How to select the right web development team for your website.

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As new trends emerge and web technology advances, marketing executives are continually evaluating when is the right time for a new website. When that time comes, choosing the right firm to develop your site is critically important. The right team can help you craft the website of your dreams, while the wrong team can make turn your project into a nightmare. So how do you pick the right team? Here are a few ideas to help get you started.

Determine what type of website you need

There are many different types of sites. Do you need an informational site to establish credibility? Do you need a site that is focused heavily on lead generation? Perhaps you’re looking to develop an e-commerce site. Once you have established the specific type of site you need, look for developers who have extensive experience building your specific type of site.

Define the scope of your site

All successful web projects start with a well-defined scope. The scope helps protect both sides. For the developer it gives them the information they need to formulate a detailed quote. For a client, it protects you from additional costs or unwanted surprises. The key is to try to remove as much ambiguity as possible.

To establish a scope, start by defining the overall goal of the site and the type of site desired. Then, determine what core features you are going to want as part of the site build. This could include a content management system, an e-commerce platform, integration of SEO tools or responsive web design programming. Once you’ve established the core features, define the custom sections of the site you desire such as a projects gallery, a news blog and a careers section. As much information related to each section is helpful. For example, if you desire a projects gallery, additional information in regards to searching, sorting or filtering projects is quite helpful to the development team. Lastly, determine the desired user behavior you want from a site visitor. In other words, what do you want the site visitor to do?

Share strategy, branding and target market information

In addition to the scope, documentation related to your strategy, branding efforts and target markets could be very beneficial. Let prospective web developers know the overall marketing strategy and how your firm is different from others. Provide them with as many elements of your brand as possible. Let them know how each brand element works within the overall marketing strategy. Lastly, provide them with detailed information on your target markets and customers.

Do a little research

While you may feel web developers speak a different language, it can be beneficial to learn as much as you can about web development. Read some of the industry blogs on popular apps such as Flipboard, Prismatic or Feedly, join a web development group on Linkedin or watch some web development videos on YouTube. While you won’t be expected to become a developer overnight, understanding some of the latest trends can help you determine who is utilizing new and exciting technology.

Create a list of sites you like

As you think about your web development project, develop a list of sites that reflect the quality and features you desire from your site. This can be very helpful to the web development team. Also, create a list of competitor sites. Provide feedback in regards to the strengths and weaknesses of each site. This will help the web development team understand your industry better and can provide the insight needed to identify opportunities.

Check out the work of potential firms

With web development, anyone who knows a little code can claim to be a web developer. So it’s important to be selective when reviewing firms. Visit the websites of potential firms and take a good look at their portfolio. If you like what you see, go a step further and actually visit the sites featured in their portfolio. This will give you a strong understanding of the user experience for each respective site.

While the bells and whistles of each site can be impressive, don’t forget about the overall design of a website. You want your site to look fantastic, so make sure the firms you review have strong design skills. After all, there is no strategy that can save an ugly website.

Interview potential firms

After reviewing the portfolios of potential firms, create a list of potential firms and conduct interviews. Have each firm present their capabilities and portfolio. Identify sites that are similar in scope to your project and ask questions in regards to the goals and custom features of these sites.

When reviewing sites, look at more than the front end. Ask to see the back end or administrative side of the site and have them walk you through a common task. For example, if it’s a content management system, have the firm demonstrate how you would add a project or a news story.

From the design side, ask about how the design was achieved. Inquire about who developed the design and what designs were presented to the client. For example, did the firm present desktop, tablet and mobile designs. Lastly, make sure the design is not a template.

Ask about roles, processes and communication

While technology drives every website, it’s the talent of the team that makes the difference. Ask who is involved with your project and the roles each person plays. Review the competencies of each team member and inquire about the ways in which you will have access the team.

While it’s important to understand the web development process, often it is overemphasized. Typically most web development firms have similar processes. Of greater importance is communication. Inquire about how the team will communicate with your team. Do they have a system in place or is it random emails and phone calls? Your website project will require a tremendous amount of coordination and communication, so establishing the means of communication up front is important.

Request a complete proposal

When meeting with each prospective web development firm, provide them a written scope of your website project. Request a full proposal based off of this scope. This will ensure you’re having each firm compete fairly. Also, request a timeline for the development.

Review each proposal carefully

A proposal will give you insight into the quality of the work of the firm. If you receive a highly professional, comprehensive proposal, odds are this firm is quite capable. On the other hand, if you receive a simple, one page estimate, that can be a red flag in regards to their sincere desire to work with your company.

As you review each proposal, carefully evaluate if they understood and accounted for the scope you defined. A good proposal should have the scope defined, as well as cost estimates and project timelines. Also, make sure they have included ongoing site maintenance costs. Typically monthly maintenance costs can include hosting, backup services, SEO services, spam prevention, site updates, server updates and 24/7 site monitoring.

Get a website contract

Once you have selected the firm to develop your site, request a website contract. Putting it in writing protects both sides and provides clarity. Keep in mind that many contracts are written favorable to the web development team, so have your attorney review it to make sure it’s fair for both sides. Of particular note, make sure you own the site should your firm part ways with the web development team. Often contracts are written to specify the “creator” as the owner of the website.

Make sure you are happy and comfortable

Developing a website is an awesome journey. As the client, the web team is there to make sure your experience is always positive. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to get clarity (no geek speak) and demand the best for your organization. Above all, make sure you are working with a team that communicates well, delivers on their promises and is friendly every step of the way. You deserve nothing less.

A great app for writers

Ulysses App

I’ll admit it. I am an early adopter. To a fault, I am more than willing to try new apps. As my colleagues will tell you, that can be good and bad. So as someone who has tried apps of all shapes and sizes, I have struggled to find the right app for writing, until now.

My favorite writing app is called Ulysses. It is a powerful tool that is made specifically for writers. With Ulysses, I’m not distracted by formatting options and countless menus. It’s simple clutter-free interface keeps me focused on my writing.

Simple text formatting

Ulysses uses simple markup text for formatting. You don’t need to be a programmer to figure it out. It’s actually quite easy and I find that typing a few characters is much more efficient than choosing from a menu via a mouse. Once again, I’m not distracted and can keep my focus on my writing.

Great organization tools

While other writing apps provide a clean interface and markup capabilities too, Ulysses complements those interface features with a nicely organized structure. A left side navigation makes it easy to organize your work in folders. You can even add keywords, attach files for reference and more. Everything is where you need it and it’s easy to find.

Styles, live preview and easy export

With styles you can transform your text into a beautiful pdf or ebook that is formatted and styled. You can even switch styles and view the preview live. When your finely crafted story is ready for prime time, you can easily export your document via their quick export feature.

Available for Mac or iPad

If you’re looking for the perfect app for writing, check out Ulysses. I hope you find it as great a tool as I do. It’s available for Mac and iPad and can use iCloud to sync your library. For more information,visit their website at ulyssesapp.com.

How to write key messaging that connects with your target audiences

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For most firms, it might seem that everyone has a similar story to tell. The type of projects completed, the process utilized and the services offered may be quite similar from one firm to the next. So how do you rise above the clutter in a crowded marketplace? How do you tell a story that’s uniquely your own? That’s where a strong, cohesive brand comes into play.

As marketers, our job is to craft a brand identity that reflects the vision and culture of our organization and connects with prospective clients. This is not a simple task. It requires a unique mix of research, strategy, collaboration and execution. However, when built well and managed effectively, a strong brand can be the point of distinction that captures attention, gains recognition and creates new meaningful relationships.

When one experiences a brand, it’s the visual identity that makes the initial connection. In fact, research has shown that one will form an opinion about a brand within the first second they experience the brand’s design. As a design oriented firm, we understand the power of great design and this statistic only reinforces our belief. However, we understand that the design is just one part of a brand’s identity.

 CRAFTING YOUR MESSAGE

While a great design may capture initial attention, it is the key messaging that keeps one engaged. Whether in print or online, powerful headlines, strong calls to action and well-positioned callouts will entice the reader to learn more.

To craft the right messaging, we recommend starting at the end. In other words, start by defining what you want the desired behavior to be from your target audience. This might be a request for information, to be perceived as a thought leader, or to download a case study. Whatever it is, defining what you want the user or reader to do is the first step.

As you work to define each and every key message, keep your desired behaviors in the forefront. Measure whether each key message will help you achieve the intended results. If it is not aligned, throw it out and develop one that is aligned. This is particularly helpful when facing internal pressures. The viewpoint of a key executive can be misaligned with your desired behaviors and while all voices need to be heard, in the end your key messages need to lead to a desired result.

WRITING FOR EACH AUDIENCE TYPE

The Glancer

As you develop your key messages, keep in mind that there are two primary types of audiences. First is the glancer. This is the majority of people. A glancer briefly reviews your information by reading headlines and callouts. The glancer typically will not read much deeper.

To appeal to this type of reader, make sure you have key messaging that will give the glancer a complete thought to understand. For example, replace a typical headline that says “our team” with one such as “We have a seasoned executive team with unparalleled experience in the healthcare market”.

Often one will be a glancer if they are doing preliminary research and are comparing your firm versus others. Typically, this will be at the early stages of engagement. For example, they may be at the beginning steps of a project and are trying to decide whom to consider for a RFQ or RFP.

The Reader

The other audience type is the reader. This is the person who will read your headlines along with the supporting content. While the reader may be the minority, a reader can often turn into a highly valuable prospective client. Their strong interest in your content should be a huge indicator that there may be a sincere interest in working with your firm.

Often one will become a reader if they find the key message engaging enough to want to learn more. It should be our goal to turn all glancers into readers through great key messaging and visual components.

TIPS FOR DEVELOPING THE RIGHT MESSAGING

Keep it simple and focused

People are busy and don’t have time to decipher your message. So keep it simple and focused to ensure you connect with your target audiences.

Conduct client research

With content, often what you think is important might not be important in your client’s eyes. For example, you may think your history is very important but may find it had little impact with a client’s decision. Conduct a few client interviews to understand what were the “trigger points” that lead to your firm gaining their business. Also, try to get information from lost business opportunities to understand what the perceived deficits were. It’s valuable input.

Write with a consistent tone

Whether you choose to be casual and approachable or ultra professional and corporate, make sure you keep your tone consistent when writing your key messages and supporting copy.

Align your visuals with your message

With your key messages, utilize visuals for support. Whether an image, icon, graphic or chart, the right visuals will help you better convey your message and will lead to better comprehension.

Bring in a professional writer to help

If you find you need some help, don’t be afraid to bring in a professional writer to help you define and craft your key messaging. You’ll find it’s worth every penny spent.

To summarize, key messaging is an integral part of every successful brand. While the visual identity of your brand may capture their admiration at the onset, it is the key messaging and the supporting content that will keep one engaged and interested. The right key messaging will build trust, instill confidence and encourage engagement. These are actions that will lead to the positive outcomes you desire.