We do quite a lot of work for other design firms across the country. Lately we have noticed quite an increase in the number of projects we are ask to work on based on WordPress. It seems that the popular CMS is no longer just a tool reserved for blogs and news sites, so far we have developed themes for almost every kind of business. Long gone are also the days of glitches and buggy WYSIWYG’s (What You See Is What you Get) making WordPress in some cases unusable. For the most part, the admin system is pretty refined and user friendly.
It’s not our preferred platform (yet), but we certainly have the skills to customise any WordPress template and with it’s robust management tools and plethora of add-ons and plugins we can see why it is so popular with some of our clients. Another advantage with WordPress sites is that they are already pretty well optimised for search engines and I often find that a WordPress site will be indexed by Google, at least partially, in a few hours.
For now we are sticking with our own bespoke CMS as it’s much simpler to use and more focused than WordPress for our purposes, but we have to hand it to the hundreds of people that develop WordPress, it’s coming along nicely now!
About 3 months ago we made the switch to WHMCS as our billing system. It is heralded as one of the best billing systems for web professionals, with a particular emphasis on web hosting. As a company that’s main form of business is designing and developing websites, but does some hosting, we wondered if this was something that would be good for us. After favourable reviews online and a recommendation from one of our clients (a web host), we decided to take the plunge and order a copy – after about three months, these are our findings.
The first thing that is apparent with WHMCS (Web Hosting Management Complete Solution) is that it is very hosting centric. Fans of the software state that it can be used to bill for anything, and although technically that might be true, WHMCS has plenty of extra features specifically targeted to the web host and is also lacking some that would be used to sell other products and services. I certainly wouldn’t use the software as a replacement online shopping cart to sell regular goods for example. If you do any hosting though, WHMCS really comes into it’s own – it can automate many of the processes involved in setting up a hosting account, send automatic reminders and server settings, and suspend accounts for non payers among other things.
The system run on PHP and MYSQL and is therefore only really suitable if that’s what you host your own sites on.
As well as billing WHMCS has a fully featured support system, and a variety of tools and reporting facilities. For example, you can sell domain names through a provider such as ENOM and all of the messy details are taken care through the system’s API integration. This took a while to set up but seems to be working well now.
As a web designer or developer, WHMCS is probably overkill if you are a lone freelancer and only have a small handful of clients, or you don’t host any of your client’s websites.
In my last post, I talked about choosing the right hosting, I also briefly mentioned about a little scheme we are offering right now – free charity hosting. I would like to spend some time today explaining why I think this is a good idea, not just for the charities, but how it benefits us as a web design and hosting business and how we can justify the expense.
First of all, I should point out that there are many web hosting companies offering free hosting to charities. So what is unique about our offer? Sadly, many of these other businesses are using the free hosting as a a way of tricking the charity into a long term hosting plan. In most cases the first few months or year are free, and then the hosting is charged at full price which varies company to company. All businesses need to make money and since we don’t get funding from the government or general public we need to make sure that everything we do is somehow profitable – it is a sad fact of life.
Where we different from the aforementioned web hosting businesses, is that we are primarily web designers and developers, hosting is a supplementary service we offer to add value to our overall service. We can afford to offer free hosting to charities because hosting is a growing, but still minor part of what we do day to day. Additionally, there is always the possibility that one of the charities might commission us for a redesign or update of their website and the hosting would then pay for itself. There are other benefits too, for example we ask for a link in return for this free hosting which would help build the reputation of our hosting business, through being associated with the charities that we support.
Charities are a good thing. They are a key area that we work with and we are lucky enough to have several of them on our client list. Part of this is word of mouth and marketing, but the other part is the fact that we have always discounted our rates for registered charities. Not only is it a good thing to do for the community, but even in a purely capitalistic sense it is a profitable thing to do because it benefits our business in the long term. That’s how I see it anyway. I see this new hosting plan merely as an extension to our existing warmth towards charities, something that I want to grow even more.
To the other web designers, hosting companies and businesses reading this, I would ask you to look at your own business model and consider if maybe there is a way you can realistically do some good without stretching your own resources to the detriment of your other customers and your own business. I think it is possible and that it can benefit everyone involved.
You might not know this, but there are plenty of things to consider when hosting your website. I suspect that most people consider price as the primary factor, and although it is certainly a consideration, here are some important factors to bare in mind:
If you are a UK based company as we are, then it makes little sense ordering a hosting package from the USA. If the checkout page asks for dollars and not pounds you are probably in the wrong place. It used to be the case that the reason people hosted locally was to serve web pages to the site’s target audience quicker, loading a website hosted in Australia for example would take a fraction of a second longer than loading the same site located just a few hundreds miles away. As internet and hosting speeds have increased, this is less of a problem than it use to be, but it is still valid and speeds also affect seo ranking. The real problems come into play when you consider your support needs. Your site might be the victim of a hacker attack, and when you phone your friendly web host you find out that although it is the middle of the day for you, their offices closed several hours ago. Any emails you send them will be picked up the following day and in the meantime your site is getting filled spam. Then of course, people do things differently in different countries and their are laws and tax implications. I would suggest that the USA has generally a better record for customer services than the UK but calls to support staff are very expensive, especially if you have to wait for any length of time for your call to be answered. Also, everyone knows it can be infuriating when you get through to someone based in some foreign country that cannot understand you. Picking a company based in your country just makes more sense.
One of our clients, The Kempley Tardis website, have recently extended their online presence into the real world. The website is an interactive system allowing people to explore the social and cultural archives of the small Kempley village in Gloucestershire. The project’s logo is an old fashioned phone box, or rather a Tardis which has now made the transformation from the virtual to the real world in the form of The iKiosk.
Here is what they have to say about this fascinating project:
The iKiosk renovation project led by Tony Prisk of the KempleyTardis Project Steering Group. The iconic Gilbert Scott designed K6 phone box was re-instated as the point of Information at the heart of the village green on 5th June 2012. The Kempley Tardis website hosts a custom designed database which maps the social archive researched by the Friends of Kempley Churches, a registered charity. The project was initiated in 2009 with an exhibition at the Daffodil Weekend of village memorabilia and oral history based around a collection of maps and photographs.
Visitors to the exhibition responded that navigation and networking throughout the village had become more fractured. In the modern Internet age we had become less aware of village locations, delivery drivers were lost, and most importantly that Emergency Services and utilities had lost the local knowledge to find properties, and even more importantly to get back to the City hospitals.
In the future we hope that this will become a WiFI hub for internet communications, but will remain as the centre for lost visitors to be guided to. The street maps were created by Howell Rees, superimposed on the Voodoochilli Design interactive maps on the website.
What we really like about this is how the clients have taken the initiative to do more with their project than just have a website designed and launched. The project was always much more than that, with it’s interactivity and cultural importance, but seeing a project transform in this way is fantastic for us. This is not the first time we have written about the Kempley Tardis website, they seem to be grabbing a lot of attention so watch this space as there could be more surprises landing on the horizon!
For years now we have been building calendar and diary systems for our clients. One of our London based clients originally hired us to create a diary for them way back in 2005, something we are still maintaining now and is being used daily by hundreds of staff. The project has evolved considerably since it’s conception and a great deal of experience has been learned about such systems and the best way to make them. Additionally, just in the last year we have been hired to create three separate bespoke event calendar systems for three different charities, check them out here, here and here. As you can see from these examples they all share a similar layout and features so we decided to optimise and combine the code for distribution. Over the next few months we will be releasing an improved calendar system for sale to the public. It will come with a simple install process that will enable site owners and web designers alike to get an events calendar system up and running in minutes. We have looked at the competition and there really isn’t much out there that offers a simple but practical experience for little cost. We will update you when development is nearer completion so keep your eyes peeled!
It seems that with inflation growing and allegedly set to rise dramatically over the next financial year along with VAT at an all time high, many companies are increasing their rates in an effort to make ends meet. Our overheads including costs for phone, hosting and internet services have gone up considerably over the last couple of years. We are desperately resisting the urge to increase our prices in line with the trend and have managed to keep our rates fixed as of 2009. The main problem for us is not these spiralling costs, but rather short term, but expensive cash flow issues caused by some clients that pay late. On any project we have many costs which we have to pay for upfront (staff, general overheads, wages etc.) and when we are paid late this means we have to borrow from the bank to ensure we can pay all of the costs associated with that particular project. This accrues interest and astronomical fees which are not accounted for within the original quotation of work.
Like most web design companies we do charge a late fee which for us is currently 13% per month and this does cover many, but not all of the costs involved in short term borrowing. Anyone that has gone overdrawn will know that short term, unauthorised loans can be very, very expensive. It really is the case that going £20 overdrawn can sometimes cost hundreds of pounds if not dealt with quickly, and these fees seem to be higher on business accounts. This problem is exasperated on very small projects whereby the 13% fee only accounts for a very small percentage of the borrowing costs. Even when late payments result in minor borrowing from our own working capital overdraft, this can still be costly when combined with the efforts and time required to chase up the payment.
Recently we were asked to design a logo for a client, which on it’s own is not that unusual. However, this was a particularly interesting project for us as the client makes fuel for rockets, satellites and spacecraft. Cool, huh?
The client was very pleased with the end result which you can see below:
One of our recent websites received a long and extremely positive appraisal on BBC Radio Gloucester. The website, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund is an archive and research tool located at Kempley in Gloucestershire. One of the sites best features is an interactive map which allows the visitor to “travel in time” by exploring different areas throughout history.
The show was split into 3 parts and makes fascinating listing.
Click the links below to listen:
» Listen to part 1
» Listen to part 2
» Listen to part 3
Additionally, you can visit the website here.
We were recently interview by Advanced Photoshop Magazine for an article about creative self promotion. The article talks about various creative ways of promoting your work including our chilli sauce which we sent out to many people including the editors at Imagine Publishing. There is a nice big photo of our sauce in the article and a decent mention so we are pleased with the outcome.
We have been featured in this magazine a few times before, along with others, but it’s always nice when a marketing campaign proves to be successful. The sauce campaign was a big hit with our clients as well an it brought in some extra work which is always nice. We will have to think about our next promotion very soon!
If you want to read the article for yourself, the magazine is out now and can be brought from any decent UK magazine store such as WH Smiths or online.