Month: July 2014

How to Hire Web Developers

New websites or web-based applications don’t necessarily innovate or streamline practices. These tools can hurt your business if they aren’t developed strategically. Opportunities are missed. Time and energy is misappropriated. Money is wasted.

Many organizations keep web developers on staff. But the need for innovative or highly customized work often requires outside help. What do you do when you’ve recognized that your organization needs to hire a web developer for a project? What if it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what you are looking for? Do you know what your options are?

Passing along the conceptualization process to your chosen web developer isn’t enough. If you’ve chosen good web developers, they’ll double as consultants and will include you (or one of your trusted stakeholders) in the conceptualization process. This is our process at Gulo. And I know of several other web development agencies who also make a point to engage their clients in the process.

Most will just take your money.

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Clients often approach web development agencies with only a vague sense of what their business’s new web-based project will accomplish. Such clients are in need of web development consulting first, and the actual development second. Unfortunately, the consulting stage is too often glossed over. And the truth is that few web development agencies think of themselves as consultants, most are all too willing to take their client’s money and start building based off whatever vague instruction their client has given them.

But it’s not surprising that many companies don’t reach out to web developers for assistance in the conceptualization stage.

Their fear is simple (and justified):

What if a web developer sells us on something we don’t actually need? 

This situation is no different than when someone who is woefully ignorant about vehicle maintenance, like myself, finds himself at the local auto shop. Professionals who understand a very specific and technical type of work can sniff out those who do not. In this case, the mechanic is in a position to potentially over charge me, or sell their helpless prey on any manner of unneeded work. I hate being in this position. But such fears don’t change the fact that my car needs a pair of eyes more trained than my own, just like web developers are sometimes needed to build out your company’s web-based tools.

These fears are the very reason that there is less strategic consulting in web development projects than their ought to be.

But you can avoid this trap.

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Web applications, no matter how flashy or well built they might be, can be a double edged sword. They cut you when they are built without proper consideration for the role they play in servicing your business’s bottom line. A developer needs to work with the client, clearly defining what goal(s) the project is building towards, be it revenue generation or more efficient teamwork. If a project is multifaceted, developers must consider: how are these applications working together, towards the business or organization’s bottom line?

It’s worth keeping in mind that web developers build websites and web-based tools for every industry. It provides them with unique insight. The best development houses learn about each industry they build tools for, and they use their experience to provide strategic counsel.

Once a business has built its website or application, their business model can become irrevocably attached to these new tools. Projects such as e-commerce functionality, Salesforce integration for a sales team, internal training tools, or thousands of others, can become deeply embedded in a business’s structure. And one poorly constructed piece can slow down, or even sink, the ship.

You want a web development team that takes the time to learn how each project factors into your bottom line and day to day practices.

Strategic web development takes time and careful deliberation. But it really can be as simple as taking the extra time to speak with your web development team. Web developers can’t even begin to build something worthwhile until they understand exactly how the project will service your business’s bottom line.  If they aren’t interested in learning what drives your company, find another developer immediately.

 

Free Sandwiches

When I use my credit card to buy a sandwich at my favorite deli, I receive an email. The deli uses a rewards service offered by Spring. The automated emails, sent immediately after each purchase, include a graph that illustrates just how close you are to your ‘free’ $10 gift card. It’s silly, and hardly removed from the ’10 punches on a punch card gets you a free sandwich!’ of old. But honestly? This little graphic really does help ensure that I return to that deli: Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 12.13.57 PM Yes, this graph suckered me into buying more sandwiches. This visual has successfully burrowed its way into my head whenever I’m contemplating my lunch plan. I usually keep my eyes open for sales tricks, I really do. But that deli caught me with that one. And I’m sure I’m not alone; it’s a well-devised new spin on a classic tactic.

Such targeted, web-driven information is only in its infancy. But countless advances are made in this field every day. The marketing and sales applications for web-based, targeted promotions  is advancing particularly fast. iBeacons, an Apple-specific offering, represents one noteworthy new means through which these tactics will be put to use. More information about iBeacons and similar technology is available here, if you’re curious: iBeacon. But here is a general overview: iBeacons (and a number of comparable technologies) allow companies to market directly to your cell phone. MLB ballparks are an early adopter of this technology. If you’re at an MLB game, iBeacons can already market to you based off exactly which participating food or beverage vendor you’re standing nearest. This is just one early example of this new form of targeted marketing is already being put to use. It should go without saying that this is immensely powerful technology, particularly for owners of brick and mortar stores, who depend on catching the attention of foot traffic.

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Today’s shoppers (Photo Curtesy of The New York Times)

It all reminds me of a scene from the 2002 movie Minority Report, in which targeted advertisements are beamed directly into the contact lenses (Google Glass, anyone?) of the protagonist as he walks through a ‘futuristic’ mall. (Not really so far-fetched, was it?) But, overwhelming and controversial as these emerging technologies may be, business owners would be remiss to ignore them.

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Tom Cruise’s stroll through the ‘mall of the future’ in Stephen Spielberg’s: Minority Report

I recently read the following article by Don Peppers: If I Ran a Brick and Mortar Retailer. Mr. Pepper’s own assessments made me think about my favorite deli’s evolving sales techniques. More than just sandwiches and graphs, this article had me thinking about the thousands of business owners seeking assistance with their own unique web-based projects. Owners of brick and mortar storefronts are increasingly depending upon e-commerce and we-based marketing solutions that are highly customized to drive their store’s bottom line. Indeed, the central problem Mr. Peppers lays out–brick and mortar storefronts trying to compete in the age of e-commerce and web-based marketing—is one of the main needs addressed by web developers today. Several years into this evolution, many brick and mortar businesses, including small to medium sized businesses, are leading the way in web-based innovations.

Owners and stakeholders of small business continue to seek out their own brand of custom solutions that have proven to, sometimes dramatically, deepen customer engagement. My favorite deli, and their software partner, are just one such example. Of course, retailoring an existing business model to allow for more web-driven services can be extremely laborious, not to mention costly. It’s certainly true that the long term result of such integrations can be a marked increase in revenue, but the up front cost involved can be a bitter pill to swallow.

A 1 or 2% decline in revenue, year over year, is a concern for any small business. But it’s rare that relatively modest declines will lead a business owner to take drastic action. In fact, investing thousands of dollars into restructuring a business to incorporate e-commerce and/or social media functionalities might be the last thing on the mind of a struggling small business owner. Unfortunately, such inaction can be a part of the reason many of today’s brick and mortar businesses go under, even if they  are slow-sinking ships.

Business owners need to keep a sharp eye out on emerging technologies like iBeacon and the software utilized by my favorite deli. More than this, business leaders, particularly of brick and mortar storefronts, need to start thinking about how these technologies will continue to converge.

A website may not be your business’s marque storefront, but it’s the storefront with the largest potential customer base. And more and more, e-commerce and web-based tools are becoming an expected means for small business to deepen their connection with their customer base. Fortunately, web development firms continue to strategize with business owners every day.

In many cases, a short consultation with a web developer can lead the way to a more competitive business. But simply meeting with and paying web developers is not a solution. Pay attention to exactly what these web developers say. Be sure that the agency takes the time to truly get to know your unique business model, and exactly how web-based solutions could best affect your business’s bottom line.

As always, with new challenges come new opportunities. Staying vigilant and on the forefront of emerging technology is of paramount importance for business owners. Exactly how each business utilizes these innovations requires thoughtful, customized solutions.

One thing is certain: I don’t keep punch cards in my wallet anymore.

Yay, Error Page Found

We don’t see them very often, but a creatively designed 404 page can really bring a smile to your face. In the case of our redesign, since most of you will never see our 404 page, we thought we should share it publicly. Why not make it whimsical? Wikipedia tell us,

The 404 or Not Found error message is a HTTP standard response code indicating that the client was able to communicate with a given server, but the server could not find what was requested.

The web site hosting server will typically generate a “404 Not Found” web page when a user attempts to follow a broken or dead link; hence the 404 error is one of the most recognizable errors users can find on the web.

However, modern times calls for more modern practices. Put some thought and creativity into your 404 page and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to get some social mo-jo from it.

Chicago EL Crashing at O’Hare

Chicago EL Crashing at O'hare

Russian Workers Dancing

Russian Weirdness

Dumb and Dumber

Dumb and Dumber

A little privacy for the sheep, please.

A little sheep privacy

The Lego man unplugged everything

Lego man unplugs the power

Creative artwork and phrase

Flown the coop

Sneak peek of CSS code

Code App 404

Where’s the Princess?

Thank you Mario!