Too many pieces of the puzzle?

Often when I’m talking to prospective clients, they are apologetic. “There are too many pieces to this puzzle!” they will say, “I don’t know what to tell you that I want!”

I feel bad that too often we are made to feel that unless we have all the answers, we aren’t worthy of asking for help. I want to say right now, that I don’t expect you to have all the pieces of the puzzle neatly put together before we meet! My role in this collaboration is take your ideas, make suggestions, and come up with a plan for you. You have the business idea, knowledge or passion, and I bring the technical and design skills. Together we come up with a plan for your new business site!

Coming up with an idea for a business is labor intensive – and I use the analogy of giving birth a lot! It can be an elusive idea that takes months to corral into a concept you can verbalize. Once you have that concept, you start to think of how you can turn it into a business. Maybe you ask friends or relatives, some of whom will be supportive, and some who will try to stop you from getting started. It can be a mixed bag as you announce your “pregnancy” and suddenly everyone is an expert on what you should do – except you, who are still feeling very protective of your new project.

If you learn to listen to your inner voice and believe you are on the right path, you can continue to move forwards even if others around you are dismissive. Slowly the pieces of the puzzle will start to appear and things will fall into place. It is easy at this point to try to work out everything for yourself, but from experience can tell you that that often creates more anxiety than it eases! There are always more alternatives than you need, and it is easy to get bogged down trying to weight the benefits of two options until you lose sight of your real project.

Write down the concerns you have – or ideas that you have come across but are unsure if they fit in. A web designer who has already built many sites will be able to take your ideas and form them into a whole – or if any elements don’t belong at the initial phase, they are still safe on your list! I have a client who had a whole marketing scheme developed before we met, but had to rein in some of the merchandising ideas until there was a site with a product to sell. Now the site and product are developed, we are circling back around to the products, but with a much clearer idea of who they should appeal to and what the brand of the site really looks like.

So whatever stage your idea is at, you are still deciding which puzzle box to select, you a have a box of puzzle pieces but are scared to open it, or you have already opened the box and have puzzle pieces all over the floor, I can help you. It is time to sort out the pieces of the puzzle for your idea!

 

Another start over

There is something about September that offers us the chance to start over again. Even though many of us are beyond school age we get another chance to review our goals and hopes for the year, safe and warm in the “back to school” glow of new things to learn.

As adults our lives seldom proceed as smoothly as the school year! Our great promises to ourselves on January 1 have receded in the busy-ness of everyday life. The projects we promised ourselves we would start got side tracked by doctor’s appointments, taxes, friends and family – not to mention the strong pull of continuing to do what feels safe and familiar. To start over on a project sometimes makes us feel as though we have failed, but in reality, the timing just wasn’t right the first time around.

Maybe one of your goals for this year was to start your own business, based on a passion you have, or knowledge you have gained, or information you have accumulated over the years. Friends have told you many times that you should write a book or somehow package your knowledge to help others, but you have hesitated. Here we are again at the cusp of another school year, and it is a great time to get started on your business! The days are getting longer, so you aren’t going to be outside so much, and the fall TV schedule is a little underwhelming, so the time is ripe for your start over!

If you are not sure how to put your ideas together into a business, that isn’t a problem! We can talk or Skype and I will help you uncover the ways you could create a product from what you know, and suggest ways to promote it. I would almost certainly suggest a website, and can certainly help you with that, both in creating it, and also helping you learn how to use it – or do the updating for you if it is all just too baffling. The good news is that no one knows quite what their business will look like when they start. One of the few certainties is that it will change several times before you sit back and say, “Yes, that is how it should look!” Very few people are born with the skill to “just know” how to create a successful business, so plan to enjoy the ride – and the currently unknown destination you will reach. I promise that you will find you know so much more that you currently think you do by the end of this process. Wouldn’t that make a great story to tell over the holidays?!

So, if last January – or any January before this past one – you started to think you might want to build a small business for yourself, the time is here to renew that resolution! Just remember that you don’t have to have everything mapped out before you start, all you have to do is click here and let me know you are ready to start over.

 

 

Web Design Trends

Web Design Trends

If you spend much time online then I’m sure you are aware of the ever-changing trends in web design. I’m sure you have noticed that from time to time you see a site that really catches your eye – and your attention – and find yourself looking to see whether the whole site is equally amazing! Often the layout looks dramatically different from that of other sites, so you stop browsing and look around – and notice much more than simply what is being promoted or sold on the site – and start to notice features that are novel and appealing. Here are some trends I have noticed this year – and one that seems to be struggling to get traction.

Not only do many people choose to view the web on dual screens, but now sites are taking up this effect. Here is an example from DeskTime where the two sectors of client are addressed on the home page:

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 2.53.19 PM

Sometimes two blocks aren’t enough, and sites reveal even more blocks on first viewing, such as SilkTricky. In this example, each of the blocks flies in to form the full page:

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 2.57.01 PM

Then there are sites that eliminate all frame work, so the navigation and content all appear on the page without visible boundaries or divisions, such as the Braun site. Here the images and content flow together effortlessly:Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 3.00.45 PM

The next trend is for single screen sites, where the home page is one huge image. Small symbols indicate the availability of more information, but are is subtle and easily missed. In this scenario the most important element of the site receives the one clear place to click, such as this Hatch Collective, where their main goal is to send you to their portfolio:

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 3.04.43 PM

The final trend that has now been around for nearly two years is the parallax site, where the page continues to unfold to reveal all the site content, often with elements moving and remaining in place as you navigate down the page. A great example is this site about the Dangers of Fracking:

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 3.11.42 PM

All in all sites with larger, compelling central images, or which offer equal weight to each part of a business seem to be becoming very popular. The boxed and framed sites of a few minutes ago are now looking dated…

The only trend that I have seen little about, but which seems to have considerable traction on many of the female entrepreneur Facebook groups I follow is sites that are “girlier” or more feminine. While a number of designers claim to design for this sector of the market, most of the sites I have seen are surprisingly simple, and add only a lace layer to the header, or a floral background. It would be nice to see the design trends listed above created with a more feminine (rather than gender neutral) detail, so there are more options for businesses run by women, and for women, than the current selection.

So, which of these trends appeals to you? What will your next site look like?

 

 

Showing Courage

For many creatives, years of training, learning, and practice have gone into learning a craft, so it takes courage to reveal the pieces that are produced. On the upside, all those years of connection with art professors and a cohort of friends and colleagues who have been with you on the journey, mean that you know which pieces are safe to let out into the world.

If however you learn a new craft independently, you no longer have the support and advice system in place, so letting your art go out into the world requires you to have courage. The creative act is very intimate, just you and your chosen medium, your thoughts, your hopes, and your skills combining to create the finished piece. This in turn means that you are revealing a part of yourself when you share your finished piece with the world. This is probably less so when you create multiple pieces as part of your work, such a ceramics, but even so, you are baring your inspiration and self when you show your work to the world.

I recently read an article – that I cannot find in my history – that made the interesting point that in many ways we are all amateurs. This was defined as anyone who was putting their art out into the world without the benefit of a commission. In those terms all of us who sell our art are amateurs! The pint the writer was making was that without an intended buyer, we are all trying to create something that is not only true to who we are, but also blending that with what we think others will respond to favorably. We “amateurs” then all have to find the courage to reveal our art to our chosen audience, and hope that it is selected to be bought. Without that final act of courage, we are destined to be closet artists.

It is clear that most artists don’t want to have the “amateur” label applied to them, as it conveys a lack of dedication to the art. Sadly a quick look at many online art sites will reveal an array of art that could be considered professional, and yet it is languishing on a site, largely unseen. It is the “amateur” in this sense of the word who gets their art out and in front of people, who encourages followers on social media and blogs about their process. They may not be among your cohort of artist friends, but they are getting their art out to the world and sold. They are showing courage, ignoring the siren song of the ego saying, “but its not your best work..” and just selling their work.

So what would it take for you to lower your sights and become an “amateur” artist who actively shows – and sells – their work and has a tribe of eager followers? Do you have the courage to go against all you previously knew, and start looking on Instagram for hashtags relating to your medium? You might be pleasantly surprised to find there is a warm and welcoming audience for your work if you just have courage!

Make your website shine

Often busy solopreneurs like you realize that their websites no longer shine as they did at first, but don’t quite know what to do. If you are no longer in touch with your designer, it may be overwhelming to have to to find a new designer, and if you built the site yourself, you may have stopped at this point because you reached the end of your abilities to make the changes you wanted. (We’ve all found a theme we’ve fallen in love with, and then hit a wall trying to make it do the one thing to make it ours, that we naively thought would be really easy to change!)

One of the biggest problems I see is that like cars, web design trends are always changing, so sites gradually start to lose their shine as they become dated. Your state of the art site from 2012 now looks less appealing, although it is still completely functional. You invested good money in getting your site built, but sadly, it is going to need aesthetic updates from time to time. While much of your content can be reused, the appearance will probably need some thought and then reworking. If you aren’t sure how quickly sites get out of date, visit the Way Back Machine site and put in the url for a site you visit often. Then look at the way it first appeared, and how it has changed, either subtly or dramatically in the intervening years.

Another way sites lose their shine is when Google makes changes to the way it ranks sites. While the appearance of the site is not usually the main consideration here, if you previously had 100 visitors a day to your site, and then they fell off abruptly, a Google update may be the reason. For a while the updates most targeted the behavior of spammy marketers who copied material from legitimate sites, or who created pages of gibberish packed with keywords, now Google is working to make sites useful to those who visit them. Are your keywords relevant to your content, or have you slowly changed direction so the original direction of your site has been lost? Google also likes it if you write good, original content that is helpful to visitors, and will reward your domain with better traffic. Google also likes frequent updates, so when their bots come around they find something new. I always recommend that clients have a blog on their site and establish a writing routine. Some resist, but even one client who posts just once a month is seeing more traffic that before they decided to post.

As someone who maintains sites for others, a big issue is that people want to upload high definition photos straight from their phones. These images are too large to use on a site as they would take a long time to load. Fortunately there are a lot of sites where you can easily upload large photos and get web-friendly photo files in return. Your site and/or webmaster will love you if you use a service like this instead of filling DropBox with enormous files for them to resize before using!

If you would like to receive my top 10 ways to make your site shine again, please go here to download it.

 

The Case of the Vanishing Designer

Have you ever been jilted by a designer?

It sets of alarm bells when one of the first questions a prospective client asks me as a designer is, “How do I know that you won’t vanish in the middle of this job?” When I was first starting out, this was a very puzzling question, and couldn’t think why this was such a common occurrence. It took me a little time to unravel the two main underlying problems that caused this phenomenon.

The first I identified was that when I asked who their previous designer was, there was usually a relationship dilemma at the root of it. The answer was something like, “My daughter’s boyfriend, but now they’ve split up,” or “My neighbor’s kid because he’s really good at tech things, but he got on the track team”. Often as a neutral party I could reach the lost designer and get access to the site and help finish the project, but on several occasions the ex-designer simply wouldn’t respond, so gaining control of the project was so much more complicated. In a couple of instances we had to start over because we simply couldn’t get the previous designer to release access to the back end of the site or the hosting. The friend or neighbor ex-designer often meant the person involved had started the work as a favor, and then lost interest in the project and moved on. When I was able to get access to those sites they were either seriously incomplete, or so screwed up that the only option was to start over.

The second reason for jilted clients took me a little longer to fully understand, but once I had got it, realized that it was a valuable information! In these cases the designer had simply got so frustrated with the client they opted to walk away unpaid rather than continue to work with that client. If a found that a potential client had been jilted by several former clients, alarm bells immediately went off in my head and my gut shouted “don’t work with them!” I devised some ways to find out why this potential client had such a poor track record. Designers are very often self-employed, and when they accept a new design project they look at the scope of the project the client has outlined, and work out how long it should take to build the site and when they can expect payments to arrive. It is unfortunate that some clients try to take advantage of this and requesting changes and additions far beyond their original request, and then delay payment based on the lack of completion of these extra requests. While there will always be small changes to make to any project, some clients just won’t make a decision and stick with it. You will notice in many design contracts that the number of changes are clearly defined to prevent this “job creep” phenomenon!

Another problem is that the client feels insecure and are afraid of launching their site. They will say what it is they want and the site will be built, but then mysteriously just as the project is coming to a close, they suddenly involve others in the process. “My friend says” is the first sentence is the email we all hate to receive. While inwardly we know the client is acting from a place of fear, we still have to deal with the information they have provided. The “friend” is seldom a designer and probably has no particular interest in the site, but their opinion still has to be evaluated and either acted on or politely rebuffed. If this situation escalates, this too can be the point at which a designer decides enough is enough, and opts to fire the client because the project has completely changed in scope and they need to move onto the next project.

So how do you prevent being jilted by a designer? Firstly, hire a designer without any emotional or family connections. It is so much easier to work with a professional where the relationship is clear, than with someone who is doing the work as a favor or for a cut rate or barter. Secondly, look at the testimonials others have left about working with this designer. Does the designer sound to be fair and reliable – or are there no testimonials? Are there comments about their speed and efficiency, and do they resonate with you and your expectations? Thirdly, look through the contract the designer sends you as it will reveal the way that designer works and the workflow they have. Does it sound fair and reasonable, and do you feel you can provide what is needed on the schedule you see? If everything passes your gut check, you can feel confident you have found a designer who won’t jilt you and that you will enjoy working with – as well as loving the end result!

 

 

What can I do to help you?

What can I do to help you?

If you run your own business, then you have probably had days when you have spent time doing everything BUT that thing you became an entrepreneur to do! For weeks (or months) you may have been doggedly trying to learn to do things you have suddenly had to learn how to do – or never wanted to learn to do – like filing your taxes! I’ve been there, trying to do it all, but after a few months, the strain of trying to do everything becomes counter-productive and you get too tired to do your real work – which isn’t exactly why you set off on your path to be an entrepreneur.

For me the first time I admitted I needed help was to keep the lawn mowed each summer. I was taking me a good two hours every two weeks to mow and edge my corner lot (yup, should have seen that coming!) but it takes the lawn care crew a mere 15 minutes to do it with their professional tools. After two years of reluctantly dragging myself and the lawn gear outside, getting hot and sticky, bitten by bugs, and cut and bruised by things flinging up from the edger and weed whacker, I realized that it was time to ask for help. The time it was taking to mow the lawn and bandage up the damage I had inflicted on myself cost so much more than the $30 I now pay to have someone else do it – while I am free to work on my business!

The second thing I realized I needed help with up was keeping my financial records. I can put numbers in a spread sheet, and keep a tally of money in and money out and what is currently in the kitty, but I really have no interest in trying to work out how to do anything more than that. I have friends who positively love running numbers and understand what to do with them, and once again, I realized I needed to ask for help. The time I spent laboring over the books was insane, and so having a competent professional take them on has freed up at least 2-3 hours a week – not to mention the hours I spent trying to avoid doing them!

So now you see why, even in the early stages of starting a business, your time is worth money, so it is vital to get help for those things you either hate doing or have no interest in doing. You will be so much more productive if you spend your time getting new clients or working on your business, than you will by forcing yourself to do tasks you have no aptitude for. In contrast, I help people like you, who are frustrated with the look or mechanics of their sites – or with trying to decide what on earth to do with their multiple social media accounts. I love coming up with solutions, or showing alternatives that better fit your needs, and the needs of your business. I love to see – or hear – delight and relief when I have saved someone from the time and frustration of trying to fix something on their site themselves!

So as I try to justify having a cleaner in to save me from my growing dust bunny farm, perhaps you can think about contacting me to help you with the design or technical problems that are eating into YOUR valuable time.

What is the purpose of your site?

I love the thrill of starting work on a new site with a new client. It is a little like the freshness of the new school year; full of potential and the unknown! Even though my initial discussions try to get to the purpose of the new site, I know from experience that it will ultimately deviate from this initially stated purpose. Usually this is because there are so many options to achieve the stated purpose that new options are incorporated, but it can also be because the originally stated purpose turns out not to be the real purpose.

If I am designing a site for a group, an organization, or a church, then the purpose is so much clearer. It is to promote the group and transmit information either to the outside world, to members, or to both. While this purpose may not be clear to the client immediately, once we start discussing the functions of the site, the purposes quickly come to light. Such sites may still gain additional purposes as the potential options are being explored, but the primary purpose doesn’t have much room for maneuver.

The purpose of sites built for individual clients tend to be much harder to pin down. The initial request will be quite straightforwards, such as, “I want to sell my book” or “I need to display my art so it can be reviewed by juries.” It is only as we explore the purpose more closely that we often discover that there are other, hidden, purposes. It may be a lack of confidence in what has been created, or a reluctance to let a strong skill set be seen in public, or sadly, fear that a relative will find the information and use it against my client. So much of understanding the real purpose of a site is a psychological exploration, long before it becomes an overt statement of purpose.

The good news is that you can have a preliminary idea about what you want to do, and we can discuss it and wheedle out the fears that are undermining what you really want your site to do. If the fears are big we can begin small, say by building a blog under a pseudonym so you can dip your toes in the water and start writing or displaying your art. We can find you a supportive community on Facebook and/or Instagram where you can get honest feedback and advice to grow your confidence in your work. In time you may decide to move toward more actively selling your knowledge, art, or writing, but you will do so from a position of strength. Your purpose will be able to come to the fore and no longer have to be hidden away. I really love it when people are able make this transition from hidden expert to overt expert!

So if you are hesitant about starting work an a site with me, don’t worry! The very first thing we will do is chat. You decide the time and date, and then we will talk to find out what it is you are ready to show the world, or what it is you would like your purpose to be once you have more confidence. Start by going here and following the simple instructions. There is no obligation to me if we talk, and no payment s are due until you are happy that we can work together and you want me to build your site for you.

I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

 

Telling Your Story

Many people see websites as a practical way to sell their products, ideas, courses or seminars. This is a perfectly reasonable use for websites, but today I want to add telling your story into the mix. While your product has definite value, it is unlikely to attract raving fans if you, the creator of that thing try to hide behind it.

What do I mean? I mean clients who struggle over giving me a photo of themselves to use on the site, and then produce on from 30 years ago, or solo-preneurs who hide behind the use of “we” in all their information. So why are these things a problem? People buy online because they relate to the person behind the product. They want to identify with your story, the struggles that gave rise to your eBook, the path you took to get your grandchild to be less shy. In the olden days, say 1995, people went into shops and talked to the person behind the counter (mostly) and in the process saw the marketing materials around the shop that told the story of the grocery store, the independent bookshop, the person care products. Part of the buying experience came from entering the shop and interacting with the owner or staff.

Fast forward 20 years, and you are much more likely to buy products online, and more often from people who you have never met – and who may live a continent away from you. The website gives a taste of what the product is, and a bit about the seller, but it is still a long way from meeting the seller in person and having a conversation with them. To overcome that lack of contact, it is vital that as the site owner, you allow more of yourself and your story to appear. I may love your eBook about traveling to England, but if I can find no evidence of your ever having been to England, or any travel philosophy tucked into the page, I have no idea whether your experience of traveling to England might match my expectations. I need to know whether you, as the author, have things in common with me in order to feel I can trust what you are saying.

I know this can feel scary, but it is an important part of getting your product bought. If you are uncomfortable with a ‘warts and all’ view of yourself, then craft your story from just the relevant parts of your past – you don’t need to go into gory detail, just hit the crucial spots that put together explain what caused you to create what you did, who you designed it for, and the problem it solves. It also helps to explain how it has helped you (or the recipient) so the reader can get a sense of whether this product is for them. If they want a quick fix and your system takes 90 days to work, then they will be disgruntled, and disgruntled customers go online and complain…

So think about your story when you come to write your “About Me” page. Write it offline so you can edit and never inadvertently allow something you would regret go online. Remember, this is in part your sales pitch, so it can be a tidied up version of a life event, it doesn’t need to be the version your sister or best friend might hear. Do make sure that the story has a a beginning to set the scene, a middle where you describe the problem and early attempts to resolve it, then a conclusion where you give the final result and how well it works. (Yes, that is what you were taught in school, and I ma a former teacher!)

So, what is the story behind your product?

 

 

 

Using technology and media

Using technology and media is not just for the young! As you think about what you would like to share for your idea, whether it will be for profit or for your personal legacy, don’t let the “hows” of your idea get in the way of the “what”. I hate to tell you how many opportunities have slid through my fingers simply because I talked myself out of doing them – based on what others would think of me, or in case would I look stupid if I tried something new. One of the huge advantages of getting a little older is that we become less preoccupied with what other people might think, which frees us up to take more chances to do the things that matter to us! I first set hands on a computer in 1987, on a course was for young mothers to learn to use computers before returning to work. The teacher spent quite a lot of time explaining to us that we would have to work very hard to damage the computer, and so not to be afraid of it. We successfully went on to turn the computers on (with no scary electrical sparks or smells) and then code them to say “Hello” ten times. By today’s standards that was pretty tame for a first class in using a computer, but on that sunny day long ago, it was pretty heady stuff! If I hadn’t gone to that computer class, I wonder how different my life would have been since it began my love affair with technology?

Using Technology and Media

So without further ado, here are a few ways of using technology and media that could bring your project to life:

  • Start a blog – if you like to write, or have encyclopedic knowledge that you’ll never get written as a book, start by writing a little every day. You can sort your posts by “categories” so you can go back later and build on a topic. If you are concerned about who might see what is in your blog, you can keep your blog private, or give access to only those with a password.
  • Display your photos or art – if you have a huge catalog of images, they can be scanned and then added to a website. As with a blog, you can sort them by categories so you – or others – can find specific images very easily. Again, they can be private, password protected, or public.
  • Publish a book – take what you have written down and have stored away in closets and boxes. You can buy just one copy for your own satisfaction, or buy a few to share with friends and family (the cost per copy to authors is usually $2-3 per copy) or let the book out to the world.
  • Create information products – there are several options here:
    • Write down your information and offer access to it for a subscription fee
    • Create an ebook to sell with slightly less information in it to sell as a stand alone product or as an entry point to bigger products
    • Create an audio course and offer it as a download – or on CD for those who prefer a tangible product
    • Become a consultant on your topic – by selling it to those who have purchased earlier and less specific materials
  • Create an online course – you teach the material either in person on video or as a slide show with voice over
  • Sell your photographs or artwork directly from your secured site
  • Sell your photographs or artwork printed on other materials
  • Create a photo book or iPad book to display your artistry
  • Create your own audio or video recording to sell or enjoy

Before you let any objections creep in, know that all the technology exists to do these things online. Some tasks are easier to do than others, but there is always help available to get the information from your head and out into the world. In addition to building websites I have helped create CDs, built paid membership sites, built a consulting business, created both text and image books, uploaded images to appear on products for sale, and assisted in marketing the end products, so am confident I can help you, too! Now it is time to start thinking what would be the best way to get your knowledge, memories, art, music, and stories out of your head and out to those who would enjoy sharing them with you. Click on the picture below to go to a page to let me know when it would be convenient for you to talk with me. I look forward to hearing from you!
Book a meeting with me!