Over the course of the past 15 years, I have completed nearly two dozen side projects. I began my side project odyessy in 2004 when I built an ad for someone to publish in a magazine. From there, I have built several web sites, an e-commerce site and finished up projects that others started. In fact, the company I work for, I started out as a contractor, helping put together their first online store to sell rotomold containers. After that, a former co-worker asked me to help out on a web build he was doing for a winery. Basically, he wanted the navigation to be animated. At the time, Flash was the weapon of choice for that, so I built a Flash menu. Once Flash became annoying with it's constant updates and loading time, I reconstructed the menu in Javascript. I then built an online store for the winery, which they used and profited from for several years. I remain in contact with the marketing crew there and do some work from time to time for them. Excellent people. When I posted an ad for my services on Craigslist in 2007 to make some extra cash, I received several replies. One was from a window comapny in Bend that needed their web site finished. The previous designer simply walked away from the project. The site was built entirely in Flash. It was very complex and the deadline was short, so I declined. When he came back with a larger offer and begged me to help, I took on the job and finished the project before the deadline. I was also contacted by a marriage therapist in the Bay Area who wanted someone to update her web site. It was a very simple HTML site and she ended up being a client of mine for several years. Tired of reaching out to me for updates, I can only assume, she moved her web site to a CMS and now has her assistants and interns perform the tasks. I completely understand. There have been many jobs I have turned away for various and assorted reasons. One was a gaming site that was very complex. Another was a guy who clearly didn't know what he wanted, huge red flag. I have performed simply tasks, like javascripting a portal for a finance company, or creating a very simple HTML informational site for a start-up talent agency in San Francisco. Many of my jobs have either been updated or changed entirely. It's part of the gig. But there is one job that I really enjoyed and one that has me thinking of jumping back into the contract world. 

OSN

In February of 2018, my wife forwarded me an email from a former co-worker of her's. The email was forwarded from someone else looking for a web designer to update a web site. I emailed and got a reply to send my resume. I did and then Donna reached out to me and we chatted on the phone. The project was pretty simple: the Oregon Stroke Network, a non-profit based out of Portland, needed their web site to be updated. The last build for them was in 2006. The web site had served its purpose and was mostly links and PDF uploads. The folders within their server were massive. We are talking very large PDF files. Donna sent me a detailed list of changes and needs for the new web site. They wanted it updated cosmetically, but they also wanted a members section where someone would need to have log in access to pages within the site. Within these pages were valuable information about stroke care from stroke centers throughout the state. They also wanted the ability to edit themselves and not rely on an outside person. No problem. I would need to set them up with a CMS that could accomodate their needs. I have worked with Wordpress in the past, but I am finding Wordpress to be more commericalized now. They provide you a basic CMS, but they charge for add ons and themes. Many designers love Wordpress, but I am only so so on it. I have a web site currently (Rock Point Wines) that is backed by Wordpress, but it's not my favorite. I have used Magento in the past, but Magento is geared more toward the e-commerce sites. MODX? Yes, I am using that now for my company's web site, but it's clunky for the layman. Even now, there is a very large learning curve with MODX. I tried Joomla and Drupal, but came away more frustrated. Then I landed on an obscure CMS called Concrete5. Concrete5, based out of Portland, has been around for a while, but it doesn't have the reputation of a Wordpress. It did, however, provide exactly what the OSN folks were looking for. After reading reviews, the biggest issues with Concrete5 were the constant updates and buggy issues. Ok, not a problem. I uploaded the CMS and over the course of seven months, built the OSN site. I met with Donna and others for a weekly phone call/update. Everything was seemless and they wanted the site live by the time their conference kicked off in late September. This is where Concrete5 failed me. During a transfer of files, the CMS intiated an update. I had built the site and database in 8.2. When I tried the transfer the files, it updated to 8.4. Yes, Concrete5 had two updates in seven months. Outrageous! In any event, the update threw everything into a tailspin and the site was broken and error messages littered the screen. I was panicked. After a week of diving into code and the database, I was only able to get the sitemap back up. The site was dead. I had to rebuild. It only took a few days to rebuild the site in 8.4 and it's been live and working without a hitch since. Why is this my favorite project? Because the ladies of OSN knew exactly what they wanted and articulated it very clearly in our weekly meetings. They provided the files for me to upload or input. And they were super excited with each update I provided. I even built a new brand for them, which they were happy with. It's rewarding when people really like your work and it provides energy. I have been in this business long enough to hear a lot of negative feedback as well as positive. If I happened to like something and someone hates it, well, that's their opinion. I have developed thick enough skin to accept critisim, whether it's warranted or not. I am always open to make  my work better as long as I think the changes being suggested are worth the rework. I had a former colleague tell me that you should always defend your work, but also listen to opinions, good and bad. I try and do that with each project I produce.

 

Steve Bennett's other favorite projects

10) The MonsterCommerce store: This is what got me my current job. In 2005, I was working at the Mail Tribune, but really looking for something else, career-wise. My father, who is the CEO of ECS, contacted me that summer and told me of a contract opportunity with ECS. The company was moving in a different direction and part of that direction was creating an e-commerce site where they could sell Rotomold containers. In 2004, ECS had enhanced the Rotomold line to include a stacking feature (think legos). The market for these cases was for Military, primarily, 463L pallets, the kind you find in large airplanes where they parachute out the back. The cases need to stack, but also be durable enough to protect the equipment inside. In any event, the Marine Corp provided ECS with a large contract for AMAL containers. It was a five-year deal and in order to accomodate this large order, ECS built a new facility in Klamath Falls. The tooling and the new facility alone was expensive, so to make up the cost, they decided to try and sell cases online. They hired someone to get the site built and to manage it, but it was over her head. So I came on board as a contract person first. I got the site functioning and then was hired full-time in October to manage it. We sold exactly two cases in a little over a year before the site was shut down. The CMS was sorta clunky, mostly with the processing of funds. It was mostly ASP. Unfortunately, we only offered six sizes and the cases were very expensive. 

9) Rogue Aero: When I started at ECS, my boss had recently purchased land at the Grants Pass airport and built a hangar. The reason? They were building a multimillon dollar resort and golf course near the airport and the boss thought wealthy clients would fly in and need a place to store their plane. He wanted a web site to showcase not only the hangar, but other services offered and places to dine and stay. I did several variations of the site, and at one point, did a Flash animation of a plane landing that I was really proud of. The resort did not happen and the hangar and web site were both disbanded.  

8) Susan Regan: Susan, a marriage and family therapist in the Bay Area, contacted me in 2008 after I posted an ad. She needed someone to update her web site as her former web designer bailed on her. Susan's site was basic HTML, but there was a lot of CSS. So if you only knew basic HTML, you were going to fumble. I worked with several of her interns and assistants as she updated mostly her calender. She did do a complete rebuild a couple of times, including changing her URL and purchasing and utilizing other URLs. Susan did a great service and I was proud to help her with her business. Obviously, it was cheaper for her to have an assistant or intern to do the updates, so she had the URL moved to Wordpress. Susan provided me steady work for about 8 years. I miss working with her.

7) Glacier Window and Door: Another client who contacted me around 2007. This guy desperately needed the company's web site finished and he had a tight deadline. Web site was about 40% built in Flash when he contacted me. It was a complex project and so I declined because it was going to be stressful. When he came back with more money, I took the job. I managed to finish the project in time and got a nice paycheck out of it. I was grateful. The web site changed within a year because of loading issues, but that was a project where the timing was excellent and the paycheck came in handy. The web site I finished was pretty nifty. Lots of animations and superb pictures. 

6) Hire Temp Agency: I was contacted by a pair of energized young ladies who were starting a temp agency in the Bay Area in 2009. They wanted a simple infomational site. Working with these two was fun. They were excited about the new business and felt the web site would generate a lot of interest. They were thrilled with the end result. Unfortnately, the web site and the business only lasted about a year.  

5) ECS: The company I work for has had several web sites in my 13 years of employment. I have been involved in all of them and continue to be an admin. I built and managed the online stores, where we averaged about $80,000 in sales annually. I took pictures of the product and provided the animations. The process was a team effort and I am proud to be a part of it. The CMS we have used in the past include Magento and MODX. I really like Magento, and I am still on the fence with MODX. 

4) Transit Cases: I was approached by a former boss a few years back asking if I could create a configurator for ECS that spits out a part number and a price. But wait, they needed the configurator to also have detailed part descriptions. It gets better, the pricing structure is off as well, there is no adder, so could it be done? Yes. It took me two years, but it was done and it's being used today as a quoting process in the sales dept. Before, the quoting process for the standard product, that being stuff we sell daily, had to go through costing where they would have to price every single component. It would take up to two weeks to get a quote! My configurator eliminated that process and streamlined everything so that a quote can be produced in mere minutes. I was told by many that I could never get something like that completed because the structure and the thousands of parts. I am proud to say, I proved those people wrong. 

3) Rock Point Wines: Lindsey at Del Rio, who I have worked with for more than 10 years, had approached me about this project several years ago. Rock Point Wines is a branch of Del Rio Vineyard and she had rebranded it and now wanted a new web site. A very simple HTML informational site that was carried by photos is what we created. Working with Lindsey is always a joy, so this process was fun. She wanted the site to be in Wordpress so she could do edits and updates. The site is very clean and a pretty nice upgrade from what they had. 

2) Del Rio store: After working with the great Mike McGiveny on several projects for Del Rio, I was asked by the owner, Jolee Wallace, if I could build an online store for the winery. There were some issues, the main one being how do you build a site that sells wine. Well, it worked out pretty well. Jolee would process the orders herself so all that was needed was an e-comm setup. I used oscommerce to handle that. While not as good as Magento, oscommerce was easy to work with. They had the store up for a few years before it was compromised. They ended up having the IT folks that host their site build them a more secure store.