Show 72: Neverending Beta

Paul Boag

On this week’s show: web stats meet usability testing, Apollo and why it is important, working with corporate colour palettes and how to sell your web design services.

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News and events

This week appears to be the week of never-ending betas however I have managed to squeeze in some pointless fun and an article about accessible content management systems:


There seems to be a growing number of tools out there that make the management of Google Maps easier. One that I have just discovered this week is Click2Map. You can easily and quickly add custom markers by entering an address (even if you are outside of the US). It is still in beta and needs a lot of work (for example you cannot integrate the maps directly into your site) but it is still great for a quick and easy way of linking to locations.

Another “beta” service I spotted this week is This site provides SEO reports on your site including rankings on Google, Yahoo, Alexa, Delicious and Technorati. Currently it seems to be suffering from some performance issues; nevertheless it gives a good indication of your online visibility. Of course if you are a Firefox user you may find the SEO add-on more convenient.

Finding an accessible CMS

One of the biggest complaints against content management systems is that they are often not very accessible. Gez Lemon has been kind enough to do an analysis of a whole bunch of them for us and provides a great article on the pros and cons of each from an accessibility point of view. If you are considering implementing a CMS and care about accessibility (which you should do) then check this out.

Arial vs Helvetica

So you think you know your typefaces? Maybe you are even a bit of a typography snob? But, can you tell the difference between Arial and Helvetica? Of course you can, at least that was what I thought until I actually tried.

Selling your web design services

So this week’s client corner is seriously lacking advice for clients (sorry about that). Instead Marcus takes a look at the subject of selling your web design services. Surprisingly for Marcus, he has written fairly comprehensive notes on what we covered so here you go…
You may build the best websites in the world but if you do not know how to sell your services then nobody will hire you. Web design, like nearly everything, is a competitive marketplace and simply being a good designer/developer is not enough. You also need a sales and marketing hat.
That said, it does seem that there is more work out there than agencies to do it.

Cold call?

Don’t buy databases of ‘quality’ contacts in a particular sector. I may be cynical but I reckon the vast majority of these ‘leads’ were tricked into supplying their details. You’re trying to sell solutions to your potential clients’ online problems not pallets of dog food. I my experience, cold calling is a waste of time and effort – the only way you’ll win work is if you’re lucky enough to call someone when they’re about to release a tender.
The only exception to this rule are local businesses where picking up the phone and saying ‘hi, we’re just over the road from you and we’re really good at what we do. If you ever need the services that we provide please do include us in any suppler selection process you intend to go through’. If they’re friendly why not meet up for a beer (see Love Your Clients)…

Focus on a specific market sector

If your only case study is a sewage works site then go after other sewage works sites first. This is common sense: you have a proven ability to produce a website with probably very similar features to the one the other sewage site wants. You have a real, live working example to show them and a client who will (hopefully) say nice things about you.

Tender sites

I get asked about these a lot. They are (I think) better than straight cold calling but not much. Golden rule – don’t do any speculative design work as some may be a scam. I think most of these are simply there because a lot of tenders are required to be competitive but the client already has a preferred agency.  I have generated a ‘nose’ for when we are making up numbers so, if you get that feeling, be brave, walk away…
Of course, try to talk (and I mean talk not email) to the client. Be bold, ask questions about how many others are going for the project, what is the budget (we need to know to be able to provide the most appropriate solution), are the deadlines set in stone etc etc etc… If you’re getting negative feelings… guess what… walk away…
If you do decide to go for something off one of these sites, I recommend the following as a response:

  1. boiler plate ‘Why Us’. You should already have this in another proposal. Up to 10 pages of skills, experience, examples of design work and above all USP.
  2. No more than 2 sides of A4 of ‘your solution’ i.e. a summary.
  3. Tasks by task breakdown of price (inc. payment terms with at least a third up front (‘on delivery’ if you’re really worried about the client!)

The trick here is to start at the bottom. Do the task breakdown first (it may put you way over budget if you know it – if so, walk away) which will lead to an obvious solution summary then tack the ‘aren’t we great’ on the front.
The idea is to put as little effort in as possible without making it look that way.
Much better idea to…

Market, market, market!

There are so many ways to market yourself. For example, you can drive round your local neighbourhood shouting through a loud hailer if you like! Headscape’s marketing effort is focussed virtually solely on Boagworld now. The point is, try to find something that you can do that you feel passionate about and will get people either ringing you directly or, just as good, recommending you to others.

Know when to walk away

It is the hardest thing in the world to do, but it is important that you know when to turn down work. There are times when the clients requirements are unrealistic or the job is simply too big. On other occasions, the chance of winning a job does not justify the investment involved in pitching for it. There is a natural tendency to want to run after every piece of work, but sometimes you just have to say no.
I got the impression listening at SXSW that the agencies I most admire (e.g. Happy Cog) simply wait around for projects that they are interested in and the clients should be damn grateful! Or maybe that was the impression that Mr Z wanted to convey.

Ask an expert: Aral on Apollo

Aral Balkan is one of my favourite speakers and this week in the “ask an expert” section he puts his enthusiasm and humour into an insightful introduction of Apollo. Apollo is a new development platform from Adobe that allows web designers to start developing desktop applications.

Working with corporate colours

This week’s agony uncle question is based on something I found in the boagworld forum. Pecko asked whether we should use Photoshop to convert corporate colours for the web or whether we should do it by hand. A lot of the people on the forum argued that you should allow Photoshop to take the strain but in the show I argue that we should do it by hand. My argument was based on something I had read before and yet I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I had read it. I eventually found it was from a brilliant article by Jason Santa Maria on 24 Ways. I hope he will forgive me for not crediting him on the show.

Review: ClickTale

I was recently asked to beta test ClickTale, a new statistics-tracking tool. Not only does it provide you with all of the basic web stats you would expect, it also allows you to watch recordings of how users interact with your site. You can see their cursor move around the screen, watch them scroll and even move between pages. The product is currently in closed beta but it is definitely worth keeping an eye on because it is extremely powerful and acts as a passable alternative when usability testing is just not an option.