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How to Be A Good Web Firm Consumer

How to Be A Good Web Firm Consumer

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    So you’ve hired a web firm to design your new web site. Now what? Today I’m completing my Business Web Series and talking about what you can do to be a good consumer of web site developers and designers.

    Just like most business owners have tales of woe from having their web sites designed, most web developers and designers have stories of their own. Educate yourself, hire the right experts to help you through this process, and hold up your end of the bargain and you may sail through without being the star of one of the web firm’s horror stories (or your own!).

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    1. Negotiate knowledgeably.

    When you get a quote from a web firm, it just makes good sense to shop around. But when you shop around, compare apples to apples. Comparing a quote from an American firm, where you’ll most likely have an English-speaking team to work with, with a quote from a firm in a Third World country, where living expenses are a fraction of U.S. costs, just isn’t fair. You don’t want to approach your web firm with, “Why does it cost this much, when I can have a site built in India for $300?”

    Also, if you’re working with that rare breed of web firm where you’ll get both web strategy advice and search engine optimization, you simply cannot compare the pricing with your standard web design firm. So make sure you’re comparing like quotes before you consider asking for a price match.

    2. Hold up your end of the bargain.

    One of the most frustrating things for a web developer is when the client doesn’t provide timely feedback. In many cases, when you hire a web firm, you pay for part of your web site upfront, then you have to pay the rest just before launch. If you’re not providing timely feedback, not only are you holding up the launch and jeopardizing your timeline, but you’re also keeping your team from getting paid. In this economy, that’s not good for anyone. So make sure you pay your bills on time and provide responsive, useful feedback quickly to keep things moving along.

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    In addition, if you haven’t hired the web firm to provide you with content or copywriting, make sure you provide them with your content in a timely manner. The last thing you want is for your web site to be held up because you haven’t delivered the materials, or worse, launch without content. Make sure you

    3. Be smart and educate yourself.

    I recently talked with a potential client who’d been spending hundreds of dollars each month for a firm to “do search engine optimization” on her web site. She had no idea what that meant, but kept paying them anyway. In the meantime, this firm hadn’t touched her code or her copy, two of the hallmarks of a pretty substantial scam in my book.

    I’m not suggesting that every small business owner should know everything about what constitutes good or bad SEO. If you don’t have the time or the technical know-how to educate yourself in what your web site needs or to learn enough to know when you’re being scammed, then you need a trusted adviser who does know these things and can watch over your project and protect your interests.

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    4. Don’t be swayed by “pretty.”

    This one isn’t so much about being a good web consumer for your developer’s benefit as being a good consumer for your business. Too many business owners today are persuaded that “pretty” is the most important part of their web design. It’s not.

    An attractive web site certainly is important, but it’s not the most important thing. There are specific business elements and “screen real estate” issues
    like what goes “above the fold” that you need to pay attention to as well. And these things may be even more important than “pretty.” Stay too focused on the appearance of your site and you’ll likely end up with a site that doesn’t meet your business needs and has poor usability. Instead, try to strike a balance between the appearance of the site and meeting your business goals. Again, if you don’t know how to do this, hire someone who does.

    Having a web site designed can seem like a harrowing experience for many business owners. The investment in a strong web site can seem substantial for the micro-entrepreneur, especially considering the many potential pitfalls. That said, if you don’t have the time, inclination, or tech-savvy spirit to learn what you need to know to avoid those pitfalls and be a good consumer (for your own good, as well as the good of your design firm), hire an expert who can navigate the process for you and help you meet your business goals.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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