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     Plugging Your Business In

This is an interview with Ramona Creel, webmaster and founder of www.OnlineOrganizing.com -- discussing tips and tricks for starting a successful WEBSITE.

A: I started out my business doing one-on-one professional organizing consulting services. And my favorite part of the job was being a RESOURCE to my clients -- helping them locate other services, products, and information that might help them get better organized. I also started up a phone coaching program for other organizers -- to help them learn the basics of starting an organizing business. And again, I relished the times when I could help them hunt down a service or reference item that would help them on their way. So one day, I decided that I could do both of these things -- serve clients who need to get organized and professional organizers who want to grow their business -- better using the INTERNET as a tool.

A: First, I looked at the price of hiring a web DESIGNER to put my site together -- yikes! But I worked with a firm to help me decide which components I could do myself and which required technical skills beyond my abilities. I researched the various desktop web design programs and settled on Front Page because it seemed to be the easiest for a beginner and had the most features. So I took over RESPONSIBILITY for developing the content and layout of the pages, hired my husband to create my graphics, and brought in the web developer to work on interactive features -- my shopping cart, database, forms, and quizzes -- back-end PROGRAMMING that I didnít know how to do.

A: I actually think itís good to handle at least some of the BASIC web design yourself, even if you plan to hand most of the project off to someone else. Itís kind of like taking a basic auto repair course so you know what the mechanic is doing to your car. Iíve learned a lot about programming languages and how the internet works as a whole -- things I wouldnít have known if Iíd just paid someone else to do it. But you are LIMITED in what you can accomplish on one of these programs. To do any higher-end programming -- e-commerce, interactive features, complicated graphics, data collection -- you will need to seek some help.

A: Iíve put in tons of hours working on this website -- and a lot of that was because of the LEARNING curve. Someone who already knew what he or she was doing would probably have been able to do the job in much less time. And, quite frankly, some people may not have the TIME or inclination to tackle a website on their own. I think each person will have to decide for him or herself which route to take. But I will suggest that you develop a relationship with a web CONSULTANT, even if you do decide to do it all yourself. Itís good to have someone who can answer a question or solve a problem when you get stuck.

A: There is so much ďjunkĒ floating around on the internet Ė you have to grab peopleís attention. This doesnít mean putting tons of flashy animated graphics on your site (in fact, turns some people off). But if you have lots of unique CONTENT, youíre headed in the right direction. Articles, tips, ďhow-toís,Ē and links to other sites are great ways to give your visitors something for free. And you need to make sure your content CHANGES regularly, if you want to keep them coming back for more. It is recommended that you change or add at least one page to your site each month -- some sites have content that changes daily, but that takes a lot of time and effort.

A: They often put style over substance -- planning their sites to be pretty instead of FUNCTIONAL. I tell people to assume that everyone who visits your site is using a 386 computer and has the oldest possible version of Netscape! That way, whatever you put on your site, everyone will be able to see it and use it. SPEED is very important -- if people canít get around your site quickly, they wonít stay very long. Unless you have your own server, itís best to stay away from huge graphics, overly-long pages, and other features that will cause your site to load slowly. You also want to keep NAVIGATION in mind -- if people canít find what they are looking for, they wonít stay very long and they wonít ever come back! Try to have a plan before you just begin creating web pages. Start with a flow chart on a piece of poster board -- laying out what features you want on your site and how it will link together first. Your site will make a lot more sense in the long-run.

A: Well, the more interactive your site is and the more the content changes, the harder you will have to work at MAINTENANCE. A site that is just an ďelectronic brochureĒ wonít require much upkeep at all. But you can use some technological tools to help you manage your siteís activity. AUTORESPONDERS are a great way to allow people to receive specific information from your site -- articles, reports, price sheets -- without you ever having to get involved in the communication. You set up a separate e-mail address for that article or price sheet or whatever and put your text in the autoresponder. Anyone who sends an e-mail to that address will receive your article automatically. If your e-mail program doesnít support the autoresponder feature, there are sites on the internet that will set them up for you.

A: Heck no! I would suggest AUTOMATING as many functions as you can. If you can have the information submitted on a form feed directly into a database, do it. If you can set up an automatic e-mail response instead of you having to personally write one every time, do it. Some of this may require bringing in a web designer, but itís well worth the money in the long run. And donít be afraid to OUTSOURCE some of the work you donít have time for. I love putting together two lengthy newsletters each month, but I donít have time to format them for the site. So I have a virtual office assistant who does that -- I send her the content and she formats it on the right pages. There are hundreds of small jobs that you can outsource or delegate -- from responding to routine requests to fulfilling orders to sending mass e-mail blasts.

A: Start SMALL There is no point in overloading yourself -- you donít have to be Amazon.com by the end of the week. Remember that you can always add features as you go along, but itís harder to take them back once people get used to seeing them. Also, plan a SOFT launch -- where youíre up and running on the web but havenít advertised your site yet -- when you start out. This is a good time to get some TESTERS to poke around your site, try out your features, and give you some feedback. Keep in mind that the more interactive or complex your site is, the more lead time you will need to allow. Once you work all of the bugs out, then you can market your site to your heartís content.


Copyright 2000-2009 Ramona Creel -- you are welcome to reprint any article, but you MUST include this resource box.

"Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity -- traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities -- clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you've always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it. You can see all these sides of Ramona -- read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order -- at www.RamonaCreel.com. And be sure to follow her on Twitter and on Facebook."

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