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Joomla! Start to FinishHow to Plan, Execute, and Maintain Your Web Site
By Jen Kramer
John Wiley & SonsCopyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI Want a Web Site and I Want It Blue - How Much Will That Cost?
WHAT'S IN THIS CHAPTER?
* Understanding business strategy, web site strategy, and user strategy, and how they compliment and contrast with each other * Understanding a target audience and how it helps shape the message of your web site * Assembling a team to build the web site
If you're like me, you've been asked something like the question in the chapter's title more than once when talking to a potential client. How do you answer it?
* Do you offer them a package of services for a fixed price? * Do you ask them whether they want a calendar, blog, or some other piece of functionality with that? * Do you ask them whether they want to update the web site themselves, or do they want you to do the maintenance?
All these questions are reasonable to ask at a certain point in the conversation with your potential client. But a far better place to start is at the beginning. For example, I might reply by saying, "Sure, we can make it blue. But before we start talking about how the site will look, please tell me a little about your business. What do you dofor a living?"
Why would I want to do that? If the client is telling me to set up a few pages and a calendar, what could be simpler? Charge the client and move on to the next one!
Many freelancers run their businesses just like this, and they do reasonably well in a reasonable economy. But as the economy gets worse, clients hold on to their pocketbooks more tightly. They want to know they are getting the biggest bang for their buck, and they want to know that what you build is really going to work for them. And, of course, as the economy sours, moving on to the next client becomes progressively harder, because that next one is much harder to come by.
You bring more value to the table than just knowing which buttons to push to build a web site. You know all about technology trends and the latest cutting-edge Joomla extensions. You know about usability principles and how to make a clean interface. Maybe you had a client similar to this one before, and you know what worked for him. Perhaps it will work for this client, too.
You must market those strategic thinking skills and demonstrate how your good ideas add value to the service you deliver. Anyone can click buttons, but not everyone knows how to build a strategically sound web site. This chapter starts you on your way to doing that with your next client.
When I was just getting started as a freelancer, I received a call from a housing developer who was selling his home in southern Vermont for $1.875 million. He needed to get some people in the door to look at the house and thought a web site might be a good way to do it. He wanted to know whether I had any suggestions.
We started by discussing his business strategy and target audience. Armed with that information, together we developed a web site strategy based on what he wanted to do and a user strategy based on what his site visitors would want to get out of the web site. Here's what we came up with during the discussion:
* Business strategy. His business strategy was to sell his home, hopefully close to the asking price. * Target audience. His target audience had to be someone with enough money to afford a $1.875 million home. The average income for a southern Vermont family is about $44,000/yr, and most houses sell somewhere between $100,000 and $250,000, so the local people were clearly not the target. It was more likely that he was targeting someone from the big cities, like Boston, New York, or Montreal, which are in driving distance of the house. Big cities offer the possibility of jobs paying salaries that would support owning a home like this client's. Another target possibility was a corporate owner for the home, offering a retreat for senior executives. * Web site strategy. Someone buying a house sight unseen, let alone a house with that price tag, is unlikely. Therefore, the web site strategy was to provide enough compelling information to get someone from a big city to come down for the weekend to walk through the house and hopefully buy it. The photos should be seasonal, to emphasize Vermont's four distinct seasons and the activities one can enjoy in each season. Therefore, the photos needed changed three to four times per year to show how the house looked at that particular season. The copy could also be adapted as the seasons changed, emphasizing skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. * User strategy. The visitors to this web site had their own agenda. The user strategy was to see lots and lots of beautiful pictures, get directions, read up on the house specifications, and see what there was to do in the area to make a weekend trip to see the house.
Based on this information, we built a web site of about 20 pages. We had a professional photographer take dozens of photos of the house and the grounds and even had a helicopter fly over the house with the photographer to take impressive seasonal photos of the house and the surrounding gardens. We had a content writer write all kinds of flowery content, generating warm, positive feelings about the beauty, serenity, and seclusion of the house, yet how convenient it was to grocery stores and shopping. We also included a page of information about regional events and attractions that might be of interest to someone visiting the area for the weekend. And most importantly, we included contact information to get in touch with the owner, via phone or e-mail.
We also had to think about a marketing plan for the web site, including how to get the site to show up in search engines, but we also did some cross-promotional advertising in the New York Times homes listing and other home listings in Boston and New York. (Remember that when you market a web site, you don't have to do all marketing on the Internet. Cross-promotional advertising means advertising in a different media - in this case, the newspaper.)
Eventually, the house did sell, close to his asking price. The site was successful, and we archived it.
Now, had this client simply said he wanted to sell his house and asked how much it would cost for a web site, I might have come up with some of this information without our having had the strategic discussion. Obviously, the site should contain photos of the house, along with some additional information about how many bedrooms, baths, and so on. However, would I have come up with the idea of including information about the local events and what to do in the area? Would I have thought to change the photos seasonally? It's likely I would not have caught all the nuances of the strategy without our discussion, and perhaps the house would have taken much longer to sell.
Understanding Your Client's Business Strategy
A business strategy is some type of plan that applies to an organization to help it achieve its goals. Although the term is "business strategy," it is not necessarily limited to businesses. A non-profit can have a business strategy, as can an educational institution.
In general, this plan covers the mission of the organization, its vision, how it conducts business, its plan for the future, the markets in which it competes, and the people it serves.
If I'm running a web development firm, I might tell you that my mission is to build web sites, that I sell my services building those web sites to make money, that I'm competing with the guy down the street, and that I serve the people in my community.
However, I could make that mission statement a bit more targeted. Do I build web sites for just anyone? What kinds of web sites do I build? Somehow, I need to differentiate the work that I do from the web site developer down the street. For example, I might use Joomla to build my sites, whereas he builds static web sites. I specialize in web sites for environmentally oriented non-profits, whereas he designs sites for small local businesses. My web sites start at 100 pages and go up from there, whereas he builds smaller sites, normally 10-20 pages.
The more targeted a business strategy becomes, the more targeted you can make your marketing plan, and the more of the target audience you can reach. A focused, well-crafted business strategy converts more people to customers, and you're more likely to make them happy with what you offer.
For example, if my web development business focuses on environmentally oriented non-profits, it's less likely the local church will call me about a web site.
Constructing a business strategy is hard work, takes a lot of thought, and, frankly, many people are too busy running their businesses to consider their strategy. If they did take the time to think about that strategy, however, they would find their business runs more smoothly and efficiently. The owners spend less time running the business, rather than the business running the owners.
To determine a business strategy, usually all you have to do is ask your clients what they do for a living, and listen very carefully to what they have to say. They should tell you exactly how they fulfill their mission goals - how they make money, how they recruit membership, how they solicit donations, and so on. They should talk about a typical customer or client, what this client needs from the business, and how the business fills that need.
For an established business, this conversation is fairly straightforward. In general, the business owner has little trouble answering any questions you ask.
For a new business or organization, however, you might ask some questions that are answered with, "Good question!" If your clients are unclear about their business strategy, encourage them to develop a strategy first, before putting up the web site. Plenty of local resources specialize in helping with this, such as SCORE, your local Small Business Administration office, and local and regional programs targeted at fostering small businesses.
Some business owners will tell you they need a web site because everyone says they do, but they're not sure why they need it or what they'll get from it. This is not really business strategy. What you want is something like the following:
* I want to offer a way for people to discover my store hours and location, plus an easy way to contact me by phone or e-mail. I want to reduce the number of phone calls my staff gets that deal with these very questions. * I want to offer my products online, and offer a way for customers to find out what stores are near them that sell the product. * I want to establish my expertise in a certain area, which will lead to consulting requests. * I want to recruit new dealers for my products. * I want people to subscribe to my publication and look up back issues.
Occasionally, while you try to find out the business strategy, the client will want to start talking about technologies. I've heard everything from the importance of a blog on a web site to how exactly certain database queries would be made. As soon as you go down the path of discussing technologies, you're discussing how exactly the site will function, not what problems the site will solve. Keep the conversation focused on strategy - what problems are you trying to solve? - and the technological solutions to those problems will be much easier to define.
Some Clients Should Not Have a Web Site
Consider how many sites you have visited that felt information-free and perhaps even half-finished. What was your impression of that organization? (Probably not positive, I'm guessing.)
This type of impression usually is a sign of an ambiguous business owner who got a site because someone (their spouse, a friend, a relative) urged her to get a site for the business. The owner wasn't necessarily convinced, and wasn't sure what to do with it, but now she has a web site so everyone will leave her alone.
Perhaps it's the type of small business where everything is done with paper and a non-computerized cash register. Although this seems impossible these days, these businesses are still around - and many are thriving.
A neglected-feeling web site might also be the sign of an overstretched owner who simply doesn't have time to think about updating the site.
If you are building a web site, and the owner doesn't seem particularly engaged in the process, make sure she understands the following about the commitment she is making by having a site:
* The owner must commit to checking and answering e-mail every business day. After all, web sites generate e-mails that must be answered. Visitors find not being able to contact the web site owner, preferably by e-mail, frustrating. (Famously, Southwest Airlines had no e-mail contact for years, but it had a web site. It finally offered e-mail contact in 2009 after customer insistence, but it states it has a five-business-day response window to e-mails.) * The site needs to be updated periodically. How often? Of course, "It depends." Some sites can stand to be updated quarterly, whereas others should be updated every day. For example, an informational web site about your freelance Joomla business might be okay if it's updated quarterly. But if you're CNN, you should update your web site every day (perhaps even several times an hour). * The site is not a one-time investment. A web site must be updated, redesigned, expanded, reworked, pared back, and have new functionality added. Nothing is worse than finding web sites that look like they were built around 1995 and have not been updated since. Rolling rainbow bars, starry backgrounds, spiders in webs, prominent hit counters, and little men in hardhats banging the ground with a hammer are generally considered "fashion no's" and hallmarks of a site that needs updating. Desperately. * Likewise, don't necessarily expect the site to "pay for itself." This theme was common in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Site owners expected the web site to directly bring in revenue, or they would kill it. The web site is a piece of the overall marketing for the organization. Many people will read a web site and then call for more information, rather than purchasing a product on the site.
If your client doesn't seem to understand the preceding points, you might want to steer her away from a web site. Unfortunately, when sites are not updated regularly, they do go horribly out of date. Then the client is upset that the site isn't performing, and she was right all along, the web can't do a thing for her! Updating a site regularly, of course, is no guarantee of success - but not updating it regularly eventually leads to a business's goals not being met.
Aligning the Business Strategy with the Web Strategy
After you're clear on what a client wants to do with a site (the business strategy), it's time to think about how technology can help implement that strategy, meet goals, and solve any problems.
Some problems are easy. If the client wants to cut down on phone calls about the business location and operating hours, perhaps putting that information in the footer of the web page and again under "About Us" can solve the problem. (Of course, you don't know whether this method solves the problem until you test to see whether your users can find the location and hours easily.)
Other problems are harder. For example, how does a business communicate its depth of experience in a certain area?
Suppose that you identify the problem you're trying to solve as showing that you are a Joomla expert on your web site for your freelance business. What are some possible solutions to that problem? Here are a few:
* You put up a bunch of text explaining your depth of knowledge, degrees you have, and awards you've won.
* Advantage: Cheap! Easy!
* Disadvantage: Who really reads that stuff? You're telling someone you are an expert, but you haven't demonstrated anything. Should you put up the text anyway? Sure, it can't hurt, but it shouldn't be the only solution to this problem.
* Improvement: Don't just say it yourself. Get testimonials from your clients and colleagues so you have third-party confirmation of how fabulous you are.
Excerpted from Joomla! Start to Finish by Jen Kramer Copyright © 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Excerpted by permission.
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