Having trouble reading the screen?

Having trouble reading the screen?

I just clicked on an article title that looked interesting. That was the end of my interest.

When I got to the website that hosted the article, I quickly scanned it to see how long it would take to read (anyone else do that?). My only impression — “there’s so much to read!”

Maybe there wasn’t. But it was laid out in very long paragraphs. The immediate impression was “no way to scan”. Followed by “doesn’t look like it’s worth reading”.

Continue reading

Caveat. Unless you’re a graphic designer.

You may have learned how to code. But that doesn’t mean you have the skills to design a website. Trust us. We’ve seen some of those sites. Actually, we’ve redone some of those sites!

Yes, this is one of those instances when hiring a graphic designer is well worth your while. Even if it looks like something you think you could tackle, there’s more to an effective website than just picking colors.

graphic design

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Thanks Stuart!

Here are five things a professional graphic designer brings to a website that you probably don’t:  Continue reading

When your business is new, you want all the work you can get. You’re hungry. You want to build your portfolio. So you may be a little less subjective about the work you take on.

Once your business is established, you should be able to be a little more selective. That means understanding that not ever potential project is a fit for you.

Here are four instances where you should turn a project down.

1. You have a nagging feeling that the client will not be a good fit.

Some clients are difficult to work with – overly demanding, not respectful of your time, haggling over fees….you know the drill. These are the clients who make your life miserable. These are the clients you want to avoid. Say no!

2. The project is way out of your area of expertise.

Keyword: WAY. If it’s just a stretch, there’s no reason to turn this work down. You can stretch. A little research. Calling on some colleagues for advice or help. You’ll learn something new and provide the client with some fresh answers.

3. The project time line is totally unrealistic.

Sometimes it’s enticing to say “sure, we can do that” even though the project time line is crazy tight and you know you’ll never be able to deliver on deadline. Why set yourself up for something that’s pretty much guaranteed to fail? Be honest. Say “thanks, but we couldn’t meet your timeline”. Who knows? Maybe the client will be realistic and rethink their deadline.

4. The client is requesting something you know is wrong.

Not wrong in a criminal sense. Wrong in that the end result will not get the client what he needs. These types of projects usually come with a client who is absolutely definite about what he wants and won’t listen to your professional advice. And this is the client who will never be happy with anything you give him.

Save yourself some grief. Eat noodles and cereal for a few more months and keep looking for clients you really want to work with – clients with realistic expectations who will let you do what they hired you for.

On a positive note….

the longer you’re in business, the more solid projects you’ll find. Don’t get frustrated. Get out and network more. Join new groups. Let colleagues and friends know you’re looking for more work. Be proactive and the business will come.

But always, when new business comes your way, listen to your gut. Are you getting bad vibes from a potential client? Pay attention. Look at the numbers. Are you shaking your head wondering how you can possibly make a profit when the margins are so low? You probably won’t.

Remember that you’re in business to make a living. If you won’t be able to do that, move on to the next opportunity.

Well…maybe perfect is the wrong word. How ‘bout damn near close to perfect as you can possibly get when dealing with human beings? Cause that’s what I’ve been fortunate enough to do.

A few years ago, I reconnected with a graphic designer I liked but had never worked with before. We did some projects together and found that our work styles were very simpatico. She brought me in on a few website jobs with a developer she worked with. The two had done a number of websites together that were really terrific. Soon, we fell into a sort of easy threesome – in a good way.

We started pitching jobs together. Steve, the developer who could find a solution to just about anything web-related. Iris, the graphic designer with years of print experience, who’d easily moved over to the Internet. And me, the copywriter and strategist. It was an easy collaboration. So we did more and more projects, subcontracting one another for each job.
It was probably only natural that, at some point, we’d realize it made more sense to work collaboratively rather than as solopreneurs pitching gigs together. Oddly enough, it was right about the time I announced that I was cutting back on work. I envisioned a part-timey situation where I’d carry a reasonable workload…twenty hours a week sounded good to me…..and have enough free time to do all the things I’d been putting off for years.

One day, my teammates and I were conferencing to brainstorm a proposal we were working on. One of us suggested it would really make a lot of sense if we just formalized our working relationship and started a company. Wouldn’t be very tough. Between us, we had the marketing skills and experience to launch quickly. Website in a week? It could happen.

Sure enough, twenty minutes later, we had a name, three domains (just in case we needed them down the road) and were about to pitch our first proposal as a newly formed company.

Fast forward six months. We’re still working happily together. Each of us brings something different to the table in terms of background. But we all share similar values, work styles and goals. And we absolutely agree on how a website should work.

We’re not “yes” people. If we don’t agree with something, we’re very verbal. We also take criticism from one another easily. It’s ok if we’re not right all the time. As long as the end result is one we’re proud to deliver.  This makes our working relationship comfortable, stimulating and fun.

Steve is the mastermind developer. He continues to amaze me with his ability to figure out how to do anything we throw at him. Iris is a wonderful designer who designs with a marketing mindset. Yes, the designs should look fabulous. But beautiful design is meaningless if it doesn’t reflect the brand and support the sales effort. I’m focused on positioning and writing copy. I didn’t exactly cut back a whole lot on work, but I’m doing what I really love….and now work is fun again.

After twenty-two years of being a solopreneur, I’ve found that I missed the brainstorming, problem solving, creative sharing and camaraderie of working with people I like and respect. I think our What A Great Website team is about as good as it gets.

The thought of failing can be intimidating. It can also keep you from trying. And that’s too bad. Because you might be able to conquer those fears if you’d just let them go. And the joy you’ll feel when you DO conquer something you’ve been afraid to try more than makes up for the fear.

Case in point. I’ve been doing yoga for about seventeen months. I love it. It’s changed my life and made me a much calmer person (calm was never a word I’d use to describe myself). I approach yoga somewhat cautiously and am pretty realistic about what I can and can’t do (headstands are not likely)!

However, last week, as my class was working on handstands, I somehow worked through my fear of landing on my head and just decided to try it.


handstand – photo by Athleta

Don’t know what made this day different from the other 100+, but I figured what the hell. Lo and behold, my feet were on the wall and stayed there. 4 times. So it wasn’t a fluke. And the curious thing is that it wasn’t even that difficult. Which made me wonder why I hadn’t attempted it sooner. Fear of dislocating my shoulder? breaking my neck? Maybe. But yoga mats are pretty cushioned and it’s not like I was flinging my legs over my head. I was moving carefully, focusing on what I wanted to do and breathing. I think I just breathed through my fear.

A realization —if I can breathe through something I’m afraid to try in yoga class, I can use that same process in other areas of my life. Tackling a new skill that seems extremely difficult comes to mind.

Rather than being intimidated, I remember what I learned when I started my business 32 years ago. I won’t know if I’ll succeed or fail if I don’t try. Obviously needed a refresher. But that’s ok. Learning something new (or over again) can never be a bad thing.

Can’t wait til my next yoga class.

I hate to see people pay good money for a website only to end up with something they can’t use. But unfortunately, I’ve seen this more than a few times.

Most recently, I had someone call me about his 1-year old website. It didn’t seem to be bringing him any new business.

We talked about pushing traffic to a site via social media, urls in marketing material, on business cards….the usual stuff. I told him I’d evaluate his website and let him know what I thought.

Initially, the site looked alright. Lots of white space. No can-you-make-this-any-harder-to-read reverse type. Looked fairly user friendly. True, I didn’t see any copy talking about their niche or how they helped clients, but that’s a matter of copy rewriting and positioning. Otherwise, I didn’t see anything glaringly horrid.

Then I went through the site. Slowly. Very slowly. Not cause I wanted to but because the pages loaded so slowly I had no choice. It was painful. If I were a visitor to this site rather than evaluating it, I would’ve been long gone. Video links that went nowhere. Contact emails that came back as “undeliverable”. Copy heavy pages without reasonable breaks or subheads to let you quickly scan copy. No clear positioning that told you how this firm could help solve your problems. A blog with posts that were either press releases or articles gleaned from other resources. No original viewpoints or commentaries or anything you couldn’t get somewhere else. A downloadable pdf that didn’t download. And to top it off, the website wasn’t designed to be responsive. So viewing it on a mobile device was a nightmare.

<iframe src="https://www.flickr.com/photos/maedeans/4780080764/in/photolist-6PHPcU-6PHPcs-E8JA-2jVwMr-8gUvbp-4BBLS-bpWibn-8hpatA-4JB616-4ZHpT-75jBjz-3oZj2N-7KPvwB-oQHeZ-6p4Qn7-4KDGez-8pjQHN-8gK9io-66UF6r-5hMMSn-9kAvQj-nTVRZh-6KDGg3-6W2E1A-6p3aN8-51QBDc-9o5jFt-5KxHz8-wEYmE-6VXC4D-4nTjVh-4Zng8Y-e4QkZP-5oWYhw-5oSGkZ-5jTjni-8pjQQJ-5NvB4u-fj44m-5PLd8M-7iSjU6-4i5CNN-fQ2n1-4MZFro-77HGhB-dHuH1R-4qqYn3-71zdZT-4MZFrQ-wEYjs/player/" width="75" height="75" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen></iframe>

image source

Now it was easy to see why this website wasn’t converting any business.

Rather than a customized website that was specifically designed and built to convert business, this business owner had purchased a site that was really a template. The contact page had a form with boxes that weren’t at all relevant to his business. Some of the photos made you wonder what the firm did. The overall impression was one of a website that had been thrown together without much thought as to how it should work. Or what kind of user experience a visitor would have.

If you’re going to shell out a substantial sum of money for a custom website, that should be what you get.

So before you hire a firm to develop your website, make sure you do the due diligence you’d do (do…do…do…do!) for any other significant financial commitment. Read testimonials from previous clients. Review sample work to see what types of sites the company has designed for other clients. Make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting and what you’re paying for.

I once had a client who came to me with a new website that had no copy. True! They had paid for….and gotten….a beautifully-designed website with almost no copy — certainly no positioning statement or anything that set them apart from the competition. They had a shopping cart with no copy and no instructions on how to purchase items, and no idea how to maintain or update the site themselves (no, it wasn’t WordPress). I felt so bad for them. They had paid a lot of money and gotten an unusable (but beautiful) website. They came to me for social media help but I couldn’t do anything with that until I wrote them some web copy. At that point, they had run out of money and abandoned the business. It was very sad.

This is probably the perfect place to throw out a pitch for my new web design and development company. I recently partnered with two of my favorite colleagues to launch What A Great Website. Check us out if you’re thinking about doing a new website. We make sure that all of the issues I’ve brought up in this post do NOT happen to you!

I didn’t want to leave. Honest. I really loved the bag I found on your site. It was the color I’d been looking for for months and a style that always works for me. But I hated your website. Your website made me do it.

Was that a mistake?

Was that a mistake?

Make It Easy

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to have a better, cooler, more desirable product these days. If your potential customer finds it too difficult to purchase from you, you’re going to lose a sale.

The Internet has spoiled us. We expect to find what we’re looking for quickly. Once we find something we like, we expect to be able to buy it easily. If your website doesn’t’ allow that to happen, we’re gone. To the next best product. As long as the e-commerce process is quick and easy, we can be swayed. So much for loyalty.

If you want visitors to your website to stay there long enough to purchase an item or two, you just need to make it easy. It’s not brain surgery. It’s simply good design, clear copy and smart navigation.

That means no guessing as to where a visitor has to go next to view products, ask questions about sizes or returns or anything else…..or make a purchase. Clear, concise copy with easy-to-to read, easy-to-find directions, in highly visible bars or buttons or a different color type, might be just what you need to kick your numbers over last month’s sales high.

If you’re not sure if your website provides an outstanding user experience, go through it as though you’ve never seen it before. Find a product. Compare it to other products offered on the site. Go to checkout and buy it. Fill out the order form info. Make sure it’s smooth, seamless and swift. If it’s not, you need to go back to the drawing board and make some changes in your online selling process. Cause if the purchase process is difficult for you, it will be equally difficult for potential customers.

Professional web designers and developers know what it takes to create websites that keep visitors engaged. Clean, uncluttered pages with appropriate images that draw the eye where you want it to go …..whether it’s to a purchase page, a link to get more information, a place to ask a question, or a button to share what you’ve found with friends or colleagues. Professional copywriters can write clear, compelling copy that grabs visitors’ attention, keeps them interested and guides them through the purchase process.

Make it easy for people to do business with you. They’ll come back. They’ll also tell their friends about their purchases. It’s free advertising. And all you did was develop a website that works.

Interesting blog title I’ve chosen — you may say. With good reason. My last blog post appears to be dated January, 2013. It really wasn’t (my last). There were more between the beginning of 2013 and mid-2014. I seem to have lost them. Long story….and not very interesting.

So rather than belaboring boredom, suffice it to say that my “new site, mid-year resolution” (I don’t make them in January…too much pressure) is to ramp up my blogging. To more than a few times a year. With a WordPress site, there is simply no excuse for not blogging regularly. It’s pretty brainless. All you need is something to talk about….something I’ve never had a problem finding.

When I consult with clients on how and when to blog, I’m very clear about the importance of consistency. It’s right up there with interesting content, relevant keywords, and writing that speaks directly to the reader.

Aside from the fact that blogs are a fabulous way to develop and share new material for content marketing, the freshness of a new post is something that you-know-who loves. Big time!

So if you’ve been lax with your blogging efforts….for whatever reason — summer’s too nice to be inside, you don’t like working on your laptop in the park or at the beach, you’re TOO BUSY! — step up to the plate. Fall is almost here. Actually a lovely time of year to sit outside and develop some content for your blog.

See you at the park. I’ll be blogging on my iPad.

So much info. So little time.

The entrepreneur’s dilemma. Consuming great quantities of information and still finding time to have a life…..or sleep.

I’m an information junkie. And an entrepreneur. So I get the dilemma. But I’ve figured out how to handle it. One word (not plastics!): vet. Two more: very carefully.

Find the experts. Seek out the top people — the thought leaders — in the industries you’re following. Check out the keynote speakers at the conferences you follow or attend. Read the newsfeeds where they’re being quoted. See what they’re blogging, posting to YouTube, sharing (Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.), talking about in TED Talks.

Then cull your list of experts down to a few “must follow’s”.

It’s tough to follow all the experts in a given field. The Internet gives us constant access to a lot of bright people sharing all types of information. If you’re trying to grow a business, it can quickly become overwhelming.

Find the pros who offer knowledge and advice that hits home for you. Then consume as much as you can. And get some sleep.

Stuck on a creative project? Struggling to come up with the right phrase or a “this works!” layout?

Try this.

Turn on the TV. Find a movie. Now turn off the volume.

Shaking your head and saying “huh?” Maybe. But give it a few minutes.

Without audio, you’re forced to supply the sound yourself….or at least imagine what the sound might be.

You’ll find yourself creating dialogue, thinking about what music is playing…..even adding sound effects. You’re stretching…..and coming up with the creative elements missing in a silent film (or video since this also works on your computer or mobile device).

So next time you’re stuck, turn off the sound. It works.