Let's Get You Out There!

Located in Cleveland,
Our services are tailored to suit our clients individual needs.
Whether you're a Startup looking for lean, agile design or
a Small or Medium Sized Business seeking growth and customer retention,
we can handle your project with ease.

About

I’m Dale Morris and I’m a Graphic Designer. I specialize in Branding and Identity creation, Website Design/Re-design and all that media collateral that accompanies the branding process including stationery, slide presentations and etc..

I have a passion for working with startups and collaborating with them to realize their dreams and ideas. While I wouldn’t say I’m a growth hacker I’ve researched and used many techniques for accelerating growth. I consult and work with those entrepreneurs who wish to take their business from minimum viable product to market fit and onward.

I also like to take this startup experience and apply it to existing small and medium businesses (SMBs) and assist them in realizing added business prosperity. By utilizing not just a website and social media I accompany these with additional on-line and off-line tools to gain a substantial increase in profit.

If you’re either of the above and looking for an individual designer and don’t like the crowd-sourcing market  Contact Me . I personally challenge you to call on me to access and meet your needs modestly.

As a footnote I am at this time looking for a project manager so I can even do more of the creative work and let another staff member keep you up to speed on what’s going on on your valuable project. So if you’re interested in joining the Unknown Ink team drop me a line.

 

Services

Branding & Identity

  • Often this is where it begins. If you are a Start-Up you are more than likely considering how to create your business identity and the collateral materials such as the ones listed below.
  • Your logo should be more than just a mark. It should have your business’ personality and convey it. And establish an overall character for the rest of your marketing materials including a website.
  • If you are an existing small or medium-sized business and want to redesign your existing trademark I will work with you to recreate your brand with a fresh, professional style.

Web Design

  • Having a web site for you business is now something that is necessary to your marketing strategy. Having a successful web site is even more so. An investment in internet real estate can seem expensive but in the long run can pay dividends. My goal is to provide you with a solution that is cost-effective and takes your business to the next level.
  • If you want to manage the content on your site once it’s up and running I offer designs, training and assistance to do so.
  • Nowadays potential and current customers are interacting with sites on a wide variety of devices. I design with a solution whereby one site works on all. Do you really want to pay for separate designs?
  • Special Focus on Galleries, E-Commerce, CMS (Content Management Systems, including Custom WordPress, SEO (Search Engine Optimizaion), Startups, Small & Medium Sized Business Sites & Social Media.

Collateral & Printed Media

  • Printed media still plays a role in a marketing plan and I still create it. Business cards now display QR Codes and web addresses to pertinent information about your company.
  • Brochures, fliers and displays are still used for such events as trade shows as well as a myriad of other types of industries.

Infrastructure Design

  • Times have changed since I first started working with the internet. Now we have clouds and that has opened up a very broad range of how a company can structure their online presence externally and internally. I’ve spent the past two years specifically researching and utilizing several options that are progressive, responsive and not the typical solutions to business infrastructure.
  • I can show you cost-effective options that you may not be aware of or aren’t sure of how to go about implementing. Take for example Amazons Web Services (AWS). The potential there is very abundant and also complex. With the right guidance you can leverage that potential for your own business and maximize the positive results.
  • Stay tuned to the blog as I will be returning to writing and will be highlighting many approaches to Infrastructure Design that you may take advantage of the ever-diversifying solutions to building a successful business.

 

Portfolio

 

Building in the Cloud Hosting Arena: What to Do

clouds

I’m back writing again and this time I am doing a series of posts on putting your website and/or online infrastructure in the Cloud. I’m going to start at the beginning just as if you would be and cover everything from what choices of platform there are when considering your needs, to choosing the right software packages, some necessary Linux command line stuff (with problems and solutions), and how to set it all up, including for some, a WordPress site. I’ll include my own personal experience with working with a hosted environment (A Small Orange)  and one created utilizing Amazon’s Web Services. You may make the decision to go with the Google Developers Platform, Digital Ocean or another type of terrain and that’s cool – I am limiting this series to two platforms to save on space, time and any continuum – most of these posts will still have relevance. When choosing an environment and/or VPS there are a lot of choices out there today.

And just for the record a VPS is a Virtual Private Server. It’s both shared and private and is a step between shared hosting on an actual server and dedicated hosting wherein you are on a private box and also utilizing a virtual environment. Let me just add that much of what I will cover can be done by yourself or you can retain a web developer to do some or all of this for you. It really depends upon what type of budget you are working with and what you would want to contract out for and what you would want to perform yourself.

Hosting Company – A Small Orange

Going with a supported VPS – This is the decision many of us make when choosing how to host and run a personal or business website.

Why choose a supported VPS – If your decision is to stay somewhat smaller on the infrastructure side of things, a hosting company such as A Small Orange is a smart choice because you have a 24/7 support team that can assist you should anything go awry, and keep you up and running. Things like updates and backups can be done by a staff or you can choose to do such things yourself. Also instead of having to Google for answers or wait for someone to get back to you, problems can be solved in a quick matter of time, often without incurring any down-time.

Also, costs are many times very minimal and having predefined packages and templates can cut down on the confusion of what to go with. While there is always some flexibility in up or down-scaling, to do that might be a bit less attainable than a choice such as Amazon Web Services. If you are hesitant about getting in over your head, a hosted VPS that is accompanied by a support staff is reassuring in that you aren’t going it alone. And there is always someone to answer any questions should some guidance and info be needed. If your needs are simpler, then this is probably the choice for you. They also have a forum, knowledge base and video tutorials that provide many of your needed answers so that you may not even have to bother with tech support. I would also add that their customer service is way above par – all in all a great choice for a hosting environment.

Somewhat on your own – AWS (Amazon Web Services)

Going with Amazon Web Services – You can also set-up and run a personal and/or business site with AWS; you can also do a whole lot more.

Why choose AWS – Now having said the above I will add up front that there is support for Amazon Web Services. It’s just a bit different than that of a hosted VPS. If you prefer to experiment and learn the ins and outs of Amazon you can start by signing up for an account and immediately become eligible for their free tier. It includes a years worth of solutions to many of your infrastructure challenges and does so very efficiently. I will add that there is quite a bit of technical stuff to learn if you are a newcomer to IT and web development, but, the free tier availability really helps out when it comes to getting up to speed on the latest developments in the Cloud Computing Environment without incurring a lot of cost. When you want to grow your assets you may fall outside of some of their free terrain but they offer so much that some of your infrastructure will still fall within range of the no-cost pricing field.

So let’s begin.

We’ll start with the challenge that basically you want to get a WordPress site up and running. First up is deciding upon a hosting company such as A Small Orange or going with Amazon Web Services.

With the former decision –  A Small Orange

It will be whether or not you want to build your stack from the base up or have them install a complete VPS environment all setup at your disposal. They can do that for you.

You may choose a package that is either a LEMP (Linux, Nginx, mySQL & PHP) or LAMP (Linux, Apache, mySQL & PHP) stack and server. And with that you have the option of choosing the popular and security based cPanel. And with cPanel you have the option of using an install script for WordPress so really you are ready-to-go with your blogging platform and time to spare for writing and creating content. The size and price of your VPS is up to you and ranges from:

  • Cores: 1

  • RAM: 1024 MB

  • Storage: 20 GB

  • Bandwidth: 1000GB

  • Cores: 8

  • RAM: 10240 MB

  • Storage: 150 GB

  • Bandwidth: 1000GB

If you desire to have cPanel integrated with your VPS you’ll have the limited choice of CentOS 6.6 as your Linux distro. That’s not bad but I just want to let you in on that fact so if you’re going to be doing CLI (command line interface) stuff, that’s the version of Linux you’ll be using. I myself prefer Debian7 and if you want to go with that or another distribution just bare in mind that CP isn’t issued with it. But that’s okay as there are several excellent open source control panels at your disposal should you want to build your stack yourself.

Personally I prefer a stack with Nginx (pronounced engine-x). For myself I find it’s a more efficient server that consumes less system memory and delivers static and dynamic content faster using less resources, than Apache. And we can couple that with PHP-FPM, Varnish, Memcached and PHP-Opcode APC also if desired. Apache will also work with some of these caching systems but I am finding that Nginx works better and is more flexible. We’ll get to more on that later but for now, if you are looking to have your server up and running in a matter of half-an-hour or so, you’re done. But I have the feeling you are not reading this far to be done with it.

 Let’s start with the question of whether or not you want to utilize cPanel and it’s companion WHM (Web Hosting Manager). If you plan on doing the reseller thing then this would be a solid, but not sole, choice to go with. WHM will allow you to set up packages for clients/customers to host their own virtual space. You can create complete packages with a very reliable billing system. You do need to know that cPanel and WHM only run on Apache on top of CentOS. So there is a bit of limitation.

One of many good points about CentOS is that they issue bug fixes and updates a little more often that Ubuntu and Debian. Also, for this writing, these three that I mention above are open source and therefore free. RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) which I also have experience with is not – at least with AWS though I believe it is with A Small Orange. I personally have not had the chance to work with Fedora, Suse, Gentoo, Open BSD and Cloud Linux so you may find this series limited – not sure. If you have questions about any of the operating systems written on here-in feel free to ask in the comments or if you like you can shoot me an email about it on the contact page.

So assuming you want to build your own stack and you are not choosing cPanel & WHM we’ll start with choosing an operating system. Offered is: RHEL, Ubuntu, Debian, CentOS, Fedora, Suse, Gentoo, Open BSD and Cloud Linux. With our hosting comapany ASO one simply chooses the templated operating system, puts in the purchase order and in a matter of minutes your instance is running. You will be emailed your server name (pick one or they will assign a generic one) along with the domain name you choose if you don’t have one already. You basically get a FQDN (Fully Qualified Domain Name) something like: server_name.domain.tld. You will also receive in that email three ip addresses: your server ip, secondary ip and the local host ip. Your server ip and password are included as your SSH (Secure Shell) info, should you want to use a client such as XShell or Putty to securely manage your server. Also included information is your two Name Server addresses or NS ips.

A side note for you is that all their servers are protected by APF firewall but by all means you can also implement another if you so choose. It still helps that once you log in to your box you change your ssh port to something less standard than the common one which is 22. But first let’s log in.

It will be your emailed user name and password choosing the server ip address for your host and port 22 with protocol ssh. Then let’s change the user_name and optionally the password. I say this because the password is pretty secure but it never hurts to change it again.

For CentOS 6.6:

adduser my_new_user <--the actual new user name

Now set the password for the new user:

passwd my_new_user

Now grant root privileges to your new user:

visudo

Find the following code:

## Allow root to run any commands anywhere
root ALL=(ALL) ALL

In this case, we’re granting root privileges to the user myewuser . Add the following below that code:

my_new_user ALL=(ALL) ALL

Then exit and save the file with the command :wq .

 

In Debian 7 :

adduser newuser

After entering the new user name you will be prompted to enter the new password twice, along with some personal identification.

You then will want to grant privileges to that new user and we will assume they are going to be root.

sudo visudo

You then want to enter in the same as above:

# User privilege specification
root        ALL=(ALL:ALL) ALL
newuser    ALL=(ALL:ALL) ALL

save and exit. I will add that it is advised to not run in root always but to access your machine as a user that can assume root privileges by invoking:

sudo

prepending any command.

 Now if you are still running this environment on a hosting company such as A Small Orange as our example you won’t likely need to set the hosts and hostname. But it never hurts to check them just to be sure. Additionally I like to edit files in nano and not vi or vim. It’s just a personal preference but I find it simpler. To check your hosts type:

nano /etc/hosts

and you should see a file with the contents:

# Automatically generated by Cloud Command
127.0.0.1       localhost
xxx.xxx.xxx.xx  server_name.domain_name.tld server_name

You want to make sure that your output looks something very similar to this. Now let’s check the hostname:

nano /etc/hostname

You should see your hostname listed there as server_name.

Final note here to save, and exit nano simply type control and the O key then enter followed by control X.

Okay I’ve done enough for one post and we’ll continue with this stack in the next article sometime this week. I do recommend the following sites, TecmintUsing Ubuntu & How to Forge: Linux Tutorials if you are unfamiliar with Linux. And be careful if you go noodling around as root user – you don’t want to mess anything up there. It can be easy to do for a new user and also I don’t advise running without a sudo user for security.

Additional remark here. I have just come across something I find very pertinent to this post and that is the difference between CentOS, Ubuntu and Debian, RHEL and some of the others mentioned. It’s worth reading and I don’t feel it necessary to reiterate it here but instead will just post this link: Read it for your improved edification.

 

10 WordPress Plugins You Can’t Blog Without + 7 Worthwhile Extras

Unless you’re extremely proficient with PHP you are probably going to be reaching for plugins when creating websites in WordPress. At the same time you will want to keep the amount of plugins you use to a minimum due to the fact that plugins eat up processing power and increase your pages’ load time. In other words the more plugins you use the slower your site is going to be. The following list I’ve compiled is one that will actually help your WordPress site be more efficient without bogging it down. I’ve listed ten must have plugins along with an additional  seven more that can’t hurt and may actually add more streamlined functionality. An added bonus to this list is that all of these plugins play well with each other.

I’ve placed stars by the ones that are crucial to running an optimized WP site and the additional seven are without stars. I prefer to use the paid versions because I believe you get what you pay for and these versions are worth it due to the added features provided with the fee.

*Akismet

A Must Have – Simply put, Akismet is the number one comment spam protector and filter. Besides my own recommendation it comes with a highly valued pedigree. If you don’t want to manage by hand the thousands of bot generated messages left in your comment section then this plugin is the business standard. There are paid and free versions depending on your level of use.

 

*All In One SEO Pack

A Must Have – If you’re like me and found Yoast to be bloated or over complicated but wanted something reliable that would get the SEO job done well, then”All In One SEO Pack” by Semper Fi could be just the plugin you’ve been looking for. It works great out of the box but also you have the option to choose  advanced settings for tags, taxonomy, and more. One aspect I really like is that it also allows you to set up open graph SEO giving you a lot of latitude on how you appear on social media sites. What I have liked about it is it’s ease of use right away. It helped that I have a solid knowledge of SEO but there is plenty of in program help sections to keep you going and not have to stop constantly and read lengthy instructions. And last but not least – it works. The free version comes with not only the standard general settings but also a section for adjusting performance settings, the ability to create and send an xml sitemap, social meta settings,the ability to generate a custom robots text file and a feature manager.

 

Black Studio TinyMCE Widget

This plugin is valuable if you are looking to add more versatility to your text widgets. At one time it had its bugs but they’re gone from this version. Not a must-have but can add an extra dimension to your side bars otherwise not available.

 

*Contact Form 7

A Must Have – When I settled on Contact Form 7 I had tried just about all of the other contact form generators out there and trust me this is the best! It does not contain bloated features and doesn’t try to do more than it’s supposed to. Yet Constant Conatct Form 7 can do so much and shouldn’t be regarded lightly. There are 17 different field choices and the interface is absolutely simple and straight forward. It easily integrates with CAPTCHA or any other spam preventative. Just choose the fields you need for your form and it creates a short code to be placed where you want it. It also has the ability for multiple forms on the same page. I like it not only because its level of sophistication but also for its ease of use.

Dynamic To Top 

If you create long posts or pages this plugin is handy for getting your visitors back to the top of the page. No problems reported with WordPress version 4. It contains a slew of settings which gives it the ability to fit into your blog seamlessly.

*EWWW Image Optimizer

A Must Have – I know most folks recommend Smushit but I have found that EWWW Image Optimizer is the superior image cruncher available. It has more settings for better compression on images, without loosing quality. You can choose to batch optimize your present images and it will automatically optimize any and all new ones during the upload process. Along with that you can tweak some settings that allow for different levels of compression and you can control how much strippage on a image you want to perform. If you are looking to speed up your page load time then this is a plugin you can’t blog without.

FunCaptcha

This one made the list because I grew tired of presenting my visitors with the same old CAPTCHA that is practically illegible and is completely frustrating to go through. There are several more out there But I settled on this one (for now). It integrates with “Contact Form 7″ and hey it works!

*Google Analytics Dashboard for WP

A Must Have – There are a lot, and I mean a lot of google analytics plugins out there and choosing which one compliments your blog is up to you. I chose Google Analytics Dashboard for WP, because I like, for one, the dashboard charts and stats right there in WordPress. I also like that it sets the GA identification number on every page without taxing page load time. There are a couple that came close but this one was my ultimate choice for its ease of use the fact that it’s not cumbersome.

Speed Booster Pack

This plugin does what it says it does; boosts the speed of your page load time. If you don’t want to or can’t integrate one of the larger caching plugins then I highly recommend this one. It asynchronously loads scripts and defers them also, can minify CSS and place Java script in the footer. It also takes care of unnecessary items in the page head. Try it and see what you think, (Works in conjunction with W3TC).

StarBox

Let’s say you want to add an author box at the beginning or end of your posts. This one does it smoothly and adds the authors social media links along with a bio and more. Looks better than some of the other author boxes and is simple to use with several themes.

*Sucuri Security – Auditing, Malware Scanner and Hardening

A Must Have – Sucuri was established in 2010 and has become the highly recommended security tool for WordPress users. Not only does it scan for malware on the front end of your site (free version), it can scan for backdoor intruders to your site, they will harden your site  and keep it from being blacklisted by Google and others.

By actively monitoring your site they send out email notifications when a failed & successful log-in is attempted, a file is altered and will also allow you to set up an additional firewall. What I like about it is that it covers all the bases yet is easy to set up; also it absolutely keeps WordPress secure.

 

*SumoMe

A Must Have – I’ve placed this plugin on the list because of several factors. For one, Summo offers quite a few free additional apps, but more than that, is its versatility in use. If you are in the market for a dependable way to build your email/user list and are looking at options as a way to do so, SumoMe is a great solution. You have the choice of where you want the sign-up form to display as well as its look and just who you want it to appear to. If a visitor has hit your site before and has been offered the option to fill in the form you can set the amount of time between their visits until the next time they see it.

There are additional apps that through purchase can be integrated such as heat maps, analytics and email form templates. It, as as many of the plugins in this list, is favored for it’s ease of use and quality in design.

 

SVG Support

I like this plugin simply due to the fact that I wanted the option to be able to include SVG images in some of my posts. Just install and activate this plugin and that’s it – your SVGs are now compatible with your WordPress site.

*UpdraftPlus – Backup/Restore

Or Here

UpdraftPlus Premium - Full Feature List - UpdraftPlus jpg

*W3 Total Cache

 A Must Have – Probably one of the most important plugins on this list is W3 Total Cache. Its presence is crucial to running an efficient and speedy WordPress website. To go into everything W3TC does for you is too extensive for this review. But I will briefly cover what a cache is and what this plugin does for your WordPress website.

A cache is a preloaded reserve of files that is immediately accessible to a users web browser on their computer. There is also the users’ browser cache that is involved in this process. The browser cache is a folder on the users computer that holds recently viewed files of websites for quickly displaying the site as it was last seen and compared to files being served from a particular site’s server. Along with the browser cache is W3TC holding files in memory or on an edge space that are used repeatedly because they are static or unchanging, such as Java scripts, images or text. Anything that changes frequently or is different for registered users vs guests is updated frequently at specified intervals by the caching app. This is done instead of constantly making individual and multiple requests back to the origin server, which would take considerably more time-thus speedier web page loading speeds.

W3 Total Cache has a number of specific types of options to choose from for this process: data base cache, object cache, page cache, browser cache, Java script and CSS file minifying and the incorporation of a CDN (Content Delivery Network). As I stated I can’t go into all that each do here, but suffice it to say that it is a very complete caching system and highly adjustable for different types of sites and their style of content. I wouldn’t blog without it.

White Label Branding for WordPress

This plugin is more than likely only important to WordPress designers/developers who want to brand their installations for their clients and keep them from having full access to certain features. You can also customize the dashboard in a number of ways to personalize it.

*WP-Optimize

A Must Have – Our final entry is WP Optimize. Its usefulness is in the fact that you have the ability to keep clutter to a minimum in your PHP data base. The pile-up of post revisions, transients and auto post drafts can slow down your site significantly. There are a couple other plugins that also have the option to backup your data base as well. Personally I prefer to back it up directly in my SQL and myPHP. You are welcome to investigate them on your own. I just happen to find this one complete enough for my own use and wouldn’t blog without it.

 

The Scientific Method of UX According to Laura Klein

 What is design?

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Asking what design means resembles asking for an answer that defines the meaning of life. Both questions lead seekers down a rabbit hole of undefined paradoxes. But design, on a less esoteric level, can prove a practical affair that interweaves human psychology and efficiency.

For lean startups seeking to optimize their product or website, Lean UX design is a never-ending process of designing tests and measuring metrics to create an evolving product that continuously reviews the user experience to inform future development strategies. For Laura Klein, author of UX For Lean Startups, design simply means, solving problems. The author sets important parameters in her book that associates design to a scientific process that can be replicated.

When it comes to implementing solutions in lean environments, the author focuses on the stringent process of designing for validation. Her method focuses more on the process of generating a valid hypothesis and places a subservient role to the aesthetic choices of a design. Coincidentally, Merriam Webster’s definition of design focuses more on describing design as a process, in contrast to a tangible deliverable with an appealing aesthetic.

Planning for Lean UX Design: Do Not Try This At Home

At least not before you’ve researched your market. Before even starting to plan for the UX design process for your startup, it goes without saying that you need to ensure that there exists a market willing to pay for your product. ‘Get out of the building’ is well-known startup commandment describing the customer research phase where developers can take the pulse of the market and take the opportunity to discover their customer’s needs and wants. It is at this stage of the development phase where developers can stumble upon the opportunity (or necessity) of pivoting.

The Mentality Behind Lean UX Design

Laura Klein advises that deciding what to design begins with determining what not to design. In other words, UX design centers around the question of implementing the smallest change that will allow developers to learn what they need to learn, to maximize the probability of reaching a goal.

UX design can be compared to the systematic organization of chaos into measurable, quantifiable results. At its essence, lean designing leads you down a path where, 


“you’re going to have to stop thinking about design primarily as a way to make things beautiful or cool or interesting. Your goal for this type of design is to make things, easy, obvious, and useful.” The emphasis on the pragmatism behind this type of design is somewhat akin to a scientific process that winnows down the elements of design to its bare essentials through rigorous testing. Any change that either fails to “validate your hypothesis or [move] your key metric” is extraneous. Laura Klein”

 

Do Not Design If You Don’t Have To.

The author shares a hack that allows users to receive customer validation for a new feature without having to fully complete it. For example, if lean designers intend to test whether customers will click on a link for example, designers can create a link that leads them to a page stub that announces that the feature will be coming soon. By measuring the number clicks, a startup can quickly gauge the appeal of a new feature without even having to finish it. The UX expert asserts that “Lean UX encourages you to do as little work as possible to get to your desired outcome, just in case your desired outcome isn’t exactly your hypothesis.”

Deciding what not to design with tested metrics is one of her recurring themes for lean designers. She expresses how the mentality feels counterintuitive stating: “Sometimes doing very little design is even harder than doing a lot of design.”

The Scientific Method

Lean designing very much resembles the scientific method.If you’re inner sixth grade scientist is failing you, here are the basic steps that compose The Scientific Method, (courtesy of sciencebuddies.com)

Similar to the scientific process, lean environments forces startups to think systematically about their hypothesis and the tests that will lead them to the results that they seek. She posits that “In Lean UX, you should be designing just enough to validate your hypothesis. And No more.”

For Laura Klein, designing for validation –the act of validating a hypothesis through a test- makes it possible for UX designers to remain focused on the pragmatic value of design and not get stuck in the aesthetic details that won’t help entrepreneurs convert clients into customers or generate revenue.

 

 

What One Question Do You Ask Yourself When You’re Creating a Lasting Company Brand

It’s important to not overlook the importance of social media in the world of modern day marketing. If in case you still regard social media as a passing fad among a younger demographic, think again. According to Cisco, half the world will be connected to the Internet by 2017. And though Facebook is no longer considered as edgy among millennials, social media sharing will continue to cater to our primeval instinct to capture and share our lives, and in the process, manipulate our identity.

Social media expert Gary Vuynerchuck astutely observes that no matter how introverted we consider ourselves to be, we are first, and foremost, social creatures. In his candid presentation, Stop Storytelling Like It’s 2007, he reveals that the information generated from the beginning of mankind until 2003, is being reproduced every 48 hours. Traditional forms of advertising like direct mail and even television commercials have steadily been losing their effectiveness with the deluge of information we currently are experiencing.

In today’s competitive marketplace, your prospect’s attention is no longer a commodity and in order to stand out from your competitor, you need to place your company logo on the hot seat and ask ‘Does my company logo allow my customer to manipulate his or her identity’?’.

Make Your Customer Look Good

The following is an excerpt from Daniel Todd’s, You Are What You Buy: Postmodern Consumerism and the Construction of Self: “In our postmodern society…Consumption is intimately tied to the creation and production of a sense of self…Today, it is virtually impossible to buy any product not embedded with certain symbols of identity acquired by the buyer knowingly or otherwise. Recognizing this, it is possible to draw the conclusion that consumption functions as a way to create a sense of self.”

Similarly to how we share online content that makes us look good, we buy brands to project our carefully constructed identities. We’re even delighted to become a walking billboard for them. In thinking about how to position your lean brand, it’s important to ask yourself the following questions:

Of course, it’s necessary that your lean brand offer products that genuinely add value to your customers. But developing a compelling narrative behind your brand will enable your logo to differentiate your product and maximize your profits.

Gary Vuynerchuck associates the brands we love with the evolution of the hypothetical pet Fido. Fido once spent the majority of his time working outdoors. Over time, Fido relocated indoors and now enjoys the luxurious life of a pseudo- child. Similarly, Vuynerchuck predicts that brands will experience the same type of idolization. Whenever I glance at my Ipad, I experience such an inexplicable warm feeling that once possessed me to search for ‘I love my Ipad’ images on Google. I love that Apple logo so much that I would marry it.

Such is the power of branding. Re-evaluate how you can use social media to humanize your brand and instigate this type of desire among your customers. When writing about your company about page, create a message that conveys that your brand will make your customers look good. As shallow as it sounds, The Ice-Bucket Challenge worked not so much because ALS is a worthy cause (which it is), but because the campaign lets online users to experience their 15 seconds of fame AND makes them look like they’re contributing to a worthy cause. In a time when you’re prospects attention is no longer a commodity, approach your customers with a message that they enthusiastically want to buy because it contributes to the formation of their identity.

 

Is Your Website Speaking to Your Prospects?

I got to thinking this morning about how some SMBs (Small & Medium Sized businesses) are still losing out on potential real consumers buying their product because their web site is non-exsistent, out of date, or at the least not speaking to the right prospects. Either it’s out of date or just not funneling these potential customers to buy what they are selling. Is this happening to you?

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] You’re a small or medium sized business and you don’t have a website for economical or other reasons. Someone locally does a search on the internet looking for what you sell. But they can’t find your business on the search engine results; no website no customer. Okay that’s one but what if 25 or more potential customers look for your product or store on-line, or better yet even more? You’re losing out on substantial amount of sales there. People don’t use the Yellow pages anymore. No website, no business; it’s as simple as that.

Or…

[dropcap]B[/dropcap] You have a website but it’s out of date or isn’t responsive or adaptive. As much as I dislike following current trends like copying the neighboring competitors’ e-commerce storefront, there are solutions to updating your site without it becoming out-of -date within a year. Done right a revamping of your overall site’s look can be accomplished without maximum pain. Especially if it needs to get responsive. Responsive Web Design (RWD) has been in use since 2010 and was introduced to the web design profession by Ethan Marcotte. It’s founded on the principle of “Mobile First”, which briefly means that we design a site to display correctly on the smallest device (smart-phone) first and on up the scale to a desktop display. This puts the most valuable or “above the fold” content first. Also there is little if no need to attempt to scroll sideways or all over the place to find what it is that you are looking for on a smartphone or tablet. By the use of a grid system and percentage measurements instead of static ones (pixels) your website scales to the appropriate device. This is done by (for one thing) utilizing CSS media queries. For more on RWD you can check this out  or this. But for the purpose of this article I am keeping it somewhat short. Opting for a separate mobile site can sometimes be redundant and can actually raise the cost of your overall project-unless of course you have a mobile app. Or your business demands a streamlined mobile site that takes into consideration aspects that are derivative of and necessary to the mobile shopping experience. Designing with a mobile first approach keeps your site lean which is good for overall page load speed and keeps your overall objective for having a site squarely focused in terms of content. If done right it means that this type of design is good for business as it has a greater reach to your potential customers; it puts your business in more hands.

Some statistics…

On ChannelNomics, May 12th, 2014

[su_quote cite=”Chris Gonsalves” url=”http://channelnomics.com/2014/05/12/smbs-will-need-help-online-aspirations/”]There also appears to be no better time than now to pitch for increased IT services for SMBs. The Citibank survey finds half of all U.S. small business owners say business conditions are good or excellent — the most in the past four years.

Why are SMBs getting online religion now? According to the Small Business Pulse survey from Citigroup Inc.’s Citibank, it’s all about juicing the bottom line. Last year, Citibank found only 22 percent of small business owners say they intend to grow through online sales. That number jumped 42 percent this year, and 18 percent now take in more than a quarter of their total revenues through sales made online.

These SMB owners are using the Internet in a number of ways: 70 percent leverage online for customer communication; 57 percent for marketing and sales; and 55 percent professional networking. Asked how the Web and social media benefit their businesses, 60 percent of SMBs cited improved sales and lead generation, while 48 percent pegged better market insight.

Forty seven percent said online efforts have increased visits to their physical location, while 43 percent said being online generated greater customer [engagement]. Thirty six percent said the Internet reduce[d] marketing expenses.[/su_quote]

So, the competition on-line is growing but still lags a bit behind. If your business is not internet savvy now, when?

 Solution…

exchange-square-finance-distri_2152198I would suggest you set out a budget first and expect to pay a little bit more, just in case – it’s good to be prepared and you won’t be as surprised by any quotes you happen to gather. If you already have an agency in mind or know one then you probably already know what the cost will be to get mobile friendly, as well as have an on-line presence.

But let’s say you don’t have that designer and developer in line; you need to start with creating your own project brief. What you are looking to achieve and what your company needs are regarding the website both mobile and desktop. Then you will want to begin courting some designers and get quotes, if they will do so. Some don’t, so be aware of that. Do some research into just what you will actually need from them. Are you going to need a web hosting account where the finished website will reside. If so then you will want costs on that resource.

I will warn you that many online hosting companies are not what they seem and can end up causing more problems than their inexpensive upfront deals are worth. There’s truly a lot more than meets the eye when choosing a solid, flexible hosting plan. If your website is going to need to expand and scale upwards in the future or you will need it to perform better on search engines like Google and others, is the cost for that going to be exorbitant or is your hosting package and designer inline with what your budget can allow. There are ways to “Growth Hack” many of these services and options without exceeding your allotted expenditures.

During the quote process find out how knowledgeable the designer is as to mobile sites, Responsive design and whether or not they can fulfill your current and future needs as to e-commerce  solutions. This goes for either a new design or re-design project.

I’ve wanted to stay away from using jargon in this article but there are a couple things I feel you should know to ask your prospective designer so as to benefit from the latest developments in website construction. Feel free to contact me if you have any in depth questions on these topics.

  1. Ask her/him how they are planning to utilize CSS3 queries: are they using the @import function or <link>? The <link> is more high-performance and economical when it comes to page load speed. It’s good to make sure and to keep them on their toes. This is especially important if you are having a blog designed for your business.
  2. Also are they planning on minifying their script or not. Non-minified script is great for the human eye and brain to read but a computer doesn’t need it. All those breaks, spaces and notes aren’t necessary for your browser to read the page info correctly.
  3. How are they going to place the jQuery – asynchronous or deferred? Deferred is much more desired. It means that all the pretty stuff (animations or sliders and such) are going to have their scripts loaded after the initial above the fold content is loaded into your prospective customers browser. But asynchronous is not completely bad.
  4. And for both CSS and jQuery you don’t want it loaded into a browser in-line: not good for page load speed.
  5. Are they going to size all your images proportionally or let HTML resize your pics. You want to keep your media sizes as close to what they actually need to be when displayed on the screen. If you’re having a blog designed for you and you’re going to be the one updating and maintaining it, have them show you how you can easily resize and optimize your images. It will save you losing those impatient prospects who won’t wait the 3 to 5 seconds it may take for your landing page to load in their browser window.

Once you’ve settled on a designer, you’ll want to make sure you have your contact information on the home, front or landing page as local searchers are often just seeking your brick and mortar location and possibly what your business has, for sale or in stock. A designer worth their salt will keep you in the loop through the process and include you in the development of the site in regards to testing the site on mobile and desktop; tablet as well. And in the end you will have a site that will get you more known than unknown and that’s better for business – no?

 

Slideshow: 7 Basic Things to Know About SEO Before Launching Your Startup

 

How Growth Hacking isn’t as Bad as You Think

Growth-Hacking-part-oneI have, and maybe you have as well, seen the term “Growth Hacking” a lot lately. Some call it a buzz word but I don’t think so. When we label something a “buzz” term it somehow gets reduced in it’s importance and relationship to what it stands for. I feel that “Growth Hacking” fits just fine as an official moniker for what Sean Ellis started in 2010, when he described a growth hacker as,

  “a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”

Needless to say if you’re in the startup business then you may want to skip the video I’ve presented here as it is a Beginners Guide to what Growth Engineering is all about. And I really shouldn’t say all because there are many avenues a good growth hacker can utilize and here, Nick Berry from Facebook, mostly emphasizes A/B testing and metrics – data and that’s okay. He does cover more than that so have a watch.

If you are starting up and aren’t already cooking growth into your mindset then by all means watch. It’s a good intro into a topic I will be covering for the next several weeks in our business section on this blog. It also has relevance to designers who are working within startups and are using Split Testing as your means to determine what works with your targeted model or to establish one. And remember – you’ve gotta have a product with real value.

 

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