Today I’m excited to announce that I’m honored to have been recognized for my efforts and have been named one of ’25 Up And Coming Indie Entrepreneurs To Watch In 2015’. The selection was made by members of the Fizzle community, a group of online business creators. I was recognized for my efforts and intentions related to PDn9, a website I built earlier this year. The irony and part I feel slightly guilty about is that at almost the same time the selection of entrepreneurs was made, I retired PDn9.com. I want to share the story behind the rise and fall of PDn9 and Fizzle, the community that made it possible and how I'm still using Fizzle to build my new website and brand.
I, like many industrial designers have been interested in entrepreneurship for many years. A product designer is familiar with nearly the entire process of turning an idea into a product. After a few years of working with small companies, a designer will likely get exposed to marketing, branding, sales and project management. Equipped with a wide breadth of product development experience, it’s not long before confidence leads one to start his own business. At least this is what happened to me.
I began doing freelance design to practice the process of design I learned in school while working in at Felt Bicycles marketing department. After moving to Pennsylvania last year so my girlfriend could attend Medical School at LECOM, I began consulting and freelancing full-time. In late 2014, I learned about Fizzle.co, an instructive community of online business owners and entrepreneurs. Fizzle.co helps you build an online business and make progress daily. After testing it out, I joined, excited to build a business and start making income! At least, this is what I expected.
How Fizzle Works
Inside Fizzle, you are able to work through (high-quality) instructive lecture-style video courses. Each course is broken into several incredibly detailed videos. There are also worksheets and ‘homework’ which can be printed out and used while working through the videos. This forces you to take action and ultimately begin making progress. Also free to Fizzle members are Fizzle Fridays, a weekly webinar where you’re able to video chat with one of the 4 experienced Fizzle coaches as well as with other members live. Yes, face-to-face coaching.
Along the way, you’re encouraged to use the Fizzle forum where more than 2,000 members are able to offer feedback, encouragement, constructive criticism and applause. It’s also a place where networking and collaboration happens. If you spend as much time on the Fizzle forum as I do, you'll begin making new friends there. Many Fizzlers (the common term for Fizzle members) end up meeting their mastermind groups or other connections in real life when the opportunity arises. Needless to say, it’s a great place.
I should mention that Fizzle costs less than $40 per month and only $300 if you pay for a year up-front. Where else can you find personalized business coaching for a full year, membership to a huge entrepreneurial community and over 400 instructional videos along with course work??? Nowhere else.
Why I Created PDn9.com
As an industrial designer who is still able to remember his design school experience (really, it was only 5 years ago that I graduated), I thought that by building a website for industrial designers, I could give back to a community I enjoy. I felt as though the information and online community surrounding industrial design was small compared to other fields of design. With that determination and spark of an idea, I moved through the Fizzle courses and learned how to build a website and business.
Where I Struggled with PDn9.com
I’m a stubborn guy. I should say that now. I knew what I wanted PDn9 to be, but month after month of research, what I thought was validation, interviews and action, I wasn’t where I wanted to be. If I am 100% honest, I probably didn’t stick with it as long as I should have to see major growth. Businesses, brands and profitable websites aren't created overnight. I gave mine about 4 months. Working with Fizzle members in the forum and during Fizzle Friday webinars, I got the helpful and honest answers of, “I’m not sure who exactly your audience is and what exactly you’re doing for them."
When the above statement is said by many people, I knew I had a problem on my hands. Without clarity, a business won’t thrive all too well. Fizzle has tools to help find clarity, but each niche is unique and I struggled with mine. I wanted to write about design, businesses, freelance and personal growth. I could have written or built a course about these topics and sold a few copies, but I wasn’t 100% excited about it. It’s hard to describe rationally, but in my gut, I didn’t feel like what I was creating had as much potential as I wanted it to.
What I Did Next
As a full-time product design consultant and freelancer, I took a moment to consider the fact that the one thing that I have had business success with is freelance work. Any and all clients I’ve worked with have been very happy with my work and have referred me to others. I maintain good working relationships and have been told that the service I offer is second to none. The funny thing is that I haven’t had a personal/professional website, and that’s often the first thing solopreneurs (as I am by definition) invest in.
I decided after about 6 months of work on PDn9, I would prefer to invest time into building my own personal brand as a designer for hire instead of creating a company under a different name that serves other designers. The new website would serve future employers by containing my portfolio, future clients by offering information about working with me and fellow industrial designers who enjoy reading articles I write about design (which I also enjoy). By having these three components under one URL (which included my name and an important keyword), I would simplify matters for myself and anyone looking to learn more about me.
The Gut Instinct
I'm often a very analytical and logical person. I like to make decisions based upon logic. I love efficiency and reason. However, I can't deny the truth in the saying 'go with your gut'. Even though I followed a process that seemed to be tried and true, each niche will have its exceptions. As I was creating PDn9, it felt a bit forced and corporate for my liking. After doing some surveys and research with my subscribers, I learned that they were there for my voice and opinions on design. They weren't there to learn to earn more money, they weren't there to pick up new technical skills. A lot of them were curious about freelancing and the business of design, which I have learned through my personal experiences.
PDn9 had become what I thought designers wanted and needed. I had removed myself and personal experiences from the content I was producing. After these realizations, I felt that I would be able to build a website that served my audience and myself at the same time. And in the end, it felt right in my gut.
With PDn9, I had expectations. I built it with the mindset of being a business and I believe that's why it felt corporate and less like me. This is why it didn't feel right in my gut. On top of that, I put expectations on myself to earn money with it. This added unnecessary stress and when expectations aren't met, it takes the wind out of your sails and kills momentum. With willgibbonsdesign.com, I don't have expectations. It's simply an honest reflection of who I am, what I enjoy writing about and the work I produce. I'm not concerned about the number of subscribers or if I ever earn a penny from it. It's my 'corner' of the web and it feels right. Without expectations, I won't feel pressured or let down if something doesn't turn out amazingly. And if some day I want to try selling products through my website I still have that option.
At Fizzle, I've learned that relationships matter. Okay, I've always known that, but Fizzle has taught me that the most important thing for a business is to have a good relationship with its customers. That's healthy, meaningful, fulfilling and sustainable. That's what I'd like to build with willgibbonsdesign.com. I believe I'll be able to do this better than I could with PDn9, where I tried to remove myself from the company and its brand. It's easier to connect when the content is more personal.
Fizzle taught me how to maintain an email list, something I'd have never started if I didn't build PDn9. Maintaining an email list with regular weekly posts has become my favorite thing! I get personal responses each week from my mailing list and am building relationships with other like-minded designers. This is something that I've made a focus of my new website and brand. I try to get visitors to subscribe for my weekly mailing list because they then get a weekly article via email before I post it anywhere.
Although my website has been live a mere 2 weeks, I've already received 3 important emails about potential business opportunities. Each either mentioned my website or contacted me directly through my website. This tells me that my website is already serving one of the purposes I've intended it to.
The Learning Experience
PDn9 was a learning experience. It was my first major step in trying to build a company and web-based brand. The experience was invaluable and everything I learned and struggled with has allowed me to build my new website and brand with ease.
Some key things I learned from Fizzle:
- Build An MVP - Start with the minimum viable product and incrementally improve it based upon feedback.
- Just Launch It - Losing momentum can kill a project. Set an aggressive deadline and launch it, even if it's not perfect.
- Listen To Your Audience - If you need to convince someone, your idea is likely unwanted or not needed.
- Build Relationships - Supported by Kevin Kelly's 1000 true fans, with good relationships, you don't need a huge audience.
- Building A Successful Website
- Building & Maintain A Mailing List
- Choosing A Niche
- Writing Good Articles & Headlines
- Using Web Metrics
- How To Take Action
Of course, it should go without saying that I learned much more than I listed above, but who wants to read an exhaustive list of what I learned thanks to Fizzle?
Is Fizzle Right For You?
I'd be amazed if you haven't asked yourself this by now if you've read this entire article so far. The short answer is yes, Fizzle is right for almost everybody. The long answer is that if you've ever considered building or wanted to build a website that stands apart from the rest from design and conversion rate to traffic and engagement, then it would be remiss for me to not suggest you join Fizzle. It's free to try. You can pay month-to-month if money is tight or you can buy a year up-front if you want to save a few bucks and are serious about taking action. The videos are easy to follow. My grandmother, who's not a tech-savvy person would be able to follow the courses and build a respectable website and business in the end. The cherry on top is the Fizzle Friday video chats. Your questions answered face-to-face with a Fizzle business coach. Try Fizzle now for free.
WillGibbonsDesign.com And Beyond
For me PDn9 (my first real website) was like a thesis project. I spent six months making something the best I could (at the time) while using new skills I was learning along the way. Now that it's done and over, I'm creating something new that will grow and evolve with me. I am a designer and I am Will Gibbons. Those two things won't change and so willgibbonsdesign.com is here for the long haul.