Q: What should we expect after signing-off a project with you?

Projects tend to vary for each client but the process goes as follows:

  1. I’ll send you an invoice for a 50% down-payment to cover for the start-up costs.
  2. You’ll receive log-in details to our project collaboration site. This will show some initial project time-scales and check-lists of what needs to be done.
  3. We’ll schedule your work as soon as we receive your down-payment remittance.

Timescales

From experience with many other projects, I now generally do not specify timescales for the stages in the initial work agreement or invoice. There are several reasons for this:

  1. For the majority of projects, the original timescales end up changing part way into the work. The reasons vary, such as a change of focus, new ideas for features and as is often the case with start-ups, an evolution in the business priorities.
  2. The stages themselves are not fixed and sometimes we end up running them concurrently, starting early or delaying them.

Instead, we work towards some broad milestones that are set by our clients. The milestones are set on our project collaboration site and are adjusted depending on how the project evolves.

Testing

Testing is another area where we differ slightly from some other web companies.

In my opinion, the best people to test the site are the clients themselves; you know better than anyone else how you expect things to work. We’re then guided by your observations.

This process helps keep our fee low because I don’t need to hire dedicated testers or get expensive programmers to do the job. It also skips the time intensive (and expensive) test specification documentation what would be necessary if we were to perform the tests thoroughly.

Testing is therefore more of a collaborative process with you.

For us, testing starts very early on in the project. The usual procedure many web companies follow is to give access to the site towards the end of the development process, only when things are ‘ready’ for the client to view.

I believe that it helps to let you loose on it early on because it gives you a realistic expectation of how things are going all the way through our work together. It also gives you a chance to ask questions and steer things in the right direction while we develop the site.

Testing period

Because of the above, I find that specifying a testing period in the contract usually isn’t very flexible.

It’s also quite difficult to stick to the period specified. For many clients, the website, while important, isn’t the only thing they must deal with in their business. In my experience, things nearly always come up that prevents them from dealing with the task during the allocated time.

For example, let’s take a client’s suggestion of a testing period of two days after delivery. I find  what happens in practical terms is that if I deliver, say, on Monday, the client would have a meeting on the Tuesday, then a series of calls for Wednesday and so on. Thus the testing period expired but the client was still unable to even look at the site.

Again, this is another reason why we actually start the testing process near the beginning of the project.

Of course, if you prefer to have the period specified in the contract, we can do our best to meet it but with the caveat that things might not turn out that way.

How the web can help you thrive during a recession

David Armano, from the interactive services firm Critical Mass, suggests 10 Ways Digital Can Help You Thrive in a Recession. It’s a US-focused slideshow presentation but also applies to British small businesses.

I share it because several points correspond with our approach when building sites:

  • Small companies and start-ups don’t have the luxury of time and money. Trying to create the prefect site before launching squanders both with very little guarantee that you’ve covered all the bases. Instead, launch quickly, test it on your target audience and use the feedback to improve.
  • Building from scratch is expensive so use ready-made tools and software when possible. For example, we use the Drupal content management platform as the foundation for most of our sites. It gives us lots of built-in functionality so we can focus the areas that are unique to a particular project.
  • Head straight for the prototype. For some products, spending time—literally—on the drawing-board creating documentation and schematics is essential if you want to avoid costly mistakes. The web is different. The technology means that it’s more efficient to simply build a working demonstration of your ideas.

See below for David’s slideshow.

A web technology blog for small-business owners

This blog will be about helping small companies use the internet more effectively.

As a small-business owner or entrepreneur, you know that reaching a wide audience is vital. You’ve heard that the internet can play a big part in a successful business but perhaps don’t know where to start. You have enough on your plate just keeping things running smoothly. There’s no time to become an expert and there’s no budget to hire an expensive consultant. Besides, who can you trust? There are charlatans out there who’d happily run away with your hard-earned savings.

Sound familiar? If so, this blog is for you. It will help you apply technology to your business, spot new ideas that might otherwise go unnoticed, and find ways to make your life easier. As a result, you’ll be able to use the internet to improve your business.

OK, this sounds good. But at this point, you’re probably expecting the sales pitch for my book or seminar. Of course, there is always an ulterior motive and it would be foolish of me to think you’re not intelligent or savvy enough to realise this. So here’s what I’m trying to achieve with this blog:

  • I want to convert readers to customers by proving that we’re useful to their business.
  • I want existing customers to get to know us a little more.

It’s all about building trust. The more people know you, the more likely they are to spend money on you. And this leads me nicely to my first internet tip for small businesses.

Blogs are a proven way for companies to reach a wider marketplace. But some companies take the wrong approach, using it as a glorified press-release section, publishing nothing but “why we’re so great” articles. In reality, people aren’t that interested in a constant stream of spin and new project wins.

A personal blog is, by definition, about you and it’s OK to be self-absorbed; your family and friends are a natural audience who want to know what you’re up to. Company blogs are different. Readers need a reason to keep coming back so articles also have to be relevant to their lives. Two ways to do this are:

  • Including helpful information.
  • Generating discussion that engages them.

I will aim to do both.

Future articles

Future articles will explore this topic in more detail. Other themes will include explanations about technology without the geek-speak; tips to make your life online easier; and news in my industry that may affect you. Once in a while, I’ll indulge myself by telling you about developments at Another Cup of Coffee, how we work, and the method behind our madness.

Since blogs are also about creating dialogue, please feel free to post your opinions and questions. No doubt, other readers will find your input valuable. If you’d like me to cover a specific topic, drop me a note and I’ll try to fit it in.

About the author

If I’m to make claims about helping you, you’ll probably need to know a little more about me. As a quick introduction, I’m Anthony Lopez-Vito, founder of Another Cup of Coffee. Rather than use up space writing about myself here, I’ll direct you to my LinkedIn profile. Other members of the team may also contribute at some point. In the near future, I aim to present guest authors who are clients, partner companies, or suppliers.