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I Don’t Do Online Stores… Except for This One

Sensitive Skin Product Store There are two main reasons I politely decline/refuse to help people set up online stores:

  1. I don’t want to be involved in a mission-critical website whose failure would mean I would have to interrupt a vacation or day off or good night’s sleep.
  2. The future online store isn’t likely to be a success.

In a previous job, I was responsible for maintaining police, fire, and ambulance dispatching systems.  I stayed mostly sober through New Year’s Eve on Y2K with pagers and cellphones strapped to my belt, and have years of experience in being responsible.  I have been on-call 24 x 7 enough in my life. So, a potential store owner would have to accept that my help is in set up, but not in daily operation. And, most people who have asked me to create a store for them have admitted that they wanted full support.

But, even when someone understands my limitations, I quickly back away.   Typically, the store owner has the expectation that a crowd is going to beat their virtual door down and buy lots of stuff from them.  They have this expectation though there is no reason for someone to visit their site.

  • Their goods and services are commodities available from 4700 other places.
  • They have no special expertise in what they are selling.
  • Their competition is entrenched, large, and able to offer better pricing.
  • They have little or no supplementary information to help entice people to buy or understand their product.

Additionally, most of the would-be online store owners can only spend a few hours here and a few hours next week on their store.  They want someone else (me) to set up their shipping logistics, their price lists, their… well… everything that a store owner/manager has to do.

I want to provide good value to my clients. And, frankly, I think that most of the people who have asked me to help with stores are going to spend money and have little to show for their effort.  So, I decline to take on a future unhappy client.

However, this spring I was asked to help with a store by Andrew Scoular, an owner who has unique products, understands business, and also understands that what a store owner has to do cannot be delegated to a webmaster.  Helping Andrew set up Sensitive Skin Clinic has educated me on skin care and on e-commerce features.

In the next series of posts I’ll share what I’ve learned to help you decide if running an online store is a business activity you’re ready for.

Check out what Andrew is offering and how. Then come back here over the next few days to learn what Andrew and I discovered together.  And, please leave your comments if you have questions or specific topics you want covered.

By |2013-06-24T15:42:54+00:00June 24th, 2013|E-Commerce, Web Design|0 Comments

Movement that Adds to Your Website

I dislike websites that flash, beep, boop, and distract the visitor with unnecessary movement. I especially dislike Flash.

Unless you are creating a moving story about your service or product, animated objects can make your site look comic-book-like. Plus, Flash and some other animation techniques are terrible for both search engine optimization and human user interaction.

Fortunately, instead of jumpy, gimmicky graphics, more and more sites are publishing elegant slideshows to inform visitors.
[wowslider id=”3″]

These photo carousels let you:

  • Highlight your top selling points
  • Include explanatory text right on the graphic — text which is read by search engines
  • Have users click on different pages, depending on which photograph they are looking at

In addition, the slide show tool I use, WOW Slider offers:

  • Different background frames
  • Titles and descriptions for each pictures
  • Variable speed of the show
  • Several transitions between pictures (this one slides the old graphic out of the way — others dissolve and fade)

Check out the different options WOW Slider offers, and pick the ones you like best for your site!

By |2012-10-30T19:05:53+00:00October 30th, 2012|Web Design|0 Comments

Letting Users Update their Website

People who don’t know technical terms or pay attention to trends in web design are asking if I can use WordPress for their site. Maybe they don’t even remember the name “WordPress” or want that specific software tool for creating web pages, but they ask if I can design a site that lets them make changes to their site whenever they want.

Sure, I can.   I am happy to adapt to any tool a client wants to use. In fact, I am helping one client who came to me having started her website using GoDaddy’s Website Tonight,(and I think GoDaddy is the lowest of the low).

But, using WordPress or another system generally means that complete customization control is much more time consuming: you need to settle for 90% customization or pay 900%. Plus, the process of creating and updating the pages is slower (and therefore more expensive)  because we have to find and figure out the widgets and often design work arounds to get the effects we want.

Overall, I question the value of most of these tools for most of the websites I do.

  1. Even the web development tools that are specifically designed for non-technical business owner stump most non-techy people.  They are just not simple enough… yet.
    • Today I just spent 2+ hours helping a friend figure out how to create three new blog entries on her WordPress site.  They were each about one paragraph long, but one included a picture, one included an embedded YouTube video, and one included her own video clip.
    • Designed by professional designers at GoDaddyThe site I mentioned that was created in GoDaddy’s Website Tonight tool was, in fact, also created by GoDaddy professional designers using a stock template.  My client didn’t do it herself — she didn’t have the time to figure out how to use the GoDaddy widgets. My first task for her was to remove one link on the navigation bar widget.  Not difficult, but the procedure was not  obvious to her and she didn’t want to spend the time on web work that was not her job’s main focus.
  2. Over half clients I  set up to use Adobe’s Contribute or other tools to make changes to their website on their own have given up. They now email me with their new photos or text.
  3. Putting the content on the web page isn’t the issue for any of my clients.  Creating interesting, unique information is their challenge. I spend a fair amount of time brainstorming with clients about what should go on their site.  Then when we identify good material my clients are just so busy dealing with the operational side of their business, most don’t have time to write  up their achievements to share online — they ask me to write their content.  They certainly don’t have time to figure out how to publish their news themselves.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want clients to have to come back to me for their web changes.  I believe clients should have all the usernames and passwords for their sites.  They should be empowered to make their own changes or to take their needs to another web designer.

But, WordPress? Or, another, more arcane content management system?  Only after you’ve convinced me that you’re really have updates that you’re comfortable making yourself!

By |2012-09-08T15:33:43+00:00September 8th, 2012|Web Design, Wordpress|0 Comments

How Using Templates for Websites Can Save You Real Money

Okay, okay!  I know that most business people hire web designers based on how the designer’s other sites look, on friends’ recommendations, on price, on schedule, and on phase of the moon.  Nowhere on the list of standard qualifications is a designer’s adherence to standards and their ability to make a site easy to maintain.

I sense that starting a crusade for standards and maintainability in web designer selection would be losing battle.  First, it’s hard to care about what you cannot see.  And, more importantly, clients of web designers generally don’t have a way to know if a site is well done or not.

File listing in Dreamweaver shows templates as .dwt

dwt Template Files in a Dreamweaver Site

Still let me give you one question to ask your designer.  Ask them if they will use templates to create your site.

Why do you care if the designer uses templates?  Because templates will save you a lot of money later on when you change your site.

Templates specify common text and structures.  Things like the banner on the top of your page, the footer on the bottom with the copyright information, the navigation menu, and the width, color, and fonts of the columns on the page.

When designer starts a website with a template, they design, write, and arrange the common elements one time.  The template also specifies what part of the layout and information will change on each individual page.

The designer creates pages from the template by updating the changeable area with what makes that page unique.  They change the common area of all pages by editing the template.

I recently started to do Search Engine Optimization work on a great looking site with 15 pages.  To attract Google I needed to add tags to the navigation bars that all pages shared.  I also wanted to update the footer, and add information to the page banner that appears throughout the site.  If the site had used templates, I would have only had to edit these areas one time.  It would have taken 15 minutes to edit the template, and then I would have updated the common area on all pages with one SAVE.

But, this site — and most of the web sites I have been asked to work on — didn’t use templates.  The designer created the site’s first page with all the look and navigation. Then the designer repeatedly COPIED that first page to new files where the designer edited the information for all the other pages.  To change the common areas on this non-template  site, I had to edit 15 different pages.  The changes took a lot more time (and client money) than they would have if there had been been a template.

As a business owner, maybe you don’t care or even want to how your original designer create your site.  You don’t care, that is, until you want to update the site! Insist that your site is designed using templates so that your able to change your site without a lot of developer time and your money.

By |2012-04-09T11:43:14+00:00April 9th, 2012|Web Design|1 Comment

When You Don’t Want to Hire Me

I had a difficult conversation with a potential client this month.

The man has some unique and valuable collectables that he no longer enjoys, and he would like to instead enjoy the money from selling them. He also decided that he wanted to offer the goods via a Dutch auction where the prices start high and are periodically dropped until someone buys or a reserve limit is reached.

He and I discussed what he had to do to get ready to display his items, and he described the type of site that he thought would best show off his goods.  He also admitted that he had a very limited budget, at least until some of the articles sold.  I said that I would research Dutch auctions to see what support there was available on the Internet for such a site.

In considering his site, I was really concerned about getting enough traffic so there would be bidders for the goods.

I worried that even a gorgeous, feature-rich site which had been tuned for search engines still would not capture many visitors. There wouldn’t be enough potential bidders for a successful Dutch auction, particularly because the items for sale were specialty, expensive collectables.

I spent some time researching Dutch auctions, Dutch auction software, and sites that ran Dutch auctions.  I was focused on finding a way to boost traffic for the potential site. I found a Dutch auction service that allowed individuals to set up stores within it, and each store could run its own sales and they would be listed in the overall auction directory. The main online page was a bit cheesy, but it looked like you could customize your store and have your goods show up on a shared index.

Exploring a customized Dutch auction store on this service was my recommended course of action for the client.  The service had built-in features to display products for sale, it was inexpensive, it had some measure of built in traffic.  I suggested that he contact some of the other virtual store owners — ones not selling competing items — and see if they were satisfied with the service.

The potential client didn’t want to go with my recommendation.  Instead he wanted me to create the customized site he envisioned.

I couldn’t do it.

The store owner had too many conflicting constraints and wants:  low cost, customized storefront, lots of visitors, no budget for Google AdWords, complete operational control.

He didn’t want to settle for the solution I thought was possible for him.  That is absolutely fine.  But, in my heart I was convinced that I could not make him happy.

And, that’s exactly when you don’t want me to work for you.  When you or I or both of us feel that you ware not going to be happy with what we do together, you shouldn’t hire me.

By |2012-03-21T11:23:05+00:00March 21st, 2012|Web Design|0 Comments