Why Buy The Cow, When You Can Get Your Website For Free?

small business tips

Offering Website Tips:

Many many many…years back, I worked in retail.  Levi’s 1850 in fact.  Fairview mall in Pointe Claire, Montreal.  It was awesome.  Because we were an actual Levi’s store, the price of our jeans were always slights higher than the anchor/department stores.  However our shop, because it was boutique, had friendly and knowledgeable staff.  We knew everything about the each jean.  You’ve got your 550′s, your 532′s… red tab, orange tab…we were always learning something new about each model, we’d have quarterly meetings about the products blah blah.  You get the idea.  At our shop you paid a bit more, but you got exactly what you wanted and learned a thing or two in the process.  Every once in a while, someone would come in, try on 10 pairs of jeans, waste a good 30-45 minutes of your commission based time only no to buy anything.  They thank you, and leave you with a pile of c*ap to clean up.  An hour or so later, you’d see them walking through the mall with a department store bag in their hand and what do you know, a nice new pair of jeans.  They try the jeans on in your store, waste your time, then go to the department store, they now what they are looking for and can get their product for $20 cheaper.  Kudos to them.

Fast forward 2014…client calls asking for a new website and layout.  You run the drill; you look at their site, drive through it, offer them a few points based on what you have seen, then let them know you are up for the task.  Sharing a few immediate ideas about their website simply helps to illustrate your knowledge and also helps make the client feel confident in their decision about calling in the first place.  You can’t not tell the client anything.  That’s like being a job interviewee and telling the interviewer that you have 5 proven methods to increase sales, but will only tell him, once he’s hired.  The question is, how much do you tell a client?  How many ideas do you spit out in knee jerk reaction to their 1997 website?  You give them a few basic ones, obvious ones.  If the site looks like it was built during the Clinton era, there should be enough obvious issues with the site that you can easily share with the client.

Today, I’m going through my list of perspective clients, doing my diligence, emailing, following up, the lot.  I check out the website of a client (to get his phone number) and wouldn’t you know it, he had implemented the ideas I gave to him over the phone.  He had someone else do it.  He took my ideas and either paid someone to implement them, or by the looks of it, he did them himself.  That’s the risk you run.  So when a client calls, always lend some general ideas, statements like “yes we can provide a more effective layout, tighten up the fonts a bit, format the images a little better…” can go a long way.  General points as opposed to specifics.  After you go through the general run through of the site, let the client know you will email them a quote.  Once you get paid your down payment, then feel free to go to town with ideas.  Share everything with your client, get their feedback, offer the pros and cons whenever and wherever possible.  Go through a full discovery phase, but don’t offer up all your secrets until you get fair payment.  It may come easy, looking at a website and identifying all the blocks, but you’ve been doing this for 15 years.  So remember, if something takes 5 minutes, it’s because it took you 15 years.

Setting Your Price

setting your prices

Finding your place in the market is not an easy task. Charge too much, people will walk. Charge too little, people won’t take you seriously. The latter, is a tough one to learn. I, naively used to think, if I undercut everyone, I’ll do well for myself. Offer the cheapest rates and everyone will come to me. Let me tell you, if you offer the cheapest rates, you get the cheapest clients. If that’s your thing, fill your boots.

But if you want to be taken seriously, you need to find yourself a perfect price point between demand for your service and your talent for said services. Maybe you have a high opinion of yourself and you like charging $90/hr. So if you do, and you are, you need to make sure you can get about twice as much work done as someone who charges $45/hr for doing the same thing. If you charge too little, because you’re nervous about losing a client, you’ll die a slow death, simple. If you charge too little, there’s no wiggle room when S hits the fan. And doesn’t it always?!

The best way to position yourself is to go online and look at your competition. Look through their portfolio. Be honest with your team’s skill level, and if you can do what they do, send them an email pretending to be a potential client. Go through the process with them and see how they do it, and what they charge. Don’t be afraid if you charge more; just make sure you show them why.

How To Find And Work With A Good Designer/Developer

george

A couple of weeks back I wrote about dysfunctional web designers/developers. Today we’ll discuss how to actually find a and work with agood one. I guess first, you can start out by not calling them dysfunctional.

I’ve been managing projects and designers for 13+ years and it’s tough for me to find a good worker, so imagine what it’s like for someone with no experience. Like your client. Below is some good advice for both client and business owner.

If you want your project to run smoothly and on time, don’t outsource. Make sure the company you are using doesn’t outsource. Whilst the price might be cheaper going overseas, the addage, “cheap is expensive” resonates loudly. I’m not suggesting you HAVE to go local (but like your vegetables, always try) but at the very least, keep it in the country. At worst you’re only dealing with a 3 hour time difference (and a 6 hour flight!).

Check their portfolio. This might seem obvious, but more than just looking at the screen shots of their design, go to the actual site and see if A) it works, does it make sense. Do the sites look and function the way you would want your site to look and function? If you happen to find a site you like, use it as an example. It’s always best to give a designer one of their own portfolio pieces as a guidline.

If you want to go a step further (and why wouldn’t you, it’s your money) contact the owners of the websites the company created. Send over a quick email asking them how their overall experience was with the company and if they were they on time as well as ethical.

I have heard a lot of stories of designers holding on to files, or asking for more money half way through a project. Asking for more money to do more work is fine, if you discussed it with your client before you started the work. You can’t just stop all work or get your knickers in a knot because you didn’t properly communicate the site’s scope. At least give the client plenty of upfront warning of any new charges, and why you’re charging them.

Finally, don’t hire your neighbor’s cousin.

So now that you have found your perfect designer – how do you talk to them? Typically, The first rule of fight club…you don’t.

When clients and designers speak it’s like 2 George’s colliding. It always helps if there’s a project manager involved to act as a translator although there are no gurantees.

If you decide to forgo the project manager and work directly with a designer (which is like trying to sell your own home) there are a few things you need to know: As the client: Be specific. If you think you are being too specific. Be more so. Provide examples wherever possible. If you like a certain color, get the exact #hex code. What is a hex code? http://www.colorpicker.com/ Looking for blue? What shade, what tone?

Send ONE email only. Of course this is impossible, but you absolutely MUST refrain from sending a stream of 15 “consciousness emails”. Gather all your thoughts and notes in one email and send it off. You might be told otherwise, but you are not their only client so emails add up and the more emails, the more likely something gets missed.

Be patient. Dear God, be patient. Putting together a website with design, integration, content, testing and training can be exhaustive as well as frustrating. What you can’t do, is take out your frustrations with the guy designing your site. The best thing you can do for yourself is allow for at least 2-3 days margin of error. If your guy tells you it’ll be done Monday, expect it Thursday. Design and development is not an exact science, so be realistic with the deadlines.

Right click not write click. Make sure you and your “guy” are speaking the same language. I was speaking with an insurance client and we were talking about apps for 5 minutes before I realized she was referring to actual down loadable online applications for users to fill out and submit, and not a mobile application. IP is another one that comes to mind. Intellectual property v. Internet Protocol. These are the more obvious ones. If your designer is using words you don’t understand, make them explain to you what they’re talking about. Being properly informed helps everyone.

Don’t pretend you know more than you do. It’s like being in Rome and asking, in your broken Italian, for directions only to have them hurl out an entire 5 minute response, without taking a breath. In other words, don’t clutter the table. Let your designer do their job. After all, you did all this research to find them, so give them room to work.

Don’t be unrealistic. Everything good takes time. Be appreciative. Good designers are sensitive creatures. Most importantly, pay on time. Don’t wait 30 days to pay. Pay upon receipt.

Responding To Emails: The Bueller Effect

the bueller effect

Last week we discussed managing dysfunctional employees. Not so much how to deal with them because  you don’t. You fire them and move on. It was more about how to spot one, how we all have had to deal with one and their negative impact on your business.

This week, we discuss the “Bueller effect”.

You send an email to your developer asking for an update, but get no answer. The Bueller effect.

You’re certain they got the email, you’re pretty sure they read the email, but for some freakin’ reason they just don’t respond.  The Bueller effect.

Why? Is it their way of telling you to ‘eff off? Do they think you have nothing better to do with your time then to ask for updates? No one really knows the answer because no one really knows what goes on inside the head of a designer/developer. They live in their own world and don’t seem to understand why deadlines might be important.

There’s nothing worse than not being able to give your paying client an update. So if you’re boss, employer, client or contractor asks for an update, give them one. Take 5 minutes and kindly let them know where you are and when you hope to be finished. Don’t wait until they’ve emailed you 5 times, by then they’re going to be pretty pissed off so it’ll be tougher getting them to understand why you’re behind on their project…again.

Even if you’re not asked for an update, give them one anyway. Keep your client informed and prepared. If it’s a project that is measured in months, weekly updates should be standard. If it’s a shorter 3-4 week project then only a couple of updates are necessary. The client simply wants to know what’s going on. Don’t wait for them to email you. That’s like trying to stay hydrated and only drinking water when thirsty. It’s too late. Be preemptive.

Do your best to pad your delivery date. If you’re guy tells you it’ll be ready in a week, tell your clients it’ll be ready in 3 weeks. Playing this game certainly makes forecasting pretty impossible and will stretch your limits, but it’ll save you a lot of groveling and apologizing for circumstances that are out of your control.

So if you’re developer isn’t cooperating with you by not giving you updates, don’t worry, it’ll be his turn to panic when you don’t respond to his emails about payment.

Managing Your Employees

managing employees

I was told that unless you are paying for a guy to physically come into an office and work, you, as the employer, have no control over them.  In other words, you can’t expect freelancers to be accountable.  This statement of course was made by an unaccountable freelancer.  And by unaccountable I mean, having little to no communication in the form of updates or deliverables throughout the course of a project. This of course makes managing a project, or running an efficient business impossible.  If your designer or developer can’t manage their own time, how can you expect them to help manage yours?

Managing a really good web designer, is analogous to managing for Keith Richards. You know the end product is always gonna be fantastic, but the work involved just to get them to that point.  Dear God.  The coddling involved. Can you imagine trying to get Keef on stage in time for a gig back in the 70′s? Can you imagine trying to get him to do anything during the 70′s?! The absolute dysfunction.  It’s enough to drive you nuts.

So having a place for your employees to come in and do their work, chained to a desk means nothing when it comes to accountability.  All it means is you actually can see if they show up or not. Whether or not they actually “show up” is another story all together.  It’s about integrity.  If you’re not going to do what is required, then you’re not going to do what is required.  Beit working from your home office, Starbucks or Dunder Mifflin. Whether your boss is down the hall, or 2000 miles away, if you don’t feel like following process, you’re not going to.  Instead, you’ll drive everyone around you into the ground.  They’ll work with you because you are good, but being good or being great only takes you so far.  People around you will eventually tire of coddling you and, they’ll find someone else just as good who also understands process. Someone who understands running a business. Being an awesome designer doesn’t make you like Keith Richards, only just as dysfunctional.

How Long Do I Wait To Call?

swingers-break-up

Remember when the biggest stress in your life was trying to figure out how long before you call her?  A day, 2 days… that night?  Fast forward 20 years later.  You’re now a small business owner (sucker).  You get a lead.  Either in the form of an email, a voice message, text, whatever.  Do you call back right away?  You don’t want to seem desperate and you certainly don’t want to seem like you’ve been doing nothing all day but waiting around for your phone to ring, or ping.  You need to find that perfect balance between being in-demand and being accessible.

In today’s market, there’s simply no time to pretend you are busier than you really are.  If you take too long to respond, the client will simply keep clicking through to the next site until they reach someone.  With a billion (rough scientific estimate) ways to get in touch with someone, there’s simply no excuse to leave a potential client hanging longer than a couple of hours at most.  It takes 30 seconds to respond to someone, to let them know that you have received their request and will get back to them with a more detailed within the (day).

The client isn’t expecting a full proposal or business plan that same day. The prospective client simply wants to know that their request has been heard and you are looking into various solutions for them.  If they are asking for a proposal or outline that same day, chances are they’re going to be unreasonable throughout the project so you may want to reconsider taking them on.  Becasue what seems like a great payday at the beginning will drag you and your company down pretty quickly.  If a client is unreasonable from the start, there’s no sense in thinking that will change the further along you go.

So be quick and responsive to all incoming requests.  Send the client a quick email or text, “thank you for your email, we are looking through your requests and will have some solutions for you by EOD…”  Avoid impersonal auto-responses at all costs.  Good clients understand that you may need to do a bit of research in order to find the best solutions.  But most importantly, it gives you the time you need to put your team together and work out your costs.

The Disgruntled Employee

disgruntled employee

Safe to say that if you’re about to fire someone or “let them go” they’ll have some sour feelings towards you.  The extent to which they will take those feelings of course depends on the content of that person’s character.  But even if you think you know them, they might end up surprising you anyway.  And by “surprsing you” I mean, they’ll mess your day up.

There’s nothing we can do about a disgruntled employee.  But we can most certainly do our best to prepare for one.  So even if you think you know the person, you must have an execution plan. Pun completely intended.

In our business – web – a disgruntled employee has a lot more options at their disposal than those circa 1994.  Back then if it was about to get ugly, 2 security guards would come up to your desk and “escort” you out of the building, making you surrender your rolodex and your employee card on the way out the front door. Today, it’s changing passwords, deleting/forwarding email accounts, getting source files, changing client admin passwords, on and on.  It’s relentless.  Nothing can be forgotten.

So before the hammer falls and you tell “your guy” that you are going in another direction, or you no longer need him or whatever it is you tell them, you need to make sure you cut all their corporate access and communication.  Have your finger on the button and minutes before you deliver the news, start pressing those, “change password” buttons and chances are they’ll start figuring it out before you reach their desk.

But even if you cover all those bases, there’s still “the guy” who ends up emailing your clients.  These emails typically ramble on about how great they are and how the company is worthless without them dribble, dribble.

The first thing you must do when your client inevitably emails you with, “who is this guy” – is not to worry about the employee who did it.  They’re gone; don’t spend any energy on them.  The next thing, act like this is not a big deal.  Not because it happens all the time, but because you have all the bases covered.  You anticipated this weeks ago when you added a new player to the team.  Reassure the client that it’s going to be business as usual and there’s nothing to worry about.  Thank them for their understanding.  This is the course of doing business.  And if your client is in business for themselves, they’ll certainly know a thing or two about disgruntled employees.  If they don’t, they do now.  Always be responsive and reassuring.

image 1976 ad

And You Run And You Run To Catch Up With The Sun But It’s Sinking…

pinkfloyd

Social Media is a time consuming investment that involves networking with a human touch. Much like attending a networking party, we initiate conversation with others with the goal of leaving a healthy impression and a business card. When we arrive at a networking mingle, we search for conversations to engage in, then from one person to the next we are being introduced throughout the engagement and find we too have a stack of other business cards. If we made an impact on any one of these people we should be receiving referrals from people outside the group at the same time we create ripples by referring other businesses.

All social media platforms are a daily affair and, unfortunately, not a once in a while networking event. To grow or even keep a fan base it takes daily interaction, but if networked wisely you will have your fan base introduce you to other potential fans, cutting down the time you spend on a site or at least doubling to tripling your invested time. Finding current trends and sharing competitors/colleagues posts are a great way of drawing in new fans or followers. Utilizing the full spectrum of Social Media by funneling the conversation over all platforms is highly important. Personally updating posts and possibly engaging others independently rather than depending on re-routing updates through FaceBook to Twitter like “FB me”. By doing this it allows us to continue to work the room and find influencing people or companies to help share and spread our updates.

Having a Social Media presence to reflect your work and expertise is highly important. Most owners of small business or the general public will look up other businesses and people using FaceBook. This helps them know how influential the business or person is that they are investigating. This process helps clients in making decisions, if they want to engage or not engage with a certain company or person. Gaining followers and fan base does not have to involve contests or gimmicks right out of the gate, but can be done with simple engagement and strategic following or proper use of the platform. Using twitter to sway interest to FaceBook can be achieved simply by using the tools Twitter provides for trending a topic or highlighting certain important followers. Using # can add a lot to any Tweet as it can bring others who are interested in your #topic to you, or by using (#FF) Follow Friday to promote an influential follower, you can ripple your persona on twitter as well place you in good standing with others.

Web Site Design with Conversion Rates in Mind

First of all, what is conversion?  A website’s conversion rate is the number of visitors versus the number of sales or inquiries the site receives each month.  There are many simple tips and tricks to implement that will help streamline a site and aide clientele in finding the product or service they seek.Here are a few elements to consider when designing a new site:

User Experience
The key to user experience is trying to not only visualize the website through the end user’s eyes, but also interpret what the customer is looking for. Having a good grasp of the industry and making sure the most sought after products and information are easily accessible will be vital.  Using things such as mock-ups and wire-frames in the first stages of the design process can help organize the overall appearance.

Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools
Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools will help pinpoint the most visited pages onsite, allowing the most sought after information or product on the website to be prominently showcased.

Heatmap and Eye Tracking Software
Utilizing heat mapping and eye tracking software can help target problem areas.  This software allows an understanding of what users do on the site. It offers a digital visualization of where visitors click and what portions of the site they interact with, information which can then be used to make changes that increase conversion.

The K.I.S.S. Principle
By following the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle your site really will be “made for loving you”.  Bogging the homepage down with too much information, widgets, images, music and animated objects can detract from how users interact with a site and cause confusion about where the pertinent information can be found. Keep it relevant, keep it simple and keep the design clean.

Content
Content is one of the most important factors when building a website.  Font choice and size, terminology, and action words are all very important. When using action words such as “click here” be sure to keep them un-cluttered and clearly visible.

In the world of SEO “content is king” but be sure to use proper formatting when building a website. Small paragraphs with headings and bulleted lists can go a long way in keeping content organized and easy to scan for popular information.

Contact Information
Make it easy for the client to make contact with the company. Most sites have a “Contact Us” page but is this enough? Consider putting important information such as a phone number in either the header or the footer.  Burying contact information can often lead to a frustrated user experience resulting in a loss of sales. Neglecting to include contact information on a website is just as foolish as not including it on a business card.

Colors
There are many studies about the psychology of color, and when it comes to brand identity color is crucial. If the company logo or brand has definite colors, by all means use them! If they are bright colors, use them sparingly or as accents.  Using hot pink as a background color on a site might indeed fit with the company branding scheme, but remember not everyone has the same monitor settings. Although it may look like just the right shade of hot pink, a client could find it distracting, blinding or it could make the text difficult to read.  When designing, the use of white generally indicates simplicity and is very eye catching. Whereas colors like red are used as an attention grabber and better for “calls to action”.

Fine tuning a website for higher conversions can be a time consuming process, full of revisions and testing.  Keep the end goal in mind, have patience and it will pay off!

Browser Compatibility

It may seem obvious enough, but you need to make sure your website is compatible on “every” browser.  This means your website looks and functions the way it’s supposed to, the way you intended.  I put “” around the word, every, because we only test a few generations back.  We go as far back as IE7.  Any browser further than that would not be able to run most scripts written in 2012.Statistically, there are main 2 browsers; Firefox and IE.  Everyone has their opinions, but Firefox is certainly the preferred browser for heavy web users.  But of course if your website is not resolving in Chrome, then it doesn’t matter about opinions.  You need your site working.  That’s a fact, not an opinion.

Of course, the most blatant example in 2012 is the whole Flash / iworld issue.  As most know by now, some more painfully than others, Flash does not work in the iworld.  So if you’re looking to build or rebuild your site, stay away from Flash (unless you’re building a gaming site).  A lot can be accomplished these days without using Flash.  HTML5 as the obvious example.

So before you get started, or sign on the dotted line, make sure that when finished and uploaded, your site will be working across board.

Nothing stings more than getting a call from a client or partner letting you know that the “contact form” on your site is not coming up… 10 minutes after the site went live.

Writing for Search Engines

Here’s a great article written by my close associate, Dave Davies from Beanstalk-inc.com:Some believe that the world of search engine optimization (SEO) is changing in the post-Panda world. A belief that content has suddenly appeared on the radar as the end-all, be-all of ranking highly on the search engines is discussed on virtually every relevant site I’ve been to.Here’s the problem with that belief: content has always been an important factor. How content influences results may change over time or (better worded) our understanding of how to use content may evolve, but to be sure – content has always and will always be a key factor in the algorithms in one capacity or another.

If we flash back to the “Wild West days” of SEO, content keyword stuffing and keyword density targeting were all the rage. Massive sites were built, injecting regions onto pages to rank sites for a wide array of locations – and it worked. These sites ranked and why? Content.

Rightfully these strategies don’t work well anymore (not to be confused with “doesn’t work at all” but this is a “best practices” article and not a “here’s how to trick and spam Google” article) but content being generated for search engines is hardly new.