Design Tips: Small Business Websites and iPhone Apps

I ran across two articles recently that offered designing tips: How to Build an iPhone App and 8 Tips For Small Business Homepage Design.

I thought both were pretty refreshing (especially the one about iPhone Apps) and worth a read.

How to Build an iPhone App, 15 tips:

  1. iPhone. Start here.
    The iPhone is a great platform to build a mobile community
  2. What’s in a name?
    Discovering a good name for your product is important
  3. Designing the 7 deadly sins
    Make sure your application concept is addictive
  4. Easy as 123. Or not.
    Make sure your application is intuitive and easy to use
  5. Short term commitment or marriage?
    Think about the shelf-life of your product before releasing it
  6. Be Realistic, Part I
    Consider the possibility that you won’t hit 1 million users the first month
  7. Be Realistic, Part II
    Be realistic in how you intend to monetize your application
  8. Make believe you will succeed
    Define a path for future scalability
  9. UGC = T&A. A law of nature.
    If you display user generated content, expect body parts
  10. Be embarrassed by your first release.
    Don’t try to make your product perfect before releasing it
  11. …But not too embarrassed.
    Do make sure it has the essentials
  12. It’s hard to draw a line in the sands of a slippery slope.
    Define your standard for acceptable content, and stick by it
  13. Sometimes, they write the owner’s manual.
    Sometimes they use your applications in ways you never intended
  14. Footwear, software and customer care.
    Practice good customer service
  15. Room for improvement (there always is)
    Mobile development is in its infancy

8 Tips For Small Business Homepage Design:

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Be scroll-conservative
  3. Display the right links
  4. Keep featured products above the fold
  5. Make it current
  6. Create a homepage that is consistent with your brand
  7. Attach a featured image to your homepage
  8. Be quirky

Brainstorm: Netflix and Social Networks

Here is an idea:

Wouldn’t it be cool if Netflix introduces a feature that allows us to grab a two-minute clip from any show that we are watching, and share it with our friends on Facebook?

Influencers

The individuals who have the most influence online are not easily swung one way or the other by you or anyone else. The bigger the influence, the more difficult it gets.

That shouldn’t be so surprising.

What you should be concerned as a marketers is: when you finally reach the bidding price which the influencer would speak on your behalf against his or her own belief, all of the sudden, the influence he or she has is greatly diminished.

Trust in non-transferable. Pursue with caution.

Two Internets

I understand why some (okay, maybe most) people want to have the option of remaining anonymous online.

They worry about their privacy, identity and safety. I get that, and it’s perfectly okay. In fact, I am sure that you can think of some instances in which it’s probably better to remain nameless and faceless. It offers the freedom to do and accomplish some things that we simply can’t have in any non-virtual part of the world.

But I think another Internet can and probably should also exist, and it doesn’t conflict with the one that we are accustomed to.

In this Internet, you can only join if your true identity is revealed. In exchange, you get the peace of mind that you are guaranteed to be dealing other “authentic” human beings. When interactions take place, especially when someone is wronged by others, they can easily be tracked and traced back to the origin.

I know I certainly don’t mind spending at least part of my Internet life in the second Internet: my online purchases, financial transactions, dating websites, etc. What about you?

Your Last Action

You are only as good as your last action.

We all make mistakes. In a personal relationship, you might get an opportunity to apologize and reboot the relationship. As a business, you most likely don’t.

Assuming that your last interaction with a customer could very well be the last, how much more would you value each interaction?

More importantly, what would you do differently?

Zero-Sum Game: Google+ and Facebook

Online technology is not a zero-sum game. In fact, one could argue that many online technologies compliment each other very well.

For example: If you were to make a purchase on eBay, payments are made easy with PayPal. You could do extensive research on the product and/or the seller using search and watching videos online.

That said, free time attention is a zero-sum game, and for the most part, social networks fight really hard to grab as much as free time attention as they can.

Apart from the number of registered users, which in most cases doesn’t really tell the whole story, how often users come back to the website and how long they stay on it are probably more important and relevant factors for a social network website to look at.

That’s why Facebook and Myspace couldn’t seem to co-exist. Because for someone to put most of his free time attention on Facebook, he simply won’t have enough time to spend on MySpace.

As much traction as Google+ has gained in the past two weeks (approaching 18 million users), I think it’s important for us to understand that for it to win, someone has to lose. And yes, it is that hard to beat out Facebook in the war of free time attention.

So until Google can figure out a way to make their product compliment the Facebook experience (or vice versa), let’s not get too excited and starting calling it “the Facebook Killer”.

You Are Being Punished

If you are in digital marketing, you are being punished for something you didn’t do.

For every website with highly targeted and carefully designed advertisement, there are millions of others which are built with an one-size-fits-all template and are filled with flash ads that have absolutely nothing to do with the content.

The Web is filled with scammers, scammers who are probably way better at making people believe their lies than you are at convincing people of the truth.

It’s not your fault, but let’s face it, if you are to successfully market online, that’s one of the very first hurdles you must overcome.

Leave no doubt in your audience’s mind of your legitimacy, and work on it relentlessly. I honestly can’t think of any other way.

My Take on Groupon (Part 2)

Yesterday, I talked about why I feel that Groupon and other daily deal websites are somewhat misunderstood by the general public.

Here is what I think you should consider doing during your Groupon deal:

Track and measure
You were probably shown a lot of statistics before signing up, but the reality is that your business is unique and it’s possible that none of the statistics matter.

Figure out your own way to measure the return on your investment. Excel or handwritten notes, whatever.

It’s tedious (and extra) work, but probably worth the effort considering you might end up spending thousands of dollars.

Also, find a method to track the usage of the vouchers to ensure that people don’t use their vouchers more than once.

Shift your focus
Now that you are guaranteed traffic, the focus of your business needs to change a little, and the idea here is to:

1) Transform these newly acquired leads into regular customers.
2) Sell them more products than the Groupon vouchers they have in their hands.

Differentiate the different types of Groupon customers. Understand that the majority of them are just looking to save a few bucks. In this case, focus on up-selling them.

As for those who are waiting to be impressed, impress them and make them come back again.

Train your staff
Make sure ALL of your staff are aware that there will be an increase in traffic during days which the Groupon deal is running.

Make sure they are all on the same page on how to track the vouchers and which areas they should be paying most attention to. For example: do you care more about the size of the order or the type of the products purchased?

You may not be able to figure out what to do at first, but at the very least, tell them not to panic when it gets too busy and set some emergency rules.

Communicate and learn from your mistakes.

Reward your regulars
People who have been buying from you for years, been following you on Facebook and Twitter, reading your blog passionately and been giving you honest feedback on your service, please don’t ignore them.

If you are offering 50% off with your Groupon and giving 50% of your earning to Groupon, surely you can offer a 60% (better than the Groupon deal) to your regular loyal customers.

My Take on Groupon (Part 1)

I think Groupon and the daily deal business industry is widely misunderstood.

For small businesses, if you are not careful, the deals which you believe would either rejuvenate or revive your business might end up hurting it greatly.

In my next few posts, I will share some of my thoughts on it. Hopefully, it will shed some lights on things.

First of all, you shouldn’t feel “honored” to be selected or featured. It’s a business deal; it’s a marketing campaign; it might even be treated as a loan. But it’s NOT an honor.

Secondly, know what you are getting yourself into. Groupon probably has one of the most lopsided agreements ever, and it’s certainly not for everyone. (You can read about it here.)

More importantly, know that you have the power to negotiate. Don’t get pushed into the deal when the numbers don’t seem to make sense. You know your business better than anyone else, so when something feels wrong, it probably is.

Groupon sales people are just like any other sales people. They are encouraged to squeeze every bit of profit out of the deal. I am not suggesting that all of them are bad, but they certainly don’t care about your business more than you do. After all, their commission is based on how much they make, for Groupon.

Which leads to my next point: don’t buy too much into the statistics. At least not the ones that are used by the sales person. Things like “95% of merchants are satisfied” or “98% spend more than the deal voucher” are pretty worthless. If your deal voucher is $10, spending $10.10 is spending more, isn’t it?

The daily deal industry is fairly young, and they are still trying to figure things out themselves. The business model is brilliant and I do believe that one of their intentions is to help local merchants. Treat it as a new opportunity to grow your business, and remember that with every opportunity, there is the risk of failure.

Part 2: What to do while running a Groupon Deal

“I Miss the Mob”

I miss the mob from Derek Sivers on Vimeo.

Google+ Invites

In case you haven’t heard, Google just launched a new Social Network called Google+.

It’s by invitation only for now and I have some invites.

Send me your email if you want to try it out.

You Can’t Have Both

It bugs when people think that they can always have the best of both worlds. You can’t, not when the two worlds are almost complete opposite of each other.

Your product can’t compete on low price and expect to have high profitability.

Your website can’t entertain your bosses and please the customers at the same time.

Your customers can’t be both smart enough to pick you over your competitors and stupid enough to believe your idiotic cover-up stories.

Take your pick, but pick one. Just one.

Study to Lecture

Plenty of people study to pass exams and seek approvals. Just about everybody I know does it.

I hardly know anyone, though, who study to give a lecture.

Pick a topic, understand the concept, conduct the research, organize your thoughts, present it in a way which most people would understand, answer questions and have a conversation.

Who knows? You might find this to be a much more effective way of learning something new.

Infinite

I watched a short video clip on how photographers used to take pictures. Before that, I never realized how digital camera truly revolutionized the industry.

It must have been every photographer’s dream to have the ability of taking an infinite number of pictures and not worry about running out of films. I mean, the guy was talking about how fortunate he was when he was able to capture certain moments of life, and that he had to pick from 3 or 4 different images in each shoot in order to find something that could be considered true art.

Imagine what he could have accomplished with 3,000 images.

I think Internet is a lot like that, in the sense that it used to be expensive (in both time and money) to create just about anything online. And since the investment was big, not many people/businesses are willing to try new things and more importantly, can afford to fail.

But things have changed rapidly since the beginning of the Internet boom, and that is no longer the case. One could argue that in this day and age, you could (if you wanted to) start and try and fail as many online projects as you can without worrying about losing much. The benefit of having one successful campaign outweigh the risk of failing at several others by a wide margin.

It’s interesting that I rarely meet someone who worries about the number of pictures they take with a digital camera, but I have talked to plenty of businesses who hesitate to even try some of the new things online.

Eli Pariser: Beware Online “Filter Bubbles”

What People Want

The picture above doesn’t tell the whole story, but it should give you some ideas on what people want from business Facebook Fan Pages:

1) They do NOT want to hear you selling your products.

2) They may be willing to spare a little attention on interesting stories.

3) They are definitely interested in knowing how you are working hard to make their lives better.

The Risk of Asking for a Raise

We were all taught to be like everyone around us, and we are convinced that we are better off to be surrounded by people who do similar things like us. The more, the better.

That’s how factories work.

The more people you have in your factory –> the speed of making something goes up –> you can make more stuff –> which leads to more money.

At the same time, the longer you work, the more experience you gain, and the more valuable you become.

However, the logic behind that didn’t always make sense to me. I mean, if you work in a factory or on a assembly line or in an office performing the same tasks everyday, you don’t really get better every year. Sure, there will be some major improvements early on, but eventually, you will hit the plateau of no matter how much you have worked, you stop getting better. Now if that’s the case, why are you entitled to a raise every year? More importantly, why do you expect a raise every year?

It’s becoming more and more clear to me that people no longer have as much value as before by being like everyone else.

In fact, if you spend time everyday doing things exactly like the people around you, not only are you not adding value to your career, you are taking it away. Every time you receive a raise, the risk of being replaced (because you are replaceable, because you are like everyone else) goes up. You end up having to minimize your profit in order to stay at your position. You can’t ask for a 100% raise this year simply because whatever you did last year wasn’t worth that much.

It seems that now more than ever, people (and businesses) are better off when they are nothing like everyone around them.

When you separate yourself from the factory-like environment, when you are the only one in the world doing what you do, and when someone needs you, you win.

Not Enough

I saw this line from one of my favorite bloggers Mitch Joel today: “The truth is, there is no excuse not to self-educate at this point in history.

And I couldn’t agree more.

The truth is, at this point in history, if you are not spending your time a) absorbing as much new information as you can, and b) creating and adding something (as opposed to repeating the things you did yesterday) to your career everyday, you are probably not doing nearly enough.

The Art Project

This short talk by Amid Sood about Google’s Art Project is simply amazing.

First, the project isn’t about technology. Of course not. The truth is, anyone with sufficient resources could’ve created this project, and with it, possibly change the way we experience museums for generations to come. But only Amid managed to actually do it. It was the willingness to get out there and make something that made the difference. The same could’ve been said for a number of other things.

The second key point of the talk was the last sentence, “did we do this to replicate the experience of going to a museum? The answer is ‘No’. We did it to supplement the experience.”

Not replicate, but supplement, enhance and forever change the user experience.

If you can just keep that in mind next time you rebuild your website, Facebook page, Youtube channel, Twitter feed and mobile app, I think everything is going to turn out just fine.

Get Out There and Make Something

This is one of the better articles I have read in recent memory: Web designers, get out there and make something!

One thing I want add to the article is that you don’t necessary need extensive knowledge about programming in order to build something amazing online and change people’s lives. Instead, it’s the willingness to start, try, fail and repeat that makes all the difference in the world.

Before Failure, There Was Success

I hope that we don’t take anything for granted today, especially when it comes to the Internet. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, FourSquare, whatever.

The Web is now in its Golden Age for Social Networks. Everything revolves around the ability to connect and share with one another in some way, shape or form.

But that’s not to say that it will last long. Do you remember when AIM was our Facebook (a very interesting read, btw)? I certainly do.

I heard this line a while back and it has stuck with me:

MySpace didn’t fail. They just succeeded before Facebook did.

Replace MySpace and Facebook with any other (online) platforms, and the statement will be true at some point in time.

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