I Succeeded at a Cool Thing!

It’s become clear to me that the only success I’m ever going to find is the success I make for myself. Right now is a great time for people to make their own success, though. I’m currently self-employed, more or less full-time, as a private tutor. Tutoring is the only job I’ve ever had that I truly enjoyed. And I made it happen by putting myself out there and taking a chance. It is paying off.

In the spirit of pursuing my own success, I posted this ad on Craigslist a couple weeks ago:

Got a Problem? I Can Solve It. (Willamette Valley Area)

Are you struggling with a problem and wish someone would help you solve it?

Then you should contact me; I specialize in solving problems.

My name is Ryan and I am offering my services to help you remove that thorn in your side. For the last two years I have been helping all sorts of people in the Willamette Valley area to solve their problems. Small business owners, students, farmers, teachers have all benefited from my particular talents. I can provide excellent references to serious inquirers.

If you are struggling with a technical or logistical issue, I have the know-how to tackle it. If there is a project that you just need to offload, then I can take it on for you. If you need a temporary extra set of hands, eyes, or brains then you need me.

My fee is quite affordable and is well worth the relief you’ll feel with my help. Initial consultations are free.

Contact me today so we can set a meeting and discuss the ways I can help you succeed and meet your goals.

It seems like a silly idea, maybe. Once I had the idea, though, I couldn’t not post it. While I didn’t expect anything to come of it, there was no harm, and only potential success, in putting the idea out there. So I did, then I turned my mind to other things.

Last weekend I was surprised to see a reply in my inbox–and it didn’t look like a phishing scam or a pyramid scheme! It was a simple message from a woman who was looking to hire someone to help her partner with a vinyl cutting machine. Instantly, my anxiety and self-doubt started gnawing at me, I don’t know anything about vinyl cutting machines, there’s no way I can do this, I’ll just have to tell them I’m too busy or that it’s outside my area of knowledge.

As I re-read the email and considered, a more measured, reasonable thought took over. If I wasn’t willing to take a chance on myself, why should I expect anyone else to? If I was just going to back-down from a challenging opportunity, why did I even post the ad? I didn’t currently know anything about vinyl cutters, but I had all the world’s knowledge at my fingertips. Surely I could learn enough to help them out. I responded tentatively and asked for more details about the project.

For the next couple of days, I emailed back and forth with the woman and found out more about the project. As I got more details, I began researching. I found out that it was an Ioline 100 vinyl cutter.
The Ioline website provided all sorts of manuals. I read up on how the machine worked and I read through the user guide for the software that is used to send designs to the machine. I watched a couple YouTube videos. I needed to charge a fee, and I just threw out $300; it was agreed to. We scheduled Wednesday morning for me to go out to her partner’s shop.

He turned out to be incredibly nice and very interesting. He had a frame jury-rigged around the cutter to guide the material, which was a non-standard, metallic stock of some kind. My job was to help him get the settings on the machine properly adjusted. He was going to be printing out perfect circles at volume, so he also needed a way to create the design files. That became the more complicated part. In the design software–Corel DRAW X5–it is possible to manually create a pattern of circles to be cut, but if he wanted to print upwards of a thousand circles manually was less than ideal. I only had a few hours at the shop that morning before I had to get to my students. I was able to get the hardware sorted out, but the software was another issue. In the couple hours I was there I gained some valuable hands-on experience. I agreed to come back Friday and finish up.

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Over the next day I considered the issue. Ideally, he wanted to create a staggered grid of circles, so as to waste as little material as possible. I did some research and found that the design software did not natively have the ability to fill a space with shapes. Corel DRAW does support macros, though! So I went hunting for a macro. I found one that I thought I could get to maybe work. I wasn’t not looking forward to going in Friday with a solution that might only kind of work, though. As I looked into how to install and use the macro, I noticed that the macros didn’t look at all complicated to program. They were based on Visual Basic, which is a very easy language to use (though I had never used it myself) and the class structure of DRAW was very intuitively designed. Rather than try to re-purpose a macro that was designed to accomplish a different goal, I decided to build my own to do exactly what I needed.

I stayed up Thursday night and Friday morning and learned Visual Basic and DRAW’s API. Earlier that day, between students, I worked through the geometry of the problem and sketched out an algorithm. That night I implemented it. And it worked amazingly. I created a UI box where he could enter the size of circles he wanted and the spacing between them. He could then click OK and it filled the page with circles in staggered rows.

I was psyched and eager for the morning appointment that was only a few hours away.

When I got to his shop, I told him I had something he’d like. I got the macro all loaded and showed him; it was exactly what he was hoping for. It created the design files in a matter of seconds with basically no effort on his part. We sent the design to the cutter. It cut the first row. Awesome. It started on the second row, but I noticed it wasn’t staggered. Hmm. Neither was the third row. Then it went back and cut out the first staggered row. Oh! It was cutting them in the same order the macro created them in. As the blade glided around in a small circle amidst the circles that had already been cut, the material shifted, crinkled and then the feed jammed.

Discouraging. I removed the jam, reset the machine and sent the job back to the cutter. One row. Two rows and three. Then the first staggered row. Shift, crinkle, jam. At exactly the same point.

The holes in the material from the circles that were already cut were catching on the guide wheels as the material fed back and forth. Hmm. That was an issue. The only solution was to redesign my macro to place the circles in the order the machine would feed the material. So, I went to work on the revision.

I tested it, watching as the circles populated the page row by row. With the design fixed, I sent a test to the cutter. Again, the first row printed perfectly. I watched as it cut the first circle of the second row, staggered between two circles of the first row. I smiled. It moved to the second, then the third. I watched as the material skewed to the side, crinkled, and the machine jammed. I sent another test so I could watch what happened this time. Again, the wheels were catching on the material from the first row.

I just sat and thought for a few moments. I could not figure out what to do, beyond placing the circles further apart. But then what was the point of the staggered formation? Of course! That was the problem. If I just placed the circles in a regular grid, the previous row would not be close enough to catch on the guide wheels. I set down to modify my macro yet again. This time I threw out most of my beautiful mathematical processes that were necessary to correctly place the circles in the staggered rows. I replaced them with a straight-forward loop that created a simple x-by-y grid of circles.

This time, though, the machine cut out a perfect grid of circles. Success! I showed him how to use the macro and how to send the design files to the cutter. He was very pleased. He high-fived me. I asked him if I could use him as a reference for future clients, and he enthusiastically agreed.

Now, I just had to get paid. I had already agreed to accept a PayPal payment from his partner. I had sent an invoice earlier in the week. I called her and let her know that I was finished and that he was satisfied. She assured me that she’d send payment later in the evening. I was nervous about not accepting payment at the site, but they trusted me to fix their problem, I should trust them to pay me. I think it’s important to place trust in people. My trust was well-placed, I received the payment that evening!

So, I just earned $300 to help someone with an interesting project that allowed me to learn and challenge myself. They are better off, I’m better off. Now I can leverage this experience for future opportunities. I’m thankful they took a chance on me, and I’m proud of myself for getting past my anxiety and self-doubt. I’m now a professional problem-solving consultant.

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