CrossTrade WordPressCrosstrade Imports is a fantastic eco-friendly client that helps tribal peoples in Brazil establish business relationships in the US.

Crosstrade was trying to update their site through Dreamweaver without much knowledge of HTML.  After a proper requirements assessment, we determined that they needed an online store and website system that they could update in-house using store labor with minimal web skills.  They were also hosted by a company that offered minimal support and hosting resources.

We started with a site migration to BlueHost, a large hosting company that offers significant control panel resources for small to mid-size business, then set up OpenCart with a custom template and trained them to enter their own products.

Once the Crosstrade Imports On-line Store was up and running, we converted some custom designs into a WordPress template and configured WordPress to support their needs.  Since Techivity helped redesign the technology framework for the Crosstrade site, in-store personnel at CrossTrade has successfully updated their own web pages and product listings.

Add Google Analytics, some key word research and basic search-engine optimization and Crosstrade Imports is set to build and grow their on-line business helping artists in Brazil support themselves.

 

 

Here are a few of our former projects, done before our last portfolio update.

Kent Smith Architecture Kent Smith Architects – Kent wanted more than just another blogging site; he wanted a site with unusual design (courtesy of APRiori Creative) and video capabilities. Using Wordpress as a foundation, Techivity helped Kent make sense of hundreds of blogging plugins and resources to get what he needed.
silex Technology America – silex needed a new web site, a fresh look and feel, with a management system that would allow them to keep track of their extensive pages of content while providing the ability for people throughout their organization to maintain separate pages.
BelleHavens – BelleHavens is a destination club where members can spend time in fabulous locations, staying in million dollar homes. VorpalJack updated their online reservation system, provided marketing analytics, SEO advice and provides hosting and technical management services.
vj-heirloom Heirloom Passages – Specializes in producing beautiful, heirloom quality products to memorialize important events. VorpalJack provided this startup with a web presence, consultation and online store at a price they could afford.
vj-icon Icon RemodelingA full service design-build firm comprised of certified, quality-oriented staff that reflect innovative ideas, comprehensive services, and attention to detail. VorpalJack helped Icon to identify what site map would best serve their business and developed a web presence for Icon that includes a FAQ, a portfolio, and information about Icon and the services it offers. In addition, VorpalJack trained their staff to update and maintain the site themselves. We are especially proud of the custom engineered slideshow plugin that displays Icon’s portfolio while giving them a user-friendly GUI to update the slides any time they want.
vj-corda Corda Technologies – The global leader in interactive data visualization software and solutions. VorpalJack converted Corda’s site from over 1000 individual HTML pages to a template system that greatly simplified maintenance. Using custom software, VorpalJack processed more than 1000 content pages to fit within the new templates and added new flash driven and HTML content to reflect new product lines. Best of all, the entire project was delivered ahead of schedule and under budget.
vj-fulcrum1 Fulcrum Biometrics – Fulcrum Biometrics is a leading provider and distributor of multiple biometric identification technologies. Fulcrum needed a new website with an online store. VorpalJack provided Fulcrum with that site, a customized template, menu system and training that has allowed Fulcrum to mange and update their site on their own. VorpalJack continues to provide technical services to Fulcrum on a regular basis, helping them maintain and manage a very active and successful site.
vj-atto Atto Solutions – Atto Solutions is the premiere provider of freight auditing services for companies of all sizes. VorpalJack built a user friendly web interface to allow Atto Solutions’ customers to enter account information, pay bills and view extensive reports showing detailed shipping and cost information. Our database stores millions of records for Atto Solutions customers to review their freight expenses and ensure they are not over-spending.

As small to mid-size business and non-profit leaders, many of you have to wear multiple hats, providing technology advice, marketing strategy and engaging in sales work supporting relationships. This is for you.

I was watching a video by my sister Payson Cooper, who has cultivated a nice skill-set in strategic marketing, and I thought she articulated something more clearly than I’ve ever heard it before, so I wanted to share it with my audience.

So what is the difference between Marketing, PR and Sales anyway?

Professionals blur the lines between these disciplines, its not surprising that small business entrepreneurs who have less time to specialize do the same.

Here’s what Payson had to say:

Marketing is identifying what problems you solve, how you solve them, and getting that information in front of the people who care. This covers everything from strategic marketing, where you are thinking about your audience, what problems they face, and how you can solve them, to lead-generation marketing, where you identify people who care and pass them to a sales team.

PR (Public Relations) is defining information to help third parties understand what you do and who cares about it. This is very important because it provides your potential customers with a third-party, relatively independent, perspective into what you have to offer. Its dependent on marketing, but entirely different. It supports sales, but is different. This is identifying industry experts who have credibility and giving them what they need to make an impartial evaluation of your services and
offerings, so that the folks who listen to them get to know about you and what you can offer.

Sales is the process of overcoming natural objections to purchasing your services or products. Isn’t that a nice description? When you have something to offer, those interested will have natural questions and objections. Why would this help me? Do I need it? What is included? How much is it? Why is that a fair price? Sales is the process of helping a potential customer answer those questions.

So there you go; a nice, discrete separation of Marking, PR and Sales for the small business executives and entrepreneurs among you out there to use when you need to strategize.

I am in training the first couple of weeks of August, when I return Techivity will take a look at some of the new services Google has made available.

If you found this post helpful, and want to take a look at what Payson offers in marketing strategy, take a look at her site. She and I approach things a bit differently, but her strategies are quite effective.  As usual, feel free to post a comment, or contact Techivity for consulting services.

Well, well.  I was checking my news feeds this AM and I see this post about project Spartan.

http://techcrunch.com/2011/06/15/facebook-project-spartan/

Seems that there’s a top-secret project at Facebook to implement an app delivery service on Safari to target the iPhone and iPad.  It also seems that the social media giant is working on a major update to their photo apps:

http://techcrunch.com/2011/06/15/facebook-photo-sharing-app/

I know many small business contacts who still shy away from Facebook not sure how to leverage their time there.

What this means to you, if you are a small business client, or just someone who follows our blog for tech advice and strategy is that if you haven’t figured out how to use Facebook to connect, network, and grow your business yet, you need to do that.  LinkedIn is a great business, professional networking site, but at this point it should be pretty clear to most of us that the mobile world is going to be very important to our future in business communication and networking.  Already, we use our phones constantly, most calls are mobile-to-mobile these days, and we use email, messaging, and more constantly.  Its only natural that social media would make that migration too.

And Facebook is putting resources and effort into being a major mobile social media player.  It will help you if you are comfortable using it.  As usual, if you want help, we’re happy to provide consulting and assistance.

So get in there!

I don’t often do this, write a recommendation to avoid someone’s hosting services, however, this example of incompetence is so strong that I feel I need to say something.

I was helping a client migrate from shared hosting (as in shared with other unconnected businesses) on 1&1 to their own  hosting solution.  We moved the domain to the new solution, leaving name service pointed to the 1&1 hosting, to protect the clients active email boxes, until we could make a careful planned migration of the email, hoping to avoid interruption.

A few weeks in, 1&1 deleted the remaining hosting account.  Yep.

They just deleted their customers digital property, without asking, checking anything, or keeping a back-up.  Worse, they defended the action by saying we should not have moved the name registration, which demonstrates a complete failure to understand basic concepts about how name registration works.  What we did, was basically the same as having a domain registered with Godaddy and hosting it somewhere else.  Millions of accounts are set-up that way.

So, my client lost email service in the middle of the business day, for a whole day while we moved DNS, and lost correspondence.

All 1&1 had to do was check their logs, or name service, to see live data in the account.

Deleting your customer’s property, without contacting anyone or checking anything, then telling the customer they are in the wrong, is just horrible customer care.

I am sorry to have to say; Don’ t host with 1&1, just don’t do it.  Their disrespect for this customer was frightening.

A technical recommendation; a long-time client just lost several months of medical data from a crashed hard-drive and has to re-enter it from printout.  It will cost them $1000’s.  I hate to see that.

If you are *not* running a web-driven backup solution then go set one up now; they are reasonably priced, effective and protect from exactly this problem. Here’s my favorite.  I am paying about $17 a month for over 350gb of backup and online storage.  There are plenty of other services, I researched quite a few, and in my assessment, this one was the best.

Live-Drive is cost-effective, easy to set-up, works on both mac and pc, and allows web-based access to files.

http://www.livedrive.com/?tid=3XJRWCF7

Live Drive offers Back-ups and BriefcaseOnce installed, it has a pretty easy to use control panel with two major services:

The briefcase service maps a web-folder to your computer as a network drive, works with mac or pc…or even FTP, so if you use Linux (like I sometimes do), you can set up a script to ftp to it as well.

Plus, there is a web interface on livedrive.com that will allow you to access, download or even view some files on-line.  So, if you are ever at a client’s site, or friends, and forgot something, its there if you can get to an internet connection.

We are most interested in the back-up services.  They are pretty easy to configure.  At install, a wizard will walk you through set-up, and if you ever need to change settings you can open the “live drivecontrol panel” from your start menu and modify the backup settings in the services tab.

Select files from the tree.Click the “manage backup settings” you will get a file tree.  To make sure that you get proper back-ups, you need to know where your various software stores the information you want to back-up.  In current windows software most information is stored under the user directory under “appdata” but some older programs (like the medical billing program this client uses) store data in directories off the C: drive or elsewhere.  You can usually find out where data is stored by looking in the software’s preferences or settings.  If you have trouble, contact the vendor, or let someone like me know, who can probably find it by remote desktop if needed.

The first back-up may take several days to run, so just leave the computer on, after that, it runs small changes and goes much more quickly.

If you don’t like LiveDrive, use something, just make sure you back-up your work.

Western Folklife Center is a long-time client.  When they first approached us in 2007, they were working with a store system that couldn’t handle their orders, using a content management solution that didn’t work for their needs and had trouble making any edits to their site.Western Folklife Center Joomla 1.5 Site

We helped them evaluate open-source alternatives, plan a project to update their web site of over 900 pages, and migrated their web management system to Joomla 1.0 with VirtueMart for their store solution.  Since then, we have updated their site to Joomla 1.5 and added a wide range of resources including Google Analytics, custom web forms and custom templates for both their main and their Cowboy Poetry Gathering microsite.

The Western Folklife Center site is a good size site; over 850 pages, multiple integrated systems, 3 custom templates, photo galleries, forms systems and VirtueMart.  Also, a microsite within Joomla that uses Joomla’s multiple template capabilities.

Western Folklife Center is a really cool non-profit organization; they help archive, celebrate and store the folklore of the western United States.  Their site includes cowboy poetry, exhibits, artwork, podcasts, radio shows and more.  Go check ’em out!  They are one of our on-going clients who has a contract with us for maintenance and management.

 

I’ve been dealing with a hard-drive crash in my Dell laptop the past couple of days and its opened my eyes to what I consider to be a serious issue in the technical industry.  The tech industry has become central to our culture, part of our identity in modern times.  So what happened to the customer service?

For example, in the past 2 weeks for my Dell Inspiron 1545 I needed a new keyboard, hard-drive and restore disk.  So, what do I do?  Go to my account on support.dell.com, login and start digging around…when I cannot find anywhere to download the operating system software, and no replacement parts link, I try to open a chat window.

They want me to pay for out-of-warranty chat (oh and don’t try this in IE 8, all the dell support links break the 2nd level in).  I try to call support; they transfer me 3 times taking up 40 minutes until I get to a guy that says he can only help me if I give him a credit card and approve a $35 fee.  Finally, in frustration, I hang up on everyone and call in to Dell sales.  They give me the Dell replacement parts line.  This fella wants to know the part number off my keyboard to send a replacement, and I have to pay for the operating system disk to restore my machine.

Uncle.  You win Dell, you’ve got great hardware, good prices, but I don’t ever want to have to talk to you again.  Ever.  I’ll have to, I’m sure, but you wasted enough of my time giving me the run-around when I was just trying to buy stuff from you to keep my machine working.

My dell is now using a $62 after-market SATA drive that I bought at Software & More around the corner from here (great guys, if you need computer stuff in Salt Lake City, go to them, they are honest, forth-coming and respectful) and its running Ubuntu 10.10 while I try to figure out what to do about the Windows 7 license printed on the bottom of the machine that ought to give me license to an operating system nobody will give me…

Granted, there’s no chat or phone support for Ubuntu (unless I pay for it) but there are literally 100’s of forums full of people eager to help me with anything…the big computer companies don’t even have community pages.

There’s something very wrong here.  In an industry that is leading our culture, talking to a major player, I couldn’t in 2 hours of time get a sales rep to help me.  What does that say about where we are headed?  That a major industry player cannot even successfully sell me a component I need to keep my machine running without putting me off to 3 different team-members, in 2 countries, over the course of 2-3 hours?

Dell, Gateway, Microsoft and any other big boys listening, you gotta wake up.  I think it was Heinlein that said, “You can tell the decline of a civilization by the ways its people treat each other…”

Doesn’t bode well folks.

Then again, Software & More, the neighborhood store…the sales rep said to me, “Hey, if you have any trouble, call us back and come back in, we’ve a tech right here…I’m sure he’ll talk to you about any issues you’ve got.”

Next laptop I buy will probably come from those guys, even if its a bit more money.

Maybe its just the big boys with the cultural issues around customer service…that would probably be ok with me.

A quick post about the audience found at each of the major US social networking sites to share how they can work for you!  Each of the major social networking sites has developed its own niche, audience and purpose.  Use social media to reach an audience that cares so you don’t upset your potential customers or waste your effort.

MySpace has developed into a kind of hip culture site that is ripe with music, art and pop news.  The home page for MySpace connects up to hulu, has music info on it and other popular media.  If you are looking for people who are into music, who are interested in connecting and finding this pop and artistic, then MySpace is a good spot to do that.  Most of the clients that I know who use MySpace to connect to their customers are dance clubs, social venues, musicians and other artists.

LinkedIn is a much more professionally oriented service, in fact, their home page talks about creating a career fast-track and getting more out of your professional network.  LinkedIn provides tools to connect with business professionals, provide references, promote services and so forth.  Its great if you want to connect with and promote to business professionals.

Facebook is a fairly generic social media resource and it has a huge audience.  Most of Facebook is used to connect and promote around our own lives; major events, projects and relationships.  There are games and resources for having fun, but in my experience, Facebook is mostly about being able to publicize who you are, who you know, and what you like.  Its a great place to build and manage a natural network; the friends, family and associates you know, and if you have a product or service that is appropriate to present to family and friends, this is a good spot.

Twitter is all about small burst information on a wide range of subjects, thus has a wide audience.  With Twitter, its about building up connections with your networks, connections that are interested in quick updates and advice from you.  With Twitter, your emphasis ought to be what you offer and whether or not you can build an audience that’s interested.  If you can find an audience interested in your professional advice, news tips and other quick notes then you should try using Twitter.  There are some good courses out there about using Twitter, like the one my sister Payson Cooper put together.

As with pretty much any marketing effort, using social media appropriately is all about understanding who you are trying to reach, where they hang out, and articulating what you can offer them.

There are so many Open Source systems for websites out there, that I thought I would take a moment to explain a bit about when to pick each one, they all have their strengths and weaknesses, pros and cons.  There isn’t one “solves it all” type system, so if someone is telling you that, its because they would rather work with what they know, than what you need…

We’ll talk about a few of the big boys here (WordPress, Joomla and Drupal being the most obvious), and a few of the up-and-coming (ModX and Concrete5) here.  Basically, when selecting an open source system to run your website there are several things to take into consideration:

  1. What does your site need to do for visitors?  What features do you need, like a store, or login system?
  2. Who will manage the site?  How much will ease of use impact them?
  3. What growth can you anticipate?  What features might you want down the road?
  4. How important is custom design and layout?

If you want a site that primarily communicates to visitors, provides information, you are not too concerned with additional features, like a web store, mailing lists, forums or providing custom information to a selected group, then that’s one set of requirements, if you need a site that provides login, user accounts and gives people information customized just for them (like a site that looks up account information for them), that’s a whole other set of needs.  Throw design and layout control into it, and it can be hard to pick the right system.

Picking the wrong system can hamstring your web site functionality, cost you $1000’s and delay you significant calendar time.  As with most of our posts, if you would like some help, just contact us.  We do requirements gathering and analysis, and can help make sure you pick the right system.

Here’s our take on a few different systems – don’t get caught listening to a technophile who loves one particular system and thinks it can be used to solve every problem.  That’s not reality.

WordPress: Fantastic blogging system that’s got a bit of content management to it and literally thousands upon thousands of plugins, themes and extensions that allow it to do more.  At its core, WordPress is designed to do one thing and to do it very well, manage a blog.  Its concepts and design from the ground up is focused on managing posts and communicating about posts.  It does that exceptionally well, and if that’s the core of what you want, posting information in a blog structure, WordPress is your platform, hands down.  If you want something else, like control over page organization, user control to limit access to areas by group, changes in how information is presented, or a site that’s not generally “blog-feeling” then using WordPress to do it can get complicated and feel like a hack.  For ease-of-use in setup, WordPress is a good pick.  They’ve made plugin management and site management simple enough for a novice, but with that ease of use, comes limitations; its very hard to make WordPress do stuff differently.  If you expect to run a site that communicates information, where posts can serve as news updates, you don’t mind that information model, and ease-of-use is a factor, go with WordPress.

Drupal: This is a *great* content management system and its track record is undeniable.  Large scale sites like whitehouse.gov (yep, them), economist.com (yes that one) and fastcompany.com (no?  Ok, so you’re not a business geek) run Drupal.  It performs well, has an excellent cache system that sustains performance on large scale sites, has against 1000’s of extensions and has user-access control that can be find-tuned to allow person A to edit this set of pages, and person B to edit those without touching each other’s work.  But the interface is confusing, the information model is challenging, and you need to understand code and website basics to install themes and extensions.  In short, its a professional’s CMS.  You can have someone set it up for you, but unless you know what model-view-controller (MVC) is and know how to link a CSS file to a PHP template file, you’re likely going to have trouble upgrading, extending or re-skinning it.  Its a favorite or us freelancers who set sites up for clients, because content entry can be easy enough, and its very flexible, powerful and robust.  If you expect to run a large-scale community site, need customizations, user access control, a powerful system that can handle large-scale sites, and you anticipate having good tech skills, go with Drupal.

Joomla: For a long time, Joomla was our “favorite” content management system at Techivity/VorpalJack and with good reason.  Joomla bridges ease-of-use between Drupal and WordPress, provides good site control over things like menus and objects on a page.  The template system is easier to customize than WordPress, the administration interface is more intelligible than Drupal, and there are again 1000’s of extensions and templates out there.  Again, it does have weaknesses.  It has a limited user-access model, so its very hard to control access to content items or other resources on a user or group basis.  The plugin and extension management system, while easier than the one in Drupal, is much harder than the one in WordPress.  Performance-wise it does well enough, but its not tested on the large-scale sites the way Drupal is – but ease-of-use…well, I’ve had clients whose computer skills were very limited managing their sites in Joomla.  If you need a content management system that provides more customized ways to organize and present information that WordPress, is easy enough for the uninitiated, and you are not concerned about controlling information by user, Joomla is a great choice.

Here are a few of the up-and-coming cms and website systems.  As a whole, the issue with this group is that there’s not enough community support yet to have the quality and breadth of extensions:

ModX: A great content-management system with really health engineering design, careful management, and next-gen tools, ModX is a bit confusing (like Drupal) on the admin side unless you code websites, then its a dream come true.  Uses Smarty for its template system, so if you don’t know what that is, you won’t be skinning it.  ModX is a good choice if you’re hacking together a website for a client that is a basic site, but has to be custom organized, and its a great choice as a foundation for acustom system.

Concrete5: Much like ModX but a bit easier to use, Concrete5 is a wonderful cross between open source and commercial.  The core system is free, but you can buy extensions right in the admin interface.  Its easier to use than ModX and Drupal, maybe even easier than Joomla, but its speed and performance comes into question on sites with higher traffic, so be wary of choosing it for a major site.  Again, a great system to hash something together for a client.

Ok, there’s a perspective.  Come talk to us if you want advice.