Well I finally sat down this afternoon and learned how to integrate WordPress into an existing website.

I followed Jonathan Wold’s tutorial – it’s pretty good, and got me far enough into the process that I understood how to finish it myself.  You can see the results here; I’m not quite done as of this afternoon, but it should be finished up in the next few hours (or days depending on my workload)…

I’d been hanging around on Meetup.com for my town for about a year, on the ‘waiting for a web design meetup’ and other lists, and a few weeks ago finally decided to bite the bullet and start a group myself (with one other coder as co-organizer).

So… this morning we had our first meeting over breakfast, and it went really well! Only five of the 9 that had RSVP’d yes or maybe showed up, but it was a good group and we had a great time. I just set up the second meeting and hopefully we’ll get a bigger turnout, but I was really pleased with the first one.

As far as Meetup.com, it has its pros and cons. One is that it’s really user-friendly and very simple to manage your group, communicate with everyone, set up meetings and RSVP’s/reminders. It has a few nice features like the message board and polling or profile questions.

The cons are that there aren’t forums – my group is interested in having that so we can post projects for review, post code snippets, book reviews, that kind of thing, and the message board is limited to only the one general topic. Also, that you can’t do anything with the site template, which is what I’d like to get my hands on…

One of our members has started a site on CollectiveX, which is a group/social networking platform, and we’ll be using that for our forums and other things that Meetup.com doesn’t offer. But I think for the time being we’ll keep the Meetup site too, as it really excels within its limited scope: getting people to join and get involved on a basic level. If you’re in the Northern Colorado area, consider joining us.

I met with a potential client last week who’s been trying (without a lot of success yet) to put together a real estate site using one of the ubiquitous do-it-yourself sitebuilder packages on a prominent host.

He asked me point blank: “What can you do for me that’s better than what I can get on (name of ubiquitous host)?”

A very good question. We talked for about an hour, and I answered his questions and just submitted a bid for his project last night. But I thought I would summarize here… (Not in any particular order).

  1. Custom websites. I don’t use templates – if you go with a sitebuilder, you’ll be using a template that maybe dozens or hundreds of other sites are also using. If you go with a pro, you should get a totally unique site that’s customized to fit the goals and personality of your own business, not a carbon-copy of someone else’s.
  2. Clean code. Sitebuilder applications tend to put out really messy, bloated code. A pro who knows what he/she is doing will write clean, valid code and externalize all those scripts. He/she should also be checking across multiple browsers, testing for accessibility and validating code (IMO) and this isn’t something that probably occurs to most users of sitebuilder apps.
  3. (Probably) better rankings. I know that many of those ubiquitous hosts offer SEO tools, and that’s great. But the messy code and sometimes just confusion about using the SEO tools means that websites don’t get optimized the way they should be.
  4. No monthly fees. I know that (ubiquitous host) doesn’t charge much, but you generally pay by the month unless you pay up front. When you hire a pro, you pay and you’re done. And yes, pros charge more, but when you pay very little, you tend to get very little.
  5. More efficient use of your time. If you own a business, you’re probably a very busy person. Why spend hours or days or weeks working on a website that looks like many others? Hire a professional and get what you really want – something that makes your business look good and helps you establish and improve your relationships with your clients.

All my opinions, but I think they’re valid ones. DIY sites may be okay for personal sites or if you’re just starting out, but eventually moving up to a custom, professionally-built website is a better move for many small businesses.

In the past few weeks I’ve gotten two new clients simply by being first.

These clients either had had problems with their current web designer or had been trying to create site themselves and finally determined that that wasn’t a good use of their time as business owners. So they called me…

Both told me that I was the designer they picked in part because I got back to them immediately. I was first and that made it seem like I was the most interested. And they are good clients, one site is already up and running and paid for.

I don’t always jump when the phone rings, but I try to get backto them as quickly as possible. I don’t have a crackberry (yet) but I’m using Google Grand Central, which routes calls to the number on my website right to email and my cell, so I can stay on top of callers. I’ve found that just responding quickly, a simple thing, can make a big difference in the way clients deal with you (and refer you too).

So today our phones have been slowing fading away, the call quality and ability to send and receive calls going steadily downhill.

I went down to reboot the Vonage phone adapter and discovered that, for the second time in about 4 months, the adapter cord has failed. I called them up (on my cell, of course) and after sitting on hold for 15 minutes got a relatively well-spoken tech.

I asked him about this cord – I’m a bit concerned that I’ve had this problem twice in a few months. He tells me that overall, this device tends to fail every 8 months.

Does that not seem a bit extreme? Why would you sell and support a product that fails every 8 months, on average? Granted it’s just a power cable, but still…

I asked about alternatives and he tried to sell me a $79.00 box. I don’t need that. But the next time this cable fails, I might reconsider my choice of phone service for a few minutes. The last time it happened someone sent me a travel charger which looks nothing like an adaptor cable, and it took me 10 days to get my service back on.