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This is a guest post from out friends at The Blue Focus.

I have met with many highly intelligent clients who lose all self-confidence when I suggest they create a website for their business. Jelly-legged, they say they don’t know code, don’t want to know code — don’t ever want to have to think about code. To soothe them, I quickly and gently tell them that they can create a website without knowing a thing about programming or code. With great relief and normal breathing patterns returning, I explain.

Today’s website building requirements have changed enormously from just a few short years ago. There are now even “drag and drop” website builders where all you have to do is – well, drag and drop your content, videos and images into pre-designed spaces. This enables a non-techie to build a complete and professional-looking website.

CAVEAT: All that being said, not all website builders are created equal!

I want to talk about three of the most popular website builders folks are using and explain why, despite their many favorable components, I prefer one over the other two. All of them manage the hosting and system administration for you. The three in question are Weebly, Wix and WordPress.

WEEBLY

Pros: Weebly is a good hosted platform so no software installation is required. You can choose from dozens of website templates, many of which are really lovely. You can even edit them with Weebly’s page editor. If you have an e-commerce store, this content management system (CMS) can support it. Weebly also comes with built-in support for e-commerce so you can start selling off your site pretty quickly. Other pros include built in features for photo galleries, sliders, contact forms, and more.

Cons: Because Weebly is a hosted platform, you are stuck with the features they provide. You can’t change your site even if you hired a designer or developer. If you have an e-commerce site, you will have to pay a 3% transaction fee for every sale, unless you upgrade to their business plan…more $$.

WIX

Pros: Wix is a drag and drop site builder. Like Weebly, Wix is a fully hosted platform, so no fees for that. They have hundreds of templates from which to choose, and they are fully editable. They offer many free and paid apps that provide features and functionality to your site. It’s free with a limited bandwidth and storage.

Cons: I think a real turn-off is that Wix shows their branded ads on your website, unless you upgrade to their Combo or Unlimited plan. Also, if you ever want to move your site from Wix, it is quite an involved and complicated process. It’s also not the fastest loading site around.

WORDPRESS

There are many reasons why I prefer WordPress for my clients. In a word or two, it is simply more professional. This CMS powers such sites as NASA, CNN, eBay, The New York Times any many other well-known companies.

Pros: WordPress is easy to use; it’s free and has wonderful plug-ins you can add. Along with all of its versatility, it has several important advantages.

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is used to help a website rank higher on search engines, such as Google, Chrome or Bing. WordPress provides themes that are designed with current SEO standards in mind. The CMS is flexible enough so that you can easily update your site to stay on top of Google’s best SEO practices. This makes WordPress sites Google-friendly, which is not a small asset.

  • WordPress provides a place to enter title tags and headings, which are basic SEO needs for your site.

  • WordPress allows you to optimize your content by allowing you to use underlined words, hyperlinks (both internal and external), image uploads with alt tags, and crawl-able content.

  • We should all know by now that Google loves speed. WordPress’ basic installation and standard themes load quickly and efficiently. You can slow your site down with tons of videos, or too many scripts running on a page, but plug-ins are available to help.

Cons: OK. We want to be fair, even though WordPress is our fav. There are a few cons. You can’t create groups and assign permissions to others, so team work is made a little difficult. I hope they fix this in the future. E-commerce is possible with WordPress plug-ins, but they do not provide as high a functionality as other systems. Custom layouts can be difficult to use for the novice, and there is a definite learning curve involved in using this system.

If you need expert advice on which system to use to create your website, give us a call. We will be happy to calm your nerves and show you how easy it can be to stake out your website claim.

Breathe deeply and be happy!

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.

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.