Meetings – What to Take

Documents

I see young web designers always carry a laptop/tablet to meetings. What for?

I have loaded my portfolio onto a laptop with the idea that prospects will be able to browse through them. Or, I can quickly lay my hands on a specific example of the sort of website they might be wanting.

It doesn’t work. However, I still take the netbook to show that I am something to do with computers.

I used to print screengrabs of my portfolio and put them in transparent pockets. The screengrabs were printed on coated paper for colour density and simply glued on the page.

The folder of screengrabs always gets attention if you remember to leave it out on the table. And you can still lay your hands on that site.

DSCN1355Pic Folder

Lately, I upgraded the folder. I either printed my own postcard sized screengrabs or got them done at a Postnet. And stuck them on black card. And bought a plastic comb binder. And put a transparent sheet as the front and back cover.

Now they look presentable. I also made sure that the visually appealing sites were at the front. As new sites arrive, I can print grabs and add them.

What else? A company profile is worth putting together and leaving behind. One thing that is useful is a file of AWStats printouts to show the prospect what he can expect both in terms of traffic and general information.

Also take any relevant emails – they’re more useful than you think.

I also take an exercise book and couple of pencils. I bought a very fancy plain paper, leather bound book in India. Very striking. I usually make notes in it and prospects do remember that book. It’s got a huge clasp on the front that presents a massive lump that is almost impossible to write on. But they remember that book.

Pic Books

Your Bag

As long as it’s not shabby and unprofessional, anything will do – even an old leather briefcase. I use a black nylon laptop bag that will take the laptop and also has a bunch of pockets for things like a laser pointer, the cellphone (ALWAYS turn it OFF) and car keys (don’t have them bulging out of your pocket). I also have a simpler document bag, also black and nylon for short non-prospect meetings. In both bags is a supply of business cards. I also put one in my shirt pocket so that it can be produced with a flourish.

Pic Bag

OK, You’re cool and out the car. Carry your bag in your left hand. You’re going  to shake hands. Prospects will not like to shake hands with something that’s hot and very sweaty.

Featured Website 01: Hill Billys

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In the competitive tourism industry, website design has to be first class, particularly in the area of usability. Visitors have to be presented with a comprehensive amount of information of information on the home page without cramming. Continue reading

Featured Website Design: Tudor House Inn

One of the first commissions in 1997 was an accommodation website for St. Lucia Wetlands Guest House and over the years, many similar websites have been designed but none in Durban.  Until a commission for Tudor House Inn website on Umhlanga Rocks Drive.

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Featured Website Design : EeziPumps

Our client sells a variety of water pumps – pressure booster pumps, swimming pool pumps, sewage pumps and borehole pumps. This site is their third and focuses on the submersible pump range which includes sewage pumps, stainless steel dirty water pumps, borehole pumps and sewage lift stations.

water-booster-pumps.co.za and swimming-pool-pumps.co.za are some years old and, while they follow a Dynamic Drive CSS based layout, are not designed from the ground up to be responsive. The new website submersible-pumps.co.za uses a responsive grid  based on skeleton grid system. The system is very lightweight and easy to use unless you want nested cells where it battles. It seems to be eminently responsive insofar as it has been tested on small devices.submersible2

Its two other concessions to current web design practice are a slider using LayerSlider and a megamenu. I have yet to find a more flexible slider than LayerSlider although the implementation in this case is fairly straightforward. The megamenu is one from Code Canyon and is not really required with any degree of complexity.

Short descriptions of the various pumps help the visitor to decide on the one which will be best suited. Another nice feature is the built-in contact form – simple but enough for most uses. I love font-awesome but battled to find pump-type icons.

submersible3Like all our recent websites, the full contact details appear on every page, in this case in the left sidepanel but can also appear in the header. I’ve always disliked the ‘Contact Us’ page – one extra click on to a page that might or might not be understandable.

 

Educating Clients

To get the best out of website design, clients should be informed. I’ve always thought so anyway but now I wonder whether I should bother.

alfredenewmanWhy not dumb down everything? Just provide a smart but simple website.

That’s it. Don’t confuse clients with the facts. I don’t think clients want educating – it’s just a website isn’t it?? YOU sort it out.

Educating requires time, adds complications and therefore adds cost to the thing.

However, there is a thing called professional pride and the need to do your best for your client. Whether he wants it or not.

There’s always the thought of course that your client will hold you in higher regard if you treat him to a Web 101 seminar. This effect is seen in many website designers websites – they feel that they have to go on, and on, and on about their knowledge – or lack of it – of things web.

With the average website, there are so many things – simple things – that can be done to improve it. Testimonials, client lists, newsletters are some of the improvements that can be easily added but never come up in client specs.

Although such things can be added later, you run the risk of appearing to the client that you’re upselling.

Perhaps its better to design a website that includes all the elements that you feel should be there – but don’t tell the client beforehand.

Prioritizing Website Design Enquiries

Enquiries for website design come in several categories.

The full spec – an attachment with either an outline or spec for a website. Sometimes you can see that the spec is actually several, cobbled together.

The short descriptive email  – not anywhere near enough information and requires fleshing out.

The simple ‘I’m looking for a website’ email. Completely inadequate.

Finally, the ‘Do you do websites?’ ‘Sent from my Blackberry’. Worse that useless and never replied to. If he’s considering a website whilst sitting in a coffee shop, he’s not serious.

Often the best is the initial email enquiry. The ‘full spec’ folk often get it wrong and will not change. Also there’s probably a preferred supplier but they had to put out the spec so don’t hold your breath.

I always phone back – or ask for a phone number if there is one – because the prospect can hear me (may not be a plus!) and I can hear them and get a much better idea of what they want as well as some background information.

Also forget those people who give you their email address over the phone – it’s always gonna bounce!

 

 

 

 

The Website Development Window

Here’s a problem I don’t have an answer for.

Any website designer will agree that a web  design project that proceeds smoothly from start to finish results in a superior website to one that stutters piecemeal over a long period.

So, how to get clients to organize for website development and what to do if they don’t?

No matter how much encouragement they have to paginate their website, get their content refined and graphics ready, there is always a point where you have to accept what they have at that time.

Sometimes it will be pretty nearly perfect and others – mostly – will be largely imperfect even if they had years to prepare. My experience has been that however substandard the content is and however much you want to create a first rate website, the client may end up arguing with you over edits you’ve made so leave his mess alone.

The only sane approach I think is to make it clear to the client that a website ‘development window’ will be created for his site development. Typically, for the small business website, about four weeks which allows for the to-ing and fro-ing needed to complete the website.

The client should be aware that if the content is late arriving the development window will shut to permit the development of other websites and their site may be delayed. One might go a step further and inform the client that he may be charged for the allocated time whether or not the content has arrived unless he has asked for a rescheduling with due notice or that he will be kicked out of the queue completely.

The clients who cannot get their act together are usually those which have several personnel adding to the website, one or more of whom is always late. Still, that is their problem and not yours. As soon as I hear that there is a ‘website team’ which expects to be consulted at every step, the quote doubles.

I have just finished two websites. One has taken 15 months for fairly straightforward work (the contact went and had a baby in the middle – and there was a ‘web team’) and the other, four months. All web designers hate to have to go and find files, edit them and repost them time after time. I eventually lose interest in the project and it turns out often to be mediocre. Occasionally I have refunded deposits and told the client to go elsewhere.

The second client mentioned above wanted a revamp and submitted a list of edits which was quoted on – and more edits kept coming and coming. The final amount of course was three times the original quote and when invoices are submitted in these cases with just an amount, the queries may start. ‘But I understood it was RXXXXX’ etc. So, now I also put in the hours that were worked and if there is a query I also put the hours that were originally quoted for and the EXTRA hours that were worked. If that doesn’t work I send a full, itemised bill with hours worked for every edit.

It normally doesn’t come to this for most clients.

There’s no easy answer, particularly if it’s a redesign for an existing client who you don’t want to lose. Usually, threatening to back-burner the site gets things going, particularly if the back-burnering  extends over Christmas. It gets the client to focus on what they really want. One of the clients above wanted the site to be set to music (‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’ I thought appropriate), have a sound effect on mouseover, have a promo ticker, have a news ticker, have an exchange rate ticker and have a conversion calculator all on the same page. And they complained about it being slow.

I saw it described well on another web designer’s T&Cs. It said ‘a dynamic relationship exists between ourselves and the client’.

Excellent. It means that both parties respond timeously at all times. Perhaps one needs to invoke contracts? I’ve never needed one but it’s a piece of paper to wave when things go wrong. Contract or not, it is sensible that the client must be aware that the development window opens with the first of his content submissions and will close at a prearranged date, website finished or not. Thereafter either additional charges apply to ensure the speed of development continues or the website is back burnered.

Trouble is, us small developers need the cash.

The Pleasures of Pro Bono Website Design Work

Every so often I get the chance to do a site for free. Not free as in the case of family members wanting something for nothing but free as in a charity for a deserving cause.

In this case it’s the Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education or C.A.R.E. as they’re known. It’s a long title but basically it’s a baboon sanctuary. I have a soft spot for baboons and I think they get a bum rap.

I did two sites for them years ago and then they went somewhere else. Years passed and last I looked them up and they had a dreadful site. For an operation that relies absolutely on charity with no governmental help, the website is critical and this was a poor site.

The problem places such as these have with money extends to the website. They cannot possibly afford a professional website of probably in excess of R10,000 so rely on free help. They are loathe to turn down an offer and are at the mercy of the skill level of the offerer – as in the case of the current website.

I came across the same crappy site a month ago and thought ‘Bugger this’ and got hold of them.  I can do a far better job – and got the job. Doing a website for a cause you believe in is very satisfying.

One of the problems with charities is that they are full of those who believe passionately about its causes and they tend the run off at the mouth, churning out scads of readerless prose. Secondly, you have to have a Web Nazi. The web Nazi is the single person in the organization who has the authority to filter the more ridiculous agendas from the charity. You cannot deal with a mob.

The mob lose the plot early on. Charity websites are business websites. They are in the business of getting money out of people and their currency is compassion. Compassion is what they sell and in this respect they are a standard marketing website.

primatecareHowever, they are different to standard business websites. These often do not need to engage the visitor to any extent and many purchases are impulse buys. Someone who wishes to donate cash or kind to a charity will scrutinize it thoroughly to ensure that his donation is not mismanaged and therefore every part of the website has to work towards this end. A business website’s pages more often than not are for search engines rather than humans but not in the case of charities. A charity website has to answer every question a potential donor might put to it and will have to establish credibility in a big way.

This charity also relies on paying volunteers so the experiences of volunteers are essential to the recruitment of others.

Fortunately, baboons are very photogenic so it is not difficult to tug at heart strings. But, the serious side of the operation is not the sanctuary part but the coalescence of groups of orphan baboons into viable troops and their eventual release to the wild.

 

The site is currently at draft level at www.warthog.co.za/primatecare.

Do Not Change What They Want!

An  easy mistake to make.

You can see clearly that what your client wants is deficient in some way and you have the right answer at your fingertips. If it’s something related to the design of the website and it’s not a show stopper, let him have it.

My experience is that all you end up doing by inserting your sensible improvement is upset the client. Even if you get your way, there is still residual resentment. It’s a little thing he thinks he got right and you got wrong.

Even if you win a couple of battles, your client will declare war and you will definitely lose.

When to Submit the Website Draft to the Client

You want to impress the client with your work and the interpretation of his needs. You also want to impress him with the speed of your response.

draft-smallBut, if the draft website is largely incomplete, the client will pick lots of holes in it and think you don’t know what you’re doing. So, what do you do?

If you work and work at the website to get it as complete as you can get it, any wholesale changes will be resented. Further, the extra time you have taken to get it right will not be appreciated by the client as well as the possibility that your interpretation is not his.

I try and complete just enough pages to give the client an idea of his website, if necessary using dummy text and pictures on the major pages. Knowing when to stop is not easy and is based on a site by site basis.

The other problem is how to submit the draft. Often, there is no face to face communication. Do you just post the web site draft and inform the client by email? Do you add a short explanation? A long explanation? I often write my justification as the home page text if none is available or add a separate page.

The best way is a face to face without the client having previously seen the draft which also has the advantage that the client’s response can be observed and there is no time for him to develop an entrenched opinion.  It’s easy then to discuss the various merits and nip problems in the bud.

If that’s not possible, then a phone walk through is the next best way.