Monthly Archives: August 2008

I Talk About It

Three and a half years ago, my daughter died. I held her in my arms just moments after giving birth to her, and watched her draw her last infrequent breaths, utterly unable to help her to breathe. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. It isn’t the hardest thing I COULD have to deal with, but in that delivery room, I lived one of my nightmares.

It wasn’t all bad. I learned a lot from that little girl. The pregnancy taught me things that I didn’t know I could learn. And Sidney, herself, was a delight. Her personality was like pure sunshine, filtering throught the leaves on the trees. Warm, dappled and dancing, never harsh, a golden light that radiated over everything. To lose THAT… Bitter indeed. To have enjoyed it, a gift beyond description.

There were the precious moments during the pregnancy, and a lot of laughter in between the heartache of knowing she would probably not stay long. Even in the delivery room, when we knew that we were moments away from the critical seconds that would determine the rest of her life, there was laughter, and peace. And love toward my little girl.

So much good. This child is woven into who I am. She was, and still is, part of my life.

Other people are uncomfortable speaking of her. I think they just focus on the horror of facing THEIR nightmare. They do not know how they could possibly handle it. They fear that maybe I’ll break down in tears if I speak of her, or something else, I know not what. But I speak of her anyway.

I talk of the pregancy when it is the natural thing to speak of. I mention her life, and death, as a reference point, because it certainly was that! I remember out loud the gifts she gave us – things we still refer to today as “Sidney Blessings”. The antelope that didn’t taste bad (that HAD to be a miracle!). The recliner that fit me perfectly that happened to be on sale right when I needed it. The improvements to my health that came about because of her.

I speak of her in spite of the tendency people have to look away when I do. I feel that if I keep speaking of her, naturally, perhaps one day they won’t feel compelled to look away. Maybe they’ll accept that it is ok to remember good things, and it is ok to talk about hard things. I’m sure they don’t mean to shut off that avenue to remembering and to healing. They do it because they have not yet learned that they can do otherwise, and that it is ok.

I miss my daughter. But the absence of her is no longer the raw wound that it once was. I remember her more with a smile than with tears.  I am, who I am, in family, business, and life, largely because of that tiny child who danced in and out of our life so quickly. I will keep speaking of her, and I will not apologize.

Being the Person Your Clients WANT to Call

Is there a person at a company that you prefer to reach when you call? I’m talking about a small company where there are three or four employees in a given area, where you might get any one of them. Which one do you enjoy talking with the most?


When people call you, do they do so because they WANT to talk to you, or because you are the only choice? If you had an office with three or four, would they still want to talk to YOU? Would they want YOU to be their favorite person to deal with?

I’m not talking about a popularity contest. I’m talking about something else instead.

  • Courtesy
  • Professionalism
  • Expertise
  • Helpfulness
  • Kindness
  • Friendship

Do you offer those things? If you hire employees, will they offer those things?

Do your clients want to call you for things that are really a bit outside your expertise, just because they know that if you CAN help, they’ll get the best?

I began thinking about this the other day, when a client was calling repeatedly. How some people, when they reach our office, just want to talk to me. Others will talk to Kevin just fine. What makes them want to talk to one or the other, or willing to accept someone else?

If we kindly help them, then they want to call again. True, that can be a blessing and a curse, but believe me that you do WANT them to call! It keeps the customers happy when they feel you are the person to turn to when they need something.

Somewhere Between Mundane Triviality and Perpetual Advertisements

It seems that most of the people on FaceBook are of one of two kinds:

  • Those who explore the mundane trivialities of daily life to the point that your eyes glaze over while reading the status updates.
  • Those who do nothing but advertise, and whose sole purpose in updating status is to advertise once again.

Of the two, I prefer the first. At least they are trying, and there is hope that they’ll grow out of it as they gain experience. The second type just don’t have a clue what people think when they read it. If they did, they’d find a softer approach.

Somewhere between the extremes, there is a balance. One I’m dead certain I have not found yet, I fear I am still wallowing in the realm of mundane trivialities! But it is one that I know I’ve found about once or twice a week.

It is interest, and value. It isn’t an ad – though sometimes it is an update on your latest project (but not all the time!). It isn’t what I had for breakfast, unless breakfast was out of the ordinary, like the first strawberries of the season that I can’t resist bragging over.

  • It IS humor – the kind that happens in life each day.
  • It IS wisdom – the little lessons taught in the triviality, without which, it is only triviality, with which, it is profound.
  • It is interest – those things that happen that are out of the ordinary, and worth sharing.

Like I said, I only get it right every once in a while. But when I do, I know it.

I pay attention to those status updates that are interesting, give me value that isn’t an ad, and that make me chuckle. Those things I identify with, or consider worth my time to read.

Between the extremes indulged in by most FaceBook users, there is a narrow glimpse of the extraordinary. The thing that makes it worth hanging out there. I’m working on honing my skill at staying within its narrow confines.

And you?

The Great Cart Review Continues

We found two carts that we like so far, which look like they’ll be sustainable. One has a fussy (but flexible) templating system, the other is more standard, though less flexible. The backends are the same – both are surprisingly navigable, though the terminology isn’t exactly intuitive, and both are highly functional cart systems, one with more choices than the other. For the first time, we’ll have two stable database cart options, one in the $500 starting price range – a first. We have that now for our CMS systems, but not for our cart systems, so this will be a benefit to our clients long term.

Carts have some functions that you expect. One is that there will be a functional installer. Sure, you still have to create the database, but the installer runs and creates the config file.

One of the systems did not have that. No documentation on their site about it either, they put it into the install folder instead. In the current technological arena, nobody OPENS an install folder to LOOK inside it, they point their browser to it instead! Not this one… You had to import the database file yourself, and set up the config.

Sure, I know how to do those things, they’d take me an extra 5 minutes or so to do. My point is, why should I have to? Every other cart does that for me. If that is left off, what else is left off? How much can I trust the rest of the software, or the development team to see to the needs of the user?

I did not even install it. I deemed it unworthy of my time, based on the fact that the first function I expected from it was missing.

Fair? Maybe not. But that is the reality of business, software, and the web. If you lose someone on step 1, they’ll never get to see how great step 2 is.

So after a long day of sorting through cart systems, I have two that are worth offering. Neither one was even available as a viable option a year ago when we last made this search. This time though, I’m more experienced in seeking out information about carts, and how to assess them. I searched for several weeks last time, and was able to do most of it in a day this time.

So, we’re now offering a deep discount on the first client site builds in these two systems – one a functional but lightweight system, one a full featured system. First come, first served.

Note: The opinions expressed in this post are the perceptions of the writer, and should not be interpreted or quoted as fact without corroborrating evidence.

Our Philosophy Behind Using CRELoaded, Joomla, and CMSMadeSimple

We use free Open Source systems. We don’t do so to be cheap, but merely as a way of producing affordable solutions.

I know that my clients will not be able to afford or justify a yearly subscription fee, and most cannot afford software fees at all unless they are just for a few necessary add-ons. They already have to pay ongoing fees for maintenance, to keep the site software updated. One more fee on top of that is a deal breaker for them, and I know that it will be for others also.

By becoming “just another commercial cart”, I believe that CRELoaded will lose a huge portion of their user base. That, in turn, will reduce the viral nature of a good Open Source project. Joomla, and CMSMadeSimple, which are the other two major software systems that we build site solutions around, do not have any indication of going commercial, though they do have some commercial enhancements.

There are other projects, still free, which have been nipping at the heels of CRE for a long time, and which have made significant progress in the last six months. Our company will be testing those, and adopting the most flexible solution. We have no choice with the market we serve. I’ll report on what we find when we make a choice, and I’ll start testing the two most promising ones today, in between working on a Joomla template.

Our clients give back a great deal over the long term. But they use freely available Open Source software as a means of getting a foot in the door, until they have the means to give back. In the mean time, they are donating time and service, volunteering to move good projects forward, and giving in other ways while they do not have money to give. They are people worth helping, and we keep our own service prices low by building site solutions using Open Source software.

Our company gives back also – we support and assist with several Open Source projects, offering documentation assistance, usability help, and promoting them. We aren’t parasites who are just complaining about the loss of a free tool. We’ve invested in every system we’ve used, and provide training, tips, and encourage their use with both clients, and colleagues. Each system we use has a section in our Trade Association pages, where we are assembling resources and tools for them.

We are not the only company out there that promotes Open Source software, nor which contributes to it. When an Open Source project moves from a freely usable business model, to a commercial business model, they lose a large portion of their user base, and an equally large portion of their contributor base. Active members drop from the help forums, abandon the Wiki, and contributing developers wander away to more promising projects. After all, why should they contribute freely to a project for which someone else makes money but they do not? And why should they develop paid contributions when the likelihood of sales are much lower?

I faced the same issue with Front Porch Folks. I could develop it around a free membership model, a paid membership model, or a combination with free and Premium memberships. Before I made the final decision, I took a poll of the membership. Even though the free model meant ads in places that reduced the value of their membership, most members voted for an ad based revenue model. We had to think creatively to make that work within the structure of that site. But it was worth it, because the support of the members is very strong. They know now that we listen to them, and that we’ll be responsive to their requests. Most of the new members that come in are doing so from promotions that the members are initiating. They know we have to make money from it to keep it going, and they don’t mind that. They just want the most open community possible for networking, and that happens best by keeping it free. The same holds true of Open Source – indeed, that is the power in it.

It is also not wise to load every kind of revenue generation into a project. If you are going to charge for the service, then don’t plague the users with ads at every turn. They already paid for it, and built-in ads that are not a genuine service to the user should be left off.

There is no perfect solution to it all, it is going to be hard any way you do it. But I believe that in this current economy of high competition, and plentiful freebies, that some businesses and products will simply be stronger, and healthier, and be able to earn more, if they remain with a free option.

Note: The opinions expressed in this post are the perceptions of the writer, and should not be interpreted or quoted as fact without corroborrating evidence.


CRELoaded Just Flushed Itself

Version 6.3 was released. No upgrade path is offered for recently purchased versions of the B2B version, and they do not yet have a B2B version.

More importantly, they are now charging on a yearly subscription instead of a lifetime fee. And they are charging $99 for the version that used to be free. A huge percentage of their most ardent defenders will be dropping off the CRE map.

The bug reports are starting to flood in as well. Obvious things. This makes one wonder how well they tested it before greed got the better of them and they decided to release it in the paid version.

We’ve noticed other changes lately also, which speak ill of the company.

1. They put a merchant account signup into the install process. They made it look like part of the install process, with just a very tiny “skip this” link at the bottom. I don’t have a problem with them monetizing things, but this is deceptive. If you fill it out, it doesn’t help you anyway, it just results in a sales call a month or so later.

2. They now sell templates from the inside of the design area in the system. The company that sells them is obscured, it uses an affiliate link and a generic URL, with private registration. It also offers an “exclusive license” with no reports on who else has purchased the template first – so the word “exclusive” is misleading and dishonest.

Add that to lackadasical development, and you come up with a picture of a company that I want to do business with less and less.

Up to this point, we have used and recommended CRE because of the available Open Source carts, it is the simplest to configure, and the most sustainable. It isn’t by any means close to what is really needed, but at least it can be maintained without costing the businses owner a fortune in custom file alterations each time an upgrade has to be done (can you say “Cube Cart”), and without something as clunky as Zen cart’s unintuitive setup and template overrides (which still have to be hand edited if an update includes any of those files).

Sad to see something with some potential go this way.

Note: The opinions expressed in this post are the perceptions of the writer, and should not be interpreted or quoted as fact without corroborrating evidence.

Another Garden Analogy

There is a scriptural reference to seeds that are scattered in good soil, and bad soil, or which receive favorable or unfavorable conditions in which to sprout and grow. It refers to faith – but it makes it very clear that seeds need a good start, and careful tending, to grow. I often think that we ignore this simple truth many times with business, from ignorance, lack of motivation, distraction, impatience, or even greed.

So, in tribute to the comment made by Mitch Allen on my blog post titled Business is Like a Vegetable Garden, I’ll expand on this thought.

I think we often just toss the seeds of business out the window, hoping, like Jack, that they’ll sprout overnight into a great stalk that reaches a pot of gold hidden in the clouds. But Jack is just a fairy tale. Nothing good ever grows that easily.

Many of us, when the first seeds don’t produce the miracle we wanted, will turn around and throw some more seeds out the window, in the vain hope that they’ll sprout and grow by themselves. We may make a token effort to weed or water them, then we give up because they didn’t sprout soon enough, or bear soon enough.

We fail to take the time to clear a suitable spot for them, and to determine that we will give it the time each day to nurture and care for the seeds before they sprout, and then to care for the seedlings until they bear fruit.

Later, we fail to be patient while the plants are growing – we just want the good stuff, and are not content to see the almost imperceptible growth, and accept it as a promise that there will be good things to eat soon.

Whether you plant in pots, or in the yard, you have to follow through, and not get too distracted or impatient. Otherwise, our efforts only result in barren ground where there should have been growth.

Would You Hire the Invisible Man as Your Marketer?

Or better yet… Would you hire a MUTE Invisible Man as your marketer?

A lot of people approach marketing just as if they were invisible, and mute. You wouldn’t hire someone to market that way for you, so why would you BE that way about it?

In order to market successfully, you have to be seen, and heard, over and over. Not in an obnoxious way, but in a consistent and dependable way. You have to BE there. You have to say intelligent things.

  • You have to be where your target market is.
  • You have to say things that let them know what you have, that they want, in a way that helps them understand why they might want to get it from you.

Silent invisibility is not a successful marketing strategy. It won’t get you out the door! More businesses die from lack of effective effort than die from bad effort. Smart people learn from bad effort, so even the wrong thing is better than nothing! At least you’ll be moving, and learning what doesn’t work!

  • It means that you have to get out, meet people, and keep showing up if you are marketing offline.
  • It means that you have to post to forums, networking guestbooks, and fill out your profile on networking sites.

If you don’t, you are mute, and invisible. Where does that leave your business?

Realizing Again How Unique Our Business Really Is

Two years ago when I had the concept for our business, I felt it was unique. I also felt that it was badly needed, and that few others would do it unless we proved that it could be done, first.

So what is the big deal? Lots of web designers say they specialize in small business. Many offer $500 and $300 websites. But they weren’t doing it like we were – and they were struggling to make a profit on the small contracts.

We discovered that there are techniques, skills, and adaptations that completely change the equation for a small website. We learned how to offer a $500 website that contained everything that a small business owner needed, and that they’d usually have to pay more than $1500 to get. What’s more, we learned how to do it efficiently, so that we could still make a handsome profit at it. Everybody wins.

Most small business web professionals are not aggressively exploring ways to cut costs and make things more efficient. You don’t find efficiency being much of an issue until you get into the corporate world. So we are an anomaly – a small business, that works with other small businesses, but which is applying business process management to streamline operations.

That just isn’t being done by most small web designers. It doesn’t occur to most TO do it. If they struggle to keep up with the bills, they simply raise their prices, and eventually price themselves out of the microbusiness market.

I like the people we work with. I like them well enough to want to keep working with them. So I started studying the ROI and price breakpoints for them, specifically. I also analyzed the way we are doing things. When we hit a wall in the profit equation, we revisit the way we do things, we don’t raise prices first.

We also provide a range of services – not just a site design, but many types of sites, and all of them with basic copywriting, SEO, security features, and basic ADA accessibility. We help each client write a policies page, and to present themselves professionally.

I’ve tried to explain how different we are, to both other web professionals, and to customers. Customers don’t get it unless they have previous web designer experience – then they appreciate what we do. Other web professionals generally cannot even wrap their heads around it all, they cannot conceive that there could be a faster way to do what they do, which still results in quality service.

It feels pretty lonely sometimes. I have the whole thing in my head – but it is slowly getting out, and the tools we are developing are slowly making a difference to our clients, and to a few other smart people who have decided that maybe we can teach them a thing or two after all.

It is hard to shake the world when the world can’t even understand the hugeness of a concept, simply because they cannot see how big big really is.

Process Management and the Small Business

They call it BPM. It used to be called “systems management”. But the term “business systems” got corrupted, and the name changed for clarification. Business Process Management is nothing more than looking for repetitive task sets within a business, and developing a faster, more predictable process for making them more efficient.

BPM analyzes where the greatest time losses are occurring, and devises solutions to speed them up. Sometimes it involves software, sometimes training, sometimes better equipment, different office arrangement, etc.

You can do this in a small business, but you do it a bit differently, and the cost/benefit equations are somewhat different as well. It means looking at how YOU work, and making THAT more efficient. For a small business, standardized solutions may not work, especially if you are carving out a niche that is distinctly different than your competitors.

We realized early on that if we built websites like most designers, that we’d be losing money from the get-go, or we’d price ourselves out of our target market. Neither of those was an option.

Most designers start with a PhotoShop mock-up – a graphical representation of what the website will look like. Then after it has been approved and finalized with the client, they code it into the site.

We’ve built a few sites this way – sometimes it makes sense to do so. But mostly we don’t, because our clients cannot afford the extra hundreds of dollars that this kind of process requires. So we did it differently in order to make it more efficient and cost effective.

We design a header in PhotoShop, and the client approves that. We then discuss how we need the navigation to function. After that, we go straight to coding – of course, we don’t hand-code most sites, we start with a template that is functionally close to what we need. We install that, put in the header, change the colors and accents, tweak the CSS and we are done.

We recently built a design for a new client. We had a basic idea of what she wanted, and the colors she wanted. We were able to go from concept to approved design in about three days. If we had done it with a PhotoShop mockup, we’d still have been three days to the approvals, and then we’d still have had to code the design, which would have been another three to four hours of work to make the necessary changes. That’s a couple hundred dollars more that the client would have to pay, or that we’d lose. Not efficient. As it was, we finished the first portion of the contract in record time, and came out with a comfortable profit from the work.

We looked at what our target market needed. We then looked at the standard way of doing things, and at solutions for speeding that up. They were not sufficient, so we developed our own system for the process. It takes us through it in an organized way, and gets the job done quickly, but in a way that is still personal to the individual business owners.

A good business process can be streamlined in a way that suits your business, and your customers. It will keep the personal interaction that is most important, and systemize the parts that do not need to be personalized.

In our business, every single site install is the same. So we can automate and systemize parts of that.

Site design is personal. So we systemize that ONLY where it won’t affect the personalization of it.

Look at your own business. What are the things you are doing over and over again? How can you speed those up, what tools can you use to make it more efficient, cut out some of the headache, make the results more predictable, etc? And where is personal contact CRITICAL in your business? How will you build systems that protect that essential personal interaction with your customers?

Corporations put a lot of money into better Process Management. You can make many parts of your business flow more smoothly with just a little thought about how you do it, and by obtaining good tools that work for YOUR business. It doesn’t have to be a science of professional specialists. It can be used to benefit any business, at any stage.

Giving Credit Where It’s Due

When the good things happen, do you give thanks? Do you assume it is purely your charm and magnetism which brings good things into your life?

Are you thankful for the little blessings when you think you need a big one? And whom do you thank when you are giggly with glee over the latest good thing?

Gratitude is not just a means of increasing contentment, it is also a means of increasing the blessings in your life.

In the midst of hardship, we often focus on the negative. But sometimes we forget that while we feel we’ll sink any minute, we don’t sink, and not sinking is a great blessing. It is easier to cry that we didn’t get what we wanted than it is to say thanks because something worse didn’t happen, or to be thankful for pennies when we need dollars.

Every fall I ask for deer or elk. And every fall we get antelope. Antelope stinks, the meet is edible, but not at all tasty. You work just as hard to process an antelope as you do a deer or elk, but you end up with only about 25 lbs of boneless meat, instead of 50 to 100 lbs. That’s a lot of work for very little meat. Then you have to marinate it, and season it highly just to be able to swallow the stuff.

We made jerky one year, and sent some to a friend. He said, “I like it, but if I open the bag the smell of it will drive my wife from the room.” That pretty much describes antelope.

I have had to learn to be thankful for antelope. How can I expect to be blessed with anything better if I am not thankful for the small blessings? And antelope IS a blessing. It keeps food on the table that does not have the chemicals that make me sick. Sure, deer or elk would be MORE of a blessing, but I am happier when I acknowledge that even stinky gamy antelope is a blessing.

When a business contract is signed, a contract phase completed, when the client LIKES the design, when a client is pleased with our work, the credit is not solely ours. Yes, we made choices which contributed to the success, but a measure of it goes to the Lord. The greater measure, I believe.

Gratitude helps us see what is really there, instead of focusing on the negatives, and it helps us to receive more.

The application in business is directly relevant.

Dangerous Assumptions

Being human, it is easy to assume that the advantages we have are available everywhere. That the rules of marketing and business are the same everywhere. I’ve been guilty of making those assumptions, and I’ve been on the receiving end of many of them.

We’ve had some suggestions made for marketing our business which made assumptions. If we lived in a metro area, or in 80% of the other locations in the US, the assumptions would be true. But we live in an isolated area, and the rules are different here.

Local advertising does not work, due to the particular demographics of our business in relation to the areas we have to market into. Someone suggested we use a cell phone to overcome the limitation – fine and dandy, but a cell phone won’t work where we live – no signal.

I think the cell phone suggestion was the real eye opener. The person who suggested it could not imagine a place where there was no cell signal. It never would have occurred to them.

There are other things that can be unique to a particular region, business owner, target market, talent pool, etc. Assumptions are made with the belief that everything fits in a box. It doesn’t.

Consultants, coaches, and service providers have to really listen and find not only how their clients fit the rules, but how they DON’T fit the rules. Then they can give good counsel that tailors the solution to the client in a way that is successful.

It is in the exceptions that truly personal service is found, and where success is found for those who have to deal with those exceptions.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.