This past year was research (or “A premium WordPress theme in two weeks”)

This entry originally appeared on my disability blog, I hate stairs.

I have been out of school for the past year. Sometimes I think, “Wow, I just wasted a year.” And while I may have not done as much as I wanted to do, I think this past year has still been useful. By the time I was in my second year of the MBA program at Mississippi State (my sixth year of college), I was really experiencing the burnout. In many ways this past year was actually just an extension of my college years. No, I wasn’t in school and it was not near as much fun as when I was in school, but I was able to teach myself things that I did not get to learn in school. Since about 2005, the idea that I would like to be a web designer bounced around in my head. I wasn’t in school to be a web designer. I was in school to be a systems analyst or a computer programmer or a database administrator or a business analyst or some other business-related job that I didn’t want. As a matter of fact, when I started at Mississippi State I wanted to major in graphic design. I was told that graphic design was not an available major at the time. The weird thing is that just a year or so later, I knew people who were majoring in graphic design. Don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy many of my classes and I did learn a thing or two I was interested in. But I’ve spent the past year focusing in on the things I really wanted to know.

One day earlier this week I suddenly had this feeling. I felt… ready. I felt like I finally knew enough to call myself a web designer and start doing something about it. I don’t know why it took that long, but it just did. In case you missed it, I started a blog about month ago that is meant to journal my progress in creating Spinning Wheel Studios. While I unfortunately still can’t give out too many details, suffice it to say that Spinning Wheel Studios is my diabolical plan to be a web designer, make some money, and not lose the precious disability benefits that I receive that actually make it possible for me to work.

I’ve written before about how well intended government policies fail at enabling and motivating people with disabilities to work. The thing is, people with disabilities are good workers. They’re smart. They’re creative. They have to be creative. It’s how they get by. Someone told me the other day, people with disabilities aren’t anything if they are not creative. Of course, I’m not talking about artistic creative or design creative, necessarily. I’m talking about problem solving creative (which, if you want to be all hip and cool, is what design is really all about). Whatever the case, I know now that I cannot work for a big bureaucracy doing a monotonous job while trying to stay under a certain salary limit so as not to lose my benefits. I didn’t graduate from the MBA program at Mississippi State to start a career which I know can never progress past a certain point. I’m just too ambitious for that. What incentive is there for a person with a disability who needs benefits (e.g., caretakers) to work when they know they can’t make over a certain amount of money no matter how good their work is? My answer to that question is “not much.”

Not to mention that if Medicaid changes one of its regulations, I could find myself suddenly making too much money in my job. Or what if I was offered a promotion with a salary increase that would put me over my income limit? Do I decline it? No. I’m not going to put myself in a working environment where I might have to decline a raise because I would make too much money. That’s absolutely ridiculous. I would rather keep my benefits and just do charity work.

So that’s why I’m going to go it alone. I’ve talked with a lawyer, and there is a (legal) way that I can establish Spinning Wheel Studios such that I will not lose any benefits. Now that I have secured a method by which I can be a freelance web designer, and have subjectively “decided” that I am now “ready,” I have been a lot more inspired to get things off the ground.

That brings me to my latest project. This past week I’ve been reading a lot about WordPress themes. Actually, for the past two or three weeks I have been thinking about WordPress a lot in general. I know, I’m a nerd. It’s just that WordPress is becoming a very powerful and affordable (free) system on which to build websites. Of course, just about anyone who knows anything about WordPress already knows this. But for the past year, WordPress sort of dropped off my radar as I was preoccupied learning other things. But now I’m bringing back attention to WordPress, specifically the new 3.0 upgrade and the concept of the theme framework. And so I have decided to build a premium theme for WordPress. I’ve built themes before, but this is going to be a bigger task. The idea is that the theme should be good enough to sell (that’s usually what a premium theme is). I haven’t totally decided whether or not I am going to sell it or just offer it for free. It’s really more of an experiment to figure out whether I am even capable of making a theme good enough to sell and if I would even like to do make themes on a more regular basis.

I should mention that there is some money to be made in the premium WordPress theme business. Some people have had great success by selling their WordPress themes on their own websites. Others have had success by selling their WordPress themes on a marketplace, where a percentage of each sale goes to the marketplace (usually a hefty chunk, 30 to 60 percent at one particular marketplace). I don’t have much of an audience so I don’t know if I could bring enough exposure to my theme on my own. If I do end up selling the theme, I will probably go with the marketplace option just because of the exposure. But you never know. I might be all hip and cool and support open source and the WordPress community by releasing the theme for free (as in freedom and price).

So my goal is to at least have a working version of the theme in two weeks. That is, Friday, August 27, 2010. On that day, I plan to install the theme here at “I hate stairs.” I am planning to keep a daily log of my progress at www.blakewatson.com. Honestly, I am somewhat of a procrastinator and if I can actually do this in two weeks, I will be proud of myself even if I don’t make any sales.

Cheer me on. Maybe I’ll give you a copy of the theme for free. :-)