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5 Things A Web Designer Can Do For You

Time. It’s what most business owners are short on. While a website may seem as though it can be created and then forgotten, the truth is the exact opposite. Unfortunately, because of that shortage of time, business owners often neglect some key elements of good website stewardship, and as a result, potential leads and client nurturing might get left behind–as well as potential business.

Maybe you’ve got a website, or maybe you’re planning to build a new one. It can be tempting to do it yourself–trust me, I know. I’ve seen the results of DIY websites more times than I can count. While you may be able to create a basic site, there are several things we don’t recommend trying without help.

A web designer, obviously, designs the website and makes sure it meets your specifications, but that’s not all we can do. Your website should work for you–think of it as a digital workhorse capable of doing a huge amount of work automatically–if it’s set up correctly and regularly maintained.

SEO

Building a website is only the first step to acquiring visitors. Just because your website is out there doesn’t mean people can find it, especially on first launch. That’s where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) comes in. SEO can refer to multiple things. First is a paid service based on the number of hours that fit in each client’s budget. Related to SEO services are digital marketing services, described below.

Digital Marketing

Digital marketing includes blogging, acquiring reviews, email marketing, and posting to social media. Posting to social media alone can take around three hours a week, and managing reviews or an email campaign can take another several hours a week. Then there’s blogging, which, yet again, requires a purposeful strategy and several hours per blog post to create quality content.

All SEO is intended to raise your rank in search engine results when customers search for content like what’s available on your website. Digital marketing, though it may not always include direct changes or additions to your website, still impacts where your site ranks in search engine results.

Lead Generation

Need to find new potential clients? I’d be shocked if the answer is no. Businesses need to develop both quality leads and a large quantity to continually bring in new customers–and that takes time and expertise. That’s where the website comes in. While there are many ways to generate leads, your website should be doing a significant amount of the heavy lifting. A website should capture the email addresses of people interested in what you have to say. It should offer call scheduling, if that’s appropriate to your service, so potential clients can easily schedule a time to talk with you.

The number of lead generation tactics is endless–and sorting through them can be overwhelming. A web designer can sit down with you and chat about what options make the most sense for your business, and then they can implement those options on your site and manage their use and information delivery.

Maintenance

After your website is built, it will need maintenance. Different integrations and plugins will require updating to the current version, and tweaks and changes to the information will be necessary as your business changes. Keeping your web site up to date is just as important as the initial web design.

User Experience

Finally, think about your end user. Just because you’ve put up a website with all the relevant information doesn’t mean it’s user friendly. And a website that’s not user friendly limits the time a user will remain on the site. If information is difficult to find, if it’s hard to navigate the site’s hierarchy, or if the information isn’t clear and articulate, your user is going to leave your site for one that’s easier to use.

In Short

First, a web designer creates a website with all the functions and pages your business requires. After they launch it, the project shouldn’t be finished. A good web designer will at least explain what your website is capable of and offer to assist with SEO, maintenance, lead generation, and digital marketing (creating a good user experience should be included in every project). Even businesses on a tight budget deserve the best service possible, and that’s what we offer. We can work within a given budget to create a maintenance and marketing plan that will work for you.

If this seems a bit overwhelming, don’t worry, we’re here to help. Give us a call today for a free consultation.

For further reading, Forbes has a great list of top design mistakes.

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Does Your Website Give You A Return On Investment (ROI)?

We at CloudZen Designs like to imagine that most people know a website is pretty much the minimum item business owners should invest in when they decide to begin curating a digital space. And claiming ownership of a digital space isn’t really an option anymore… which is why we’re sometimes dumbfounded that businesses don’t have a website or aren’t utilizing its maximum potential. Learn what benefits you can get from having a website. Hint: There’s one big one that should make your ears perk!

Your website should be working for you

But what do I mean by that? It’s just a digital property; what can you really expect from it?

Your website is so much more than a digital property with your name on it. A website, properly set up, should do a number of things.

Aesthetically, it should:

  • Accurately convey your brand. When people visit your site, they should be greeted with colors, wording, design, and information that represents who you are and what you do. Branding is more than just picking the correct colors or the most appealing logo. Branding is all about creating a consistent experience that the customer can easily call to mind when they need to purchase a product you sell or invest in services you provide.

Your website should functionally:

  • Provide you with regular referrals.
  • Collect leads.
  • Provide your customers with an easy browsing and shopping experience.
  • Fully and correctly describe what you do, how you do it, and whom you do it for.
  • Be designed to increase your SEO.

Why? Because websites are a marketing device.

I went to a craft fair recently. It was amazing–artists from all over the state gathered to show off their wares. And this wasn’t just folks making grade-school crafts (though that’s lovely). We’re talking professional artisans hand-carving all kinds of intricate items, painters, photographers, even one person who paints durable rugs. Oh, and the potters. And the soap makers.

I digress.

I collected a stack of business cards half an inch thick in an effort to keep track of which artists I ran into that I’d like to purchase from in the future. But when I got home, I found something really disturbing: a significant portion of the cards had no website listed, just a generic email address. I’m going to be honest–my initial reaction was something along the lines of damn it.

First of all, carefully consider what you put on your business card. No one should look at it and have to try to figure out what you do. It should be obvious.

Second, one of your goals as a business owner should be to make the decision to purchase as easy as possible–especially for purchases that use disposable income, like art or crafts. A website benefits business owners in this niche, especially a beautiful website that draws visitors in and makes them want to stay awhile. Good marketing, after all, isn’t about hard selling, but about creating relationships with your customers that make them feel good about doing business with you–and a website can do a lot of that legwork for you. If you don’t even have a website? Say goodbye to a number of lost customers.

The biggest benefit to a website? A good website converts–which means it makes you more money.

One of the many website benefits you should be receiving is more customers. They may make a purchase because your online store is so good. They may sign up for a newsletter and engage with your business later, hopefully, multiple times. They may call for consulting or come visit your storefront.

If your website isn’t converting, it’s likely because it’s not set up to drive business. If it’s not set up to drive business and make money, you are losing money. It’s that simple, and it’s that serious. Because of all the available benefits of a website, whatever you spent to have your website built should be an investment, not an output that pays nothing in return.

CloudZen Designs can design a website, but we can also set up a newsletter opt-in, optimize online shopping, and ensure your site matches your business goals and your overall brand. We can even work with you to achieve higher SEO rankings.

Remember: a website is a marketing tool. It’s an extension of your business’ physical property, an extension of your sales force, and extension of your brand. A good website should convert visitors to customers, which will increase profitability.

For another take on why businesses need a website, check out this post from Constant Contact.

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Hours versus Packages Model – Which is Better?

Inquiring minds want to know: Should I charge by the hour or by the project?

There are, generally, two business models that service-based businesses work from. The first is based on an hourly rate. A business quotes a client a rate of, say, $75 an hour, and the client is then able to request the number of hours in their budget. The second is based on a package or project rate. In this business model, a client and business work together to detail everything that needs to be done, and the business quotes a rate for the entire project.

New businesses, particularly freelancers, are forever debating what type of business model is best, but there are pros and cons to each. Read on, and read to the end to learn what we think the best option is.

Pros and Cons of the Hourly Rate

An hourly rate has some major benefits and situations in which it’s most useful:

  • It’s a small amount of work, such as website updates or editing a single page of content.
  • It’s a new project type and you’re not certain how much time it will take.
  • You’ll get paid for the exact number of hours you work on the project.
    • This helps you get paid more accurately–instead of allowing yourself to imagine a project will only take three weeks, though it will really take four, you’ll be paid for the exact time it does take.
  • The requirements and goals of the project are somewhat unclear. If you quote a project rate, in this case, you could easily end up doing more work than you anticipated.

But, an hourly rate does have cons:

  • You’re trading time for money. You should be trading value for money.
    • It’s also worth noting that as you become faster and more skilled, you’ll be doing the same amount of work in less time. If the average time to complete a job, industry-wide, is three hours, but it only takes you two, you actually lose money charging by the hour.
  • I’d argue this makes it somewhat more difficult to change your rates, as the client will very blatantly receive charges per hour–so when you decide to double your prices, the change will really stand out.
  • This isn’t exactly a con, but you must accurately track your time to stay above-board when reporting to clients.

Pros and Cons of a Project-Based Rate

The main pros are:

  • The client is given a total cost up front. There are no hourly or hidden fees to surprise them later. They are then able to budget for 50% down and the rest in payments (or however you’ve agreed to set up the payment plan).
  • The client is focused on the perceived value they’ll receive, not the amount of your time they receive.
    • This also helps keep freelancers and other business owners focused on providing strong value.
  • It’s easy to raise rates because clients are not focused on what they pay you per hour.
  • If you’re particularly fast or particularly slow, it doesn’t matter–as long as you complete the work by the deadline.

Cons

  • Project rates require discipline to keep both parties happy–which means setting up a clear contract. The contract should clearly state what your business will provide, by what date, what revisions are allowed, etc. Otherwise, you could end up with a real mess–a client asking for 20 revisions or additions and a contract that doesn’t put a limit on those changes. In that case, you could wind up losing a significant amount of time.
  • If you’re not careful, you could end up undercharging yourself when the amount of work you initial thought was involved was a lot more when you actually go into it.

What about Packages?

There is another business model that plenty of companies use, likely in addition to hourly or project rates: packages, though they’re more often called retainers. These are typically charged by businesses that provide some sort of ongoing service. For example, CloudZen Designs provides website maintenance. For a set fee each month, clients receive maintenance that will be completed regularly. If we find a problem that will take significantly more time than their retainer fee covers, we bill by the hour.

Packages are useful in grouping services that clients will likely need on an ongoing basis. It’s sort of a combination of hourly and project billing, as the package is often determined based on the number of hours you think that ongoing work will take, but it is billed as a single monthly fee.

Value and what CloudZen Designs thinks about the different business models

CloudZen Designs is focused on providing value. We want to help businesses achieve their goals and look good doing it. While we use project rates for very specific cases (such as SEO and maintenance packages), we always quote large projects with a project rate. We aim to be transparent in pricing, and we want every client to come to the end of the project feeling they received even more value than they’d hoped for. And that’s probably what you want to do, or you wouldn’t be in business. Keep that in mind, and remember–nothing is permanent. If you try one business model and it doesn’t work for you, try another, or combine the two in a way that fits your particular business and industry.

For more reading, check out this post on Bidsketch. It’s a great read that digs deeper into the psychology of client decision-making.

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What Is A Host And Why Is It Important?

Well, since you asked…

When your website service provider starts talking about hosting, domain names, and possibly (probably) WordPress, your eyes may start to glaze over. What does it all mean? Is it important? Why are they speaking in a foreign language? And most importantly, you may be asking yourself whether you really need to know any of it.

We’ve got you covered. Take a deep breath, step away from the panic button, and read on:

To understand what hosting is, it’s easiest to explain a bit more about websites and how they work.

Domain names: This is the web address. So, when you type in “cloudzendesigns.com,” you’re typing our domain name which then takes you to our website. The cost of a domain name is usually around $5 to $15 per year.

Some companies buy several domain names that are similar to their main domain name. The only difference may be the extension (.net, .com, .org, and so on), or the difference may be more substantial. For example, we could purchase a domain like weareawesomewebsitebuilders.com.

But why? Well, any number of domain names can be purchased, and then your website manager can set up those sites to redirect to your main site. So, we would set up weareawesomewebsitebuilders.com to redirect to cloudzendesigns.com. This allows one company to own multiple web properties, thereby expanding their reach. Companies commonly purchase domain names that are actually common misspellings of their actual company name, so anytime someone mistypes the domain into the navigation bar, they are still directed to their intended destination.

Okay, you’ve got a domain name, maybe several, but how do you attach a website to it?

Here’s where you build a website. There are a number of interfaces used for this, but a common one, and the one we use, is WordPress. WordPress is essentially a dashboard that allows you to create pages, blog posts, install widgets, and more. It’s an overall management system for the back end of a website.

But, the thing that connects your domain name and the website you’ve built is your hosting service. Think of a hosting service as, literally, a host. The hosting company is the digital space where your website lives. Hosting plans come in all sizes and all costs, depending on how much space you need and what, if any, add-on’s you’ve opted for.

Steps so far:

  • Purchase a domain name.
  • Build a website (or, you know, have us build it).
  • Purchase a hosting plan.

Once you’ve completed those steps, you’ll need to provide some information to your host that connects all the dots. The information you’ll provide will connect the hosting plan and the website you’ve built to the domain name, so when users navigate to your domain name, your website will appear.

Great…but why is a hosting plan important?

There are several reasons a hosting plan matters (okay, the linked article is several years old—but the advice included is still solid). There are dozens of dozens of hosting companies out there, but despite the level of competition in the market, there are still companies that offer less-than-stellar service and features. It’s important to consider the features your host will provide and determine whether they are comprehensive enough to provide the service you will require.

A few important-to-consider features include:

  • Downtime
  • Ease of use (including how easy it is to leave the host)
  • The differences in shared versus dedicated servers

A host is literally the place where your website lives—so you want to make sure your website lives in a home that is securely guarded and where the power is always on. Similarly, you’ll want to consider whether your website is small is enough or simple enough to warrant being comfortable with a roommate or if your website will be more comfortable living in its own house (shared or non-shared servers).

CloudZen Designs offers the best hosting on the market. Aside from over 99% server uptime and great customer service, we can easily upgrade your storage space as your business grows. If you’ve already got hosting, we’d love to chat about switching you to our service. If you’re building a new website, it’s easy as pie to set up your site on our servers from the beginning.

After building your website, if you decide to use CloudZen hosting, CloudZen Designs will set it up at no cost. Got questions? Contact us today and let’s chat.

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Should I create a Facebook page or a build a new website? (Hint: The answer is both.)

This entire post is about why you should have a website and a Facebook page. The simple answer is this: to make Google like you more. When Google likes you, good things happen.

Over the last year or two, I’ve noticed a trend. Because Facebook has become ubiquitous—that is, most of your customers are using it—some businesses, particularly new businesses or businesses only recently embracing their online presence, have decided they only need a Facebook page.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

But Facebook Is A Great Tool

A Facebook page is great, and I would argue, all but necessary. It allows customers to develop relationships with businesses in a space they’re already comfortable with. From the businesses’ perspective, Facebook is a great way for existing customers to recommend services to their friends, making it awesome for increasing referrals.

And, let’s face it, people are less and less likely to pick up the phone. Facebook allows customers to connect with businesses without having to make a call. Instead, they can turn to the messaging feature they’re already using. And, it’s a great way for businesses such as restaurants to advertise daily specials. It’s also regularly used for everything from communicating inclement weather closures to reminding customers about upcoming events.

If Facebook is so great, why can’t you use it exclusively?

Glad you asked:

Facebook is only intended for sharing basic information about the business.

When visitors go to the “About” section of your businesses’ Facebook page, they are taken to a page detailing when the business was founded, its hours, location, and phone number, and hopefully some basic information about the mission or goal of the business…but that’s about it.

If your customers want to know basically anything beyond what Facebook allows for with their limited space and one-size-fits-all layout…you’re going to need a website.

A well-developed website is more customizable.

Because of that customization, clients and customers can more easily navigate information, and businesses are able to share information in a more organized way.

As noted above, Facebook, understandably, is one-size-fits-all. A Facebook page is meant to be simple, straightforward, one and done. A website, on the other hand, can be customized to suit your wildest dreams. Want your landing page to have a singing animated video? Done.

More realistically, do you want to provide online shopping and automated inventory tracking with shipping notifications to customers? We can help with that.

Do you want to passionately explain why and how you do what you do? CloudZen Designs can definitely help with that.

A website is necessary for search engine optimization (SEO).

This is possibly the most important point of the three. Without getting into the long explanation, search engine optimization means optimizing your web presence so your business shows up higher in search rankings.

This is important.

When customers go to their favorite search engine and look for, let’s say, yarn shops, a list of yarn shops in their area populates at the top of the search engine’s results. Usually, the list of top hits is a result of strong search engine optimization combined with being listed as a business on Google. A significant number of reviews doesn’t hurt either, but that’s a topic for another time.

If your search engine optimization is lacking, you may not show up on that list—or you may be at the bottom.

Perhaps you carry an item or brand that the person would really like to know more about. Maybe you’re the closest option. But none of that matters if you don’t have a website with good SEO that’s caused your business to be highly listed. And if you don’t have a website, guess what? The person looking for your services is going to go right on down the list. I bet fewer than one out of ten people will call a business to find out information that should be on a nonexistent website.

Facebook + Website = Where it’s at

If you take away one thing from this article, let it be this: what’s awesome about having both a website and a Facebook page is that Google can tell they are connected. When a business has both and makes it a point to be active on each one, Google likes it. When Google likes what you’re doing, they rank you higher. The higher you are in search results, the more customers can find you. It’s as simple as that.

Developing a new website might sound difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. CloudZen Designs can help streamline the process and get you into a site that suits your needs.

And hey, if you need social media maintenance help, we’re happy to chat about that, too.