Moving to a new blog

Hi subscribers,

I’ve created a new blog called http://alice-online.co.uk which is basically another version of this blog. This is because I believe I have more scope with a self-hosted WordPress blog, so I am concentrating on that for a while.

Meanwhile, if you subscribe to this blog, please renew your subscriptions with my new blog. It still has all the old posts which I have transferred over, and will have all my new posts from now on. I’ve even made it easy for you by changing the details in the sign up box in the sidebar.

So don’t miss out – transfer and subscribe now! And get all your friends and colleagues to do so too!

See you on the other side!

Alice

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Contracts and Con-Artists

The other week I had a bad experience with a customer who refused to pay his bill.

Even though the episode left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, the best thing was to view it as a lesson. The answer is to be totally covered on your side, otherwise there is no chance (or limited chance) of redress.

First, trust your gut reaction. I had a bad feeling from the beginning; I was suspicious that it needed to be done by the end of the week, and then there was the distinct lack of information as to exactly what was wanted. I drove out to Henley to meet them to find out more details, and even then it was still vague and unhelpful – I know that people have trouble in describing what they really want, but when you’re greeted with a dismissive grunt from one and distracted ideas from another, what is a girl to do?

Second, get concrete details from the beginning, in writing, preferably on a contract of agreement. This I failed to do, just relying on my written notes taken at the first meeting. The whole project was a ‘rush job’, with the deadline within six days. This means I would have to work over the weekend, which I am willing to do if necessary.

What I gathered that was needed was: high-class invitations in an art deco style on very good quality paper rolled up and secured with a flower clasp, and tickets on thick card with a specially designed bar code and the back in black with the nightclub’s flower logo placed centrally.

But one thing was not made clear to me – the flower clasp should be made of A REAL FLOWER and secured with a gold pin! (Hang on, I’m a designer, not a florist! When a client mentions a flower clasp, I presume it’s made of card or paper, not organic matter! And wouldn’t the flower rip with the gold pin and wilt over the weekend?)

As the week progressed the demands varied to include corks placed inside each end of the invitation (luckily this couldn’t be sourced in the timespan available) to sealing each invitation flap in wax above and below the flower clasp (this would have taken a further six hours to do, especially without an appropriate seal). I persuaded them to abandon these ideas.

Third, get your customer to accept and sign a contract of agreement, so that all parties understand what is expected of each other for the project concerned. If a deposit is required to cover any production costs, this should be paid before work should continue.

I didn’t do any of these things because of the timeframe. But I did email proofs of the design to them and personally deliver a mock-up of the invitation and ticket so that they had an idea of what would be produced.

The delay caused by their disinterest in replying to my emailed proofs meant that the deadline was extended by a further three days. Without an advance deposit I got the invitations and tickets printed and spent another weekend preparing them. They were delivered by hand on the Monday to an empty nightclub with only bemused cleaning staff to let me in, in spite of a pre-arranged time for collection.

I received a phone call a few hours later to say that no payment would be forthcoming because the products were totally unacceptable. The quality of the printing was inexcusable, the paper and card were of extremely bad quality and not what they were expecting, and the flower clasps were not real flowers (the first time I had heard of that requirement).

As far as I was concerned, the paper was the best quality I could source that would roll up tightly without becoming creased or split, and the card (at 350gsm) was as thick as could be produced without incurring higher printing costs. And as for the flower clasps… (!?!*@%)

Without any contract of agreement, and only an invoice as my paperwork, I was on dicey ground. They were big men and there was only little me. Another thing – I was so upset I failed to collect my work from them immediately. I subsequently heard on the grapevine that some of my tickets were in circulation in spite of me not being paid. I phoned up the nightclub owners who were emphatic that the invites and tickets had been put in the bin. When I then said I was coming over to collect my work, they changed their tune and said my work would be ready to collect (when they had said only minutes earlier that it had been destroyed). When I collected them it was obvious that all the tickets were not present.

If anybody out there can provide me with some help as to what to do next, I would be very grateful. Business Link have been extremely helpful, but their advised me that because of my lack of paperwork, and the nature of these nightclub managers, it would be difficult to get my invoice paid, and taking this matter to the small claims court might be expensive for me without any guarantee of success.

Please contact me through my website: http://www.alice-designs.co.uk, or through this blog. I look forward to hearing from you.

Alice

Good Websites – what does that consist of?

This subject had recently been brought to my attention through a blog in which I read about what makes a good website. There were many points about how websites are produced that hit a nerve, so I had to reply to put forward my opinions on the matter, and I would like to share these now in my blog.

“Did you know that the average time it takes for someone to ‘read’ a website is three seconds?” This is quite correct. I monitor my website through Google Analytics and most of my ‘visits’ are less then 10 seconds. So why is this? It’s all to do with how your market your website and the content on the first page. Your website should only communicate to the potential customer and not rant on about your business. Try substituting every ‘we’, ‘I’ and the company name with the word ‘you’ in order to put the customer first. People are only interested in find out what is in it for them and how they are going to benefit from what’s on offer through your website.

A clean, clear and uncluttered front page (I have yet to perfect this even with my own website) should contain excellent copy that in less than 10 seconds will describe the customer’s benefits and then intice them what to do next (for example, find out more by clicking on these links). This may make the difference between disappearing within three seconds or the customer going further into your site and finding out more about you.

Once they’re in, then navigation is SO important. Time again have I gone into a website, got confused and not been able to find my way out again… so I just quit. What is wrong with the back button being designed into the site, ‘breadcrumbs’ at the top of the page so you know where you are in the site (offering a sitemap shouldn’t be the solution), and incorporating your main links throughout your site’s design? My site will be extending much further in the future, and the reader will always be able to get to the homepage in one click and get to another part of my site in just two.

Websites with fussy designs, clashing colours and being more concerned with how pretty or tendy it looks all detract from getting your message across. Yet using good, simple design can compliment your website as well as help the surfer to quickly gain what they are searching for.

I often think that the use of colour is important in a website. Use the 3 colour rule: black (or grey) text, and two other colours, either complimenting (like dark and light blue, see the BBC website) or contrasting (like opposite colours or, by using Photoshop, changing a few of the colour’s numbers to see what other comparable colours you get, you will get a nice surprise!). Oh, and keep the background white, then nothing will clash, get swamped or disappear into those dreadful black backdrops that seem to be so popular. Simplicity always makes things much more legible.

Readers want to find their information quickly and not have to wade through confusing menus or images. This can be prevented by properly thinking out the navigation of the website beforehand, to create that overall shape of the website. Then create your page layout to accommodate the links so that they continue or repeat throughout the website, without destroying the design or corporate image. Use Photoshop to create colourful yet complimenting gifs or jpegs to use as links, which should be self explanatory and can be adapted accordingly for each page or wherever the site leads onto.

Flash introductions into websites are just annoying, and you usually find the surfer has gone before that dancing cartoon has finished playing! And some of these little ‘opening shows’ require extra software, which if you haven’t got, you can either download (do you want to?) or you cannot get into their site! What a waste of time and another opportunity to quit within 3 seconds.

Another thing I find useless are front pages before going onto the proper homepage. In one particular site I went to, I was confronted with their logo. ‘Now what?’ I thought. It took me about 3 seconds to work out that I had to click on it to continue. Even ones that gradually dissolve to reveal the front page are annoying, when all you want to do is just to quickly find out the information you want.

I hate the idea that there should be moving images and little film-shows on websites, they are so annoying. You don’t have to follow the fashion, just because it’s now possible to have this. Having moving images won’t capture the reader’s attention, if anything, it puts them off and diverts their attention from the real message at hand. Some sites have little gallery-shows of their examples, which are extremely exhasperating as each image comes up in succession and the reader cannot go back to see something before until it comes round again. It doesn’t allow a proper look at what is on display and can be very irritating. All you have to do is to clearly place each example on an appropriate page with either an opportunity for a larger image or an accompanying explanation and a link to the contact page to bag your customer.

What would be interesting is your views on this. Do you like jazzy inserts and fancy images on websites? What makes you enter a website and stay there? Have you ever really thought about it? Is clear, concise and uncluttered web design a factor for you?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Alice

Strategic Alliance Partnerships

Today I went into a seminar about forming Strategic Alliance Partnerships.

I had been giving a lot of thought to what it is like to be a Sole Trader, especially after receiving Business Coaching in the summer. Working for yourself may be attractive because you don’t have to answer to irritating bosses, put up with annoying colleagues and perform mundane projects that give you no satisfaction or don’t allow you to show what you really can do.

But as a Sole Trader it can seem that you are totally alone; there’s no-one to bounce ideas off, discuss new projects, back you up in your ventures or pick you up and analyse things when they go wrong; even the smallest thing can seem enormous and get out of proportion and nobody can guide or prevent you from going off on the wrong track. The learning curve is huge, mistakes can sometimes be disasterous, challenges are real challenges and simple things like writing a business plan and working out a marketing strategy can be very daunting.

I learnt today that forming a Strategic Alliance Partnership can provide many advantages. By combining firms or people’s businesses they can add value by making each other aware of their services and products; combine resources to jointly attract new clients; create an increased profile and marketing awareness; lighten each others’ workload by delegation; motivate each other’s businesses; provide a bigger response, larger discounts and a faster service; increase marketing penetration; enhance competitiveness; recommend others as consultants and work with multi-suppliers on a project; develop new business opportunities and expand marketing developments; diversify the businesses and skills; and hone in and challenge any existing ideas.

The next thing I have to do is to think about this and do some more research. And look at my business and see if what I have to offer so it will be attractive to another company or person and whether it would be possible to combine to offer a particular package or service in addition to their existing ventures.

Watch this space!

Alice