Anatomy 101: Using Stock Photos

Anatomy 101: Using Stock Photos

When it comes to your site, a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Many clients want to use imagery on the site to emphasize their point, but aren't sure what resources are available or how to pick the right photo, illustration, or artwork. Here are a few questions to keep in mind when choosing photos.

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Choosing the Right Platform (Part 1)

Choosing the Right Platform (Part 1)

When it comes to technology, many clients ask me about the advantages of one platform over another. Often, they're focused on one platform or they read somewhere that one platform is better than the other. I'm here to dispel some of the myths and offer some advice on how to pick the best technologies to launch your next idea.

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Anatomy 101: Bringing Your Content to Life

Anatomy 101: Bringing Your Content to Life

When we're working with clients on their Web site, they often have an idea of their message but may not know the best way to present that content in a way that engages their customers. Sometimes its the content itself that isn't compelling, other times its simply how that content is presented.

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The 2 Signs You're Ready for a Mobile App

The 2 Signs You're Ready for a Mobile App

In my networking circles, many business owners tell me they want an app. When I ask what they want the app to do they are, more often than not, uncertain. Mobile apps are the hot new commodity, but are a considerable investment and just having one isn't enough. If you don't yet have a mobile Web site, developing an app is certainly getting ahead of yourself. Before jumping in with both feet, you can save a lot time (and money) by doing some up-front planning and strategy to deliver an experience your customers will love and use.

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Four Alternatives to a Home Page Slider

Four Alternatives to a Home Page Slider

I recently came across an interesting article about the seven deadly sins of Web design. One element in particular got me thinking (not just because we were using it on our own site): the slider. Most sites you see on the Web have rotating panels on the landing page. It's a popular way to present a variety of information, right? According the article yes, but also ineffective. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of alternative examples out there. Well, look no further because we've got a few options for you.

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Anatomy 101: Keeping the Applications Running

Anatomy 101: Keeping the Applications Running

Once an application is finished and you're using it, that's all there is to it, right? Doubtful. Technology changes quickly and some issues don't show up until after the application has been live for days, months or even years. Recently, we started troubleshooting resource alarms on a client's production application and discovered some underlying issues that didn't begin to appear until the system had over a thousand users managing hundreds of thousands of unique data elements.

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How to Host Your Web Site

How to Host Your Web Site

There are plenty of options out there and most business owners rely on their technology team to make that decision. While it's certainly a good idea to take their advice into account, the decision about where to host the site should really be in your hands. If you don't have an in-house Web team, your resources may change, but you need consistency when it comes to your site. Make sure you have some control over the hosting and make sure you know the requirements of your Web site.

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Three Signs it Might Not be the Right Developer

Three Signs it Might Not be the Right Developer

Too often, I meet people who started a project with another designer or developer and have spent a lot of money and still aren't happy with the result (or haven't even seen a result). Business owners are great at what they do: running their business. If they don't have a background in Web technologies and digital marketing practices, it's hard to figure out who to listen to. So, here are three phrases that should be red flags and trigger a deeper evaluation of the individual or company you're interviewing to create your Web site.

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The Difference Between Design and Development

The Difference Between Design and Development

When it comes to a digital presence, you want to look good and your first instinct is to find a great Web designer. After all, you're not writing software, so why would you want a developer? As I network with other businesses, I find they tend to fall into two camps: they either believe Web designers are the same as Web developers or they think a Web developer can only write code and can't create a Web site. Well, I'm here to set the record straight.

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Anatomy 101: Process Behind the Project

Anatomy 101: Process Behind the Project

When it comes to solving our client's business challenges with software, there's a lot that has to happen to make it a reality. The first stage is the proposal and we want our estimate to be as accurate as possible so the client can plan accordingly. To that end, when planning out a custom solution, we focus on four key items: keeping the timeline short, prioritizing features, talking about our client's problems, and talking about the end result

KEEPING THE TIMELINE SHORT

When creating a custom solution, whether it's for employees to use in back-office management tasks or for a customer service channel, we plan to produce the minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP will implement only the core functionality of the software with minimal "bells and whistles" so that a solution can be in place as quickly as possible. If a challenge facing our client means they will cease to exist in 6 months without it, including all the extras and producing the final version in 5-7 months won't help. Our goal is to have an MVP complete and implemented in three months or less.

TALK ABOUT YOUR PROBLEMS

Where our clients see problems, we see challenges and a puzzle to be solved. Like a good psychiatrist, we're great listeners and encourage our clients to tell us about the problems they're facing in their business. Hearing these challenges gives us one piece of the puzzle and some insight into what doesn't currently work, narrowing down the options on our way to a viable solution.

PRIORITIZE FEATURES & STICK TO IT

In order to keep the timeline short and solve the puzzle, priorities need to be set. Lots of ideas will come up during the initial brainstorming and we'll need to transform these into features so they can be prioritized. Once this is done and a plan has been put together, any ideas that come up during the project should be evaluated through this lens. Many times, a new idea can just as easily be added during a future enhancement project rather than disrupting the current momentum toward a solution.

TALK ABOUT THE END RESULT

Prioritizing features and knowing the challenges our clients face is just one part of getting to a solution. Second only to knowing and understanding the problem is knowing the desired outcome of a business process. It could be an email that is triggered, a work order that is created, or an order that is shipped, but that outcome is the other end of the process that our solution will manage. Everything in between will be handled by the software in some way.

Addressing these four items provides the most insight into how we can help our clients. From this information we can propose an appropriate solution and begin devising the architecture of the solution's components.

First Rule of Marketing: Show Up

Marketing products and marketing services each require two very different approaches. In the former, your customers get something tangible that they can hold in their hands and evaluate quantitatively. The latter is more subjective and your customers must rely on qualitative criteria to determine if they will give you a good or bad review. When it comes to services, people buy from people they like. Seeing your face plastered on a billboard or in an ad on a Web site, email, or newspaper isn't going to have as much sway with them. Which brings me to this headline and the fact that the first rule is to just show up.

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Customer Relationship Management for the Solopreneur

Customer Relationship Management for the Solopreneur

I've been getting a lot of questions about CRM (Customer Relationship Management) applications lately and, not having found the right solution for myself just yet, I wanted to pass on some ways to make it easier to keep up with projects and opportunities. It seems like most of the CRMs that are available are are cost-prohibitive for small businesses. It is possible to bring together a number of different services and keep the costs down, but my goal here is to find a CRM which is both easy to use and offers the tools available to enterprise users, but is still affordable to the solo consultant or small business.

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Anatomy 101: What Do You Do?

Since founding Sol Minion Development, I've been to dozens of networking events. Each time, the same question came up: "So, what do you do?" There's plenty of ways to answer this question and plenty of techniques. I've tried several of them, but it's hard to define what we do succinctly. After a little over two years and using the "Twitter Approach", I whittled it down: We solve business challenges using software. The challenges could be just about anything, from marketing to operations to customer service, but it's all solved in some way by software. So, what do you do?

Here are three examples of challenges faced by many businesses that we can help overcome.

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Marketing Made Easy(ier)

Marketing Made Easy(ier)

As someone in the industry, I know that content is king. I hear it daily. I also know that I don't have an enterprise-level marketing budget, but need to routinely take care of some menial marketing tasks - tasks which take time, but really don't have to. Email newsletters and social media are two marketing channels which integrate well with your Web site, drive traffic, and keeps your business in front of your customers.

It takes time to create content once and there's no reason you can't grab that content from your site and send it out. But you certainly don't want to copy and paste it all yourself when there are tools in MailChimp which can take care of it automatically.

1. RSS-DRIVEN CAMPAIGNS.

RSS, short for Really Simple Syndication, serves up a list of content on demand. Most of the time these go into some RSS reader (either Web-based or App-based - I like Feedly), but you can also create RSS-Driven Campaigns in MailChimp. It checks the RSS feed you set up for the campaign automatically, you just have to set the schedule. When there are new blog posts, an email campaign is sent out to your list. It's important to coordinate the email marketing schedule with your publishing schedule, but it provides an easy way to send out your blog posts automatically. RSS feeds can be created for Joomlaarticles, but if you're using a blogging component extension, such as EasyBlog, it's built in. You can even set up separate campaigns for individual bloggers by creating an RSS-Driven Campaign pointing at the feed for that blogger's posts.

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3 Questions Clingy Customers Want Answered

3 Questions Clingy Customers Want Answered

What's the first thing people see when they look you or your business up business online? Your Web site's home page should seek out and grab hold of clingy customers, not repel them like Bounce does static. If Google is saying you bounce too much, there are some ways to reduce it. When someone lands on your site and can't find some compelling reasons to stick around right away, they're gone (or they "bounce") and you probably won't see them again. When it comes to landing pages, it's vital to immediately answer three questions: "who are you", "what do you do", and "who says so".

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Why Does Open Source Software Matter to You?

I've talked about development projects and how we create customized, proprietary software for our clients. We do that by leveraging the open source software community which lets us build great software faster and with widely-used libraries that are designed to be reused and, as such, are tested quite thoroughly. Open source benefits our clients in three very important ways: better quality, shorter timelines, and lower costs.

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3 Great Tools to Research Keywords

3 Great Tools to Research Keywords

When it comes to SEO and marketing online, we're all subject to the whim of the search engines. One of the biggest struggles for any marketer is knowing what keywords to use, where their site ranks, and what similar keywords might also be useful. Here are three tools available that can give any marketer some extra insight.

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3 Common Misconceptions About Web Development

3 Common Misconceptions About Web Development

Let's face it, when it comes to Web design and development, most business owners just know they need it. It's all a big mystery what their designers and/or developers do every day to market and build a client's brand identity online. There are often misconceptions about the benefits we provide to businesses and, as a business owner, it's important to understand them so you get the best outcome for your project.

Here are the three most common misconceptions I've come across while networking.

1. "IT CAN'T BE THAT HARD!"

This usually comes up when asked for a "ball park" estimate for a project, but there are two things to bear in mind when asking to have a project done. First, what is your time worth and how long would it take you to deliver what you are requesting from your developer - time that would certainly be better spent doing what you're best at, running your business. Second, consider that by hiring a developer, you get not only their expertise, but also the tools that you would otherwise need to purchase for yourself or an internal development team to complete the same job. Anyone can swing a hammer, but it takes a craftsman (these days a whole team of craftsmen) to build a house that can stand.

2. "I SAW SOMEONE ON GURU.COM/ODESK/ELANCE CHARGING $20 AN HOUR, CAN YOU MATCH THAT?"

We have hourly rates that surprise many people and the simple answer is no. Sure, you can find someone on a freelancer site that is less expensive, but often times they're not local ($20 an hour is a small fortune in some countries), so having a face-to-face is difficult (if not impossible). You're effectively outsourcing to another country, which means if something goes awry with the developer, there isn't any legal recourse. A common problem with outsourcing development is getting what you asked for - then seeing the exact same thing pop up on a competitor site (with perhaps some colors or a logo switched out). You are paying professionals for their expertise as well as the product they deliver, whether it's a Web site or some kind of application, and it is a business asset. You should make sure that you are receiving exclusive intellectual property rights to the product you've paid to have created.

3. SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT IS A ONE-TIME FEE.

You are commissioning a product that will need to be maintained over time. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not perfect. Even after an application is implemented, something will come that got past us, our QA team, and our client. Perhaps your customers are even requesting new features. When creating a custom application, keep in mind that you are creating a product that will ultimately become an asset for your business. As such, you own retain full ownership of the application, including maintenance. Once any warranty period passes (check with your developer for the specific timeframe), you should consider setting up a maintenance plan with them to handle upkeep and improvements long-term.

SUMMARY

Software developers have honed their craft, probably over years, to achieve their level of expertise. You wouldn't go to a doctor and ask them to treat you first so you can decide if you want to keep seeing them. Nor would you ask them to "give you a deal" or price match or give you a diagnosis after just one test - in some cases, it can take months and multiple visits to a doctor to determine what's wrong. The same is true with software developers - professionals who create tools that make it simpler for business owners to run their business.