’t allowed to wash the pot when they were finished with it.

When you reach the point where you’re not allowed to go within two paces of a coffee mug, you can amuse yourself by openly offering to get people coffee. I was in one meeting where three people leaped from their seats to make it while a fourth distracted me with something apparently critical that only I could do. They never accepted my offer, but I was still able to get points for trying.

Thank goodness men are so much smarter than us, ladies; they never make mistakes with coffee the way I do…

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My Bank And I Must Live On Different Planets

As part of my plan to get my online store up and running, I decided to tackle the financial side of things as my first scary step. Plenty of people tell me that I’m good at finances, but the truth is I’m just good at basic maths. Merchant accounts, gateway providers and financial policies are outside my realm of expertise.

I started my research by going to my bank’s website and having a look around. There were a few things I understood, but not a lot. I submitted a request for a call back, then moved on with my life and began looking into other options.

A few days later, my bank called me back. If you use a German bank, please stop reading now because you probably won’t believe another word of this blog post. Believe it or not: getting a call back two days later outside the requested hours is actually considered good customer service for an Australian bank.

We chatted a bit about my business model and what I want to do. My plan is fairly straight forward: design a product (done), write a website to sell it (in progress), set up an automated back end so that anyone using my online store doesn’t have to wait for me to do my bit (the current research), fix any mistakes I inadvertently make (pending launch). All I wanted to know was what I need to do to get an account to build the transactions into.

The man from the bank was delightful as he explained the process. What he was explaining? Not so great. I would need to go to my branch, submit an application form, show them the business ready to launch, and then wait six to eight weeks. If there were any problems with my application, this process could be delayed by six to eight months. A merchant risk assessment department will be involved, and I must show them that my business is a great opportunity for them.

To clarify, all I want is to have an account that my customers can put money into. I might be in crazy land here, but I am fairly sure this is not a revolutionary idea that will rock humanity to its core. I hear stories, possibly only rumours, that this is something other people have done before.

Despite my shock at the timelines, the conversation got worse. If I want to trade in multiple currencies, it would be $40 per month per currency in account keeping fees. I need to keep the equivalent of $5,000 as the minimum balance in each account. To clarify, if I want to accept AUD, USD, Euro and GBP, I would need to have $20,000 sitting there in my bank account, doing nothing. That is nearly the cost of my living expenses for a year. For those of you who are routinely operating in those currencies, that is 21,024USD, 16,088EUR and 13054GBP.

Then there were the requirements. Not only do I need to have a fully prepared business sitting there cooling its heels for two months, but there are standard requirements that this business must fulfill. The one that boggled my mind was the requirement for a landline phone. In order to have a bank account to trade with my online only business, I need a landline. Not a mobile, not a Skype account, but a phone that plugs into a wall. I protested this quite loudly, and he said that we might be able to explain that it is a home based business. There was a bit of disdain in his voice. I used up a year of professionalism by not saying: “Nah, I really operate this business from Bavaria while I relax at Oktoberfest.” This was really difficult for me, and I expect applause and a medal.

At the end of our conversation I decided that I will go with PayPal. He warned me that I might turn off some of my customer base because some customers don’t think it is very professional. In my world, it just isn’t professional to create obstacles for my customers the way the bank has for me. If losing one or two customers over PayPal will keep $20,000 in my existing account and means I can launch months earlier, I think I can live with that.

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Deconstructing Fear

A month ago, I was very excited by something I had learned online about goal tracking. It changed the way I viewed some of my projects, and I decided that I wanted to find a tool online to help me keep track of things. I googled. I googled some more. I finally cracked it because I couldn’t find the tool I wanted.

So I sat down and created it.

I discussed my new tool with a friend, who told me that it sounded like a great idea that other people would probably want to buy. Cue gushing pride over my new toy. He was right, because it’s a fantastic thing, and I’m not that great at cheerleading for my own work. I decided that this was my opportunity, and that I was going to create an online store to sell it. Maybe a thousand people share my frustration and want it, perhaps it will sit on a virtual shelf gathering dust. Whatever. The outcome doesn’t seem nearly as important as trying.

If you’ve been paying attention over recent weeks, you might have noticed a decided lack of posts about my new business venture.

This week I took a time out to contemplate why this tool is sitting on my computer and not out there in the world. It was an honest day, and the answer was simple: I was afraid.

I worked through the obvious things that I could be afraid of. Was I afraid of starting and failing at a business? Was I afraid of social repercussions by trying this? Was I afraid of losing all my money and having nothing to show for it at the end? They were all valid ideas that I have come across often in the world, but none of them felt true for me.

Later that night, I sat down with a notepad and decided that I was going to write down everything I was afraid of. The condition I imposed on myself was that I could only write down specific, quantifiable things. Fearing failure was too vague; I had to write down exactly what it was that I feared failing at. The list turned out to be much shorter than I had expected:

  • I’m afraid of buying the wrong software.
  • I’m afraid of designing an invoice.
  • I’m afraid I won’t automate the sales process properly.
  • I’m afraid of having an error in the file.

I sat there, staring at the list, waiting for the real, deeper fear to emerge. It never did. It slowly dawned on me that I had embraced the full depth of my fears, and this was as bad as it got. As I read over the list, that little voice in my head was loud and indignant. “Really, Catherine? You’re afraid of buying software? Really? Oh no, not software. Not that thing you already buy a lot of.

When I got over feeling stupid, I sat down and wrote out a second list to answer my fears:

  • Buying the wrong software is better than buying no software, because without software there is no store. Launching something and then fixing it quickly is better than never launching. I’m the boss, and I can change things whenever I want to.
  • There are many books and articles online that will help me to design an invoice. If I get through the process and still can’t work out exactly what I need to include, I can pay someone to design this for me.
  • Plenty of other people have automated their sales process in the same way I want to automate mine, so I already know that it is possible. If I can’t find articles and books about how to do it, I’m sure someone can help me.
  • I have been using my file for a month now, and I haven’t found any errors in weeks. It will take me less than 10 minutes to go through and recheck my programming. Even if I miss something, it won’t be difficult to correct it and email the revision to anyone who has already bought a copy.

Once I realised what my fears were, the strategies to overcome them were simple. I dived into research, and within hours realised that I should be able to set up everything in a single day. The information was a bit too technical for me, so my cousin will come over next week to help me set it up. I never would have been able to ask for his help if I hadn’t explored my specific fears and turned them into actions.

I’ll report back once we work through my hurdles and get things up and running. Then I’ll sit down with a few other projects that have been delayed, and see how stupid I can make myself feel with thise.

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