Monthly Archives: April 2009

More Isn’t Always Better – Webmaster Secret #3

This has many applications for Small Business Webmasters. It applies to everything from design principles, to site organization, to site features, to bells and whistles, to the services you offer as a webmaster.

We have a rule for this:

If it doesn’t increase revenue in a measurable way for the client, then more isn’t better.

In fact, if it fails to meet that test, then more is WORSE for a small business website. And more very often costs more, but returns little or nothing.

Every feature you add to a site comes with a burden of upkeep and maintenance. So adding things just because you CAN, is not a good enough reason. Showing off your latest tricks is not ever part of a wise webmaster’s game plan.

Many bells and whistles come with a price of decreased compatibility, lowered search engine friendliness, and an exponential increase in initial costs which cannot be justified by the corresponding increase in ROI – if there is one at all. In fact, the decreased compatibility and lowered search engine friendliness can completely obliterate any positive ROI for many situations. Weight it carefully in dollars and cents, inform the client of your conclusions. They may still choose to waste their money, but if they do, it will be an informed choice, and not something they wandered into because you failed to protect their interests.

The same principles apply to your own business. Often, consolidating the kind of services you offer can allow you to produce better, and more cost effective services, at a higher profit. This is one of the keys to our success. We pay attention to the things that are both a better deal for the client, and more profitable to us, and we then revise our services so more things fit that criteria.

We have reduced the site types we deal with on more than one occasion, when we did an analysis of the changing industry, and our changing skill levels, and realized that a single line of services was taking more time, and causing more unnecessary cost for the client. Since they also had better alternatives, and keeping a bad choice open just so the client could choose a bad choice, is just not a smart business decision, we have closed down service lines on mulitple occasions based on what was in our best interests, and in the best interest of the client.

We have also reduced some of the other items we work with, when we found one method that outperformed every time. There simply was no justifiable reason to continue to offer less productive options. See, for many things, you can’t charge more for an inefficient item, the market won’t bear it. So YOU take the hit in productivity. For many kinds of services, you can streamline a system with one service provider, while others will cost you in features that are not present, functions that are disabled, and processes that do not reliably work within those service environments. Hosting is a BIG one here. The same process can take 10 minutes on one host, and two hours on another, just due to fussy things that don’t work as expected. We’ve had the difference be as much as 10 hours, on a simple dynamic site install, between one host and another! It WAS a simple process on one, but anything but on the other.

Consider carefully what is NEEDED, to keep your business sustainable, and for the client, consider what they NEED, to grow their business in the most cost effective manner. Sometimes you have to give up choices, but often, when you condense to LESS, you end up with MORE, in time, earnings, predictability, and performance.

That is worth putting some thought into.

Clients Always Say… Webmaster Secret #2

“I want a clean and simple looking website.” Another thing they say, but which means different things to different people. I’ve had dozens of clients say this, and you never quite know WHAT they mean by it. Here are some translations:

1. I want lots of white space.

2. I want a design with a white background and very simple accents.

3. I want a design with sharp edges, no shadows, no background graphics.

4. I want a design that has very little navigation.

Now, usually they mean just one of those things, sometimes more than one. But every client means something different when they say it, and if you assume they mean the same thing you do, you’ll strike out on the first attempt.

A clean design means their interpretation of order and simplicity. Sometimes that conflicts with the needs of their site – it is increasingly common to have a client who needs an incredibly complex site with multi-layers, to want only a single navigation bar, or for someone with a combination infosite and cart to want a two column layout with big boxes and large text. They simply do not realize how much space things take, and that if you want to put hundreds of things into a site, you have to have a place to put it all.

Sometimes good site organization, using multiple menus in uncluttered ways for sites with a lot of content is the key to making it appear simpler than it really is.

Achieving a “clean” look, then, becomes a blend of understanding what the client means, and working with their needs to balance what they want, with what they actually need.

It ain’t always easy… But it is usually possible to achieve a satisfactory result.

Clients Always Say… Webmaster Secret #1

“I just want a simple website.” They almost all say that. But they rarely mean it. This is not a negative thing against clients, rather, just an attempt to explain one of the psychological oddities you run into over and over as a webmaster. Understanding this can help you gauge a client’s needs more accurately, and to not make assumptions that will cause you to get it wrong.

They say it because:

1. They don’t understand what they really need to promote their business. Many business owners still think they just need one page.

2. They want to make sure you understand that it is a small budget project. Almost a subconscious manipulation tactic, if they can make you believe they only need something simple, maybe you won’t charge a lot. They tend to say this even when what they need is really very complex.

3. It looks simple because many other sites have it. They have no way of knowing what went into those other sites, or how complex many things really are. “Simple” to them means that they see it enough that they think that it has to be commonly and cheaply available – though this is often not true online.

So when a client comes to you and says, “I really just need a SIMPLE little website.”, don’t start pricing and planning until you find out what they really need, and do some education about what works online, and what does not.

Because almost every client says it – but only a small fraction actually know whether they mean what they say or not.

A Jungle in My Window

My view of the back yard is obstructed by green. This is a good thing! I have plants over a foot tall in my hydroponics system. Currently have about 70 plants in it, and we will add about another 20 sometime over the next few days. Working on building another system to hold about another 80 also. That oughta be enough to keep us in lettuce and broccoli at least.

Most of the plants are in early stages of growth. The lettuce is big enough that I can rob it of a few leaves for a salad each evening – somewhere around 15 lettuce plants are big enough to do that with. The broccoli raab is almost ready to sprout some buds –  about eight plants growing like fury! Half the plants are still very small though, barely started, many still in the two-leaf stage, some finally sprouting a second tier of leaves. The chard has half-sized leaves, about 5 per plant, but is not ready to be able to use – the few leaves I could gather would not be enough to be of value yet.

The big stuff is finally big enough that it is now difficult to distinguish individual plants. And some experimental bush beans are turning out to be more like pole beans without the tendrils, weaving their way up through the other plants, finally forming buds that look like they may be blossoms.

After working so hard for it, and waiting weeks and weeks to get this far, it is satisfying to be able to selectively harvest once a day. But I am impatient for more of it to bear, because I need SO much more than once a day! And the kids need it too.

So right now, I look at this as a beginning, but know it is not the whole thing. Still much work to do to get it to do what we really need it to do. Overuse at the moment could postpone that day, so I reluctantly restrain myself from grabbing salads whenever I need.

Logistically, is it possible to provide for all of our veggie needs this way? I still don’t know. Because I don’t yet know how long growth takes in this system, or how much each is capable of bearing, between those plants that bear repeatedly, and those that bear once and need replaced, and all of those that fall somewhere between.

I am already planting once a week, a new round of about 20 more plants. Eventually we may need to step that up. There is the garden for the summer also, which will take the burden off the system temporarily, though I am CERTAIN my daughter will want the indoor bug-free ones instead of the outdoor grown ones!

No point to make, really, just a ramble to give you an idea of what is happening with it, and what our results were.

Can You Do it for $20?

A prospective client asked me that yesterday. I said no… Our price is $25.

Sometimes I say yes. This time I didn’t.

He then said, “Some other companies say they can do maintenance and hosting for $20.”

I replied, “They cannot do for $20 what we do for $25, and we cannot do this for $20.”

Sometimes I come down in price – we sometimes have a little wiggle room, we sometimes are able to negotiate with a client to reduce services that they do not need as much, or we sometimes can see that a particular job will be worth doing and will pay us back if we come down on one price.

But this time I could not. This particular service is already stretched to be able to offer it at $25 per month. And it offers a ton of value. To come down would mean running into problems as we overstretched ourselves.

I have always had the confidence to say no when I knew I could not come down on a price. But this is one of the first times I have been able to boldly say that the value made it worth it – and it honestly does make it worth it. That felt good. I recommend trying it!

If you have thought out your prices, and there is wiggle room, there is nothing wrong with negotiating. If there isn’t though, sometimes you just can’t do it. When you can’t, it is easier to be bold when you know your prices are worth the value.

If you are destitute and have more time than money, you have nothing to lose by coming down even when you know it is worth more (and sometimes we do so for reasons of kindness – when we choose to help someone out). But if you are in a position where doing so will cost you over time, it isn’t wise to do so, especially in situations where the client can probably afford it if they understand the value.

The Nameless Faceless Merchant

“Please”, she said, “I don’t want my home address on my website. My husband is in law enforcement, and I don’t want people to be able to locate us.” I suggested she have a Post Office Box. “No”, that was an extra expense, she didn’t want that. Just a store, with a shopping cart.

“No name on my site” another client said. Competing with large faceless corporations, her only advantage was being personal, and she did not want her name public.

Many of our clients buy into the myth that Private Domain registration is a good thing.

In this highly competitive market, all of these are fatal. Consider:

If you are a small company, people want to know who is behind it. You can rely on your reputation like Dell and Wal-Mart. You have to give them some idea of who you are. Your name is essential. Your reputation is more about YOU than about your company name. Someone needs to be able to Google you and learn enough about you to know if they trust you, or at least read a bit to see if they think you are someone they might want to do business with. This is especially important when competing with large and impersonal corporations – being someone approachable is your only advantage.

Paranoia about your name being on the web is not a valid reason to keep it off your website. It is already out there. Not using it on your website won’t make one bit of difference to anything except your ability to sell. If you are going to have a business, this is the cost of doing business. Because frankly, a website without a name has only the minutest chance of every serving the purpose of helping you earn.

You MUST have a mailing address. Even a post office box. If a customer has no place where they can serve papers in the event of a dispute, then they won’t buy!

Private Domain registration has been used by every scammer in the world. If you use it, you look like one of them. Besides, it doesn’t really protect you, does your business more harm than good, and can potentially cause some very serious problems.

If there are three merchants on the street, two whose faces you can see, and a third who wears a mask, who will you buy from?

Web business requires the maximum degree of possible transparency. You don’t have to post pictures of yoru kids or give your home address. But you have to have a name, and a mailing address, and as much validation of those as you can get. Without them, you are wasting your time and money.

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.