Three Fundamentals for a Business Website

This article was originally published at Strella Social Media on August 16, 2012.

Website FundamentalsI’ve come across a lot of situations with new clients where they are having trouble getting access to their existing source files or getting their current providers to cooperate in many ways. So I’m share three business fundamentals that should be established when starting a website.

 
1. Establish Ownership. The first and most important one of these principals is to own everything – your domain name and all of your content (words, pictures, logos, graphics, videos, etc.). There are many, many companies who will offer you great deals up front (such as a “free” website for a year) but then retain ownership of your site, so that you are left with fewer option and limited flexibility. Although the initial cost may be higher, establishing ownership will pay dividends throughout the lifespan of your website by assuring that certain barriers to progress will not be imposed.

2. Have Complete Access to Your Content. In many (if not most) cases, there is one major exception to the “establish ownership” rule and that is in regards to hosting. Most small businesses just do not have the time, resources, or know-how to manage their own hosting servers. Therefore, it makes sense find an established hosting company to handle these tasks. However, when you employ a hosting company, it is important that you have direct access to all your files via FTP. Many small business owners don’t understand the process or the importance of this. By having full access a professional developer can instantly add, modify, or delete any website item on your behalf.

3. Adaptability and/or Agility. This is the only one of the three that actually deals with website design (my specialty). The basic point here is that the online universe is rapidly evolving and it is important that your website’s design has the ability to integrate newer features, technologies, and design elements. Of course, this is much more of an art than a science because none of us know exactly which innovations will become popular. But by keeping your site agile and not “painting yourself into a corner” with too many static features and dependencies, you and your developer will maximize possibilities for the future.

Baring My “Soul” on a Saturday Night

Sinclair SoulIt has been five years since I’d done this and I had sworn it off many times before. I tried doing it during several fits and starts in the early 1990s, but none of those worked. Through the years I was convinced to do it for various causes, once even in a chemotherapy unit to cheer up the patients, but none of those times worked out as planned. But this past Saturday night (08/24/13) I gave it one more shot.

I performed my music solo, without support, without a net, at the Cornerstone Coffeehouse in Camp Hill, PA. Now, for most this may not seem like a big deal, after all the Cornerstone always has solo performers playing on the weekends. But for me this was truly an event. It was a sort of mission and redemption wrapped in one. Long ago, I concluded that my musical talents lie in composing and not performing, although I have been involved in scores of rock bands and have played every major position on the field – lead vocal, guitar, bass, keyboards, drums. However, being a bit of a control freak, bands have always felt limiting and the urge to do it alone has persisted despite the consistent disasters when attempted.

What brought me out this time was the fact that I have composed a whole bunch of new songs but have not had the time nor resources to record it. I had spent five years on my previous recording project, a 33-song double CD international release called Imaginary Lines 33 , in 2009. I was also involved with a band and we recorded an album in 2010 that never got released because of internal disagreements. At that time I was pretty sure I was retired from all things music. But that pesky muse kept bothering me, and soon new song ideas started to form. I came up with the idea of “One More Rock to Roll” as an upfront declaration that this would be my last go-round. I also brought back the fictional “Sinclair Soul”, an alias I had used for years when writing articles as well as on some music projects.

The music was written on piano but had rich arrangements for several guitars and other rock instruments. I was eager to enlist many of the fine musicians I had worked with over the years as well as find a “front man” to handle the dynamic vocals, but as of mid 2013 I had not had any luck getting the recording process started. So I inquired about playing my songs solo on piano at the Cornerstone, a website client of mine and a much better alternative to performing at a bar room or any other “noisy” situation.

So, after all this background, how did the gig itself go?

In one sense it was quite a disappointment. Many of the folks I invited did not show up and I didn’t quite get the capacity crowd I had hoped for. Also, I made some really air-headed mistakes on some of the cover songs I performed (the songs which I , ironically, walked into the gig without performance worries).

However, in a larger sense Saturday’s gig was a tremendous success. I performed 14 brand new “Sinclair Soul” songs (including one so new that it doesn’t yet have a name) and each went off without a hitch. None of these songs had every been performed live for anyone except my dog and these were obviously my main focal point on Saturday’s gig. The dozen or so cover songs and three old Imaginary Lines tunes were really just there to fill up the two hour commitment.

Also, the crowd that was there was tremendous in quality if not quantity. For the first time ever, I performed music with my wife, all three sons, and mother in the audience. The rest of the audience gave me a warm reception, even if many only sat in for a song or two while they enjoyed a coffee, beverage, or ice cream cone. There was a woman in the audience who knitted throughout the first set and gave me the resultant winter hat when she was completed. There was also a tremendously talented musician in the audience named Suzi Brown who stayed for the whole gig and gave a compliment at the end and, of course, the Cornerstone staff was gracious and helpful.

Although I was hoping to perform everything perfectly and fill the place up, it didn’t quite work that way. But getting the new songs out there after all this time kind of made them real entities and not just figments of my imagination, which makes this past Saturday a very special occasion indeed.

~

SinclairSoul.com

Knocked Down by a 15-Year-Old!

My eldest son Dylan started playing football at the age of six. That year he was the youngest and smallest kid on the team, which meant he naturally got the least playing time. I volunteered to be part of the chain crew for home games and would often be on the same sideline with Dylan as he rode the bench in boredom. He soon developed a way to entertain himself. Emboldened by his full football gear, he would charge after me full speed and try to knock me down. He would even get sneaky and covert, coming at me when I’d least expect it or when my back was to him. Still, the little six-year-old was never able to succeed in his mission.

My 3 Sons
My 3 sons in 2011. L-R: Jake, Bryen, and Dylan
Later that same year (1997), Dylan’s twin brothers Jake and Bryen were born. Through all the following years of football, wrestling, slap-boxing, and Ricky-ball (don’t ask!) these boys would also try to knock me off my feet, to which I would reply; “You kids have been trying to knock me down since your oldest brother was six years old, and no one has ever succeeded.” I must admit there were some very close calls where I stumbled and nearly lost my balance, but there was no clear-cut “knockdown”.

Until this morning, that is.

My now 15-year-old son Jake had gathered together a pile of old video games to re-sell to Game Stop, which I then grabbed and jokingly told him I was going to throw in the pool. He moved to block me from getting out the door and half-heatedly swiped at me as I kept the video games out his reach. Then I started to “trash talk” saying something like “you know I can get past year you whenever I want”. To this, Jake calmly lowered his shoulder, wrapped his arms around me and “pile-drived” me right into the couch.

Now in my defense, Jake is not built like your typical 15-year-old. At a doctor’s visit a week and a half ago he measured in at 6′ 3″ and 242 lbs (and that was a week and a half ago, he may have grown since then!) But the fact remains, although it took 15 and a half years, I can no longer brag about none of my boys being able to knock me down.

Keep chasing your dreams kids, anything is possible!

 

Why You Should Own Your Website

This article was orginally published at Strella Social Media on December 19, 2012.

Big WWWA professional website is the most crucial marketing tool that a small business owner has at his or her disposal. Establishing and retaining full ownership and control of your website is equally important in the rapidly shifting online world.

There are scores of “out-of-the-box” options out there from large, well-known companies that offer an easy and (seemingly) low-cost gateway towards establishing their own website. Such options can be very attractive to those who have little or no experience with websites because they often including editing tools where business owners can create their site. However, beware of some potent fine print that accompanies these “great” deals.

The first common issue is a lack of control over updating content or expanding the site. When a site is new, it is also small. The handful of pages and/or features you get with these “out-of-the-box” deals is usually sufficient for a start-up, but inevitably a business’s needs will change or grow (or both). This is where the large, well-known company makes their real money, often charging exorbitant amounts for additions or simple changes. For those old enough to remember, think about the old “12 records for a penny” deals. These club memberships were great upfront, but you were committed to buy each month for a couple years at whatever “regular club prices” they decided to charge you.

The second typical issue is ownership. Depending on which company you’re dealing with, these issues could range from simple challenges like being unable to control the Twitter handle that appears when a reader selects the “share” button to more complex difficulties such as site copyright. I had a client who ultimately didn’t own anything on his existing site even though the images were of him and his staff and the words described his business. Lack of ownership can also have an adverse effect on search engine optimization (SEO) as limits are placed on how pages are constructed and the types of tools available to help improve your SEO.

As a website designer who specializes in creating custom websites, I obviously have an interest in promoting well-built websites. I have several clients who were entangled in these “out-of-the-box” schemes and the limitations were so severe that we were forced to rebuild the entire site to make even basic enhancements. Building your site organically may be a slower and (initially) more costly option but you will reap the rewards in the long run by maintaining ownership and control.

~

The Uphill Battle Facing Small Business

This article was orginally published at Strella Social Media on November 19, 2012.

Uphill Battle Facing Small BusinessNext Saturday, November 24th has been deemed Small Business Saturday, positioned between Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the post-Thanksgiving shopping spurt. On the surface, this is a very good thing. It brings widespread awareness to small business in general and should cause consumers to think of the little noticed shops they may routinely pass on their way to the big box store.

I must admit, however, that I have some skepticism about this initiative. First, it was launched by American Express, a multi-billion dollar, multi-national, corporation that may be about as far from “small” as one can get. AMEX has also registered the terms “Shop Small” and “Small Business Saturday,” which means that an actual small business may get into trouble if they used these terms in this context without permission or sanction from AMEX. I don’t mean to dump too much on American Express as I still think this is a great awareness campaign for small businesses, but let’s be frank; it is a big advertisement for their financial services.

There is also a bit of cynicism with the term “small business” itself. It has been volleyed around the political world in recent times as a mere catch phrase, well focus-tested and positive. In a way, saying you’re in favor of small business is like saying you’re for “world peace,” a great sounding concept, but totally meaningless unless you’re willing to look at the finer details needed to achieve such a lofty goal.

In the past political season, we’ve heard both sides speak how they were in favor of “small businesses” or the “middle class.” But when you look at some of the finer details, you see that the opposite is true. When the IRS audits a large corporation, they receive an average of $9,173 per man hour in recovered tax revenue. When small and medium size business are audited, that figure is only $702 per hour, a ratio difference of about 13 to 1 in actual dollars for the U.S. Treasury. Yet small-and-medium-sized-businesses are audited about 30% MORE than large corporations. Why?

The answer is that small businesses are easier targets. They don’t have the resources to properly fight these audits, so they are “low hanging fruit” for bureaucrats who are more concerned with their own success rates than actual dollars recovered for the taxpayers and, of course, this proves devastating for many small business owners. This stat alone should make you furious but there are many more examples of the deck being stacked against small business.

The point is, small business is a great attribute in a free society but there are many unnecessary burdens that inhibit our growth and survival. Most people agree that they want small business to thrive and it is time we all take some responsibility in challenging these burdens.