I know I should have been doing this before, but as part of my January ‘business decluttering’ I finally got a CRM.

Finding something that’s inexpensive, good-looking, is hosted somewhere besides my server and is reasonably feature-rich was harder than I thought. I settled on Capsule, which is really a perfect fit for me. It’s got a nice interface, it imported all my clients from a .csv file with no problems and is free for up to 2 users, and only $12/month for unlimited users. So far, so good…

I spent a few hours this weekend going over my website, Red Kite Creative, making some changes to improve readability and better show what I can do for clients. I haven’t really done this since the ‘new’ site went up about 15 months ago (not to the whole site, anyway)… it’s ironic that it’s hard to keep my own site up to date, as a web designer. Sigh.

So, I made some changes:

  • Cut back the text quite a bit on many pages, including the home page. I replaced blocks of text  with lists when possible, or put them into blockquotes to set them apart from regular paragraphs. Less wordy, more concise.
  • I removed the ugly little email newsletter sign up form from the top section of my site and moved it into the sidebar, above the fold. I redesigned it to be smaller, but with a big obvious ‘Sign Up’ button. Before it wasn’t so obvious, and I haven’t had a lot of registrations for my newsletter in the past.
  • I added information specifically about WordPress – WP is really becoming my platform of choice lately and I want to promote my skills. I added a block of content on the home page about it, and a brand new page just for WordPress.
  • Created a new services page; the old one was way too long.
  • Replaced the old services menu with a new one that always shows subpages.
  • Replaced the old ‘website makeovers’ page with a new redesign page – I’m using HighSlide to show before-and-after screenshots of redesigned sites.
  • Created a new page for custom portfolio and gallery design. I’m a landscape architect by education, and I work with a number of architects, designers, photographers and artists. I really love building imagery-focused sites and want to make this a more prominent part of my business. I showed a few example screenshots from some of my portfolio projects on this page, too.

I’m happier with the site now – it’s much cleaner-looking and there’s not as much reading required to get the point across. I hope prospective clients agree!

Since I decided to take the plunge and get a dedicated server for my hosting company, I’ve been working on ways to focus on and improve my offerings as a full-service small business host.

Of course, I’m a one-person company right now – the main reason design clients and others host with me is that they want personal service. My goal now is to make the hosting decision as easy as possible for them by offering both hosting and other services as a one-stop shop.

In the past few weeks, I’ve implemented a number of changes at NOCO (not including buying the dedi):

  • set up an affiliate program for hosting clients in WHMCS. If a new referral comes through a NOCO text or image link on an existing client’s site, the current client gets a credit on their account.
  • replaced my static FAQ page with a new dynamic one using the phpMyFAQ system. Now clients or potential clients can post a question if they don’t find the answers they need, and I can add new items to the FAQ more easily.
  • added two SSL certificates with free installation. I’m thinking about adding more – my domain provider Enom offers quite a few but when I tried to set one up in WHMCS I had some issues.
  • added free trial accounts – a prospective client can check out NOCO for seven days. I’m using a module from WHMCS Gold to manage free trials. They’re automagically removed from the server at the end of the trial if the prospect decides not to sign up.
  • added daily offsite backups through bqbackup, to supplement the onsite ones. Just for my peace of mind.
  • added Plesk Sitebuilder for those new hosting clients looking for a simple templated site.

That last item required some serious consideration – was I possibly cutting myself out of work by offering a Sitebuilder system? But I don’ t think so. The hosting clients that come to NOCO on their own – through searches or ads – may be looking for a quick fix, the kind they can get with site-building tools at the big box hosts. But if they’re looking for a local hosting company with those kinds of tools, then NOCO can meet that need.

When I started NOCO Hosting I only made mention of Red Kite once – on the About Us page. But I’ve rethought that; I’m now advertising the availability of professional custom web design and development services on NOCO’s site.

I think I’m on the right track with my goal of repositioning NOCO as a boutique hosting resource for small businesses, primarily local ones, but I do have a number of clients in other states now. I plan to continue adding new services and goodies for clients as appropriate.

I just started a free Google Sites website that I’m going to use as a company wiki. I’ve been thinking about doing this for awhile and now that I have a part time intern, figured it would be a good time to get some of the documents and procedures in a place where I can share them easily (only with people I allow access, of course).

I have a big list of ‘shoulds’ for my business right now. Unfortunately, things are getting in the way: the big problem I’m having with Windows 7 is the main one right now. I’m waiting for Microsoft tech support to call within the next hour for the third troubleshooting session of the week…

Anyway I thought it would help me get moving on some of my business ‘shoulds’ if I wrote about it. Here they are, in no particular order.

  • Think about my new year’s resolutions for Red Kite Creative, and then write a post about them. I’m thinking, but I haven’t written anything down yet…
  • Send out thank-you’s for the referrals I’ve received so far this year (that would be three). I’ve actually acted on this one; I tried to think of something a little out of the ordinary to send as a thank you gift. I love going to the movies, so I bought movie gift cards – enough for a movie and snacks for the client and his/her significant other. And Cinemark lets you upload a custom image to use on your cards – so they’re logo items! They’re in the mail to me at this moment.
  • Write and send out the first email newsletter of 2010. Normally I send this out the first week of the month. I’m hoping to get to it this weekend.
  • Update my client address book and sync it with my Blackberry’s.
  • Send out an email to all current clients offering to update their website’s copyright (if it needs it) and check in to see if I can help them out with anything related to their site or hosting.
  • Redesign NOCO Hosting’s business card. I redesigned the website in November and should probably have cards to match.
  • Get QuickBooks up to date for 2009. This is probably the most urgent thing, because I need hard numbers to send to the city in a few days. I need to sit down for a few hours this weekend and get all the end-of-the-year payments in (and make sure it all reconciles). I really dislike accounting.

I think that’s enough, although I can probably come up with a few more. These are the most pressing items, however, and I’m hoping to tackle several of them this weekend.

That is, if I don’t have to spend it reinstalling Windows 7 or worse yet, going back to XP.  I really hope it doesn’t come to that.

So where is Microsoft? There’s only 45 minutes left in this two-hour support call window…

I keep everything I read – that is, all the potentially useful tech/web/marketing articles. And anything else I see in print that inspires me – color guides from paint manufacturers; the National Parks mini-guide…

All of these things live in my closet in an ever-taller stack all year, and at the end of each year I cull. I use my X-Acto blade and slice out everything I want to keep. It then goes into my inconspicuous blue plastic file box into a folder: Graphic Design, Brochures, Social Media.

Some of these I use as inspiration for the monthly newsletter I send to clients. Others are just for my own inspiration – I browse the box for design ideas from time to time.

Today’s my day to cull, while my husband’s laboring over his Newcastle pot roast for Christmas lunch. So I thought I would share what I consider to be keepers (in no particular order).

  • How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live, Time
  • Ten Essential, Inexpensive Win7 Downloads, PC World
  • Speed Up Everything, PC World
  • Hey, Don’t You Want This? Inc.
  • Arrange In-Person Meetings with Online Tools, PC World
  • Create and Monetize Podcasts on Any Budget, Website Magazine
  • Get the Most Out of WordPress, Website Magazine
  • Making Widgets Work, Website Magazine
  • Choosing an Open Source CMS, Website Magazine
  • How Twitter is Revolutionizing Business, Entrepreneur
  • A stack of paint chips
  • Where Have All the Words Gone? Inc.
  • Google Voice: One Number to Manage Them All, PC World
  • Crowdsurfing, Top One
  • Word of Mouth: The Death of Advertising? Top One
  • Your Future Life Now, Popular Photography
  • Is Your PC Bot-Infested? PC World
  • Heal Your Hardware, PC World
  • Best Ways to Back Up Your Data, PC World
  • Design Influence 60th Anniversary Issue, NCSU College of Design Alumni Magazine
  • Keep Your (Business) Cards to Yourself, Entrepreneur
  • Really Simple Success, Entrepreneur
  • Content is King, But does It Ka-ching? Entrepreneur
  • 3 Timeless Landing Page Optimization Themes, Website Magazine
  • Inspiration for Reseller Hosting, Website Magazine
  • Getting the Most from a Client/Consultant Relationship, Website Magazine
  • RSS Advertising, Website Magazine
  • High-Risk Security Threats and How to Fix Them, PC World
  • Toxic Avoiders, Small Biz
  • Clip Joint: How to Run a Business on the Cheap, Small Biz
  • How to Market Via Your Email, Small Biz
  • Saving Face Online, Small Biz
  • A Terry bicycling catalog
  • /CSS/Convert Your Site to Mobile, .net
  • Reap the Rewards of Constructive Criticism, Top One
  • The Neverending Quest for Bandwidth, Top One
  • Mystery Solved, Inc.
  • It Isn’t The Economy, Stupid, Inc.
  • Reid Hoffman LinkedIn, Inc.
  • Get Started with a Small Business Server, PC World
  • The Conficker Worm, PC World
  • The Best Free Stuff You’ve Never Heard Of, PC World
  • Uncover the ‘Bugs’ Hidden in Web Sites, PC World
  • We Asked, You Twittered: What’s the Best Part of Owning Your Business? Inc.
  • How Low Can You Really Go? Inc.
  • Leverage Social Media to Help Recovery, Northern Colorado Business Report
  • How to Fix Your Display’s Pesky Stuck Pixel, PC World
  • Boost Your Multimonitor Experience, PC World
  • Go Virtual for Safer Online Shopping, PC World
  • Windows 7: The Smartest Way to Upgrade, PC World
  • Inside Windows 7, PC World

And of course, for some magazines I keep the whole issue: HOW, Dynamic Graphics, STEP Inside Design,Practical Web Design.

All done. My closet is cleaner, I have a lot of new ideas in my box, and I won’t have to do this again until the end of 2010. Now it’s time to go make sweet potato gratin and brownies.