All of a Twitter over social media

Does social media represent a genuine opportunity for small businesses — or are we in danger of falling victim to yet more hype?

Wayne Smallman, FSB member, founder of web design and development consultancy Octane Interactive and author of The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media, says:

Be careful about being too candid, entering into heated and bad-tempered debates and arguments, or making disparaging, negative and very public comments about clients, as well as other people. Unless you’re absolutely certain of the people in your social network, apply the ‘mother rule’ – would my mother be offended if she read this?

Just what is a standard website anyway?

“So how do you charge for a standard website?” is a very common question, one which has no simple answer. Why? Because I’ve never developed two websites that are the same.

There’s no doubting the similarity of some, in terms of the number of web pages, or the type of pages, but because my involvement in any given project can vary, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to what I do.

Sometimes, I’m required to provide the design and artwork, whereas other times, that part of the project might have been done by another design agency.

Sometimes the copy (text) and the photography is supplied, whereas other times I’m required to assist in the copywriting and sourcing the photography.

There are parallels with the print world; no two brochures are the same. How many pages? What stock of paper? How many colours? Any special colours? Is the copy supplied? Is the photography supplied? How many prints do you want? The list goes on.

There are those that offer a one-size-fits-all approach. I don’t. Every company is different and thusly, their needs are different. The upshot is that I’m more expensive than some of my rivals. But it also means my clients get a better quality service, specific to their needs, not my own, or for the benefit of my own convenience.

Once we move away from corporate websites and into more specialized services, like websites that the client can manage themselves, such as a Content Management System (often referred to a CMS), or a web application, then things become even more specific.

But what does this mean for you and your business? Simple! Everything is taken into consideration and together we build a strategy that’s exactly the right fit for your business.

Why buzzwords, jargon and acronyms are business buzzkill

The web design industry is awash with buzzwords. For most businesses, buzzwords are a big turn off. Ask yourself this: why should any business care about CSS, mashups, XHTML, PHP, Ajax, flash mobbing, or the lamentable Web 2.0?

I think you know the answer to that one. For most businesses, the web and all its many attendant acronyms, jargon and buzzwords are complicated enough as it is — no business ever really wanted a website:

“No one who paid to have a website developed actually wanted a website; they want the web to help them promote their business. I’m going to help you promote your business on the web, make money over the web, and measure what you’re doing on the web.”

WYNIWYG (What You Need Is What You Get)

My job essentially involves me either fixing something someone else broke, or me making a better box of tricks. If something is broken, I’ll try and fix it the best way I can without it costing my client a small fortune. If that fails, I’ll make a better version. It’s that simple.

The only time I will mention any kind of industry jargon is when I absolutely have to and there’s no alternative. The vast majority of my clients really don’t care how I do what I do, so long as I do it cost effectively, efficiently and as quickly as possible.

All good business is about good communication; talking complex concepts through in simple analogies and terms. The moment technicalities creep into the conversation, the door is opened to fear, uncertainty and doubt.

“Is that going to be expensive?”

“That sounds really complicated!”

“But I thought you’d be handling that for me?”

These are the kind of questions and exclamations that need to be addressed head on.

Needs versus Features

If someone tries to convince you to have a really slick animation or video on the front page of your website, ask them how that benefits you and will all your visitors be able to see it, and if not, what will they see instead.

If someone tries to convince you to have your entire website redesigned, built using a load of technologies you’ve never heard of before, ask them how that benefits your visitors, yourself and your sales & marketing activities.

If someone tells you they can get you onto Google’s first search page, ask them how, when, with which web pages, for what keywords, are their methods ethical, for how much, and for how long.

Each of these scenarios have more wrong answers than right. Each scenario could easily cost you considerable sums of money with very little obvious return for your investment. Each scenario can easily involve you being sold a feature dressed up to look like a need.

Don’t get me wrong, slick animations and redesigned websites all have their place, but being blinded by buzzwords, jargon and features in needs’ clothing does not a business strategy maketh.

Why winners are all losers!

Average people do not do amazing things. Amazing people do amazing things.

Now, I’m guessing some of you are itching to give me an example of some totally average person doing something extraordinary, and quite aside from the fact that the person in question really wouldn’t thank you for describing them as being average, the fact remains that to do something amazing, no matter how average that person might be, for a moment — no matter how long or how fleeting — they did something amazing, which required of them to be amazing.

And so it follows that the people who constantly achieve masterfully in life and in business are the ones who do amazing things with almost clockwork regularity. But there’s a caveat; these people are also losers.

Losers? Yes. Losers.

I read a quote recently that stuck in my head and connected with me in a very profound way, which went along the lines of: winners lose more than losers. So here’s my expansion on that near truism: do not fear failure.

As humans, we are adept at learning from our mistakes. I’m not saying this is a quality unique to humans, but it’s a quality that we have shown an unerring capacity to capitalize on. In a very real sense, failure is the engine of success.

Either secreted deep within the dark recesses of their subconscious, or writ large on a sheet of paper in their offices, winners know that to fear failure is to fail once and fail forever.

Those who succeed most probably know and understand the true value of professionalism, and arguably as important, knowing what professionalism isn’t:

“A huge salary is not a sign of professionalism. Nor is a insulting the competition, getting blind drunk in public, beating up your girlfriend, illicit affairs, gambling addictions, abusive behaviour or questionable TV appearances.”

Of course, one could make an argument resting on the old adage: a death of a thousand cuts. And that would be a sound argument.

But that’s where this thought piece could easily turn into a thesis, and where we begin to fear the unknown.

2009 is the year I begin to fail graciously and then learn from those mistakes with a passion…

Hungry for success? Quality is a key ingredient

Quality is one of those things we sometimes take for granted, or simply neglect. Don’t. Quality has to be at the very heart of your business.

Quality control — food for thought?

On visiting a client of mine a couple of years ago, he asked if we’d like lunch. Since it was due to be a long meeting, discussing the future of their website (which was to be re-built as a Content Management System, so they could manage the website themselves), we said yes and he gave instructions to a senior secretary to get sandwiches. He also gave her explicit instructions to not use the local sandwich shop nearby. As she left, he then began to explain why.

You see, he once bought a sandwich that had, secreted within the folds of meat and salad, a long black hair. For most, that’s the moment you throw the sandwich into a bin. For the local sandwich shop, that was also the moment they lost a huge amount of repeat trade.

When poor service leaves a bitter after taste

In my mind at least, this incident was merely the fall out from something much more serious, and that’s a lack of customer care. The guys at the sandwich shop must have been aware that a local company was spending a lot of money with them, so why not sweeten the deal? When I say “local company”, I mean a head office for a multi-national business, employing hundreds of people.

My client was vocal in his protestations, and the moment the hair-in-sandwich story got around, well guess what? Most of the office staff followed suit and never bought another morsel of food from those guys again.

Customer care — eating humble pie?

If the guys at the sandwich shop had been more attentive, instead of my client simply stopping buying from them, he may have felt compelled to have called them to explain what he’d found in his sandwich. At which point, said sandwich shop should have ensured the next time they wanted food, it would either be steeply discounted, or even free.

And you know what would have helped precipitate this more positive outcome? Just saying “Hi!” to my client when he walked into their sandwich shop.

By all accounts, that never happened. Not once. Not what I’d call a recipe for success…