Wednesday, January 21, 2009

So You Want to be on the Web?

My thanks to contributing author Chris Jones for this wonderful article and upcoming series:

Why the Web?

For many businesses the web is no longer a luxury but a business necessity. Most large businesses have learned, sometimes painfully, that they will not be taken seriously without some kind of web presence. Small businesses have discovered that the web can be a great equalizer, allowing their products and services to get in front of potential customers that might never have considered them before. But what about very small business? What about the sole proprietorships or the mom-and-pop stores? Should they be on the web? Should you?

The web can be a great tool and its potential for reaching large audiences quickly is unmatched. However, as with most tools, the web has its own rules. Rules that you will need to understand if you want to take full advantage of all that the web can provide.

This article will be the first in a series of short articles that will get you acquainted with the web, what it means to be on the web, and what it will require of you once you're there. We can’t possibly discuss all aspects of the web in these articles, but we hope to make you aware of the issues so that you can at least make informed decisions. Perhaps even more importantly, you will be knowledgeable enough to know what you don't know and to enlist the right kind of help before you get into trouble.

This first article will acquaint you with some of the most common issues you’ll face if you chose to go on the web. It will also start to acquaint you with common terminology that you’ll come across.

What Does it Mean to be on the Web?

Being on the Web means different things to different people. For some people it means having a simple, static web site while for others it means having a complete e-commerce solution. When we say “static web site,” we mean a site whose content does not change unless the site’s author changes it. In contrast “e-commerce sites” provide capabilities far beyond those of static web sites. Many e-commerce solutions include pieces of software, typically called modules, to help you manage inventory, facilitate user registration and tracking, and report on key business performance indicators. Regardless of whether you intend to use a static web site or an e-commerce solution, there are some points that you should keep in mind.

1. Think of your web presence as a very real extension of your core business. It needs constant care-and-feeding just as your in-person presence does. We’ve all seen examples of web sites that seem to be stale or stagnant because their content is old and out of date. Your business and the complexity of your site will dictate how much time you spend maintaining it. For instance, my web site, Black Hound Jewelry, requires a significant amount of maintenance from me per week because this is my sole retail outlet and I’m counting on it to drive my business. If your business is service-oriented or requires significant face-time with your customers, then a static web site, rather than an e-commerce site, may be a better choice for you simply because you won’t be able to use your site to conduct business in any meaningful way.

2. Plan for your site to be another monthly expense. We'll go into the details of where web sites come from and where they live in a later article, but for now you should know that there will be expenses involved in setting up and maintaining a site. For example, you’ll need to pay to have a company setup and run your site for you, a process called “hosting”. You may need to pay for special software to maintain the site. If you expect to conduct credit card transactions you should expect monthly fees for your hosting provider to supply you with the technology needed to support such transactions securely.

3. Plan to spend some time educating yourself about the web technologies on which your site is based. While you probably won’t ever want or need to become an expert on those technologies, you should at least understand some of the jargon so that you can have meaningful dialogs with any contractors you commission and so that you can better understand useful articles that you find on the web. In addition knowing the current technical trends may allow you to envision ways to use your web site to provide a better return-on-investment by directing more customers to you.

4. Plan to spend some money on contractors. If you’ve already dealt with contractors, then this requires that you learn what questions to ask. If you haven’t dealt with contractors before, then this will be a big learning experience for you. The reason for using contractors is simple: while working on the web is easier now than ever, there are still many technical specialities that you either won’t want to do for yourself or that you won’t be able to do yourself. After all, you still have your core business to run. Contractors can often complete tasks for you much more quickly and thoroughly than you can do yourself by virtue of their experience and expertise. As to what these contractors will cost you, it depends on the kind of contractor. Contracting for basic web site design is relatively low-cost compared to contracting someone to customize an e-commerce software package.

In this article we’ve tried to set your expectations that although the web can be a valuable tool, it’s by no means an exercise to be undertaken lightly. You should put as much due diligence into the decision about whether or not to go on the web that you put into your other major business decisions. In our next article we'll start to explore the process of locating a web hosting provider and how to evaluate what you’re getting for your money.

About Chris Jones
Chris Jones has over 15 years of IT experience developing web-based software for both the public and private sectors. He is the owner and artist of Black Hound Jewelry, an online retailer of custom chain maille jewelry. He has a Masters degree in Software Engineering from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois where he is also an adjunct faculty member teaching software development at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels. He is active in Greyhound rescue in the Chicagoland area.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Affirmative Action Plans - Website Goes Live

I have another new website design now uploaded and ready for surfers. This site was designed for Corporate Compliance Associates, Inc. in Ohio. Affirmative Actions Plans and Solutions for Single and Multiple Locations specializes in the technical compliance and education related to EEO and Affirmative Action issues at manufacturing, retail and service firms, as well as financial institutions and hospitals.

CCA primarily assists federal contractors with the development and implementation of Affirmative Action Plans, as well as with the successful completion of O.F.C.C.P. audits. Their client base ranges in size from small single-location companies to Fortune 500 establishments with multiple locations. See the pages on What is an Affirmative Action Plan? and Who Needs an AAP? for more information on Affirmative Action Plans and Corporate Compliance issues.

If you would like to see more websites by Cygnet Graphics Ltd, as well as samples of other Graphic Design Services, please visit: Kelli Swan’s Graphic Design and Marketing Services.

New Health and Wellness Site Goes Live

One of my newest website designs is now uploaded and active. This site was designed for Frank Personal Development in Ohio. Frank Personal Development - Health, Wellness and Integrative Living Solutions offers health and wellness products and services. Frank Personal Development is dedicated to helping you explore the approach or combination of healing approaches that best suits your needs and life situation.

While there are many methods of enhancing the health of the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual self, one element is common to all. That element is water. Water is key to all life forms and quality water is essential to good health. See the page on Ionized Water which covers this topic in depth. Also visit the pages on the Healing Mosaic which provide more information on the four bodies which comprise an individual.

If you would like to see more websites that I have designed, as well as samples of my other Graphic Design Services, please visit: Kelli Swan’s Graphic Design and Marketing Services.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Using Print-On-Demand Products for Marketing

Selling your logo or other artwork on products

In addition to my graphic design and e-marketing endeavors, I have a thriving fine art business in the medium of pencil drawing. Several years ago I found that putting my images on products was a great way to broaden the audience for my work. AND, through using a quality online print-on-demand source, I was able to increase traffic to my website.

It works like this: I set up a CafePress store and uploaded the images that I thought would do well on items like t-shirts, mugs and tote bags. While the store was somewhat time-consuming to set up, I have been quite happy with the ultimate results. (In the past couple of years CafePress has made tremendous improvements to their site, making it much easier to navigate and use.) The added benefit from an SEO standpoint is that I was able to add quality inbound links from my CafePress store to my primary Pencil Drawings of horses and dogs site.

The point is this - if a business or company has a logo it would like to reproduce on products (say for customer or employee gifts), it makes sense to use the online, print-on-demand store approach. That way, not only can the products be purchased in small quantities if desired, but the added e-marketing benefits of quality inbound links to a website can be reaped.

FYI - The most important part about selling images on products is the electronic image preparation. CafePress has many wonderful help pages. For more on preparing your images for reproduction on products, you may want to visit their Beginners Image Workshop.