When is When to Let Others Know You Have Cystic Fibrosis – Part 2

I concluded my first part with our move to Florida, which happened to be on my 16th birthday and school was already out for the year in FL. My first day of school here, at Land O’Lakes High Skooo (we had a very southern principal) was to be the first day of the rest of my life. Sitting alone at my table for lunch, I realized that I could be whatever I wanted to be, well… except a tall, handsome jock.

I was determined to be “normal” at all costs. It was no longer necessary to leave a class early to go down to the school nurse to get my meds for lunch or have classmates with long-held childhood memories of all of my stays in the hospital. I did my best to not have a coughing spasm in class and confine those to the hall where there were hundreds of people to drown out the sound or hide my red or purple face. I was suddenly a very small fish in a very small pond. My sophomore class was larger than my entire high school in Ohio and the school (having only 4 grades) was just a little smaller than my entire K-12 school in Ohio.

I decided that the regular classes were a good way to get into drugs, trouble, and waste away while the honors classes were markedly better quality people in general – and they were. I don’t think I told more than 10-30 classmates that I had CF because I didn’t need to. I was generally healthy and played on the golf team and had a very small circle of friends in my honors classes and that was all I needed.

On to college I doubt more than 2 people over 13 years of courses knew, other than professors who needed to know on the rare occasion that I missed a class directly related to CF. As far as anyone on campus of 40,000 mostly commuter students knows, I’m just a seriously short dude who walks around with a Gatorade bottle in his hand most of the time to stifle spaz coughs while walking between classes, but they don’t know why I have the drink.

Coming onto the business scene pretty early after high school, I had some occasions where I had to be under some sort of special treatment by my employer due to a sinus surgery or home IV meds that required 3-4 doses per day that interfered with my work schedule. Those were few and far between, though.

My last corporate job is a good example of how I handle telling people. There is no way I can hide my cough from people within earshot 8 hours per day in Cubicleville. It’s not going to happen. Of those people, probably 50% of them were told by me or one of my closer co-workers whom I entrusted with the knowledge and gave them permission to tell if asked if I was okay. I had dozens of people across the building who respected my work but had no idea anything was wrong with me. If I coughed, they thought I was getting over something or blamed it on the pollen count for me.

Then there are the VERY strange interactions. I was in Ohio visiting family and met up with Chris Johnson in Columbus and we were discussing our businesses, which led to talking about insurance. Shortly after that, I coughed and he directly asked, for the first time in my life, “do you have CF?” I was shocked! He had a friend growing up who had, and thankfully still has by virtue of still being alive today, CF. The cough was familiar and we had an instant bond there.

Now, the question is: does that create more respect, more pity, or is it indifferent?

I lean towards “more respect” if there is already respect and “more pity” if there is nothing there yet. If I’ve delivered product(s) before at or above satisfaction and then skip a beat, e-mail to notify of some health difficulties due to my disease, clients are more than happy to give me a few extra days. I never play it as a “get out of trouble free” card, but there are times I need some more time, like going into the hospital for 30 hours after my birthday dinner. I had stuff due that next day and church to go to on Sunday, but I missed it all sitting in an ER and hospital room. I was off my game for a week after that, but everything got done and caught up.

I got a heart-warming e-mail from Darren Hoyt, a good friend in the industry, after New Years that really made my day. With his permission, I’m putting it here to show what is so great about him and what really works for encouragement and opening lines of communication.

Hey Jesse,

I feel kind of stupid – I did not actually know you had cystic fibrosis until I gleaned it on Facebook. I had read you had been in and out of the hospital, but didn’t know the full extent. I know it’s a major ordeal and a battle and presumably takes up a lot of time & frustration in life. Hope you are getting through the holidays okay despite it all.

I’ve had new clients since who are still in the dark about my CF. That’s how it works.

You’re on a need to know basis.

donate to my causeThat said, and you obviously know now, I’m walking for the CF Foundation’s Great Strides walk on May 15th and I’ve set a fundraising goal of $25,000 to go towards CF research for a cure. There are many new treatments in the process of receiving FDA approval, and a cure is close. Please consider helping out by clicking the image.

I did some calculating:

If I get a 10% response from my Twitter network to donate $25 for the Great Strides walk for CF and then those people got a 10% response from their estimated 400 followers each, that’s over $80,000 raised for CF research. “Many hands makes light work.”

Hard Times and Pressing Forward: How Small Businesses Succeed

Drive to succeedEvery entrepreneur hits hard times due to overhead, payroll, the economy, or any number of reasons why the coffers get low or revenues drop. It’s a time to take inventory of the situation, particularly what is coming in and going out. Being a successful business means overcoming anything that comes your way. Here are some steps and tips to take when hard times hit.

  • Check your numbers – look at your cashflow for the last 90 days and the same 90 day period from the previous year(s), if you’re not just starting out. Are there unexpected expenses? A big accounts receivable? Does revenue have cycles and it’s just a tough time? Sole proprietors can do their personal budgets to “cut costs,” as well.
  • Circle around – if you are in the services industry, contact your past clients with a friendly “thank you” for past business and offer them a promotional code for new projects or referrals.
  • Look for discounts – check your own service providers and their competitors to get better rates or plans for items such as Internet, phone, insurance, etc. to reduce your expenses. We have reduced our expenses over 10% in the last two months by switching some providers.
  • Expand into new territories – if you offer a product or service that can be tailored to the market, now is the best time to do so. Stop making things or selling services for things on the decline or with a small share of the market if that is the majority of your business. If you already have the big players covered, expand into the niches if you can do so cheaply.
  • Social media, yo! – one caveat about social media: if you’re going to do it, do it right or you’ll only hurt yourself. A Facebook page for your company and a vibrant, relevant, likable Twitter account can take your business to the next level or kickstart a new one in a major way.

100 Days; a Review of Life as an Entrepreneur

Dinner cruise on Tampa Bay - 2006I’ve been doing my own thing with my WordPress consulting, designing, and training for 100 days now. I officially started operating on my own capacity on February 3rd with one month of severance pay, a MacBook, two ongoing jobs with clients that needed my attention, and a list of friends whom I hoped would suddenly need my services.

February was pretty much a living hell, frankly. I was a basket case for a solid week or so. I took one night off from my normal social calendar, but kept chugging away publicly. Privately, I wasn’t sleeping; staying up until 1:00, 2:00, even 4:00 in the morning. I definitely caught what my wife had been lingering with for a month or more and got on antibiotics and begged for some sleeping aids because I couldn’t shut my brain off at all, ever, and I didn’t want to get hooked on anything strong that I have around for pain. Thankfully Ambien gave me the rest I needed and I got better rather quickly as a result of both meds.

March was still a really good month because I wrapped up some long-term projects that had nagging issues with the hosting involved, but I ended up being successful and have a delighted client for life, as far as we can tell. He’s more than welcome to come stay with us if he’s ever Stateside. I had also completed a huge, higher profile site and was just waiting for the checks to roll in for all of that work. By the end of March, we had more than enough left to pay my April salary, so it took a lot of pressure off. I decided to take some of that capital and form an LLC so we could get a business checking account and keep the money out of PayPal.

April… yeah, taxes. I decided that I was completely clueless about the business side of the tax situation and sought out the CPA that services my wife’s employer. He set me up with quarterly estimated payments that were a good chunk of money, but somewhere around half to a third of what I thought it would be. Apparently there are some really nice perks, tax-wise, to being a business owner.

Then panic set in–no work for the first week of April. Not a call, not an inquiry, nothing. Great! I just forked over good money for the LLC and now I was thinking I’d have to close shop and get a “real” job again. On top of that, we had a boo-boo with getting some paperwork done to continue our COBRA health insurance and it expired on April 1st. We had an application for HIPAA coversion to an individual PPO policy going out in the mail by 3pm that day and got our new insurance cards on the 18th. It was a little too late for my health because I was 3 weeks overdue for an appointment for general maintenance and it was a rough visit. We are all squared away with that now with a non-expiring policy, which we’d need by next March anyway.

With May here now, I’m doing what I have to for getting healthy before we go on a weekend vacation to celebrate a graduation. It’s not fun, nor cheap, but it’s got to be done. I’m booked pretty solid until mid-June with a major project that is prompting a second LLC formation to delve into a new arena that I will be announcing shortly. I’ve also expanded my services to doing more design work, such as logo design and creating custom Twitter backgrounds. I’m getting immense satisfaction from that work, and time flies sooo fast doing it.

In short (or not), this is a huge “thank you!” to all of my clients, friends, and family (especially my wife for being my #1 cheerleader for chasing my dream) for supporting us through our transition into this exciting and scary new phase of life. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Kicking it, Busy Style

Sorry for so many posts in a row about American Idol. It’s time to write something for once, but I’ve been working all day every day doing my design work for clients. Thankfully, I’ve got work that I can see all the way through April as far as projects go. I won’t be working all day every day between now and then, but work is still trickling in consistently enough that this venture looks like it’s going to work.

Inter-Disciplinary.netAbout a month ago, I finished a site using Darren Hoyt’s Mimbo Pro theme for Inter-Disciplinary in the U.K. for Dr. Rob Fisher. The site has over 1,600 pages (that’s not a typo) and needed some server intervention to allow the WordPress pages.php to load without a white screen of death in the dashboard. Wild! We ended up using a javascript menu tree in the left sidebar, but it does tend to crap out in Internet Explorer, which he was okay with since no one should be using that stuff anyway.

PhilGerbyshak.comLast weekend was an exciting time as I launched Phil Gerbyshak’s new site using Thesis by Chris Pearson as the framework. It was my first time using Thesis and it was like re-learning theme design all over again, but now I LOVE using it. That project stretched my CSS knowledge to the max and I often spent 4-6 hours figuring out how to implement the design in my head, but I came out on top with ridiculous skills that I can use on other sites now.

OakwoodFL.orgOn Tuesday, after months of office and personal frustration with my church’s website theme that I installed last February, I decided it was time to pull the plug on that theme and do a quantum leap to the latest and greatest one company has to offer with Church Life and get the Oakwood Community Church site going with something kickin’, modern, and functional. They’ve started with Facebook and using video communication, so this was the perfect time to get something to allow that to happen with minimal training and (hopefully) little or no assistance from me to make them look like web pros.

FTPressScience.comAfter more than a month in development for content and graphics, I wrapped up FT Press’s newest division and launched FT Press Science today. I used WP Remix for this theme, which looks really good, but I do not recommend it for people who do not have patience or pretty advanced CSS skills due to the vast number of CSS and PHP template files (in the neighborhood of 100 files) that tend to override each other from time to time.

That’s what I’ve been up to, and I have about 5 sites on the calendar for the next couple of weeks, so I think that my portfolio will begin to round out nicely with a good variation of clients, themes, and content to show my design and customer service skills. Here’s to the future!