Work was a little slow midsummer. It’s really picked up in the last 4-5 weeks – a number of new projects getting started, and enough work that I hired a second intern this week. But during the lull I seem to have strayed a bit from my ‘ideal client’ mentality.

I’m working on a few jobs where the client brought the design and just wanted some ‘design advice’ and coding. I won’t do that again anytime soon – I find it really frustrating to offer well-considered advice, only when asked for, and have it ignored, or worse, be told that I don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s not the kind of client I enjoy working with. I like partnering with people who value what I can bring to the table, not just my skills as a codemonkey. But here I am…

I took one of those jobs because it offered me a good opportunity to get some experience in a niche market where I’d never done any web development work. I think that was a good move and will be worth some frustration; the development parts are challenging and I love a challenge.

But the other one, it’s one of those situations where my instinct was on the fence. It didn’t say ‘run away’ clearly, which is what usually happens. It just said ‘meh.’ So I took the project mostly because I was in a slow work period. I’m being paid fairly; it’s just frustrating to see what could be a really beautiful website  build around a finely-detailed, high-end product instead looking like something from the mid-to-late ’90’s. Sigh.

Teeth gritted, I carry on and learn another lesson about the importance of choosing the right people to work with for the right reasons.

I haven’t been posting much lately in my blog – mostly because I’ve been working hard to get a long-time personal project finished and out the door. Done!

Creative Register launched about 10 days ago and is now closing on 30 listings. CR is a directory for (and of) creative professionals living and working in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming in the following industries:

  • Web design/development
  • Graphic design
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Internet marketing
  • Social media
  • Writing
  • Interior design
  • CoWorking spaces

…and I’m perfectly willing to add more categories as appropriate.

My main goal right now is to build up the database – if you’re a creative pro in N. CO or S. WY and haven’t yet heard about CR, I’d really appreciate you paying a visit and signing up for a free account. Paid accounts get more perks and are very affordable, but there will always be free accounts.

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.

After my beloved Franklin Covey PlanPlus software put its foot down and declared that it would not play nicely with Windows 7, I was really at a loss. I’d been using it for years and didn’t realize how dependent I was on it…

I spent some time looking around at task management tools and even tried a few, including Remember the Milk, Todoist, and taskTome.

TaskTome is the one I’ve been using for the past two weeks, and it’s not at all bad, but it just wasn’t, well, right. Yesterday I opened it and saw all those tasks listed, and I was like, ‘what in the world am I supposed to do today?’ I couldn’t answer that immediately. So in desperation, I went Googling again.

Last night I found HiTask. So very happy!

HiTask is an online tool that quickly caught my attention because of one main thing – I can look at it and tell immediately what I need to do today vs. tomorrow vs. later this week (HiTask is shown at lower right, TaskTome at upper left).

HiTask has a clean, bright interface and it has a calendar right on the same page with your task list. Tasks can be grouped by Date, Color (priority for me), MyView (which is whatever you want it to be) and Project. My favorite is Date because of my aforementioned need to see exactly what needs to be done and not have to think about it too much.

A very neat feature is the ability to create Projects and then drag tasks into them, so you can see all the things that need to be done for that particular project or client.

HiTask also has a tagging feature so you can search by tag at any time, plus it has time tracking and reporting tools.

I’m using the free version and I’m very happy with it, but there is a business version available that will let you share HiTask among team members. The business account is $29.00 per month and includes 5 user accounts.

More Resources

Here are a few of the useful articles I used in my own research – maybe one of them will lead you to your own little Holy Grail:

Issues with slow or nearly nonexistent email services for my hosting clients during a RAID rebuild earlier this week scared me – enough to start investigating some new ways of managing and growing NOCO Hosting. This was only the second time in almost 3 1/4 years that I’ve had a problem that couldn’t be fixed very quickly, and it was a really frustrating few days (both for me and my clients).

A few changes I’ve already implemented:

  • Compiling an offsite contact list that I can use to reach clients in the event of an emergency. I already had this in place, but many clients had never responded to my requests for an offsite email address – they’re still using ‘me@mydomain.com’ for their account ‘www.mydomain.com.’
  • Creating a new Gmail address for NOCO, primarily for sending out notifications.
  • Compiling a list of SMS/text message contacts for clients who prefer to receive their notifications that way.

And some other things upcoming:

  • I’ll be adding some dialogue and changes to the hosting registration form that require an offsite email address as the primary contact address for any account.
  • I’ll be splitting client accounts between several servers to reduce by 50% the chance that any one client will b affected by a server issue.
  • I’m investigating DNS failover services now, and will be putting together a pricing package to offer to all my clients. I want to see who might be interested in such a service before I formally get it, but I think it might be a good additional offering for NOCO even if no one wants it now.
  • I’ll definitely be implementing one of the DNS failover services for my own business sites; I’ll probably try ZoneEdit because they offer their services for free for the first 5 domains

I’m also connecting with other hosting resellers and hosting providers in the Meetup group I co-founded, Fort Collins Internet Pros. Brainstorming with those guys might lead me to some other ideas I haven’t even considered yet.

Frustrations like the one this week make me take a step back and consider whether it’s really worth it to even offer hosting. But I think that it’s a value-added proposition for my clients (one-stop shopping, so to speak), and it’s nicely profitable. Until that changes, I just need to continue what I’m doing – communicating early and often with clients when the extremely rare server issue does come up, and doing what I can to lessen the impact.