business

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.

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?

How To Handle Control Freaks

This is what happens when Alice is gone and Nicole does graphics. I know, scary.

This is what happens when Alice is gone and Nicole does graphics. I know, scary.

Someone has hired you to do a job for them. Based on their goals and other factors, you’ve decided a way to do it and they’ve signed off on your plan.

Or so you thought.

Suddenly, they want to be involved in every little detail of the process. (Why are you using 14 and not 16 point font? Or my favorite: How long does it really take you to do that?)

It’s one thing to have clear (ideally scheduled) communication and answer an occasional question… but it’s another to have someone asking you ‘why’ at every step or needing to call you multiple times a day.

People who take it to that endearing next level are control freaks… or as they would call themselves, detail-oriented project managers. But when you are on that other end, these people can be exhausting to deal with.

I’ve come up with a few ways to stay sane, in business and life in general.

Head them off before it even starts.

Are there times I could really use some money? Yes. Is there ever a moment where I will consider working with someone who will be unreasonable? No. Because the second you say yes to that crazy person, something legitimate you actually want to do presents itself. And you can’t do it… because you agreed to work with Mr. or Ms. CrazyFace.

As with anything, the easiest thing to do is avoid working with control freaks to begin with.

What are some telltale signs someone is going to be a control freak?

  • Very focused on hours, right up front. Listen, I get that you want to get how much something costs but it’s the equivalent of asking me to go steady on a first date. Can we exchange some information first? 
  • Seems very particular but won’t offer specifics. They say they know what they want but when you ask them one or two basic questions (Have you looked into what software you want to use? When customers get to your website, what is the three things you want them to do?), they have no answers. Bonus points if this person thinks you are pumping them for information so as to ‘steal’ their multimillion dollar idea.
  • They can’t find anyone to work with them. “My graphics person took another job then my web designer moved away. And what’s weird is my freelance writer won’t return my phone calls.” One flaky person in someone’s life, I totally understand. Multiple people flaking and you should probably wonder why everyone is running away.

How do you subtly tell these people ‘no’ without saying no:

  • Force them to focus on what they specifically want before you speak with them again. ‘I’d love to see a list of criteria you see needing to be fulfilled during this project.’ Control freaks are often secretly insecure people who might not know how to answer this… and might not contact you back. 
  • Tell them you have a full plate and aren’t starting new projects for 2-3 months. If they want to wait, at least you know they are committed to working with you. Chances are if they want someone to boss around now, they will go find that other person.
  • Help them do it themselves. I’ve noticed people are less likely to boss themselves around then other people so letting them do it can be a good workaround.

So let’s say you head off the majority of control freaks (like we do). What happens if you find yourself working with one anyway? Here are a few tactics I’ve learned:

Force them to list everything and give it to you at once.

This does two things besides give you a bit of breathing room.

The first is it forces people to see how often they change their minds or how accidentally contradictory they are being. I want a modern website but I really want you to use this old timey font. I want my hairstyle to be edgy but I want it to look natural. By putting all ideas together and having a conversation, we can get to the heart of what the person really wants, an old timey looking website with bright colors, or a hairstyle of natural blonde highlights with chunky layers. Had they not listed out everything, we wouldn’t have gotten to that place where they could be happy.

The second is it’s usually easier to do batch changes, especially when they might need to be done in a certain order. If you have a list of things you want done to your website, it is much easier for us to log in and do them at once. This is partially a ‘while we’re at it’ issue and partially because one thing might effect other things you want done and therefore the order we should do them in. Ex: You want new kitchen cabinets and counters, you need to decide what you want for both before your whole kitchen gets ripped out so that as the bottom cabinets get built, they can accommodate your countertop.

Divert their energy to something useful.

If someone has a lot of energy they need to direct at a project but I need time to, say, work on the project, I need to give the client something constructive to do to help. For example, pick out the 50 best pictures for a slideshow of images. Or have them research x, y, and z to see which solution will work best for them so you can implement it.

This actually helps the project move forward and gives the person some decisions to make that have a direct impact. I like these kind of control freaks since they make my life easier by making some decisions I’d otherwise be making!

Know where it’s coming from. 

Sometimes, people are used to treating people badly to get what they want. These people are called rude, and it is important to not let rude people treat you in a rude way.

Ruling out the fact the person is an irredeemable jerkface (few people are), know where the control freak is coming from. Are they under the gun with a deadline? Did they have a bad experience with a different service provider and are now skiddish with you? Knowing where someone is coming from lets you put up with a certain amount of crazy (at least it does with me). Realizing it’s not personal is a huge burden lifted so get to the root of the controlling nature if you can. The best way to do this is to have conversations and get the person to trust you over time.

In short, control freaks are a lot like you and me: they want something great and they want to control the outcome of their lives. Give them things to do to help the project, make them outline all concerns up front and be patient with them. Control freaks help us think of new ways to work and can uncover unknown issues, so be thankful on a certain level this person is in your life… and will be back out of it when the project is finished.

How To Handle Tragedy On Social Media

So when something crappy happens, what are we supposed to do online? The same things we do offline actually. Here’s what I’m talking about.

There was a historically huge Bangladesh factory collapse that killed over 1,000 people recently. My friend David posted a link from The Village Voice showing a screenshot of Joe Fresh, the retailer’s homepage, after the body count was posted:

joe_fresh2

OK so this is kind of ridiculous. Should Joe Fresh have done a bit more considering this was their factory? I think so.

Now posting a small condolence message is not quite the same as:

Epicurious-Tweets

So this second instance of a brand handling a tragedy got A LOT more negative feedback on social media then the first one. Probably for a couple reasons:

  • For better or for worse, people seem a lot more sensitive about US-based tragedies. That said, it’s important to mention what is happening overseas in some cases so please mention something even if it seems far away… just know a US-based audience will react to a US-based tragedy more strongly as a general rule.
  • Acknowledge the tragedy if you want, especially if it affects your company.
  • If you go the acknowledge a tragedy route, don’t try to sell to people.
  • You can ignore a tragedy (without any or many negative consequences) if it has nothing to do with your business.
  • If you schedule social media updates ahead and something bad happens, skim your scheduled updates of accidentally offensive content. (Ex: There is a huge fire in your city and you have a post scheduled to go out called ‘Sell like your store is on fire.’ with a link to your latest blog post. Yeah, you might want to change that.)

In other words, you can’t be selling your stuff and be mournful at the same time. Your customers will think it’s kind of weird and creepy. And if you go the ‘we’re a sensitive company’ route, be prepared to wait a respectful amount of time before returning to your regularly scheduled program.

Want to read other opinions on this subject? Check out:

http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/Can_companies_ignore_their_way_out_of_social_media_14329.aspx

http://www.enveritasgroup.com/2013/04/26/when-tragedy-strikes-how-does-social-media-respond/

http://holtz.com/blog/crisis-communication/the-conundrum-of-being-a-non-u.s.-company-when-tragedy-strikes-the-u.s/4103/

Hiring Someone To Write Your Blog: The If, The Why, and The How

Many people are surprised when I tell them we ghost write for other blogs. Despite the fact that this blog is fun and kicky, we can be serious when we need to be. Some of our clients have been tech companies (since we have that knowledge anyway), some are just regular businesses.

Many people know that a blog is great for SEO and building authority. So the natural decision to make at this point is: are you going to do it or pay someone else to?

There are a whole group of people who think blogging can and should be handled within your company.


Why Your Blog Could Be Handled Within Your Company

1) Someone in your company knows what’s going on. A content writer is not in your business so they can’t know close to everything that is going on like someone who is there 40 hours a week.

2) Someone in your company can write. Yes, most people graduate high school being able to string sentences together… and some people have a real talent for it.

3) The same person who can write has free time. You can probably think of idle times in your schedule (or an employee’s schedule) and have the thought ‘Hey, maybe I/they can crank out a blog!’

There are a few reasons though why you may hire people like us to coordinate your blog, write part of it for you, or write the entire thing for you.


Why Your Blog Could Be Handled By A Content Writer/Marketer/SEO Person

1) Content writers are lay people. Chances are your customer won’t care and, most importantly, won’t understand fancy jargon. Someone who can explain things about your business in a way your customers understand and enjoy can be worth some money.

2) Content writers are good writers. Someone who understands how to write for the web and how to write concise blog posts that are both interesting to read and written in the voice of your company will leave website visitors with a good impression.

3) Content writers get the SEO stuff. There is a bit more to blogs than the writing part. It’s part specialized data entry, part understanding how blogs work in the bigger picture of website traffic. You need to  know about the following to do it well:

  • using tags
  • interlinking to previous blog posts
  • how to find, use, and cite legal images in a blog post
  • how to write a grabbing headline that has keywords in it
  • proper formatting for easy reading and search engines
  • and more!

4) Content writers are fast. These people look at websites all day so we should be fast. They’ll work at least twice as quickly as your employee doing the same thing. (I’d be slow trying to ring up a customers purchases at your cash register since I have no idea what I’m doing in that situation!)

In other words, you have options. You don’t have to write the blog yourself! You can have a blog for your business and have someone else write it!

Even if you do hand this off, as the person driving this train (re: your business), you will need to set the person helping you (and your blog) up for success.


How You Can Set Up A Blogger For Success Who Isn’t You

  • A blog site

You’ll need to understand a bit on how your website works to understand if you’ll be able to blog on your current site or if you need to set up something on another domain that links to your site. Talking to a web person is worth it at this stage, mainly because you don’t want to build this blog up (and links coming into it) only to have to move it later. (I have moved my blog three times, trust me, don’t do this to yourself!)

If you are on the fence on the blogging thing, set up a free account on Wordpress.com and try it for a month. If you like it, you can move it to a Wordpress self hosted site by the Import/Export functions under ‘Tools’ without much trouble. All this to say, to blog you’ll need a place to blog. It may be worth it to have the employee you plan to blog with sit down with your web designer for some training on the software.

  • A regular publication schedule 

Whether you are going to publish every Monday or every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, establish this with the person you plan to work with. They are going to be limited by time constraints (like everyone!) and they need to know what is expected. For an employee that’s new to this, allow 3-4 hours per blog post (start off with 4 hours and as the person gets the hang of it, the time will be less). Remember a blog post isn’t sitting and writing: they may need time to contact information sources and do research in addition to the actual writing part.

If you are hiring a content writer, have them create a proposal of what you can expect from them in terms of content and publication schedule. (Note: content writers work much faster than your employee who is not a full time writer. It’s not fair to your employee to think otherwise!)

  • Sources for images

Whether you have a company Flickr gallery, an account with iStockphoto, or just a Dropbox folder where everyone puts in images, make sure whoever is writing the blog has access to this resource. They will need them for blog posts (blog posts with images are much more widely read, and having images has other benefits).

If you are creating the images, make sure to name the files something useful (like the name of the person in the photo). This way, the writer will be able to use the images appropriately and generate captions.

  • Topic structure and leads

Usually at a blog client kick off meeting, we figure out a general topic posting schedule. For example, Mondays are going to be interviews with our suppliers. Here are the questions we’d like to ask them and here is the contact information of some people to start with in terms of the first four interviews. Thursdays are going to be a product review. Donna will email you a list of new products for this season. Here’s a sample review I wrote to kind of give you an idea of what we are looking for on Thursdays…

A ridiculous level of detail? Maybe. But you don’t want your blog writer to stare at the blinking cursor and think ‘What should I write today?’ Having a structure will force ideas for days there are none and give a structure for the writer to work within and make sure the blog stays on topics you want it to be on.

Sometimes people do is hire a content writer to set up a structure for the staff blogger to follow. Give it a month and if it’s not working, you can always change it… but at least it’s a place for the blog to go day to day and week to week, especially those first few months.

  • Access to social media

The best thing to do after you blog? Be able to promote it! If your company has a Facebook page or Twitter account, give this person access so they can promote their posts. Sure you can have it set up so posts automatically go out but letting your writer go onto the social network and respond to comments, share it on their profile, and more means you’ll get way more bang for your buck.

  • Autonomy

By all means, check the first few blog posts before they go online… But nothing will slow down your company’s blogging quite like the bottleneck you will become if this keeps happening. Trust your people to do a good job (and by all means read the blog when it’s online!) but after an initial period of training, let your content writer run with it.


How Do I Find Content Writers?

So you’ve gathered above that while paying an hourly or salary employee to blog is cheaper for you per hour than having a writer do it… but it will also take them at least twice as long as someone just figuring it out. How can you find someone to help your employee get started or to do this for you?

Read blogs.

By reading blogs, you will find bloggers whose style you like. If you want to find someone local, do a Google blog search for local blogs in your area and see who’s writing. If you want someone who specializes in an industry, read blogs in those industries and certain names will emerge. These are good starting points.

Try LinkedIn.

Now that you have some names, look these people up on LinkedIn. Are they legit? Do other people recommend their blogging skills?

With LinkedIn's new skills endorsements, at a glance you can see that while you might not want me to fix your leaking faucet, you probably can trust me to blog for you.

With LinkedIn’s new skills endorsements, at a glance you can see that while you might not want me to fix your leaking faucet, you probably can trust me to blog for you.

You can ever search by skill on LinkedIn (blogging) so think of this site as a way to check someone’s references.

Problogger.net Job Board

If you want to be a bit more general about it all (‘I just want someone who wants the job’), try posting it on the Problogger job board. This is a highly regarded place in the online community to find legitimate paid blogging opportunities. (Well it’s as legitimate as Craigslist for finding an apartment… there are always scammy people but plenty of reputable people use it too.)

No matter the route you go, all bloggers should be able to provide writing samples to you and other pieces of information that can help you make your decision.

Like the rest of the world, you are more likely to find someone you already know for the job. That said, there is no reason you can’t go out and seek a content writer yourself if you don’t know any!
Does this seem like a bit of work? It always is to implement something new at first.
Will your employee need a bit more help then someone who does this all day? Of course.
But is it worth having a blog? This being my 897th entry, I might be a little biased when I say absolutely.

How To (Not) Run A Facebook Contest

“I know I’m not doing it legally but…”

I smile as my friend/small business owner confesses to not running an exactly legitimate Facebook contest. I like how I’m kind of a Facebook priest that people confess their sins to.

Now she’s totally right; I am willing to bet Facebook is not going to come after her relatively small page for running a Facebook contest that is against their rules.

(Facebook? Rules? Yes there are some:
https://www.facebook.com/page_guidelines.php)

The best way to follow the rules? Use an app to run your contest. I’ve used ShortStack for a photo contest (note there is no affiliate link there meaning I am getting exactly $0 to recommend them to you). It works great… and at $30/month for the two months we needed it, it was a great tool. If you look up ‘Facebook contest app’ you will no doubt find others that will work for your particular contest.

Now I see plenty of people trying to avoid this but here’s a couple of reasons why I think you should fork out some money and do your contest the right way.

1) Facebook rule compliance is automatic. 

Does reading fine print make your queasy? These contest apps have done that and created a way to hold contests that follows Facebook’s (often changing) rules. If you get in trouble, the app developer is going to get hauled into the trouble with you.

2) Your contest is confusing without an app. Trust me. 

Story time folks.

Our local vet ran a photo contest recently on Facebook. The photos with the most likes (one in the cat category and one in the dog category) won. So the first step was submitting the pictures, which were supposed to be emailed. Only some people posted them to the Facebook wall. Or forgot the date they had to submit them by.

Once that fiasco finished, there was the voting. So the picture in each category with the most ‘likes’ won. So few people ‘shared’ the picture of their cat/dog onto their personal profiles to get likes… but the likes from their friends (who were looking at a photo on the profile) did not count toward the total like count of the photo on the vet’s Facebook page. Also some people left comments without liking the photos, thinking a comment also counted as a vote.

Does this look like my dog being in a photo contest? Yeah, it doesn't to me either.  Is your Facebook contest equally unclear?

Does this look like my dog being in a photo contest? Yeah, it doesn’t to me either…and as you see, my friends are confused by it too. Is your Facebook contest equally unclear?

Do you want to confuse people at each stage of your contest?  No? Then get an app, it’ll automatically take care of a lot of these issues for you.

And literally just as I wrote this, I saw a post go by asking me to ‘like our banner’ to enter a contest. The status update itself had no image which led me to wonder: What banner? The cover image on your page? The photo you posted about the contest two weeks ago? I’m the local informal Facebook ‘priest’ as we have established earlier. So if I don’t get it, your people won’t either.

3) Customer service is way easier. 

Now let’s say you were running a photo contest like our vet friends. If I had set up a place were people could submit photos on their Facebook page and then made a deadline, I could simply say. ‘Go here to submit your photo’ and the submission page would automatically go away on the deadline. Then I could have made a voting page for each pet viewable on one screen. I could have restricted the votes by Facebook profile, IP address, etc. The act of voting (or not voting) would be very clear by using a ‘vote’ button. I can even make a rules page which as a link comes up when people are on the contest page.

Do you want to answer the same questions over and over? Yeah, us either. Having an app with everything findable within it will save you a lot of emailing and panicked messages.

4) People will like your page if you run a good contest, not if you coherse them. (This is just a me thing, you can legally run a contest that makes people like your page to participate.) 

If you make me like your page, spin on my head, share it with 16 friends, then vote, I’m not going to do it. But if you run a simple, organized straight-forward contest that people enjoy, guess who will like your page? Contest participants.

Now if you want to make them like your page to do it, that’s perfectly within Facebook rules. But I want someone to like me because they do, not because I made them. So a more creative contest might be submitting a photo or captioning a picture. Something creative that people want to share or otherwise be involved with.

So please do hold Facebook contests. The good ones make me laugh and give me hope in humanity. But do try to use a contest app. It’ll make your customers’ and your life easier for just a few bucks!

And as bonus reading, here’s another great article on this topic: http://allfacebook.com/4-mistakes-that-will-get-your-facebook-contest-shut-down_b111212

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