Friday, May 30, 2008

What you need to know before contracting a web designer or developer

We learned a lot over the last few years about the do’s and don’t when dealing with a web designer. We had some real problems. I would like to keep others from having the same or similar problems. The first thing you need to understand is that there is a big difference between a web designer and a web developer. A web designer will make pages for a web site and are wonderful if you have an information site. Web developers create the coding and programs that web designers use to create the web sites. Web design is the icing on the cake; the web developer made the cake the icing goes on.

If you are doing anything that is more then just an information site I recommend going with a web developer or learn to do it yourself. If you have just an information site that does not require the integration of other programs like a shopping cart then a web designer is the right person to go to. However, if you have the time and inclination you can also pick up a great book called “Beginning HTML with CSS and XHTML modern guide and reference” by David Schultz and Craig Cook. My husband used it to create our new web site.

There are some wonderful web developers who can integrate existing programs and software into the pages they create for you. The main purpose of a web designer is to design the look of your website and that the programs being used on your site function well together. The more complex the site is the more knowledge and experience will be needed. You need to understand what you want and need your web site to do before you design how it looks.

This means that you need to find out if pre-existing programs will work for you and will work together with any other programs you want. If they do then great find a web designer, buy the programs and let the designer make your site look and work how you want it to. If there needs to be a lot of tinkering with the programs you are interested to make them work the way you want and together then you need to make sure your web designer can do the work, or find a web developer who can make them work or create a new program that will do what you want. Do not assume that a designer can do it; their job is to design the look of the site, not create programs.

That is the biggest thing most people do not know, a designer creates the look, a developer creates the programs and can create the look you want. We made that mistake thinking that a designer was a developer. We needed a developer as our site was more complex then what our designer could do and he used up our service contract with our shopping cart program provider to get them to do the installations of their programs. We know this from the from our shopping cart provider after we forced our designer to transfer our shopping cart licence to us. We now have to buy a new service contract if we need their help with the shopping cart program. This would not have been the case if we had hired a web developer. Know what you need for your website and hire the right person for the job.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Does negative marketing work?

I understand marketing and advertising. I know that Realtors leave their signs up, with a sold sign, after they sell a house because it reinforces that they will sell your home or find you one. It is a good way to get clients. Toy companies will create a cartoon with the sole purpose to develop a market for a toy line. It is the best advertising possible for a toy line. Stores always place the candies or other impulse products right by the cash register so you see them as you wait in line. This all makes sense; it all reaches a specific market.

Suddenly I am seeing more negative ads. The ones that tell you, "don’t drink and drive", "don’t smoke it kills you" and "put on a life jacket when boating." I have to wonder how well these work. It is easy to understand positive marketing and advertising because it is targeted to our needs, wants, desires and impulses. How effective is advertising at keeping us from doing something?

I completely understand and support why the Canadian Government is using negative ads and restrictions to reduce cigarette sales. I even use negative conditioning with my kids, young as they are. I tell them cigarettes are yucky; they make your teeth yellow and your breath stinky. I hope it has an impact on them when they are older. I have watched all the changes forced onto the tobacco industry, both to the companies that manufacture and sell cigarettes.

First it was the regulations on what they could show in ads, they could not be targeted to the young anymore. Then they could not advertise or sponsor events and activates any longer. You had to show id to buy cigarettes and can be charged for buying for or selling cigarettes to minors. Soon the negative advertising started with comments and pictures on the actual cigarette packaging. This did not seem to work very well. Though I did like the TV ad that showed teens how smoking changes their appearance, makes their skin shallow and their teeth stained, that it ages them. That one seemed to work by targeting vanity not health. There came kids against smoking ads, famous people against smoking and now people who are dieing of lung cancer or have lost people to lung cancer ads.

The newest negative marketing strategy came as a shock. Behind the counter at a corner store appeared to be at first glance empty shelves where cigarettes had been. Nope it was metal doors hiding the cigarettes. You can still buy them, but you cannot look at them. This is to try and reduce impulse buying I guess, or the out of sight, out of mind idea. It is going to be interesting to see how it works. It is becoming expensive to sell cigarettes with all these restrictions and fines. I wonder if it is still worth it to stores to sell them. I think that eventually it will not be cost effective and they will stop. If stores stop caring them then the Government will have effectively reduced sales of tobacco products with out actually banning it. But is it going to work?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

When hiring someone to create a web site do your homework

In the last two years we have dealt with three different web site designers, and learned a lot what not to do, and how to do things on our own. We are upset about the time and money we lost dealing with the different people but at the same time we are grateful things happened the way they did. We now have a wonderful website that James designed and created on his own. He decided that instead of paying more and more money to get people to work on our site that he would just learn how to do it. Now he has 100% control of the website and what is on it. I was forced to learn how to market a website with both hands tied behind my back. Now that we have a properly functioning website I can use the tools and skills I had to use before, but ever so much more effectively. We learned and changed because of our experiences, but I don't want anyone else to have to go through what we did.

With anything you need to do your research. Put the time into finding the right person or company that fits your budget and creative ideas. Never forget that it is your website and needs to reflect who you are or your companies image. Don't just go with the first person or company that fits your budget. You are hiring someone to do a job for you. Treat this as you would if you were hiring on staff, contact references and find out what other people have to say. Don't just look at what is posted on the persons website as reviews, actually call them and talk to past clients. You’re the boss, not the other way around.

Look on the Internet for other sources of information. If there is something negative about a designer or company it is probably out on the net, it is just a matter of finding it. See how many websites have links back to the designer. Try to find a couple that indicate that they were created or designed by this person or company that is not being used as a reference. Contact them and find out their opinion. Sure it is going to take time and work, but it can save you a lot of time, money and effort on your part.

When you have decided on a designer make sure you get a clear contract that stipulates exactly what you want the website to do and look, when you need the site up and that everything needs to be purchased in your name or your companies name so that you own the website, not the designer. You may also wish to include the term functional website in the contract, small thing that can make a big difference. This helps both of you to know what is expected and when. This way if something was not done you can refer to the contract and have the work done. If you find that the web site is not doing something you want it to do now the web designer can refer to the contract to show you it was not included in it and you can either re-negotiate the contract or do another one just for that part.

It is important to make sure that you keep on top of the project, not just assume things are being done when and how you want. Our first designer took 3 months and no website. He had all sorts of reasons for why there was nothing to see, but we knew there was something wrong. Our dead line came and went and still no website. We put some pressure on and finally was told our website was done, take a look. Then came the sucker punch, before he would give us our site we had to pay 3 times what we agreedapone. Why because it took him longer then expected and he wanted to be paid by the hour, not the job. So after three months we had no website, but a nice lawyer.

The second designer agreed to do the work in a timely manner and within our budget. He came back to us after three weeks and let us know that a retail website of our site was beyond his experience. He was fine doing information sites. We accepted that and appreciated his honesty, but were also glad we had a contract.

Always make sure that you change your passwords once the work is done and if you need more work you create temporary passwords for the designer. Also make sure hosting companies, licences and software are all purchased in your name, or companies name or signed over to you once the work is done. The third designer was hired because he could get the site up and running in two weeks and we were 4 months behind schedule. We did our research, and got a very clear contract. He did give us a site with in the two weeks that appeared to be functional. We had some problems and concerns but that was explained away as issues or restrictions caused by the shopping cart. There were things that did not do what we wanted and some of his explanations did not make sense to me, but he would not talk to me and explained everything away to James as a problem with the shopping cart that could not be fixed. Eventually the only solution he would suggest was to buy a new shopping cart and pay him to do all the work again.

Every couple weeks something would go wrong and it was $50.00 to fix it, or there was an upgrade that would make things easer with the shopping cart but again $50.00 for the designer to install it. I kept asking for contact information for our hosting company and shopping cart company. He would not release the information, so every time something went wrong or we had a question we had to go through him, and yes it cost money. We started to question things, had some independent web designers look over the coding only to be told that there was malicious coding causing the problems, not our shopping cart. We tried to contact the hosting company and shopping cart company only to find everything was purchased in his name and there was no record of us purchasing anything. We demanded the license be transferred to us, why had it not been transferred when the job was done. We had to threaten legal action to get the licence in our name. At that point he severed business ties with us.

What we found, he had charged us for installations and used up our service points with the shopping cart company to do a lot of the work, so we actually paid for it twice. There was what is called malicious coding causing our website to not function properly, our products would not index on the Internet and we were limited to the smallest pictures for our product. The shopping cart company discovered this, and they insisted that it was deliberate coding designed to prevent the shopping cart from working properly. This could not have been done by accident. Then Canada Post previewed the non-functional shipping calculator and discovered something called a siphoning code. It was designed to invoice a customer extra for shipping on their invoice, show the correct shipping on our copy and then deposited the difference into his paypall account. I guess he did not expect us to test it when we got it, we just thought there was a problem with the Canada post calculator and did not use it. There were quite a few other coding issues discovered and we were looking at legal action when suddenly our hosting company shut us down and we lost the site.

It seems he had kept the hosting company contract in his name so he cancelled it without warning and we lost the entire site. Or at least he thought we did. What he did not know is that James was already in the process of designing a new site. It was a work in process still and we did not have the shopping cart up and going but it was there. It took 4 days to have the shopping cart installed and be a working site. We also had backed up the old site the day before. All we lost was some time, though we have to re-enter our entire product manfully due to an incompatibility between the old shopping cart and the new one.

Over all we learned a lot, are able to do things ourselves now and have a much better website that is just going to keep on improving and growing.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I am so tired of people trying to rip me off

I run a small business and struggle like everyone else. I don’t have money to burn; I invest what I do have into my business and family. I expect value for my hard earned cash. So why do people constantly think that just because I have a company and I am my own boss that I have money to spend on what they think I need. I take the time to find out what I actually need and that is what I want, but consistently I run into people who think they can pull a fast one and make some money off of me and not give me what I actually need.

At first I thought that it was because I was buying things for my company so they assumed that I just did not care what I spent. Then I realized that people are trying to get the most cash they can out of everyone. I think that in some ways pushing or up grading a sale is what a good sales person does. They try to get the best sale they can. But at the same time I am more likely to go back to the person who gave me what I asked for and did not push me into buying more then I needed. I think that person has treated me with respect and I will buy from them again. The person who tried to push the sale will just annoy me and I am not likely to buy from them or the company they work for again.

The result of people actually ripping me off is that over the years I have learned how to build my own computer and web site. I am not going to have to trust what someone says I need because now I know what I need and how to build it myself. I really should thank the people who burned me because I had to learn to fix what they did wrong. I am in a much better position now because I don’t have to pay someone for a service anymore. I can do it myself. In the long run they lost out because if they had been honest and provided me with what I paid for they would still be making money off of me, now I just don’t need them.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Be smart when starting and running your own business

Over the years we have built up our business the hard way, mostly with luck, hard work and unexpected opportunities. The biggest thing we have realized is that you have to be constantly learning and changing. Just because something works or sells today does not mean it will tomorrow. It is a lot harder running your own business then being told what to do by a boss.

If you are your own boss then you need to be smart about it. Put the time into market and product research. Don’t assume that because you can sell something at place A that you can sell the same thing the same way at place B. We started selling to a very large hobby group, with a very focused market.

I started buying and selling used items to a medieval historical re-enactment hobby group. I was doing what everyone else was doing and that was working well for me. I made some money and had fun. Then I started talking to everyone, found out what they liked and were searching for; Market research. I made sure that is what I brought in; Meet the needs of the target market. I ended up having people giving me shopping lists and they would pick up the items from me at the next event we were both at. This was great, I was making money and people where getting what they wanted. I soon discovered that I could not always find what people were looking for as used items. I saved my money and then started buying from wholesalers and designing my own line of jewelry; Created a new way to better meet the target markets needs.

Suddenly it was a whole new ball game. I was the only local merchant selling new product; Created a market. My sales when out the roof, I had cornered the market. I re-invested the money into more stock and displays; Meeting ever changing needs and building a brand image. Sales increased and I started selling all over Ontario; Increasing my target market. After about two years other people started to copy me and eventually I started to loose some sales as the market was small; Recognized a change in the market. I expanded to a larger market, selling at craft fairs and then moved to large festivals all over Ontario; Changing my target market.

Again I had an unusual product as everything had a medieval theme to it. This helped make us stand out from other vendors; Creating an image branding my company. However we had to learn how to sell at festivals, it was much different from selling at smaller group events. Both my husband and I had to be there, selling and creating; Expanding the business to meet customers needs in a timely manner. Before I had an established market and because we had consistent contact with our customers we could take orders and almost guaranty sales at the next event. Suddenly we had to earn peoples willingness to part with their money to buy from us with out the established relationship I had with my other customers. We had to develop an entire different way to market our product and ourselves.

We were very fortunate in that we only sold at juried festivals, this limiting the number of competition and pretty much guaranteeing that no one else was selling exactly the same thing as us. We also had several different product lines and prices, that all fit the theme we were able to meet the demands of several different target markets at the same time. As one of the only theme vendors we stood out enough that people brought their friends just to look at our both, and usually buy something.

It was strange because what sold at one festival was not what sold at the next. We had to be able to quickly identify how to market our product and our company at each festival. This was usually accomplished with our displays and even what product we displayed front and center. It was learning experience every festival. Eventually we developed a brand image as we did the same festivals every year. Again though people saw what was working for us and suddenly we have competition starting to sell at the festivals. So we are no longer as unique and different as we used to be. Time to make some changes.

Just over a year and a half ago we opened a theme online store,, yet again expanding our target market. We have spent the time learning about selling online. It is a completely different beast then selling retail to impulse buyers or established customers. There is no end to the competition so you don’t market your product you have to market your site and build a brand image. It is a lot harder then it sounds unless you have a lot of cash to throw around.

We have taken what we have learned have made some drastic changes in our website this month. We changed the look, redesigned how our site works, whom we market to and how we market to them. We are even changing our product from mainly manufactured product and some of our handcrafted pieces to a 50/50 split. We will slowly move away from pieces we buy from a wholesaler to what we make. However the key is flexibility to change with market demands.