On failure and knowing when to quit (P.S. Asuna is free now)

Late last year, I decided to give myself a bit of a digital makeover. I left my last part-time web design gig with revamped WordPress skills, and even as I ditched the job I still wanted to make WordPress design and development a part of my career.

I added a Web Design section to Otaku Journalist. I created a portfolio site to showcase some of my previous work. And, most time-consumingly, in order to prove that I knew what I was talking about, I built my own WordPress theme from scratch.

It’s been five months, and I have to say, business is slow. I do have several recurring web clients, but not because I advertised my availability online—I got them all through work connections. Every now and then somebody fills out my “get a quote” form, but after pricing out a potential contract in the three figures, I never hear from them again.

It’s easy to ignore the web business failure, because I’m still getting web clients, just not the way I planned. As for the theme, Asuna, I’ve sold exactly one copy.

That stings because I spent more than 20 hours building Asuna to be absolutely perfect. If you check out the demo, you can see I gave it 13 points of customization out of the box, while your average WordPress theme only has one or two.

However, if before putting in that 20 hours I had taken one hour to do a little research, I would have noticed a couple major hints this wasn’t going to sell:

  • Most anime bloggers who use WordPress have a free theme, not a paid one.
  • Heck, most bloggers in general don’t pay for themes, since so many are free.
  • Not as many people like Asuna from Sword Art Online as I previously thought.

Long story short, enough is enough. Starting today, you can get Asuna for free.

Get it for free already!

I’m actually excited about this because it’ll mean more people than me are trying and testing my theme. Plus, since I’m a professional and you don’t have to worry about it being buggy or broken, I’ll at least be able to feel pride in my well done work helping people out.

More than that, I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I was trying so hard for so long to make it happen, trying out different price points and advertising. Now I can give up and expend my energy elsewhere.

Additionally, Asuna has helped me find a clearer answer to the question, “What is valuable?” Just because I spent hours agonizing over it didn’t make Asuna a valuable product. On the flipside, just because writing is easy and fun for me doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. This is why I even monetize projects I do for enjoyment.

Asuna was a failed project long before I decided, this week, to quit promoting it. So when in a project’s lifespan do you decide to give up? As soon as it starts to become more trouble than it’s worth. Asuna was a ton of work up front, and then nothing but minor maintenance and updates since then, so I was able to push it to the back burner in terms of time investments. Really, it’s the mental and emotional investment I freed myself from when I decided to start giving it away.

If Asuna had succeeded, I wanted it to be the first in a series of WordPress themes I design from scratch. Maybe I’ll still make another (I’ve got a design concept based on Holo from Spice & Wolf waiting in the wings) but it won’t be as a part of my business. I’ve closed the book on this attempt so I can free myself up to try new projects. Sure, they might be failures, too, but what if they aren’t? The only way I’ll know for sure is if I try.

Lead photo by Markus Spiske.