Monday, February 4, 2013

Do I Really Need that Smart Phone or Tablet?


            Don’t laugh, but I don’t have a smart phone or a tablet.  Yes, here I am a Web designer who keeps up on technology trends, and I do not have or use the latest and greatest gadgets to boast about.
            I read about them, and I try them in the store, yet I haven’t taken the plunge and bought any of them yet. 
            The reason for not having a smart phone is easy.  I’m not yet ready to add yet another expense of a data plan to my monthly bills.  I cannot justify the expense when I work from home and have little need to access the Internet when I leave my office.  I have a laptop that I take around with me on occasion, and my cell phone works just fine and includes texting.
            The reason for not having a tablet is more difficult to explain.  I guess it boils down to too many choices.  I just can’t make up my mind about which one I would want most.  I love the iPad, but I’m a PC user, so there’s the whole merging issue with Mac versus PC.  But the when I look at the other tablets, I can’t see a clear winner. 
            You may be saying if you’re still a PC user, why not go with Microsoft’s Surface RT.  There are still enough bugs that I want to wait a bit more and see what happens.
            Yes, I’m hopeless.  One stay I will venture into the same world that most of my friends live in, but for now, I’ll be that tech person who doesn’t have all the latest and greatest of gadgets because I can’t see the necessity of them for the life I lead.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Networking Is Alive and Well


                Don’t let social media fool you.  The human element of networking is alive and well and still vital in today’s business world.  Yes, social media is fun and it’s fast, but it doesn’t replace the personal relationships we develop.
                Very little of my business has come via the Internet or the phone book.  Don’t get me wrong, I still use social media and other marketing tactics to get my name out there, but much of my business has come to me through word of mouth because I knew someone who knew someone who needed the services I offer.  But you need to get out occasionally and meet people.
                What can you do to meet people?
                Join an organization.  You don’t have to necessarily join a networking organization, but you should join at least one organization that interests you.  In my case, I belong to a technology organization because my business is part of the IT community.  There are members who belong to all kinds of businesses.  Join your local chamber or a professional organization.
                Participate in the organization that you joined.  A membership won’t do anything for you if you don’t participate.  Sure, you can say you belong, but if you really want to get any benefit, attend at least some of the functions.  And if you don’t like attending any of the functions or you find the functions extremely boring, then maybe you joined the wrong organization.  Find another one.
                Attend a trade show or business expo.  See if there are any business related events in the area and attend one of two of them a year.  What you decide to attend depends on your business and what is around you, but go at least once and see if the event has anything to offer you whether it’s meeting people or learning about new things in the industry.
                Talk to strangers.  I don’t mean push your business with everyone you meet, but get out there and just meet people and talk.  They get to know you and what you do.  I don’t mean I give people my whole life story, but often people will ask what I do. I design Web sites.  Often, the conversation about what I do doesn’t go beyond that and we move onto other things, but months or years later, I may hear from that person.  “Remember me?  I met you at ….  Do you still design Web sites? Well,…”
                When you are a business owner, you need to market yourself in many ways, so don’t hide behind technology – go network!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Slowing Down in the Technological Age


            I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  I love it because I get to slow down.  I get to think.  I get to read.  And I get to write.
            For much of the year, technology drives my life.  And I’m not even as wired as many people.  I haven’t taken the plunge and purchased a tablet, although I do look longingly at them and think about it.  I do not have a smart phone, and I don’t look longingly at them.  But I have a PC and a laptop.  I receive and send text messages and email.  I keep up with social media both socially and for my job.  And I teach college classes online.  Technology drives my life.
            Yes, I know.  I am using technology by typing this using my word processor programming and by posting it online for you to read.  But this week, I am in the driver’s seat.  Technology is under my direction instead of dictating what I do and when.
            For the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I get to read for pleasure and for the love of knowledge than strictly for need or to meet the next deadline.  I get to hold a real live book and let me eyes glide over the pages instead of staring at a screen and making sure I blink enough and look away occasionally.  My eyes get a much needed break.
            I can ignore my cell phone and return calls when it’s convenient to me.  Hell, I can even turn off my cell phone or leave it behind for a while.  The same goes for emails because I can take time away from my office.
            So this week, I get to use technology for pleasure when I want, and I get to ignore it at my leisure.  I’m in the driver’s seat, and I’m slowing down and enjoying the scenery.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Network Solutions’ Website Builder Tool

            Recently, I had a client who wanted a site designed that he could makes changes himself.  He had already transferred his existing site to Network Solution (NS), and I promised that I could design his site NS’s features.  It was a new realm for me, but in spite of my trepidation because I had always designed sites myself from scratch, I threw myself into it.
            My first hurdle was making sure that I could design the new site without affecting the existing one.  Fortunately, the content management system (CMS) allows for this, so I felt a lot more free to experiment and learn what NS’s Website Builder Tool offers.
            First of all, it does help if you know HTML and Web development, but it’s not necessary.  It is necessary that you are not afraid of technology and taking chances.  You have to be willing to play around with things and start over if you make a big mistake along the way.  It’s part of the learning process.
            Although you have to select a template, and you are limited if you stick to free templates, once you have selected one, you have a lot of flexibility in changing colors, fonts, placement and much more.  You just have to make good use of each of the features and make sure you try more than one, so you find the most of efficient and best way to make the changes.  I do recommend staying away from CSS and using the Master Changes instead.  It is much simpler, and you are more likely to make the change you actually want.
            Overall, this has proven to be a good CMS, and I am willing to use it again for any clients who come my way and ask for the ability to manage their own site.  While it’s not as flexible as doing it yourself, it should work well for the majority of small business sites out there.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Is CMS the Only Way to Go in Web Design Services?

            I went to a very interesting workshop last Friday.  Of course, it was really a sales pitch for a Web design firm – yes, a competitor.  But it was really interesting and informative.  I know as a small Web design firm, I need to change my business model in order to compete with the changing market, but I have put some thought into one thing they said more than once:  We have to move into content management systems in order to remain competitive.
            Although more and more people are interested in the ability to change and add content to their sites themselves, there is still a big segment of small businesses who want someone else to do it, or they change their content so infrequently that they would rather pay someone else to do it.
            Who wouldn’t really benefit from CMS? 
Companies with static Web sites:  If a business’s Web site changes infrequently, the extra cost of a CMS may not be justified.  For instance, how well do you remember how to do something that you do infrequently?  I would be frustrating for someone who is not too tech savvy to go in and relearn each time how to change a site.  So if the site is really just an online brochure with contact information, a CMS isn’t an advantage.  I have one client who comes to me about once every 5 years and has me make a bunch of changes.  Someone else designed the site long ago, and they contract with me when they want to make changes.
Companies whose owner just isn’t interested in doing it himself:  Many of my clients just don’t want to have to worry about changing their Web sites and learning yet one more new thing.  They want to concentrate on growing their businesses and they don’t have the staff to delegate the job to.  Whatever their reasons, I respect them, and I value their business.
            So while, I am moving towards offering sites using CMS, I will still continue to offer traditional Web design and maintenance for those clients who prefer I do it all for them.  After all, I’m a business owner who wants to stay viable and wants to have customers.  Customer service is what I offer.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Low Tech Has its Place in My Life


            I have to admit, I love gadgets.  And I wish I had the money to invest in a lot more of them, but I spend so much of my time looking at technology because of Web design and teaching online and my membership with the Carroll Technology Council, that I forget to mention low tech tools that are useful that and I simply won’t give up.

Whiteboards
            In our kitchen, I have a whiteboard next to the kitchen door where we write notes to ourselves, list grocery shopping items and the money owed our kids for the chores completed.  I used to clip lists to the refrigerator, but it started looking junky and disorganized, so I went to the whiteboard instead, and we have all been happy with it.  I used a whiteboard in my office too for the same sort of things.

Monthly Planner
            Now, my high tech friends make fun of me for this, but I still have a paper monthly planner that I lug around to meetings and refer to often in my office.  I do make use of Outlook’s calendar and tasks features especially for paying bills and other things I need to remember far into the future.  But I like the old fashioned paper calendar because it give me a visual cue for time – I have a better sense of time when I can see the whole month at once.  I also like how easy it is to erase or cross out a change.  And I love that I can take it anywhere or leave it behind.

Spiral Notebook
            Again, my tech savvy friends mock me, but I find inspiration in spiral notebooks. With a piece of paper, my creativity comes out.  I don’t concern myself so much with how many clicks to get where I want.  Instead, I can scribble, doodle, draw, cross out and just plain creative with a pencil or pen.  I write constantly.  Sometimes a computer will do, but other times, I find myself more peaceful and creative with paper.  That goes for graphic design as well.  My hand is so much more steady with a pencil than it will ever be with a mouse!

Business Card
            Yes, I know all the rage is electronic business cards, but there’s nothing wrong with old fashioned business cards.  One clear advantage that they have over any of their high tech cousins?  You can write on the back of a traditional business card and add any type of information you need on the spot for your new contact.

            None of these low tech tools cost me efficiency or slows me down.  They are all familiar and dear friends, and I haven’t yet found a high tech gadget that works better than any of these.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Google Cloud Print Is a Good Solution for Businesses on the Go

            A friend of mine who runs a landscaping business asked me an interesting question.  Much of their office work is done in their house by her – bookkeeping, billing, accounting… You get the picture.  Much of their business is run out of their shop where they keep most of their equipment.  It is also the place where their crew gathers before the work day begins.  Every morning, she and her husband give out the job assignments for the day, and their workers go out to the job sites and work.
            There are some mornings when she would like to skip going to the shop and give out the written job schedules remotely.  She wanted to know if there was a printer out there that would allow her to print from her computer or iPad at home to their shop.  She had found HP’s ePrint, and the idea was born.
            She was onto something, although as it stands, HP’s ePrint can’t do it alone.  ePrint will let one print from anywhere in the home from any electronic device.
            What she needed is Google Cloud Print.  Google has technology that allows you to print from anywhere with any device to your printer at home or at the office. 
            One of the interesting aspects is that you don’t even have to have the printer hooked up to a PC or laptop.  Google Cloud Print can work with a Cloud Ready printer – a printer that has the ability to connect directly to the Web without requiring a PC.  In fact on Google’s site, they give you a list of Cloud Ready Printers by HP, Kodak, Epson, Canon, Samsung, and FedEx.  The FedEx option is a whole other benefit.
            It looks like these days, there is a solution for just about any option a small business might come up with that won’t break the bank.