How To Work With A Website Designer

    How To Work With A Website Designer

    If I were the type of person who named my weeks, this past one would have been declared “Web Designer Week.” I’ve been juggling the redesign of my own website, working with a web designer on the creation of a client’s new small business website, and engaging in an ongoing debate with another client about the effectiveness (or lack thereof, in my humble opinion) of their web developer’s abilities. In short, I’ve been up to my neck considering the importance of how small businesses use web workers.

    For most small businesses, outsourcing web design work is a necessity. The bottom line is that unless you are that rare creature who possesses an extremely good sense of design combined with a highly evolved programming prowess — you should not be creating your own website.

    Which leaves you having to locate, hire and manage an independent web designer. The questions that race through the small-business-frenzied brain can include: Where do I find a website developer? How much will it cost to develop my site? How can I make sure they’ll do a good job? And so on.

    This is where things can get sticky. I can’t count the number of clients who have come to me crying (occasionally with real tears), claiming they spent X amount of time and dollars on a website and still don’t have what they want and need. Given the tight budgets most small businesses operate on, getting it right the first time is critical. To save you some pain, here are just a few things to consider:

    Don’t:

    Base your decision on budget alone
    It’s a classic mistake I’ve seen over and over again. The small business decides how much they want to pay, then finds the web designer who fits the finances. While you can get value for money, in many cases, web work falls into the category of “you get what you pay for.” Consider the fact that if it’s not done right the first time, you will be spending more in the long run to fix it.

    Try managing the web development process without the time or desire to do so
    In order to save money, I’ve seen far too many CEOs of small businesses take on the management of the web designer themselves. This almost never works since the small business owner is usually so busy with the day-to-day running of the business that they can’t really commit the time or attention necessary to make getting the website built a priority. Alternatively, assign someone in the company to head the project or hire an outside marketing consultant to oversee it.

    Short the marketing aspects for design
    Way too many small businesses fall head over heels in love with a design, but don’t stop to consider its overall marketing implications. There are literally dozens of considerations that go into making a website a functioning lead-generation, lead-nurturing and conversion machine. Design is critical, but so is marketing competence, so make sure someone in your company incorporates Internet marketing best practices in the design process.

    Do:

    Check out technical competence
    In today’s continually changing online environment, technical competence requires constant updating. Inquire as to how the web developer stays on top of the latest technological bells and whistles in website development. Some common technological issues to look for on websites include:

    • Technical competence
    • Clear and clean site navigation
    • Innovative visual storytelling
    • Integration of social media
    • Appropriate mix of audio and video media
    • Expert knowledge and experience in the platform you are going to create your website in (ie WordPress)

    Study their creative style
    Do you find the websites that this developer has created to be visually appealing in terms of overall look and feel? Does something about their style resonate with your personal taste or desired brand? If not, chances are they won’t be able to magically create a look that works and you will have incompatible design ideas. No matter how highly recommended they are, or how desperate you are to get the project moving, pick another developer.

    Consider their communication skills and ongoing capabilities
    One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients about working with web developers is that, after the website is up and running, getting the developer to respond promptly to changes that need to be made is difficult. Many developers spend the majority of their time honing their technical expertise, so in some cases, interpersonal communication skills may have gotten short shift. Always call references and ask:

    • How easy is the developer to do business with?
    • Did she/he take a collaborative approach?
    • How was her/his follow-through on what they promised?
    • Did she/he get work done on time?

    Lastly, for the protection of all parties, always get a contract in writing prior to the beginning of the web work. A clear contract that defines the scope of the project, estimated timelines and delineated deliverables goes a long way to prevent weeping over web work down the road.

    We’d love to hear what you’ve done to make working with a web developer more effective. Or if you’re a web developer what can the small business owner do to make the process a smooth one?

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    Use An eBook To Build Your Brand

    Use An eBook To Build Your Brand

    Amanda Hocking, the 26-year-old current indie queen of eBooks, was rejected by so many New York publishing houses that she decided to go the entrepreneurial route and put out an eBook instead. To date, she’s sold more than 500,000 books and made more than $1 million dollars. The movie rights to her popular “Trylle Trilogy” series have been acquired and, a few weeks ago, she closed a US$2 million deal for her four-book “Watersong” series with (yes, you guessed it) St. Martin’s Press — a traditional publishing house.

    While Hocking’s paranormal romance novels are probably not what the typical entrepreneur is looking to publish, the best-practice business point is that eBooks are now a viable way of building your brand and getting word out about your company and expertise.

    Here are the basics: An eBook (electronic book) is an electronic document that can contain text, images, audio and video. They can be viewed on a personal computer, smart phone, PDA and eBook reader, such as a Kindle, and are sold through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and dozens of other outlets.

    Depending on the length and content of the eBook, they sell from between 99 cents and $99. But the current rage is pricing eBooks at the lower end of the spectrum for around $2.99, or even giving them away for free as a promotion.

    The five best reasons why you should be writing an eBook, beyond the immediate financial return of book sales, include:

    • Increases name recognition for your company and personal brand, as well as drives traffic to your Web site via links from book excerpts, free samples, reviews, newsletter distribution and blog mentions.

    • Introduces you to potential customers looking for what you offer via press releases about the book, an Amazon listing and book reviews from bloggers.

    • Provides a perfect free, downloadable giveaway on your blog to entice visitors to sign up and give you their contact information.

    • Makes a great calling card to send before you meet with a potential client to show your knowledge, expertise and point of view.

    • Forces you to develop content you can then repurpose for marketing collateral and turn into podcasts and Webcasts.

    Oddly enough, the easiest part of eBook publishing is getting the finished product up and running for distribution. Many can be uploaded with just a click of a few buttons. But where most entrepreneurs face a challenge is in finding the time, or having the writing chops, to craft the eBook in the first place. Even if that’s the case, it’s no excuse, since there are scads of eBook-savvy small businesses whose sole purpose is to ghost write, edit, design and publish your eBook.

    Still not convinced? Consider this: According to the Association of American Publishers, Americans spent US$440 million dollars on eBooks in the first quarter of 2011, and the Book Industry Study Group found that one in four Americans reads eBooks — and that’s a whole lota brand to be built.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    I’m All A Twitter: 7 Tips To Manage Your Twime

    I’m All A Twitter: 7 Tips To Manage Your Twime

    Gosh, my thumbs are tired. All that texting, typing and tweeting has given my digits an Olympic-size work out.

    With the past few weeks bringing on a torrent of Twitters about Michael Jackson, Iran and Sarah Palin, there can be no doubt that social media has left its mark on mainstream media. When CNN starts showing the URL to its Twitter stream — the world as we know it has changed.

    But revolutions, celebrity passings and political head-scratchers aside, left unchecked, social media can become a big, huge gaping black hole worthy of a scene in the latest “Start Trek” movie. “Step away from the iPhone, Mr. Spock; just step away.”

    The down, dark side to all this Twitter activity — all the time — is that it can really bring out one’s obsessive-compulsive personality tendencies. And I speak from experience here. Twitter-aholics, Facebook fanatics and LinkedIn mainliners — not a pretty story, but one that must be told.

    If you want to get the Twitter monkey off your back, but still buy an e-ticket to the social media wild ride, try these seven smart strategies:

    1. “I save time by syndicating my content automatically to all my social networking profiles: Twitterfeed.com sends my posts to my Twitter stream; the Notes application on Facebook feeds my Facebook profile; the Blog Link app on LinkedIn updates that site. I also use Ping.fm to update my status on multiple social networking sites as well.” Denise Wakeman, www.BizTipsBlog.com

    2. “I practice batch tweeting — setting aside certain batches of time for Twitter, rather than just dropping into it at random times during the day. Ten intentional minutes on Twitter can help a lot.” Darren Rowse, www.problogger.net

    3. “Look for timesaving tools and applications, but don’t waste time playing with ‘gee whiz’ applications that don’t improve your productivity,” says Dana Lynn Smith, author of Get Connected: Build Your Business With Online Networking. “Some useful productivity tools include applications such as TweetDeck.com and twitterfeed.com that make Twitter easier to use.”

    4. “HootSuite.com has a toolbar button that makes it easy to tweet a link. When you run across an interesting blog post or other resource, you can send it out to your followers with a couple of clicks. You can also schedule it to appear at a later time.” Cathy Stucker, www.BloggerLinkUp.com

    5. “Saving time on social media is not only about tools, but more importantly, it’s about knowing whom you want to connect with (your ideal audiences) and connecting with them instantly when they visit your profile,” says George Kao, social media expert. Make sure your one-line bio on Twitter resonates with that audience instantly by (a) telling them who they are, and (b) stating what results you can deliver for them or why you’re someone they’d want to follow.

    6. “I am easily distracted by various social media sites, and will lose track of time quickly! So, I’ve scheduled times during the day to go on the sites and make posts and respond. I even put these times on my calendar to remind me. When I get on, I have a set time limit; then I get off! If you have trouble getting off, set a timer to remind you.” Gladys Strickland, GS Business Resources

    7. “You want to follow and be followed by people who are following less than 100 people themselves. Otherwise it becomes a ‘follow-fest,’ and nobody is listening. But … the people who are following less than 100 Twitterers are the people who are being very selective … and are the people who are listening. So, here’s the lesson … don’t build for quantity, build for quality … follow and be followed by people who care, not by people trying to build a list.” Mike Michalowicz, blogger and Author of “The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur.”

    Bonus Tip: And here’s my hot tip… If I have a topic I’m hot to write about and want to do a series of tweets on it, I use http://www.tweetlater.com/ I find that by picking a topic and focusing on it for ten minutes or so, I am able to come up with a series of tweets that link together and build on one another. I usually schd. them to be tweeted once an hour or one a day for a period of days, set them up in tweetlater and move onto the next item! Karen Leland, author Time Management In An Instant:60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.