I just wrote a short guide to building the website and web presence for your small business. It’s called Unconventional Website Advice and it’s full of the advice I’ve been giving my website clients over the years. The whole guide is free to read online or $1 on Kindle. Below are 10 more items that weren’t so “unconventional” but more commonsense ways to become a better client of web agencies and marketers (and a better user of the web in general).
1. Don’t use Internet Explorer (or whatever Microsoft is calling their browser now).
Internet Explorer has been the bane of web designers’ and developers’ existence since the Netscape days. When a client presents me with some totally unexpected error (e.g. the drop-down menu appears in the middle of the page) and I ask what browser they are using, the answer is inevitably: Internet Explorer.
I know you are used to it but there are serious technical reasons you should never use it. Internet Explorer never quickly adopted the standards that the web created. Web developers are (still today!) adding code to websites to make them work in IE. It is riddled with security problems with every version. It is bloatware.
2. Use Project Management software.
Look, I love Basecamp so I’m definitely going to tell you to use it. But it doesn’t have to be Basecamp that you use. Just use some kind of project management software.
Whoa, wait. Use some kind of well-designed, simple-to-use project management software. If it was made by Microsoft (Looking at you, Sharepoint) or resembles an Excel spreadsheet, pass it by.
Project management software helps you stop micro-managing and instead follow tasks and projects as they get completed. It takes the emotion out of asking someone on your team to do something. It organizes the chaos so you can focus on the business and not the myriad to-dos you’re worrying over. Also, it helps you look professional to the web agency or contractor you’re hiring.
3. There is no old school on the web.
I had a client tell me she didn’t trust Gmail because she was “old-school.” I hate to break it to her, but there is no old-school on the web. There is the quick and there is the dead. At the time this client said this to me, she was paying something like $1500 a year for a Microsoft Exchange server for her business that employed 5 people.
$1500 instead of $250 per year with Google for Work.
This mentality persists in people who recognize that they must do business on the web but don’t want to adapt to web conventions. I had another client who “didn’t use email.” Well, sir, then you don’t need a website. Yeesh. I encounter this resistance mostly in corporate types who are comfortable surrounded by complicated corporate infrastructure and don’t want to change. Look, offline documents are dead. POP3 email is dead. Non-responsive websites are dead. Adapt or die.
4. Get comfortable with “slow time” and remote work
It’s strange how clients can tolerate offsite vendors for some services yet be entirely uncomfortable with others. Sure, there is a great value to communicating in person but I’m always surprised how many clients would like me (or their other web contractors) to work on a project in their office. Really, what this indicates is an old-school, over-the-shoulder method to managing a project. But when we’re working on a website — an intangible, new school, virtual location for your business — we all need to be comfortable with the intangibles of the project, including its developers.
Step 1 is getting familiar with those tools that facilitate remote work: project management tools, Slack, Google Docs, Skype, Hangouts. Getting comfortable with the remote work of your contractors helps you adapt to the remote needs of your own business and the web universe in general It’s all remote, get it? A fantastic resource on remote work that is filled with ideas and tools to do it is the book Remote by the makers of Basecamp.
Step 2 is getting comfortable with what the Basecamp team calls “slow time.” The idea of slow time is that things don’t get done all at once. You may report a website bug in your project management software which your developer repairs 4 hours later. This is fine.
Old school mentality is to treat every new communication tool as if it’s a phone. You just keep ringing it until someone picks up and fixes your issues. Email is barely better. The old-school communicators email, then call, or call, then email. They want their issue dealt with in that moment. This creates an unsustainable sense of priority. (I discussed this longer in a chapter of Unconventional Website Advice called, “Your website isn’t that important.”)
What’s important is to change our thinking to understand that remote work and slow time are actually benefits for everyone involved.
5. Don’t be afraid of open source.
Some of the hardest battles I’ve fought as a developer were against an agency CEO who distrusted anything open source. He had ultimate faith in Microsoft from their code to their devices. (As I write this, Microsoft has just shut down their phone business because they can’t compete with the open source nature of Android nor the design of Apple.) For years, this CEO’s small business clients who simply needed an informational website paid exorbitant fees for Microsoft servers and compiled, closed-source code that they couldn’t take with them when they changed agencies.
Open source is not a “hacky” thing to ignore. It is the way most of the web runs from its servers to its software. Stop being afraid of it. You’re already using it. You just don’t know it.
6. Get professional photographs for your business
When your designers and developers need photographs from you, don’t send them screencaps of Facebook pics. Don’t think that the headshot on LinkedIn is good enough. We need the highest resolution possible. We can always downscale. We can’t always upscale. We need the best focus, the best lighting.
There are a lot of ways you can spend your website money better than you are (Unconventional Website Advice is all about them). But don’t skimp on the photography. It makes you look unprofessional.
7. Don’t make your own graphics.
See above about being professional. Just because you have a paint program doesn’t mean you have taste or the skills to create graphics.
The visuals of your website impact the user immediately. We won’t stick around to read copy you’ve slaved over if your logo is in Papyrus. Well, I won’t.
8. Use Google Drive Docs.
See tip #3 above. Google Docs makes sharing and collaborating so easy that it’s ridiculous not to use it. In fact, I know several teams who turn to Google Docs against the wishes of their companies because they recognize how easy it is to use. Don’t stick with the old just because you’re accustomed to it.
9. Give details.
My kingdom for a client who gives details about the issue they’re having along with the URL on which the problem is happening. Don’t email your web agency or deveoper with “my site is broken.” Tell us what browser you’re using, what the actual error it is. Provide screenshots if possible. And seriously, seriously, seriously, let us know the URL of the page on which you’re seeing a problem.
10. Make mistakes.
Your website is not a paper brochure. You don’t need to obsess over every letter before sending it to the printer where it will be immortalized for all eternity. You can change it immediately. So don’t be afraid of mistakes. Embrace iteration. You should change the content on your website frequently to keep it relevant to users (and help search engines find you). You’re going to make mistakes along the way. So just accept that and it will take the sting out of the little things you notice that are out of whack.
“Seriously, do not start down to the path to a website for your small business until you read Todd A’s book.” — Amazon review
Check out good.simple.open for more ideas about doing better work.