Websites

New Site Launch: Jeremy Frey

Jeremy Frey is a rock star in the basket world. His one of a kind creations go for thousands of dollars (or tens of thousands in many cases). They take months to make and every detail is perfect. When I saw them in his workshop I was blown away.

When we began working with Jeremy, orders were a little slow and he was gearing up for summer shows. He had applied for and gotten a grant to develop a website and some branding materials, knowing that these tools would take him further then he could go at several yearly shows and with his current client base, many who collect his work.

He wanted to reconnect with people he had lost touch with and find new customers who were specifically searching for him online (and clearly not finding him).

We took care of the website part while Jason at Loop Design Group worked with Jeremy on the logo/branding. Since this was finalized earlier this week we can write about the project (we had a stand in header so Jason and Jeremy could work without pressure and so in the meantime so Jeremy would have the site to use for his shows).

jeremyfreyhomepage

I like to joke with Alice about having an inherent bias against black background color websites. (I had a proto-hipster boyfriend about ten years ago whose blog was black with white writing as were the black and white photos he posted. He wrote deep thoughts on this site and it makes me roll my eyes to this day to think of it.) But this website really changed my mind about the whole ‘black background is a moody teenager’ thing.

Alice is right, done properly it can look artistic, and depending on font choices and other design elements can look either ‘boudoir’ or ‘masculine’. In this case, clearly masculine.

Alice also wanted to incorporate lots of basket textures since Jeremy’s work is so intricate. (Loved the Facebook icon she came up with!) These were only used as touches since we didn’t want it to seem over the top.

jeremyfreyportfolio

Since Jeremy’s baskets are made to order (with custom colors, etc.) a shopping cart was not necessary but we did want to communicate that people could order with the website. ‘Baskets Available For Order’ in the menu as well as a custom inquiry form below each basket type meant that people understood they could order without us having to actually show every kind of basket that Jeremy could make (hint: a lot, like hundreds).

But most importantly is Jeremy happy with this site? “I”ve already gotten a lot of inquiries from it.” he said. He says mainly in the way of people he’s lost touch with over the years that have found him and his work again as well as some new customers.

I know many artists who hesitate to spend money on their websites… but  I think people would be surprised that they’d make their investment (if not more) back by just having somewhere online people could see their craft.

Check out Jeremy’s site if you want to learn more: http://jeremyfreybaskets.com/

jeremyfreyportfoliopage

 

 

Buying Online: Getting Your Customers To Do It More

So you’ve gone ahead an invested in the creation of an ecommerce website, a place where your customers can buy your products online. Good for you!

What happens sometimes, with a lot of smaller stores especially, is you’ve built it but yet the people are not coming. Why is that?

buymystuff

Do people offline like your stuff?

Here’s a reality you might not want to face but…. is your stuff cool? Useful? Do people buy it at trade shows, craft shows, in your store, etc. but just not online? If so, it’s probably just your actual setup and not your product.

But if no one has ever bought from you and they aren’t buying from your online store, you might have a reality check to cash.

The very smart Ramit Sethi said this example once in a seminar (I’m totally paraphrasing.) Show a room full of people your product, tell them the specs and the price and you’ll have a room full of people who say they want it. Now tell them you have a  supply with you and you’ll sell it to them right now. The people with their hands still raised after the second question are your customers and the people you actually care about pleasing.

Do people know you have an online store?

You can have the prettiest little website but if no one knows it’s there, you will get no sales. What are some simple ways to raise awareness you might not have gotten around to yet?

  • Put up the web address in multiple places at your physical store location (maybe even on your shopping bags or flyers you put into bags).
  • Tell each person who leaves your store to visit your online store.
  • Put ‘Check out our online store’ with the QR code linking to your website in your window.
  • Do the same in your print advertising. (Note: If you don’t like QR codes, you can create a custom shorty link by using a website like bit.ly)
  • Once a week or so link to a product in your online store from your Facebook page, Twitter account, Pinterest account, etc.

Tell people until you think you sound like a broken record. Because you might hear yourself talking about it all day but your customers don’t.

I bet the day you start this stuff, you will have one regular customer who says to you ‘Oh, I didn’t know you had an online store!’

Look at a website like LL Beans:

llbeanshop

 

As you see, you can say ‘buy stuff; without flashing red letters. Make this idea of you having an online cart super obvious on your website and at your store location.

Is your store easy to find online?

If you Google some of your well known products, do you come up? Here’s a screenshot when I do a search for Dansko shoes in Maine (a kind of popular clog like shoe in these parts):

danskoshoesmaine As you see, below the ads comes an online clog store then Lamey-Wellehan, a Maine shoe store that sells Danskos in their stores and online. (JL Coombs shows you want they have in the outlet store and you can stop by and buy at their location.)

Can you compete with Zappos if your Lamey-Wellehan? If you’re local and have what I want you can!

Search engine optimization (getting your site ranked high in search engines like Google) is a whole field, and something you can pay lots for. But let’s go for some easy wins here:

  • Getting more links into your site: Try to get more links. Are your vendors listing your website as a place to purchase their products on their website? Many retailers have something like a store locator and will list you for free. You can also use social media, blogs, online directories, and more to get more links into your website.
  • Make your website search engine friendly: Do you have unique page titles? Detailed product descriptions with keywords people are searching? Search engine friendly links? A blog you update regularly?

I can’t explain it all here but there are steps you can take to make your site more findable by search engines. If you want to learn a bit more about SEO, I’ve written an intro blog post about it here: http://breakingeveninc.com/web-tech/better-seo-in-less-than-one-hour/

Is your store easy to navigate and use?

Find three people who would be your target customers (fitting age and other demographics) and offer them a gift certificate or some other small offering in exchange for watching them navigate your online store. Is there one point which they get hung up on, like the product search or how to get back to the shopping cart after they’ve been browsing? It may be (and probably will be) painful to watch but you will learn a lot about your website.

If you can’t bring yourself to do this, look at your website analytics (statistics). Is there some page on your site a majority of people are exiting on? Do you have a lot of abandoned carts (people who have put things in the online shopping cart and never finished the checkout process)?

Take steps to make your website easier to navigate based on the feedback you get from real people and/or your stats. Adding a search box, linking sizing charts to every product, streamlining your checkout process are just a few ideas. You will generate ones that are useful for you in watching your three people and looking at your web analytics.

Why should someone buy from you?

This might be the most difficult idea for any small business. In a world of Amazon.com, how are you supposed to compete?

Free shipping over a certain order amount and offering excellent customer service is pretty standard in terms of what people can expect online. What are some other ways you can stand out?

Do a bit of detective work (what the industry is doing) and soul searching (what you want to do) and see what you can offer in addition to your unique products without killing your bottom line.

Please note your offering doesn’t have to be expensive, just unique and unexpected. I once got a handwritten thank you note from our payroll company which probably took them all of two minutes to write but it was so memorable and nice). So pick your unique thing then publicize the heck out of it.

I (and many consumers like me) don’t mind paying a bit extra to get something unique or even just to support a smaller business… I just don’t want to have to pay $25 in shipping on a $25 purchase to do it.

So use your online store to its full advantage and you too can make your money in your online store!

The Oldest Websites We’ve Seen

After running into a website designed in 1999 (a vendor for a client we have), I realize it’s been awhile since I’ve seen an Internet 1.0 site.

For fun, I posed the question to the Breaking Even Facebook page. And boy, did our friends deliver! Here are some gems they found.

Matt suggested WizWorld.com. While designed in 2003, he’s right, it looks about ten years older than that:

wizworlddotcom

Hope found SpaceJam, which clearly hasn’t been touched since the movie was released in 1996:

spacejam.com

A moment later, she beat herself and found a 1995 gem Victor Engle’s homepage:

the-lightdotcom

Breanna found CenterPlace.org from 1999 which is apparently still having fundraising ads to help the website stay open:

centerplacedotorg

But Mike found the winning website, Slash’s Fan Page website:

snakepitdotorg

I still remember coding my first website, in 2002, and how much work it was to just get a blue background with white writing and a picture displaying to the right of it all. …So what can we learn from our older website relatives still hanging around the internet?

Websites weren’t always dynamic. Websites didn’t have information feeds, search boxes, videos, slideshows, or interactive quizzes. They just had information on them. If you were lucky, there was an animated gif.

Websites were simple. Plain background, one color text and maybe some borders around some photos. That’s about as fancy as things got.

Websites have come along way (as has the technology to make them) but the basic function of the website is still the same: Content is still king.

Or maybe more accurately, Slash is king.

Why You Don’t Need A Web Designer

I love these questions that come the moment you aren’t expecting them. “Isn’t designing a website easy?” a new friend asked me.

“You know, with tools like Squarespace, Wix, etc, do people still need web designers?”

I gave kind of a crappy answer at the time. We were at the beach and I had just hiked for about 2 hours in 95 degree weather so I’ll blame heat exhaustion.

But I’ve been thinking more about it. And here’s the answer I want to give. And I am going to intersperse it with emo ‘I don’t need you’ picture quotes, for your amusement and mine.

Because a web designer is not a needed thing… it’s something you want.

Let me explain, yo.

Lil Wayne, and you, can survive without a web designer. For realz.

Lil Wayne, and you, don’t need a web designer. For realz.

You don’t hire a web designer because it’s the cheapest option.

Let’s do some numbers here  for a sample non-ecommerce site over the course of three years. I’ll use SquareSpace as the DIY option and our sample rates as the web designer option:

SquareSpace A web designer
Year One $192 $3000
Year Two $192 $72
Year Three $192 $72
Totals: $576 $3144

OK so explaining those numbers: Squarespace has a monthly fee of $16/month (if you buy annually). Designing a website with a designer has a lot of up front costs but afterward (assuming you maintain it yourself, which is what you’d do with SquareSpace anyway) you are talking money for web hosting and a domain name (in my case $5/month for web hosting and $12/year for a domain).

There are plenty of DIY website design options. The thing they all have in common? DIY. Do it yourself. In all scenarios, it is you doing it.

If we look at the totals, you aren’t picking a web designer based on costs alone. Then again, not much you do in business is based on costs alone. Proof? For my business sign,  I could have gotten a piece of plywood and spray painted some letters on it for probably about $20, including the hanging hardware. Costs are not the only factor for a sign, for a printer, for an anything.

dontneedmarilyn

You hire a web designer for convenience, service, and good advice.

Alright so what does SquareSpace not include? Well, it doesn’t include some of the harder parts of website design:

  • Ability to make email addresses. They suggest going through Google Apps which, if you have more than one person in your organization, will charge you $5/additional user/month. If you want me to make you 10 email addresses for your company with the hosting package I use, I can do that. You want 50? I can still do that. And yes, if you regularly clean your email off the server, you can likely still use the $5/month web hosting package. 
  • Ability to manipulate the templates as fully as you may want to. See a design you like and want to change x, y, and z about it? SquareSpace (or whatever company you use) will let you do that only to an extent. I can give someone almost exactly what they want in most cases.
  • Ability to have custom features on your site. Here are some things we’ve been able to implement for clients: custom site searches for rental properties, integrating a real estate data feed into the website, make tweets automatically go out from archived blog posts, calendar where you can book appointments, and more. If you want your website to ‘do’ stuff, eventually these plug and play websites may frustrate you.
  • Ability to not bash your head on your desk trying to figure something out. Yes, there are website forums and support tickets but just handing something off and saying ‘You deal with it’ has a surprising amount of relief. Also sometimes I can think of something you don’t even know exists to make your life easier online. Really, I know stuff you don’t. 

youneedme1

Most things in life aren’t needs.

You can cook your own food so you don’t need restaurants. You can grow your own food so you don’t need grocery stores. You can fill out your own forms so you don’t need an accountant to do your taxes. You can drive your trash to the dump so you don’t need a garbage collector. You get my point.

Doing things that are difficult, tedious, annoying, or just plain time consuming isn’t easy. And for many people, dealing with online stuff feels like at least one item on that list.

We pay for these things and more to get done by other people because:
1) We don’t want to deal with them.
2) We want them handled well.
3) In our minds, we think someone else can do it more efficiently if not better than us.

People pay a higher fee with a web designer to get what they want and to let someone else handle it. SquareSpace people are not our audience.

So while there is a while group of people not needing web designers, internet marketers, and other online professionals, I know there are plenty more who do.

In short, you don’t need a web designer. But, you may find yourself wanting one.

Helping Your Web Person Help You

Being among the masses that help people with computer (or more accurately internet) problems daily, there are a few things we the geeks would like you to know:

1) Sometimes we don’t know what you are talking about. Really.
2) Sometimes we genuinely can not replicate the problem on our end.
3) Sometimes we can’t fix something instantaneously.

So if you are wanting a web person (or tech-saavy brother-in-law several states away) to help you out, here’s what we need.

i-have-no-idea-what-you-re-talking-about

Case 1: We don’t know what you are talking about. 
Need: A screenshot or link where we can see the error.
‘My website isn’t working’ really isn’t enough for us to go on.

Unless we go to your website and see that there is Turkish music playing and some unrecognizable script across your page… you know, and you aren’t a Turkish music group. Then we’ll know something’s up.

But let’s just say that’s not the problem. Let’s say the problem is you are getting a weird error message on the registration page of your site. Sending us a link to your registration form showing an error message is really helpful because it lets us see what the problem might be… and as importantly, where the problem isn’t.

For example the other day someone called saying “I can’t check my email” and after a few minutes, I figured they were typing their email address into the search box of Google instead of going to the webmail link before typing in her email address. A screenshot would have solved this more quickly… and much less frustratingly for both of us.

hello-tech-support-have-you-tried-turning-it-off-and-on-again

Case 2: We can’t replicate the problem. 
Need: Specific information about anything that might be (or might not be) relevant
So let’s say we try to see the error but can’t. We will need to know a bit more specifically about how your computer is set up. Feel free to offer the following information, depending on the problem of course:

  • Operating system (Windows 7, Mountain Lion, etc.)
  • Browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.)
  • Email client (Outlook, etc.)
  • Email settings (POP/IMAP, server settings, etc.)
  • When the problem started
  • If this problem is existing just on your computer
  • Other stuff more specific depending on how you answered the above questions and the nature of the problem

We are not asking these questions to be jerks; we are genuinely trying to figure out something, anything, to be able to see what you see.

And if we ask you to do something dumb, as long as it’s not going to do permanent damage to you or your device, just do it. We’re trying to help and sometimes turning it on and off really does work.

emailrespondnow

Case 3: We can’t fix it instantaneously.
Need: Time
Despite what you might think, the internet is not an instantaneous place. Sometimes we genuinely see something we haven’t seen before and need time to mull it over, ask our buddies about it, or try some things.

If it’s a problem with your website, we may make a copy of your website somewhere else so we can test solutions, for example.

So give us time to comb the forums and otherwise try stuff out. Because doing it in front of you is nerve wracking, especially if we can’t fix it right away.

Thanks so much for giving us what we need at every stage… because doing it helps us help you better!

Why You’ll Never See ‘Designed By Breaking Even Communications’ On A Website

We think it's great but we don't think of it that way.

We think it’s great but we don’t think of it that way.

We had a recent client who was so grateful for our work she insisted we put ‘Designed by Breaking Even Communications’ at the bottom of her website.

I refused.

She couldn’t believe it, and I couldn’t think of a way to explain it well at the time. (Yes, this is how I get ideas for most of these blog posts!)

What I am about to say may make some people annoyed. Many web designers put their credentials at the bottom of every website they do. Here’s why we don’t:

To me, website designers are invisible artists.

I’ve heard those who put their credentials in the footer of websites they design think about it like a painting they are making on commission. You sign your name on the bottom of a painting proudly, why wouldn’t you sign your name on the bottom of a website?

I can easily think of other examples in which someone does building/creative work for others. Did the company who painted your house sign your foundation? Did the person who designed your wedding invitations add their URL on the bottom corner of all 200 copies you ordered?

In my opinion, some artists are invisible. Web design to me is one of those professions.

Adding our name to the bottom of your website doesn’t give you more value.

Ideally your website is well coded, fast loading, visually pleasing, informational/entertaining, and highly functional… whether we did it or someone else did.

Unlike the painting example, having our name on the bottom of your website doesn’t give it more value, so why put it in there?

(I doubt anyone is having us design sites so they can own a ‘Breaking Even’ original, though I am extremely entertained at this thought).

You can see who designed a website if you look at the source code… or asking the person who owns it.

There are ways to put authorship on a website in the source code that’s completely non obtrusive to the website design. Sometimes we actually remember to do that.

But mainly, I think if someone likes a website, they can always ask the owner (via contact form or other means) who designed it. Looking at it from another angle, to get a feel for the kind of designs a particular web designer does, you can always look at their online portfolio on their website. (We have ours here, just so you don’t think we’re shady about our clients or anything!)

Our clients pay us to create things for them and their good word of mouth is the credit we appreciate most.

I am not writing this to make any enemies here; I’m simply saying why we don’t do this particular practice.

So what do you think, regular folks or fellow designers? Do you think you should have a link at the bottom of every website you do or do you agree we are silent artists?

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