The Right Webmaster

Some of us resent it; others deny it. Whether we like it or not, appearance counts. It counts a lot. We may like to think that the unattractive, poorly dressed person who speaks without eloquence commands as much attention as his attractive competitor, but if we’re honest with ourselves – and believe scores of studies – this simply isn’t the case.

The unattractive candidate may justmyfitness offer the secret to immortality or next week’s lotto numbers, but the vast majority of the population doesn’t listen to him. They’re too enthralled by a well-packaged (though not gaudy) messenger– regardless of the message.

Yes, regardless of the message.

This is true of everything from courtship rituals to job interviews to web sites. Same principle. Same truth.

Choosing the right webmaster to design your web site is crucial to your business’ success; its importance cannot be overstated.

Just as you wouldn’t pay a six year old with safety scissors to cut your hair before going on a date or a job interview, you can’t rely on an amateur to design your web page. Your web site is your storefront, the face you present to the world — literally — to entice prospective clients. Your product or service may be the best thing to enhance thousands of people’s lives. But if no one pays attention to your package, your message will never be delivered. Your web site will either be inviting enough to generate ongoing sales and leads, or it will sit relatively ignored in cyberspace with your message trapped unseen.

The outcome here, like so much in life, is under your control. Choose the right webmaster. Approach this as the critical task that it is. Do your legwork.

Get references!

You must hire the right person or company for the job, so of course, check references. Experience counts here. This is too big a deal to go with an unknown. If you want to save money or give someone a break, choose a task that doesn’t have so much riding on it; let the nice kid next door cut your lawn — but not design your web site!

Look carefully at samples of the designer’s previous work. Be wary of too much make-up. Sites that are too flashy and intensely graphic may be momentarily attractive, but blinking logos and the like wear thin quickly. After a few moments, it’s irritating, not enticing.

Look at the work of the designer you’re considering from the point of view of a prospective client: Does it load quickly? Is it appealing but not “cheesy”? Is it easy to navigate? Would YOU pursue the product or service promoted by that site?

Even if you’re not interested in that product or service, contact the site’s owner to ask a couple of questions regarding the service he received (and continues to receive, since your relationship with your designer will probably be ongoing as changes and adjustments are made). Most owners are happy to take a couple of moments to help each other out in this way. Wouldn’t you be?

Besides seeing the person’s work, be sure to ask about his commitment to the task. Find out if you’re dealing with a whiz-kid who, as good as a designer he is, won’t be available to help or support you during finals or European backpacking expeditions. Anyone who designs as a hobby might be good at the initial task, but in the long run, you may simply be part of his hobby, and prioritized as such. If you find yourself in a position that you have a problem you need addressed, your webmaster has to be available — fast! Be absolutely sure the designer knows that you expect an ongoing relationship. Good service after the sale — whether it’s to address problems or make additions or adjustments — is crucial. You’re looking for someone who sells Porches and loves Porches and wants to be sure that Porsche runs beautifully for YOU, the client. After all, your first and most crucial decision before becoming someone who seeks clients is to act in the capacity of one — an intelligent one — yourself. Make your expectations clear. Ask other site owners if these needs are regularly met!

Let’s not forget who this web site is going to be about YOU. Your needs, your product or service. People are a lot like web sites in this regard. Beware the “Al Franken” sales pitch. (Remember that narcissistic moron from Saturday Night Live?) A designer who spends most of his time telling you what HE (Al Franken) can do, is missing the point. This pathetic (and dangerous) attempt at self-flattery should fail for him, as it will fail for you when you design your page and try to attract prospective clients. Anyone too intent on overly impressing you with what HE can do doesn’t have a clear sense of focus and will probably design a web site with an ineffective focus.

Your webmaster works for YOU. His attention and focus should be on what YOU need and what YOU’RE trying to accomplish. Don’t get sold a prefab, prototype-style site since that says more about what he’s good at than what you’re good at. The secret here is to know what purpose you want your web site to achieve and communicate this clearly to your designer. What exactly are you trying to sell? A product? A service? Is lead generation a high priority or do you hope more for sales generated directly from the site? Your webmaster should approach your page design differently depending on these — your — priorities.

So it only follows to be wary of excessive techno-babble. Like the doctor who speaks only medi-jargon to impress you rather than English to enlighten you, too many webmasters think they’re impressive by spewing a never ending stream of database-mainframe-web board-moving video-streaming audio babble. These people talk a lot more than they listen, and are more likely to design you some flashy page that may crash the browser of prospective clients whenever they try to access your site. If your prospective webmaster doesn’t immediately try to get a sense of what YOU need and what YOU want to accomplish, don’t even bother talking turkey with him.

What your webmaster does need, is a good sense of the “big picture”. If the person or company you’re considering can’t converse intelligently with you about your web site’s role in your business, move on. You need someone who has a good sense of how to use the site as a marketing tool, not how your site works as a tool to feed his ego — or his wallet.

The last topic of conversation should be money. There’s no point in wasting your breath on it until you figure out whether you like what’s offered. Once you decide that, only then should cost become an issue. And it’s a confusing issue. Since there is no regulation of webmasters, they can charge a little or a lot, by the page or the hour. You’ll find one who charges ten times the other, from forty to four hundred dollars an hour.

What’s up with that?

The bottom line is this: once you have been satisfied on the other crucial issues, your field will have been considerably narrowed. Any prospective webmasters who make it this far through your “interview process” will narrow the price range for you.

Generally speaking, however, you shouldn’t pay much more than $250 per page for a fully equipped site that is completely navigable and has eye-catching fonts and graphics. Nor should you expect to get satisfaction for less than a hundred dollars. Remember the rule about anything too good to be true… (If you haven’t learned this already, that’s a rule for a very good reason. You’re wise to remember it regardless of which end of the client/seller relationship you find yourself on.)

Again, when you’re shopping for a webmaster, remember that you’re the client. Thinking like an intelligent client will make you more effective in two ways: first, it will provide you with an attractive, workable image to present to the world — your site; second, it will help you understand how a prospective client thinks, which will better prepare you for effectively servicing your own clients (which you will, in fact, have if you have played your role as client well).

Following these leads will provide you to the best possible start to a profit-making web site. Don’t follow them, and you may as well send out your resume on crumpled paper written in purple crayon; then stop showering, put on yesterday’s laundry and head out for that job interview without brushing your teeth. You may well be the best candidate for the job, but I don’t like your chances. I bet someone else shows up who looks put-together and speaks well. Your interviewer may well be able to see that you’re the one for the job despite appearances, but chances are, he’s only human. So is everyone who’ll be surfing around on the web. Be sure you provide a site that gets the job.

As an avid entrepreneur, Patrick is always in start-up mode, whether it’s finding or creating the latest cutting edge technologies or the latest online marketing tactics, he is always keen to share his experience to help educate others.



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