First Things First

Making decisions about how to grow your company is difficult.  It can feel as though you are being asked all the questions at once, especially once vendors begin to call or drop by because you have made it onto their radar.  Unfortunately the arrival of these solicitors does not often coincide with the growth of your business and indeed can increase the tension you already feel about what to do next.  I have a couple of ground rules I try to live by and which I offer as advice to my clients.  They may seem obvious at first, but really using them and living by them is much harder than just understanding what the rule means.

One thing at a time.

Your attention is valuable.  Everything you do requires some of it, and there will always be interruptions.  So do not begin a second short-term project when you still have the ability to continue one you have already started.  If the phone rings or someone stops by, do what you need to for them, then get back to this short-term project and finish it.  By opening up new projects and adding to the list of items on your immediate to-do list, you are diminishing your attention.  Once that attention dwindles below 50%, you will start to feel overwhelmed.  This is normal, but just like keeping a sailboat upright, you must pay attention to how far over the mast is leaning so you do not lose your ability to maintain course or end up capsized.  Why is this difficult?  Because some people have bought into the strategy that they need to drop everything every time an opportunity to make money comes up.  This is a recipe for losing your mind slowly.  You might be able to keep up this strategy for a matter of weeks or months, but it will eventually drain you entirely of your forward momentum as more and more basic responsibilities slip by and create longer term problems that snowball.  Just take one thing at a time to the extent possible.

First things first. 

The title of this post, this is about priorities, but more than that about keeping your mind clear enough to handle the rest of your life.  Read this next part carefully, because it is key to keeping your business flowing in the right direction: you may not already know what the next most important priority is.  Your experience is limited to the subject matter you specialize in.  To think that because you are good at building houses also makes you a computer genius is absurd.  The reverse is also true, as I can attest.  If I need help with anything outside of my specialty I make sure to ask questions.  Many questions are quickly answered now in Google and other search engine results, but to get broader advice, tailored to your current situation, you may need to engage an expert if you are not lucky enough to have a friend in that field.  Once you know the right direction, go back to rule one and handle it one thing at a time.

Asking for advice is the first stop on the road to something greater than yourself.

What better way to better yourself than adding to your own knowledge base?  Making mistakes is all part of life, but avoiding mistakes is far preferable.  Furthermore, asking someone for their opinion is usually a compliment and a way to show respect.  Instead of trying to outwit people who are selling you something, find out what they might have to bring you in the way of knowledge, new technology, advice, or even a good deal.  This blog post has no shortage of aphorisms, but I will add one more: everything happens for a reason.  While this is a matter of personal belief, I think that it is also good solid philosophy to improve one’s quality of life.  Take advantage of the people and the ideas that come to you.

If you ever need someone to ask questions about small business, websites, hosting, or anything related to computing, please feel free to contact me by phone or e-mail.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

What Is Hosting?

While many people are familiar with the Internet, some are not familiar with hosting.  I would like to address some of the concerns and questions about hosting, hopefully without being too obvious for those of you who are already familiar with the concept.

So first, what is hosting? 

  • It is the place where you keep your website pages, settings and files.
  • It is a company that provides maintenance of servers where your website lives
  • It is a plan of services you pay for in case you need technical support
  • It is has many different levels of quality and service

Here are a few things that technically aren’t hosting:

  • The IP address that directs people on the Internet to your site.
  • Your domain name.
  • Your social media account.
  • Most of your e-mail.

Second, what kinds of hosting are available?

Some website developers (such as myself) offer hosting through a national company and pay the overhead themselves.  Other companies, including developers, have their own private servers (like the one Hillary Clinton is now famous for having had at her house).  This means that the hosting is physically located somewhere in their office or on their property.  This can be risky, as the protection for such equipment cannot match the larger “server farm” installations.  If you have a website you need to prepare for disaster—which not surprisingly is called disaster recovery.  Some of the potential disasters that these places plan for are fire, electrical outages, hackers, computer hardware failure, vandalism, theft, and loss of Internet connectivity.

There is a middle ground as well which is called “co-location”.  This is where I might own a server but keep it at a server farm or other Internet service provider with the understanding that they do not touch it unless I authorize it.  This means that I am responsible for hardware failures, software updates, and the rest of the things that server companies handle for you normally.  Some companies use co-location as a way to reduce some of the physical risks and save money on the maintenance plan fees.

If I need a shopping cart, is the hosting plan different?

In a word, yes.  Companies that offer e-commerce solutions must be able to provide secure (SSL) connectivity to the financial institutions that process payments.  An e-commerce hosting solution is different because:

  1. It requires a certificate authority that is used to verify your identity to the credit card processor (and similar organizations).  This certificate has an annual fee and can be purchased through a third party or through your hosting company in many cases.  When you see a “set-up” charge for e-commerce hosting, this is one of the reasons why.  Installing a certificate can be easy or time-consuming, depending on the server and the shopping cart software.
  2. There is a higher level of liability for the hosting company if lost sales were to occur due to any hosting failure, even short lapses in website uptime.
  3. In the case of a security breach, the risk is greater because of the personal data stored online.

What about bandwidth?

Most of my clients are not large enough to warrant a surcharge for bandwidth.  If you shop around, you will find many companies that are quite concerned with how many visitors you might have and how much data you might be transferring (for example, are you a video-oriented site?).  If you are a startup, you may have no idea how much bandwidth you need.  It is a simple matter of talking to your hosting provider to get an estimate of what the limits are and what fees would be if your needs were to grow.

Final thoughts

When you choose your hosting provider, make sure to ask the questions you might ask when you are leasing a car: When can I have it?  How safe is it?  What is the monthly payment?  Can I trade it in?  What happens if I miss a payment?  Can you repair it if I get into a crash?  What would that cost?  Do you have a loaner vehicle?  What happens if I go over my mileage limit?  There are many other such questions, but you get the idea.  Consider something you are familiar with, and then apply your experience in that area to the decision of where to get hosting.  I am always interested in speaking with potential new clients, regardless of whether they already have hosting.  Feel free to leave any interesting experiences you have had with hosting or questions in the comments section below.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

A Reflection of You

You can create better trustworthiness in your website design by keeping in mind that it is an extension of yourself, your business, and your character.

I recently visited a website as part of doing research for a customer. I had never been to this particular site (which will remain nameless) before and wanted the answer to a specific question. Immediately I encountered a pop-up asking me to subscribe, follow and join their site. I did not even have enough time to really understand what their company was about, much less whether I wanted to join them. This kind of shotgun approach turned me off wanting to do anything other than to find a less needy company.

They say you never have a second chance to make a first impression. This clever aphorism might make you chuckle, but the truth of the matter is that in a crowded Internet with thousands of similar sites, your first impression is everything. Why? Because it defines you in a way you may not even be aware of. Here are some things to look at when creating that first page that people will see as you for the first time:

  1. How are you dressed?
    In other words, is the presentation professional? Hopefully you wouldn’t wear loafers to a serious business meeting. Nor should you clutter up your home page with advertisements for meaningless click-bait. Show your good side: attractive photos, recommendations, and, above all, relevant content.
  2. Did you arrive on time?A slow website will likely deter potential customers. Some may blame their own Internet connection the first time, but consistent failure to deliver will diminish your business. Monitoring services are available to keep tabs on your website delivery speeds in case the hosting becomes unreliable, even for a short period of time.
  3. Are you prepared?
    The customer may need a while to sort out whether they are interested in your services. Have you taken the time to answer potential questions that you know come up in your everyday business away from the Internet? Being prepared also includes being direct about how to order what the client might want. If the purpose of the site is to sell a book, the button to buy that book needs to be on the first page in some way.
  4. What is your reputation?
    This aspect of website trust is available through third parties as well as your own proudly displayed testimonials. The Better Business Bureau for example, has a widget that will grade your business and engender a certain level of trust. Displaying your SSL certificate or “hacker-free” testing medallion can also help if you are an e-commerce site.
  5. Can we talk?
    Making the phone number visible, tap-able, clickable, etc., can be enough to create some trust as many sites are unreachable in any way other than e-mail. Having a live person on the other end rather than an answering machine is even better. If you are unable to take your calls as they come in, make sure to check your messages as frequently as possible, and give your potential customers an idea of how long it will take you to get back to them.

You can create better trustworthiness in your website design by keeping in mind that it is an extension of yourself, your business, and your character. Making a good impression is just as important as having a good product. Indeed, when you are shopping for a good website designer, be sure to ask the hard questions up front and know whether they are willing to make your website trustworthy as well as snazzy-looking.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

The Forgotten Art of Listening

An author from the Maine Midcoast area sat down with me for the first time to discuss her website. She was punctual to our meeting at the local café in Bath and I had found a table in an empty room where we could talk undisturbed. I listened to her thoughts on what the website would look like, what it might do, and heard her interest pique about what other things might be possible. I wanted to know more.

“How many books have you written?” I asked a few questions about her and her work, the kinds of things she respects, her interests, and her direction for the future. This is usually called an “intake interview” in the business world. People share their ideas, and then the interviewer takes over the conversation and sets appropriate expectations about what can and cannot be done. Truly listening, is more complicated than filling out a form. It involves flexibility during the conversation so that even if you want to talk about the benefits of something like social media, it only comes after in-depth knowledge of the business and the client.

Tips for listening well

Let people talk. One of the biggest rookie mistakes that a website professional can make is to move too quickly to the next question, as though the meeting format was “just a formality.”

Take notes. The meeting can be a goldmine of opportunity or a tragic series of missed cues depending on how well the ideas are preserved. Not all aspects of content for the website will be apparent in the beginning, so taking thorough notes can save a lot of time later in the creative process.

Do not steer the conversation unless absolutely necessary. The best information comes after the person has recited the list of things on their mind that they know they need to say to you. When that burden has lifted, underlying thoughts about the subject float to the surface and more casual conversation can bring forth a clearer and more heartfelt vision of what the client really wants.

Let go of your expectations. If you are waiting for the magic moment when the client is going to say something you want them to say to “seal the deal” or reaffirm your expertise, this comes across as unexplained uneasiness and the client will see that you are waiting for something to happen. This can completely destroy an otherwise helpful meeting because the client does not know what you are waiting for and makes up all kinds of thing in his or her mind to try to explain it, including “am I taking up too much of their time.” This leads directly to the next tip.

Allow enough time to listen. A new client meeting especially should not happen in a short time slot. I am a firm believer in the concept that in order for something to come into your life, you need to make space for it. The same is true for a new client. Make space, try not to box yourself into a restricted schedule that will make both of you uncomfortable.

And finally, respect opinions. This is harder than it sounds because we all have differences of opinions. The adage that the client is always right is a good place to start, but may not handle all situations. Discover the soft opinions and the firm opinions about what the client wants. This can be anything from the colors used on the site, to responsive design options, to social media integration. There are many ways to do this effectively while respecting the client’s comfort zone. I have some clients who prefer to simplify things by leaving out aspects of social media entirely. Other businesses choose to have streaming content hosted by a different company, even though I offer complete hosting solutions. Making sure the client’s needs are respected is a primary element of good listening.

At the end of the meeting my new author client was already feeling like a new good friend. She was pleased I had taken the time to get to know her business and something about her life in order to better represent the style, message, and tone she expected in a website. Since the time we completed her site she still has great ideas for new content and media to add, which we are working on at her pace and within what she decided on for a budget.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.