Here at Avalaunch Media we value the principle of giving back and championing good causes. We recently started a new initiative. Every year employees present a cause that is meaningful to them and how Avalaunch might be able to help out. Then our team votes on the charity or organization. Once we select someone, we work with them to plan a branding and marketing strategy.
Our first big project was Paws vs. Claws – which was a social media face off between cats and dogs. We partnered with NEADS (Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans) and The Humane Society of The United States, ultimately raising several thousand dollars that benefitted both organizations. Not only was it fulfilling to learn about the work these organizations do, it was a lot of fun.
While we are still in the process of selecting this year’s cause, we continue to do smaller projects. Our most recent partnership was spearheaded by our COO Jason Coulam, who recently completed his MBA while working here full time (congrats Jason, we know how much work it was!).
As part of a class project his team created the Utah Service Scholarship. The scholarship awards money to students to perform service in the community. His team needed to brand and market their idea so Avalaunch worked with them to create a logo, video and other visual and physical assets.
I’ve worked with website design clients now for over six years.
I’ve had some great partnerships and what I consider a lot of success.
However, from time to time I get reminded, usually the hard way, about simple details that can make or break a deal.
This post won’t be long but is a heads up to all website design firms (or wanna-be’s) and also to all clients looking to have a custom website built.
10 Tips to Save Everyone Time & Money with Web Design
PRICING PAINS: WARNING: the lower the price, the more the client usually “barks” or has unrealistic expectations. I’ve had clients who have paid into the $30 – $40,000 range for custom website design who have not complained one time. Sure, there is ongoing communication, but they understand that there are costs involved. Then I’ve had clients who paid less than $1,000 who have changed their mind, complained, wanted their money back, and so on… Why does this always seem to be the case in all industries?
DETAILED DO’s and DONT’s: The more detail you put into a proposal and contract, the better. Listing ALL the things you do and then crossing off the things they WON’T get for the quoted price is a good idea. This way they know that there is more that can be done but that they only get “X, Y, and Z”.
NOT YET, NO PROBLEM: If a client doesn’t know what they want, simply say “NOt yet. I use a website design preferences survey. I also share examples of work I’ve done. Make sure the client has a fairly clear picture of what they want before you sign on the dotted line.
TELL SHOW ME WHAT YOU MEAN: Have the client show you specific examples of what they want BEFORE you quote a price for them. This is similar to #3 but is taking it to the “next level”. They may think they know what they want in their mind; if they can show you and explain too, that’s only going to help.
CONSTANT COMPOSED COMMUNICATION: Take detailed notes and keep everything in writing. If you talk on the phone, record the details in an email and send to client right away to verify nothing was left out. Encourage clients to respond to all emails so there is open communication.
COMPETITIVE COMPARISONS: Encourage clients to get multiple bids so they can compare apples to apples. Even though to some this may sound absurd, it’s always good for clients who have never had a site built for them before to “test the waters” by getting multiple bids. Not only will this give them an accurate estimation of the real costs involved, but it will also help them see that you are giving them the best “bang for the buck” – or it will convince them that working with you isn’t good for either party.
TIMELINES = TRUST: Include timelines in the proposal, both for you the designer and for the client. I use a checklist format that details out what the client can expect and when. I also put a column for the client to see what I’ll expect from them. I’m adding the WHEN to what I expect from the client so that all parties are accountable.
TIME WILL ALWAYS TELL: When in doubt, wait it out: if the deal is going to work out, time will only make it better. Sure, you want to get things finalized and moving forward, but if any of the above options have been rushed, it will come back to bite you later on.
PROTECT YOUR PROPERTY: Have a clause in the contract that talks about guarantees, refunds, expectations, etc. Make sure it’s fair for all involved.
READ THIS TIP FIRST: Realize that the client is not always right but that if you follow the above practices, nine times out of ten it will work out. For that one percent where it doesn’t work out, still follow the above practices.
I appreciate my clients and hope these tips and suggestions will show them that I’m not about “taking their money” and running.
I value quality work.
I value long-term business relationships.
I’ve seen the effects of companies who don’t follow these practices.
When building a new website, or rebuilding an old website, you’ll want to try and establish your brand so that you can be identified as unique in your market. Doing this is not always easy, and depending on your market it can be very difficult. Whenever I’m involved in a build or brand project I try to follow these points below to help me along the way to hopefully building a great brand that can be conveyed through the web design, functionality, etc.
Domain Name – Choosing a great domain name can be difficult to do, especially when so many are taken already. This domain name will most likely be your company name so that adds to the importance of this name. I suggest keeping it short and simple and don’t be afraid to using something that plainly describes what you do. Example: www.bestballroomshoes.com.
Color Selection – You want to choose colors that in most cases are complimentary and there are many tools on the web to help with this. Find a color wheel to help with your selection and don’t forget that colors can create emotions as well, so maybe read up on color theories, etc. Also, if you are an ecommerce business, choose white as your background color. Check out http://www.wellstyled.com for a couple great color tools.
Logo – Keep your logo simple. Don’t try to include images of people in the logo, or technical photo’s etc. You want your logo to be strong and simple and convey to your audience the kind of business you are. In most cases you’ll want to hire a professional to help with this step if you don’t have someone in-house.
Come up with a catchy slogan or tag line that you can use on your website, business cards, ads, etc. that will help keep your business jumping back into your customer’s mind when given the chance.
Determine if you want to brand your business as a family owned business, or take a more corporate approach. Look at Coca Cola vs. Jones Soda for example. Same industry, very different brands…although I do realize Coca Cola is one of the most successful brands ever created.
Make use of your About Us page – this is a great place for you to help define your brand as your customers read about who you are and what got you into the business of X.
Don’t forget about the little old favicon. The favicon can often get missed when building a new website. Make up a favicon and use it.
Hopefully these tips are helpful. If you have any suggestions please share them. Thanks.
If you have ever owned your own website or blog, been in charge of development for a company, or programmed in dev for a company, I’m sure you have spent and currently spend a lot of time dealing with the questions of, what’s the best platform to build X website, blog, or feature on? I know I have spend many a hour in a room with my teams trying to decide the answer to that exact question over and over again. I also know that the answer to that question can depend greatly on the skills and budget you have available as a company or individual. Is it best to use Drupal vs. Joomla, or WordPress vs, TypePad, etc.?
In an effort to answer these questions for my readers I called on an old friend of mine, Brandon Buttars to give his take on some of the open source solutions in the market today and to get his thoughts on a few other issues. Brandon and I have been friends for nearly 10 years and I fully believe he is one of the most skilled designers/developers out there. Brandon and I have worked together on many projects and Brandon currently is the Drupal Theming Specialist and Web Designer at Odin Development, and runs his own free lance design business at SmoothDZion.
I conducted my interview with Brandon on instant messenger. You can read the entire interview below with zero edits (for your reading pleasure). Brandon shares some great insight into Drupal, WordPress, and a few other things.
Andrew (GTalk) 12:09
How long have you been doing web design?
Brandon Buttars (GTalk) 12:10
I started in 1998 just after high school. My first site I used FrontPage (nasty).
I’ve changed as the industry has changed over the last 10+ years
I’ve got from completed coded sites to database driven CSS. I’ve also jumped around from different open source projects.
“database driven CMS’s”
sorry. i’m a designer not a writer.
Andrew (GTalk) 12:12
Tell me about the companies you work for now, your own and Odin and what you and they specialize in?
Brandon Buttars (GTalk) 12:16
ODIN specializes in Drupal web development and customization. Often time sites change in look but the core functionality stays the same. Because of that we can save our clients thousands of dollars using Drupal as the framework we build on. It has a huge community of contributors along with an extensive theme engine that allows you to make things look just about how ever you want them to look.
SMOOTHDZION was a company I started up in about 2002 when I found myself doing a lot of simple websites. It has evolved into much more now but the primary focus that SMOOTHDZION has always had is simple. WordPress has always been my platform of choice when it comes to the simple because you have to think of the user and how easy is it going to be for them to use. WordPress has an intuitive interface that just about anyone can catch onto and figure out. It also has a huge community of contributors and a site can be deployed very rapidly if the client knows and has documented what they want it to do and say.
I’ve always migrated to the Open Source communities because I’ve never been a “Programmer”, I’ve always been the guy that makes things look good. My focus and specialty is graphic design, HTML, and CSS. I also try and focus as much as possible on the search engine in my coding and design.
Andrew (GTalk) 12:21
that is great, thanks
Brandon Buttars (GTalk) 12:21
Andrew (GTalk) 12:22
so what open source programs do you find work best?
Brandon Buttars (GTalk) 12:26
i’ve always looked for the open source programs that are built on open source frameworks like php and apache and mysql because they seem to progress much more and seem to have less limitations. I also look for the ones that tend to be more search engine friendly when creating content and code. I started with Joomla but have ended up with WordPress and Drupal. The search engine really seems to take to those projects and the community seems to always have the search engine in mind as the projects are developed. There are others but if a project doesn’t grab me by it’s ease of use, interface, or featureset I’m usually quick to abandon it. I like Drupal because of how on top of things they seem to be, the way it’s module integrate with on another, and Drupal is also backed by some pretty good money and a company called Acquia which gives you commercial support if you want it.
If you are blogging, WordPress.
If you are going to do anything else, Drupal.
Andrew (GTalk) 12:27
So Drupal is basically the best solution outside of WordPress for blogging?
Brandon Buttars (GTalk) 12:27
There are certain situations that an open source project might not fit. You just have to realize you may have to build a custom application if none of the project will work for you.
Drupal is great for blogging too, but wordpress for a single blogger works best.
Andrew (GTalk) 12:28
Compare Drupal to say Joomla, what makes Drupal better? Top 3-5 things?
Brandon Buttars (GTalk) 12:28
If you are going to have a team of bloggers and create a site that has multiple blogs I would recommend Drupal.
It’s much more stable. I haven’t used Joomla much lately but I was talking to one of my friends who has and he had Joomla crash on him 3 times last week. Drupal has never done that in my experience. Joomla did quite often as I used it and I have a friend who’s site is unaccessible right now because Joomla stopped working on him.
The api and framework of Drupal is much more easier for integrations with outside projects and other modules. It’s amazing how many modules have been built for Drupal that are dependent on other modules. This allows for the community to embark on separate projects and come together with all the projects rather than focusing on one big project at a time. That actually moves the community forward much faster from my perspective.
Andrew (GTalk) 12:33
and what do you think are the top features of WordPress that set it apart?
Brandon Buttars (GTalk) 12:37
Ease of use. Built very search engine friendly. It has a much less complex backend. The fact that so many people use it and that they actually have a wordpress.com community testing their product every day I think helps it quite a bit. I’m somewhat partial to WordPress because it was probably the first blogging platform that made sense to me when I used it, but also gave me the ability to do what I wanted with it. The simplicity of the database is a big one also. Drupal’s database has quite a few tables in it. WordPress has around 10 tables in it.
That’s why I guess I recommend WordPress because of it’s simplicity. But if you decide you are going to try and do much more with it you’ll end up eliminating the main reason you probably ended up choosing it, it’s simplicity. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) explains an untainted WordPress install to a T. If you are keeping it simple keep it simple with wordpress.
Andrew (GTalk) 12:40
that is great input, thanks.
Brandon Buttars (GTalk) 12:40
Andrew (GTalk) 12:40
if someone wanted to have you design a custom wordpress template for them, how could they reach you?
Brandon Buttars (GTalk) 12:42
Best thing to do is to contact me at http://www.smoothdzion.com/contact and give me as much detail as possible. I’ll filter your needs and recommend what I feel fits your situation.
Andrew (GTalk) 12:44
One last question: Name your top 3 resource websites for designers like yourself…what sites are helpful for you?
Just a friendly reminder for those who run businesses online – Go and make sure all of your information is up to date and current on your website. One of my biggest pet peeves and reasons I will move onto the next site, is when I see something out of date on a site. (By the way – all of the changes that need to be made on my sites are in the works) You look more legit, and people feel more comfortable giving you their credit card information when they feel there is someone manning the shop.
5 Things You Need To Make Sure and DO:
Update the Sites Copyright Date
Update or removed (whichever is appropriate) Promo Codes listed on site
Any Banners that may be dated
Contact info – now is as good of time as any to check it and make sure its all up to date like phone numbers, email addresses and mailing addresses.
Do a site wide analysis of all pages, and take the time to double check that all is working as it should.
Yes, even the small and simple things as listed above can do great things for your business. Just remember this is your online store and image. If you owned an offline store, you wouldn’t keep the window painted for Christmas when you are trying to promote Valentines Day – right?
Today is a guest post: I was able to nail him down, and interview web developer Doug Justice, who runs a Gilbert Web Design company here in Arizona. I appreciate Doug taking the time to answer some questions about making a web site convert better. I have been getting lots of web design and conversion questions lately and I wanted to get answers from IMO, one of the best in the web development industry.
A former computer programmer for Siemens Health Systems, Doug’s expertise in the web development and design industry has allowed him to complete simple web design site face-lifts to developing large scale applications for title insurance companies and Convention & Visitors Bureaus across the country. His number one rule is to design a website or an application with the end user in mind, since if the end user can’t figure out what it is you are trying to have them do on your website or web application, then your website will never achieve the success you would like it to.
Tips For A Better Converting Web Site:
Me: From your experience, what design elements make a better converting site?
Doug: A site that works first of all. You also need to have good navigation links available for the user to get to where they need to go, and by design the site to “lead” the user from point A to point B is also very critical. Next a good color scheme and design that catches your users’ eye and is not just a page with hundred’s of ads or just words is one of the most important keys to a well-converting site.
Me: What are some web design tips that you would give a new to Internet business owner?
Doug: First of all, do your research and make sure that you have a good product at the right price. Then make sure your users can go from searching for the products or services on your website to either your checkout page or contact page (if services based)…in other words….make sure your website works. Finally, make sure your website has a “professional” look and appearance to it so the user feels as though you’ve put some thought into the site and want them to feel comfortable about their purchase of products or services from your website. I mention the design aspect last simply because you can go to Craig’s List and it’s about the simplest looking site ever on the face of the earth….but it works well…people know how to get their products sold or purchased, etc.
Me: What do you wish clients understood about the web design process?
Doug: I’d have to say understanding how a web development company operates with multiple clients is first and foremost. We at Justice Solutions want each of our customers to feel as though they have our ears whenever they need us, however the reality is that in order to offer services at reasonable prices also means that we need multiple customers to stay in business. So with multiple customers means multiple timelines and if something is thrown off by even the slightest of delays by one client…the chain reaction that can cause is huge. If there was a close 2nd that I wish clients would understand is that with so many variations of browsers and computer configurations and operating systems out there, sometimes you will run into situations where we just can’t replicate what another user reported happened on the application or site. We’ll try as best we can, but sometimes even the end user’s ISP (internet service provider) installs software which physically blocks some applications we need in order to run the website. We hate saying, “It’s not us”, but sometimes it really isn’t something we can control.
Me: Does proper site branding (ie Logos, Colors, Banners, Images etc.) help with the sites conversion rate?
Doug: Definitely. Let’s take 2 sites who each have the same product and the same price. If you go to the first one and it looks unprofessional…..colors don’t seem to match, different fonts are used all over the place…even in mid sentence, you may say, “Ok….good prices…but let me still check for some other stores who may have this product.”. Now they go to a site which has a great layout, good color theming to it….well branded with a professional looking logo, etc. and now they notice it’s the same price as the other, unprofessional site. Which would you choose?
Me: Anything else (other web design tips) I missed that might help someone create a better converting site?
Doug: I think keeping a finger on the pulse of your site is really a major key to having a successful site that converts. By that I mean making sure you have a good site traffic software where you can see where your users are coming into the site and where they leave from. Tracking shopping cart abandonment rates is huge as well…but pay attention to what they are putting in their carts. If you see people putting certain items in their cart and converting…but then notice that other products are being placed into the cart and not purchased, you could have a problem with the pricing of that item….or maybe a shipping cost issue, etc. Finally springing for live chats is well worth the minimal cost those companies who offer those site plugins normally charge per month. If you’re a small business owner and you’re really looking to increase your conversions….watching the users and being there to answer their questions right when they’re at that moment to purchase can really help convert your sales.
Conclusion on Interview/Guest Post
I would like to thank Doug again for taking the time to guest post, and answer some questions that I have been seeing asked a lot more frequently as of late (especially to me personally from readers). He’s brand new to Twitter, but promises to keep his new account jam packed with updates, and tips from the web development industry. Feel free to subscribe to his web development blog, where he already shares a wealth of information.