Writing Well

I’ve always wanted to write – but never felt I was any good. Yesterday, after penning two blog posts I had a moment when I realised hey maybe my writing’s ok these days. I’m finally able to put across what I want to say using my own “voice”. Well I hope I do anyway. ;)

I got thinking about how I came to that point and what tips I could give to others wanting to write better but aren’t sure how to go about it. If you’re working online being able to write well in your own voice is vital. You’ll spend countless hours emailing anyone from clients and prospective clients to suppliers and contractors. You’ll also need to look at writing your marketing materials such as websites, blogs, newsletters etc. In many instances your main form of communication will be the written word – so make sure you get it right!

So here’s my suggestions for becoming a better writer:

  • Join a forum (related to your industry) and actively participate. You’ll learn how to write clearly and articulately. I’ve been a part of Cre8asite for years and having to put explanations, examples and the like into words has been a great way to develop my writing skills.
  • Strike up email “conversations” with colleagues and friends. Focus on making sure your personality comes through – who wants to talk with a robot?
  • Blog – there’s not better way to refine your style.
  • Learn to speak in a human voice.
  • Practice, practice, practice.

It may take some time but my experience has taught me not only does it become easier it becomes fun. And what’s life without a bit of fun. :)

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Web Design Proposals: Fixed Price or Estimate?

This is probably one of the most asked questions by web designers. Do you provide fixed price quotes or estimates?

Many choose to go down the estimate route as often jobs can expand or go over budget significantly and leave the designer out of pocket. An estimate stops this by allowing you to add a clause such as the following:

These figures are an estimate, not a quote. They are based on information provided, and may be inappropriate if additional information is forthcoming, or job specifications change. It is valid for XX days.

This gives the designer a way to ensure that all work not covered, or for extra time spent changing a photo/colour/insert-element-here 20, times is compensated for. But is it the best approach?
For a long time in my web design career I used estimates. Last year I moved to fixed price quotes. Why?

  • It’s simpler for both me and my clients. We both know where we stand and what we’re getting.
  • It’s much easier to covert a prospect if they know exactly what they’re going to be paying for their site.

But how do you manage continual changes, additions of new features and so forth I hear you ask? Simple.

  1. Define what your quotes do and don’t include.
  2. Define how many updates, changes, re-designs etc you will do within that figure.
  3. Communicate with your client. If they want something outside the scope of the quote explain it to them. Most clients are fine with this as long as you communicate with them clearlybefore you do any additional work.

It’s up to us to manage the design project and our client’s expectations. I always use the “is it reasonable” test. I’m happy to be flexible, if a client decides the photo they wanted to use looks no good and would like it changed I’ll change it. If they ask me to change it 10 more times it’s no longer reasonable and outside of the scope of the quote. 99% of the clients I have dealt with would find that reasonable too. And those that don’t aren’t clients any more. ;)

This way is not for everyone, I’ve been designing websites for long enough to be able to quote accurately, but I definitely think it’s the best approach.

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Trying Out New Feed Readers

If I’m honest I wouldn’t even be blogging if it wasn’t for my good friend Peter taking the time to explain over the phone how to set-up RSS feeds in a Feed Reader – Bloglines. I’ve used Bloglines ever since and have been ever grateful to him as it changed the way I worked and viewed the web.

Some years on Peter started a thread: Moving From Bloglines To Google Reader and I decided this time I’d get with the program and give something else a go. Enter Google Reader and I’m actually impressed. It took a while to get used to and I was tempted to go back to Bloglines but now I’m thinking I may stick with it for a while.

What I like:

  • I could easily import my feeds from Bloglines meaning I didn’t have to start again.
  • The folder system is easier to use than Bloglines so I feel better able to manage all my subscriptions.
  • I like the Ajax interface better than the old antiquated frames of Bloglines.

What I’d like to see:

  • A better way to mark posts read. You can mark a whole feed read but you have to remember to do this. Maybe as I get used to Google Reader this will come more naturally.
  • New posts opening in the same window as the previous post – although I may just not have found this yet.

What I do find interesting is Google Reader makes it much easier for the reader to read in the reader and not visit your blog/website. With Bloglines I always displayed just the summary and clicked onto the site if a post interested me. This has changed the way I think about my own blog and how it is viewed.

Since then the lovely Peter has written an update: List of Popular Feed Readers *sigh*. I really don’t have time to try them all so will rely on feedback and maybe just test a few.

So what Feed Reader are you using? Why?

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Who Owns Your Website?

One of the most important, and often overlooked, aspects of getting a website designed is the issue of copyright. Who owns the finished website, you or your web designer?

Over the years I’ve seen quite a lot of people burnt by copyright issues. They hire someone to design their website and assume that on completion they own it. This is not always the case. In fact I know of at least a dozen examples where people have come to me after loosing their website to their last web design company when they decided to change designers.

Of course not all web design firms have the same copyright policies but generally speaking you should expect that you own the end product – your website. Bear in mind that there may be some applications that you license rather than own.

The bottom line is talk to any potential web designer and make sure you know up front what you will own when the website is finished. You should also check any contracts you have with them to make sure it’s covered there too. A professional web designer should be open and up front on the issues of copyright and ownership and be happy to explain anything you don’t understand.

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