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"Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories."

Proposals and Timelines….and Why Most Companies Get It Wrong

September 10, 2015
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If you’re involved in business in any way, be it the President of an architectural firm, a manager in a government-run organization, advertising, digital services, whatever, you probably know what proposals are and that many companies set stringent deadlines to receive those proposals by.  In my line of work, which is digital services, most companies expect proposals within one to two weeks. That’s a bit aggressive and I explain why in the following post. But before I get into that, let me give you a quick rundown of what a proposal consists of….

What’s in a proposal??

Well, that’s a great question! Depending on what type of a digital company you are, what types of services you offer, and what types of projects you work on will determine what type of proposal you write, and they’ll all be different. I’ve seen all kinds of proposals. Ones that are boiler plate, cookie-cutter, templated proposals, and others that are pure works of art, thoughtful, well-organized, with a clear direction of what the solution is, how much it’ll cost, and how long it should take. Proposals are simply a proposed solution to a company’s (client) particular challenge.

Google says a proposal is “a plan or suggestion, especially a formal or written one, put forward for consideration or discussion by others.” This is true! A proposal is a plan, and in order to propose a suggested plan, you have to put in a great deal of effort. So, what goes into a proposal.

I’ll break it down for you…

Contents of a Proposal

  1. Usually, proposals start with some kind of Summary explaining that you understand the prospect’s business challenge and are prepared to offer your plan for solving that challenge.
  2. Approach – this is the part of the proposal where you highlight your approach, usually called your methodology or your working style. You can outline what working sessions will consist of, the day-to-day operations, or what to expect when engaged with your agency.
  3. Scope of Work  – this is a pretty integral piece to the proposal. Some agencies like to detail exactly what they’ll do for your company from a digital standpoint. It’s important to note that the Scope of Work (or SOW) articulates the specifics of a web project. This causes both parties to have an understanding of what is actually being done, so that there’s no confusion as to what a company is getting and what the agency is going to do for them. It’s a liability thing. If you have a super detailed SOW and halfway through the project the company is like “well, we thought you were going to do X, Y, and Z.” – you can refer to the SOW. Put it in the proposal and take your time on it, this can really mean the difference between $10k and $$100k.
  4. Most agencies will outline the Team that the company will be getting. Some like to give the actual team members and their profiles or bios. And other agencies just give you the title, like your team will consist of a WordPress Engineer and Lead Designer, etc.
  5. Another semi important part is the Technology you’ll use in the engagement. Are you using a WordPress CMS, Drupal? Will you integrate with HubSpot or Salesforce? Are you going to be using Foundation as your framework and so on. This gives the company some semblance of components being used. But (a sidenote), I have seen proposals that leave the technology out, they say things like “we’ll find the right open source CMS in Discovery.” Which can be beneficial and non-beneficial. It totally depends on the engagement. Sometimes there’s too much gray area for what a company actually needs, like when doing an intranet or some site application. You’ll have a better idea of what technology would be the best fit once you discover more about their needs (which can sometimes take a while), and that’s okay!
  6. Timeline – a breakdown of different phases and how long each of them will take. Some agencies give it in months, others in weeks, and it’s usually dependent on start dates (which always seem to change!!).
  7. Budget – some people, like me, put the budget right at the beginning of the proposal because this is what people/companies are hugely concerned with. Does it hit my budget? Yes, No, Maybe!! Some agencies like putting this at the end. I usually do an overview of the numbers upfront and a breakdown of cost to its associated task deeper in the proposal next to the timeline.
  8. Almost all agencies will add some kind of About Us section to the proposal, telling the history and story of their agency. How long they’ve been in business for, what types of other clients they have, etc. Some agencies put this in the beginning and others put it at the end. I consider it the “fluff” stuff, because if your company is engaged with an agency, chances are the already “know” who you are and what you do. Putting it in the proposal just regurgitates that. I throw it in at the end of the proposal.
  9. Case Studies – this is pretty important, but again, if your company is engaged with an agency, you should be familiar with their work. It’s always good to show quality work and something that’s relevant to that particular web challenge or company.

That’s pretty much what most proposals consist of…. 

What’s a timeline look like? Well, I guess it depends on who you are talking to. A timeline means different things to different people. A timeline can be for a project or a proposal. Let’s talk about the latter.

Most companies that have marketing, communications, IT, sales, and other departments have internal schedules they need to hit in order to be successful (or unsuccessful). Which is why, when they send out an RFP (Request for Proposal) they attach a deadline for submitted proposals. Most of the deadlines I’ve seen are within 2 weeks of sending out the RFP (not always), but what most lack is the time it takes to a) Qualify the prospect, b) scope the actual engagement, and c) leave anytime for SOW revisal.

Most RFP’s will come equipped with objectives, history of company, scope of work (which often times can be unclear), timeline and budget that the sending company would like to hit. Now, with that being said, many companies will have unrealistic expectations (e.g. – we want four separate API integrations and we need it in 6 weeks – UNREALISTIC!). You need to set those expectations.

That’s why 2  weeks isn’t enough time to get you a solid (non-boilerplate) proposal. In the beginning, when we have that initial call to qualify the prospect (company) on our end, we make an effort to educate the prospect. If they have unrealistic goals, I’ll be completely honest and say that. Now, that might cost my company the deal, but in the long run it’s much better to underestimate and over-deliver, instead of overestimate and under-deliver!

That first call is also to “feel” each other out. You can tell a lot by first impressions. Often times, on the first call you can tell whether or not they’d be a good fit. And vice versa, the company has got to trust their vendors and unless I start building that trust on the first call, the relationship (and essentially the deal) will fail.

What happens on a second call?

A second call (usually the second week, because we need some time to check out their site and do a little research) is about diving much deeper into the scope of work. What types of functionality do they need on the site? What types of integrations? Does it need to be custom? Will a WP premium theme work? Is there any branding work? Lots of questions on the second call. This also helps solidify the relationship. By asking all these questions you’re showing the prospect that you really do care about their project and want to understand what they need. Many times when companies send out RFP’s, their scope of work section will uncover a plethora of more questions that often times the company has not thought about.
Confused computer keyThere’s confusion there, which causes a cascade effect in their organization trying to scramble to get the answers so they can meet that 2 week deadline. That second call gets much more in-depth and armed with this new information we can then begin writing the proposal. So, to recap this – we don’t start writing proposals after the first call – Qualify, Scope, then begin!

Now when you are writing this proposal, it’s inevitable that more questions arise, especially on a heavy technical lift project or one with many levels of complexity. Be prepared as an agency and a company, because good relationships and successful engagements stem from this process that I’m talking about now. In order to do great work, you have to know what you’re doing and get the majority (if not all) of the answers before contracts are signed.

More scoping in the beginning means less surprises and clearer expectations, on both ends.

Now the writing is finished and the agency needs to present, usually the fourth week. But questions will arise on the company’s end and they will need to understand any parameters you’ve put into place and any assumptions you’ve made. Clarity is the friend of the agency and the company. It helps everyone. And then there’s always the possibility of things shifting even before they begin. New stakeholders love coming in and changing things up at the most inopportune times, be prepared for that! I’ve done several revised proposals, it does happen. And once there’s a finalized proposal, companies need to sign contracts….which is an entirely different post for another day.

Just remember, expectations need to be set on that first call. E.g. – “our typical timeline for getting you a proposal is usually four weeks.” If that closes the door, it’s better that happens right at the beginning before you start sinking your time into the endeavor. The great proposals out there take time! And the great agencies out there don’t rush into anything without getting all their ducks in a row, otherwise you’re setting yourself and your team up for failure…..and that doesn’t suit anyone!

Keep ownership of your domain and know your cPanel

January 28, 2015
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Simply put, a C-Panel is a control panel. It’s used in computer software from operating systems to hosting platforms. We’re going to talk about the latter.

Why are C-Panels so important?

From the view point of a user, control panels are important because they let us interact with what ever technology that control panels control, right? Yup! But from an ownership standpoint, knowing how to use a control panel can make all the difference to you and your company. You get a host to serve up your webpages. Something like 1and1 or GoDaddy, both of which I don’t recommend. In fact, if you’re working with WordPress, then go with WP Engine. They are a little more pricey than your 1and1’s and GoDaddy’s, but they are much more secure, they don’t go down (and leave your site useless for hours) and they’re much more helpful.

What ever cPanel you are using, you’ll want to check out that specific tutorial which is usually given by the company you’re hosting with. Here is a great piece for the WP Engine setup. But here’s why it’s important to know this. It comes down to ownership of your domain, your website, any email associated with your domain and so on, so forth.

You, no one else, needs to be the owner of your domain. If you don’t own your domain, then talk to whoever does and get it back from them. Usually, it’s the agency or person who built your website. They, in the past, have bundled that in with your package or what ever they did for you. And now people are getting much more wise when it comes to owning their domains. This is an important step because let’s say you come up with some really great idea or your own blog starts getting traction. If you don’t own your domain name, the company who does can hold that domain over your head and potentially do whatever they want with it. They can charge you and arm and a leg to get it back.

I usually buy my domains on NameCheap and from there I can point that domain to my hosting company. This way I still keep ownership of my domain and I’m able to do what I want with it, without having to go through a third party. Once you sign up for a hosting company you can also buy your domains from that company, usually.

CPanels are pretty easy to navigate once you get the lay of the land. Most companies have set cPanels up so that they’re user-friendly. You can set up your email, so you get one of those cools emails like [email protected] You can upload new files to your site, and set up subdomains to have a development environment.

So, instead of having your developer or the agency you’re working with take care of the hosting part of your site, take the time to learn a little bit about it. It’ll only make you smarter in the long-term and save you lots and lots of money if you ever want to switch companies.

The Black Book of Web Terms

December 31, 2014
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For those of you who are in the business of talking tech, you’re probably familiar with certain web terms like SEO, Full Stack Developer, Adwords, HTML, FTP, Above the Fold, CSS, etc. I’ve put together a list of the most common terms used when talking about everything tech from computer programming to open-source platforms to blogging. I’ve tried to make them as relatable as possible so you can explain these terms to your cyberspace-challenged family at the next Thanksgiving dinner and sound super tech savvy. Terms, acronyms, phrases, and slang are all in the mix, alphabetically ordered for your convenience. If you need more clarification, fill free to reach out!

 

A:

Above the Fold – this refers to anything that can be seen on a webpage without having to scroll down. It stems from the newspapers where anything in the top fold was considered prime real estate for content and ads.

Adwords – this is the most commonly used ad service powered by Google. It allows account holders to bid on certain keywords relevant to their website and create ads which appear on SERPs. It places ad copy usually at the top or to the right of the search engine result page (SERP). If you look closely at the first two or three results on your next search, you’ll see a little yellow box that says “ad” directly to the left of the link, that is if you use Google. Bing has its own ad service, surprisingly called Bing Ads.

Ads

Adsense – this is a little different than Adwords, but connects with it. Adsense allows bloggers and other webmasters to display ads on their sites which can generate income through a CPM (Cost per impression, aka PPM) and CPC (Cost per click, aka PPC). An account holder can get paid through Adsense by taking the ads from Adwords that companies create and pay for and displaying it on their websites. I know this is a little confusing, but all you need to know is Adwords costs money, Adsense can make you money.

Analytics – services that generate statistics about a website’s traffic, patterns, and has the ability to measure conversions. These tools basically track activity on a website.

API – Application Programming Interface – it’s a way for one technology to interact with another technology. Like a Twitter API let’s developers incorporate Twitter data into a website or application, same thing with a YouTube API. This maintains a level of cohesion in the building process.

B:

Back End – refers to everything on the “back-end” of a website, basically what goes on behind the curtain. Back end functionality are the inner workings of a website or application. Also known as server-side, back end is the stuff you don’t see when you look at the webpage. (EX: Have you ever filled out a contact form online? Where does that information go and how does it get there? That’s back end!!) Back end may also refer to a person, he’s a back end developer.

Bandwidth – is a resource in use. If a website has millions of users viewing the site, it will be using a lot of bandwidth. Bandwidth can also be used to describe someone’s availability – a developer just finished their project and has some “bandwidth” to help out on different projects.

Beta – we always hear this product is currently in beta – that means it’s the first “live” phase of a website or a platform. The product is ready for use but the kinks are still being worked out and it’ll improve.

Black-Hat – used to refer to malicious hacking or aggressive SEO strategies.

Blog – if you don’t know what this is, you’ve got problems. But just so you know, blogs started as sort of an online journal and now blogs have turned into complex inbound marketing tools. The internet is like an ocean and companies use pieces of bait called content (blogs) to reel people in with.

Bounce Rate – used in analytics to represent the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from that site after viewing only one page. This is when visitors come to a website and then “bounce” off never going to another page than the one they landed on – hence bounce rate – a low bounce rate is usually good, a high bounce rate is usually bad – usually!!

Browser – this one’s easy. A browser is an application we use to surf the web. (EX: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer (do people still use that, ha!))

C:

Caching – this is when your computer stores a copy of a webpage you previously looked at so it can deliver that page to you faster the next time you view it.

CDN – Content Delivery Network – CDN’s are normally for websites that have lots and lots of images, videos, and rich media. CDN’s will store cached versions of the website on different servers at different locations around the world. This enables the site to be served up quicker when trying to view it. Depending on your location, the server closest to you will show you the website.

CMS – Content Management System – software that makes the management of a website easier for those who aren’t developers. A CMS can have a number of different users, usually called admins, that access the website through a login portal. The user interface opens into a dashboard where admins can publish, edit, and update the website’s content. Examples of CMS’s are WordPress and Drupal, both open source!

CMS View - DashBoard
This is the CMS view of the page you’re ready now!

Cookie – stored in your web browser, a cookie comes from a website you visited. When you revisit the same website, the cookie will send data back to the server to notify the website of your previous activity.

CRO – Conversion Rate Optimization – the practice of creating great experiences for a website user with the goal of converting them to paying customers.

CSS – Cascading Style Sheets – this is a stylesheet for sprucing up your website pages and making things look pretty. With a .css extension and linked from an HTML (seen below) page, it is the decoration of a website.

D:

Deep Web – a part of the internet that is not indexed by regular search engines. The internet is an ocean as in 90% of its contents are below the surface. For every page a regular search engine indexes, there are many more that are not being indexed. See TOR – the software for trolling the deep web.

DNS – Domain Name System – a unique user-friendly name that identifies a website, like beingajile.com and essentially converts the number of the IP address.

DOM – Document Object Model – let me preface this by saying this will be hard to understand! There are objects in an HTML page called elements, things like <title> and <header>, the DOM is basically a representation of the document (often times in the form of a tree) and determines how objects can be manipulated.  It can be considered kind of a theory, and it’s technically an interface. Told you it would be hard to understand. Google it – I dare ya!

Domain Authority – honestly, no one really knows what this is. It’s a secretive algorithm that measures how a website will perform in search engine rankings. Moz has the info you need on Domain Authority.

Drupal – free, open source content management system used to build websites and online communities leveraging modules for functionality.

E:

Element – the components in HTML, they represent content and are wrapped in tags EX:  <p>Paragraph tag</p>, <h1>Heading with the most weight</h1>, <h6>heading with the least weight</h6>, <img src=”this shows an image” />

F:

Favicon – these are the tiny little images and icons that are displayed in the tab of a window next to the title of the actually webpage.

FTP – File Transfer Protocol – a way for files from one computer (usually a personal computer) to be transferred to another computer (usually a server) to be viewed on the internet.

Framework – in development, a framework helps by having a defined collection of tools to pull from for creating websites and web apps. Common activities (e.g. – fixed layouts, responsive markup) are put together and available for use instead of building something from scratch.

Front End – development that involves everything a user sees on a website, sometimes called client-side. Also refers to a person, she’s a front-end developer.

Full Stack Developer – a developer who knows both front-end and back-end development, these developers are extremely skilled and demand a high salary!

G:

GIF – a format file type used most times for animated images and graphics.

Git – a version control system which enables developers to work on projects simultaneously from different computers and store revisions of development history. It’s really good for holding developers accountable!

H:

Hack – there’s two meanings for this. One – is the traditional meaning where your computer gets hacked by a hacker for profit, gain, or notoriety. The Second – is when files are customized by a programmer, but not coded properly. You’ll often hear, “the core files are so hacked we’d have to start from scratch.” – this could mean that the files were hacked by a hacker, but it probably means that some developer who had access to those files changed the code to get the website or program to run the way it needed to run, but they didn’t use best practices.

High-level – this is a business term which means very basic, an overview, not specific or detailed. Your boss comes to you and says, “I’d like a high-level overview of your department’s business objectives for Q4 this year, just something simple.”

HTML – Hyper Text Markup Language – one of the first languages in website building, it leverages components known as elements wrapped in tags (surrounded by angle brackets shown here – <title>My Website</title>) to render certain types of text and images in a file with the extension .html. When rendered on a webpage, the above example would only show My Website. It is the skeleton of pretty much any website and contains different types of content.

HTTP(S) – Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (Secure) – it’s basically a set of rules for transferring information over the internet between browsers and servers. HTTPS is the secure transfer over an encrypted connection.

I:

IP Address – Internet Protocol Address – this is the number associated with a web address or computer.

J:

JS – JavaScript – a scripting/programming language used to create dynamic websites. It can handle user events and movements, alter content, and make for an overall great user experience. JavaScript has become very popular these last few years.

jQuery – a JavaScript library to simplify creating animations and handling events. It’s the most widely used JavaScript library today, and it’s got a great API.

K:

Keyword – any term, phrase, or word typed into a search query in a search engine that shows results.

KPI– Key Performance Indicators – companies use KPI’s to gauge and compare performance, they usually come in the form of some type of data-driven metric like social media reach, profits, or analytics.

L:

Landing Page – a webpage built within a website for the purpose of being “landed” on, usually from email marketing or social media. A landing page is built in hopes of converting users into customers.

Link Bait – content on a website that other sites link to because they find it interesting, unique, funny, and want to link to it.

Link Building – getting other websites to link to your website in hopes of improving your own ranking in a search engine.

M:

Markup – another way to say code, HTML is a markup language. See also syntax.

Meta – often heard in line with the word data, metadata is literally data about data. It helps search engines read parts of your website to determine what type of data it is.

Microsite – this is an individual website with its own domain/subdomain and as its own entity, but often times associated with another larger website. A microsite is usually used to showcase some type of event or new product.

Mockup – a design that shows a user what a website will look like without having to build any of the functionality.

MVP – Minimum Viable Product – for a website, the MVP has just those core features that allow the site to be deployed live. It’s the absolute bare minimum a website can be and still be used.

N:

NAP Consistency – Name, Address, Phone Number – a company’s NAP should be the same across all different local listings and other listings. This will help with local SEO.

O:

OOP – Object Oriented Programming – is a fundamental of computer programming that centers around objects and the methods or functions that control them.

OS – Operating System – are you using a Mac, Windows, or Linux OS? The iPhone’s operating system is iOS, go figure!

P:

Panda – this was an update to Google’s algorithm that aimed at lowering the rank of low-quality sites aka “thin sites”, and return higher quality sites at the top of the SERP.

Penguin – this was another update to the Google algorithm that aimed at decreasing search engine rankings for those sites that were still practicing Black-Hat SEO tactics.

PHP – PHP Hypertext Preprocessor – what?!? yes that first P stands for PHP, it makes no sense, I guess HP was taken! This is a programming language that is normally used with a database like MySQL to build dynamic websites and web applications. Over 80% of the web is written in PHP.

Pogo-sticking – users who search for a keyword and click on the first result they see. Then they don’t find what they want and hit the back button to the results page and click on the second result they see. Then they don’t find what they want again, and this can go on and on, hence the pogo-stick.

Post – an article in a blog.

Q:

QA – Quality Assurance – the act of making sure something works properly. In development, massive regression testing, unit testing, browser testing, and cross-platform testing is usually done.

Query – any question, whether that’s searching in a search box or querying a database to get back info from that database, a query is simply a question.

R:

RFP – Request for Proposal – this is a business term, but it’s when companies contact a web agency in hopes of finding a solution to their web challenge. If a company wants to build a website or do a redesign, they’ll put together an RFP (which basically describes what they’re using now and what they’d like to change about it – high level stuff) and send it to a web firm to get a proposal.

Rich Media – this can be different things, a few examples are images, videos, and animations that usually involve some type of user interaction. Or it can be an image, video, or interactive advertisement.

River – on a blog, it’s the main section of blog posts, not the sidebar.

RSS – Really Simple Syndication, actually it’s Rich Site Summary – RSS feeds allow a webmaster to syndicate someone’s content from a blog or news source to their own site and link back to that blog or news source, the feed will automatically update with any new posts.

S:

Scope Creep – adding incrementally to a project plan or statement of work (SOW), and realizing that the project plan has gotten way too big! The creep refers to adding small things (features, functionality, etc.) to a project and then realizing that the scope (what the project entails) is way over budget or the timeline’s too short.

SEO – Search Engine Optimization – for lack of sounding obvious, this means optimizing a website for the search engine. It’s an organic (meaning free) process of affecting a website’s visibility in SERPs. The strategy for this is extensive and constantly changing, you can check out some of my previous posts on SEO and Search Engines to get a basic look.

SEM – Search Engine Marketing – increasing the visibility of your website through paid advertisements.

SERP – Search Engine Results Page – it’s the page that has all the results on it after you enter a search query and hit enter.

Server – simply put, a server is a computer, but it’s a big one that houses a bunch of different websites.

Sitemap – this is a list of all pages within a website that can be crawled by spiders or by users, normally showing the taxonomy of a website.

Spamdexing – slang term for the use of Black-Hat SEO strategies like invisible text (hiding text between the markup and rendering it invisible), keyword stuffing (stuffing a webpage full of the same keyword), and doorway pages (landing on a page and then suddenly being redirected to another page) for the purposes of high visibility in search engine rankings. This is a very bad thing to do and it’s like committing SEO suicide.

Spider – a program designed to crawl (read) web pages.

SOW – statement of work – a document that tells the client what you plan on doing for their project.

Syntax – properly structured code.

T:

Table – a slang term for putting something on hold. EX: “I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, so why don’t we table this month’s content strategy and circle back at a later date.” I hate this term!!

Taxonomy – this is the procedure of organizing and categorizing the different web pages on a website. A website’s hierarchy.

TOR – The Onion Router – this is a free software for online anonymity. It let’s users surf the web much like Google or Bing does, but with no threat of placing cookies on your computer or tracking your movements. TOR is often used to surf the Deep Web.

U:

UI/UX – User Interface / User Experience – UI is what we use when we’re doing some type of action online (e.g. – viewing a website, purchasing an online product). UX is the feeling we get from doing those actions.

URL – Uniform Resource Locater – URL’s are a website’s unique address so that it can be found online.

Usability – criteria that assesses how easy a user interface is to use including learnability, efficiency, memorability, errors, and satisfaction. The Nielsen Norman Group has a great post on this topic – Usability 101

User-friendly – this just means that something is easy for us humans to understand! EX: beingajile.com/blog is much easier for us to understand than beingajile.com/wp/13286-aXeS3.3428.php

V:

Virus – much like a cold virus or the flu, a computer virus is a malicious program that likes to harm and reproduce in other hosts (computers).

W:

Webmaster – any person who develops or controls a website.

Widget – a small piece of functionality in WordPress usually found in the sidebar or footer areas.

Wireframe – this is kind of like a blueprint for a website, often done with boxes, it represents a visual framework.

WordPress – an open source content management system designed for developers and non-developers. It has a vast community of developers/non-developers who regularly contribute to making it the best blogging platform out there. It utilizes plugins which are pieces of functionality that help the end user accomplish something (e.g. – embed a twitter feed). This is such an immense platform that the codex has got all the documentation you need to get started.

X:

XML – Extensible Markup Language – defines a set of rules for encoding documents in both human-readable and machine-readable format, it’s also designed to carry and store data.

Y:

 

Z:

 

I couldn’t find anything for Y and Z, but I’m sure this will be a constantly updated list. I literally keep a black book of web terms right next to my computer so that when I hear someone say a term I’m not familiar with, I write it down. Please feel free to reach out if you have any input or want to know something more about a certain term. Hope this was helpful.

The Comfort-Zone Culture Facebook Breeds

December 10, 2014
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People flock to Facebook, right? It’s the most widely used social media platform in the world. I’m sure you’re friends with what….500 people? Me too! But the reality is – we probably only keep in touch with maybe 10 people on there. Facebook breeds this culture of people who can’t interact with one another face-to-face, which is odd because it’s called Facebook!!

For the longest time I swore I would never be on any social media platform – Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. But a long while ago, I made the leap into Facebook. I thought it was really cool the way I could reach out to old friends from high school and say hello. I could know more about a co-worker, or a great aunt I met once at a family reunion. It’s an interesting medium. You have this portal into a person’s life. Facebook is like a window into people’s houses. You’re looking from the outside into a person’s life and people sit on the outside and look into your life. It’s up to what to share, how to share it, and who you can share it with. But does it really portray an accurate portrait of someone…..probably not.

Let’s face it, all of us put only the good stuff up there. Some put up the bad, like when they go through a breakup (this is the worst, don’t do this!!), but for the most part we read about someone’s kid getting on the honor’s list, or this person just landed a new job.  And people love sharing things about their pets, houses, cars, etc. People post some bizarre stuff that they find from someone else’s timeline. So really, Facebook is breeding this culture of competition, and plagiarism, and staying inside your comfort zone.

Another thing is the fact that people just friend people to have more friends. I’ve gotten friend requests from several people in my past, I accept and say hello, and nothing. Not a “hey, how’s it going?” or a “been a long time, hope all is well” – I find this sad, really sad. We have the energy to push a few buttons so that someone can get access to our versions of our own worlds, but we don’t have the energy or the decency to type a few short sentences to actually make a personal connection. It’s odd. I’ve seen a few people from the past and have reached out to see how they’ve been and no response. What’s the point of being friends with someone if you can’t say a friendly hello once in awhile?

One more thing, if you’re friends with someone on Facebook, you would think that you could go up to that person and say “hey, how are you?” – but this isn’t entirely true. People are awkward in person, they can’t talk. And I don’t get it, it’s something about having a face-to-face that makes people really uncomfortable. So, for those of you who want to continue hiding behind the skewed portrait of your life called Facebook and not come in front of the counter, then by all means, enjoy your comfort zone (that you will forever be a slave to) and just keep existing.

For those of you who actually care about personal connection and want to laugh, smile, and be in the presence of physical people, I’ll be hanging around outside that comfort zone – because that’s where people grow – beyond their comfort zones. It’s a weird thing, Facebook has brought us all closer together, but has it really brought us farther a part? I’m not sure.

NEWDcamp

November 3, 2014
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Yeah, it sounds kinda provocative, right? NEWDcamp, pronounced nude camp, it actually has a double meaning and none of them are inappropriate. New England Drupal Camp and the New Drupal Camp. It was a great turnout for the first ever NEWDcamp!

Even though I stood behind a booth for the majority of the event, I still met a lot of great people and managed to see Jeff Robbins keynote talk. It was right up my ally because he incorporated his life as a rock star into the speech.

Jeff Robbins was the front man for a band called Orbit in the 90s, when all those grunge bands were around. Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, etc. There was Orbit too, and maybe they didn’t get the fame that Pearl Jam got/has, but they were in the game!

Jeff talked about keeping things fresh and challenging yourself. Instead of going after every client out there, pick the ones that are right for your company. Qualify them a little more. I did get the chance to ask Jeff a question about qualifying potential leads. Is there a criteria for what Jeff calls the N-B-C (No Bad Clients)?

He had a great answer – NATM, Name, Authority, Timeline, and Money. Is this a client that can go on your portfolio or is it a client that just wants you to do some design that they already mocked up. What is their role in the company that’s looking for an agency? Are they a stakeholder and have significant pull or authority to make decisions? What’s the timeline? Is it something that needs to be done within two weeks, do they have a strict deadline? And how much money do they have? This is the tricky part, not too many people want to give me their budgets, but I need to know a range because it will dictate what I propose for you.

So, thanks Jeff, great answer! I really enjoyed being a part of the first ever NEWDcamp. It was a blast and hopefully next year I can go to more sessions.

Beginning your SEO strategy

October 29, 2014
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I get this question a lot:

How do you improve your SEO??

And it’s a hard question to answer because….as we all know….SEO changes all the time, all the time! You’ve got to keep up with it in order to improve it, and even that doesn’t guarantee anything. In all seriousness, most companies – if they hire an expert SEO specialist, it will take about a year to see any real improvements. It’s a long game, but…..

It all starts with a strategy

And most people will tell you it begins with a keyword strategy. I’m going to kind of go over that and only that. For those of you who are familiar with this – you can stop reading now.

Ok, so keyword strategy can be pretty straightforward. You want to rank for specific keywords, but those keywords obviously have to be relevant to your product, service, or company. The first thing you do is brainstorm. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer or visitor, think like they think, type like they type. What services do you provide? Try to figure out what keyword phrases you think best represent your company.

Then phase 2 – Research – this is a very important step to this process. Researching is key to having a successful keyword campaign. Use online tools like the Google Keyword Planner in Adwords, you can view what people are searching and narrow it down by location and industry. This is the best tool to find other similar keyword phrases that may be easier to rank for. While hundreds of thousands of people search for the term “iphone cases” not nearly as many people search for “cool iphone cases.” So use this tool and take the time to come up with 10 or 15 like terms. You can also check out keywordtool.io, this will give you similar phrases that may yield better results.

The next phase is organization. You have to realized that there are 3 things that go into really successful keyword campaigns. Relevance is one of them, Volume is another, and Competition is the third. Make sure your keyword terms are relevant to your company, service, or product. Make sure the volume on that term is somewhat low, otherwise it’ll be hard to rank for it. And check out how much competition you have, locally, regionally, globally.

If you can base your strategy around these simple steps, you’ll be headed in the right direction.

Agile Methodology

October 7, 2014
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The agile approach is called many different names – scrum, sprints, agile. They all have similar concepts and they all work differently for each individual team. While building any type of software, whether it’s a website, phone app, or some type of cloud based CRM, the agile approach is the best way to go. Why, you ask? I’ll tell you, but first….

For those of you who don’t know, there are essentially two different approaches to web projects – waterfall and agile. Waterfall is your traditional approach to a project. An RFP is given to an agency. That agency wins the RFP by writing a killer proposal or one that’s priced according to the client’s budget. And the project begins, usually with a kick off meeting discussing important core features and business objectives. A discovery then occurs where developers come in and get a feel for the client’s information architecture (content types, categories, etc.) and database structure (fields, fieldsets, etc.). The designs are started and shown to the client, either with a yay or nay. And then the build takes place. The critical part to remember is that the design comes before the build in this approach. That means that you have to build according to the design and not the other way around.

This approach can be tedious – relentlessly. What happens if that design you made doesn’t fit right over the build you’re architecting? What happens if that little tiny icon over that image breaks the navbar? What happens if newsletter signup gets cut off on a tablet or mobile device? What happens if, what happens if? These are the questions you’ll find while taking a traditional approach. So, what we do is change that approach to be agile. It’s a cool word, right?

Agile is the evolution of collaboration and iteration unveiling the right solution. And you do this by prototyping the build first. There are some great core values that the agile approach preaches and you can find them written in the agile manifesto. You do all the normal things you would do in an engagement like a kick off meeting and a discovery phase where you learn about the company, objectives, structure and architecture. But when it comes time to get down to the nitty gritty, you prototype and then you iterate. And you start the design while you’re prototyping. What does this give you? It gives you a working, clickable, browsable, some-what designless website – what we call a gray site. But then you keep iterating and things start to take shape. It’s a process that lets you build a site that works properly and doesn’t lock you in to a final technical spec.

And trust me, the design will look good, great in fact! But it needs to sit on top of a fully functional website. What will make a visitor leave your site quicker? Not having that cool icon sitting over the image the way you wanted it to or having a website that loads slow and doesn’t function properly across all platforms? Yeah, I thought you’d say that!! So, if you run a team of developers and are thinking about going agile, I strongly recommend it.

Pocket Dial Emergencies

October 6, 2014
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This amazes me and scares me at the same time. I recently read an article about people pocket-dialing 911.

PhoneCell

Does this really happen? I’m sure it does, but the extent at which it happens is phenomenal, seriously! Data has shown for certain call centers across the nation that out of 100 calls, 40 are pocket-dials. I mean, come on people! This is 911!! Ya know, the number people call when they’re dying or in trouble, or when their cat runs up a tree and can’t get down.

Truly, this whole scenario is bad. What if someone tries to dial 911 but can’t get in because 40 different people are accidentally pocket dialing the emergency line. And what happens when the call comes in late, the medics get dispatched a few seconds late, they get to the hospital a few seconds late and bam, the patient dies because you decided you’d keep your phone unlocked when you put it in your pocket. Seriously, I’ve never pocket dialed anyone, but that’s just me.

I wonder if authorities call these infamous butt-dialers back up and say “hey, try not to pocket dial us anymore, your clogging up the lines.”