An Open Letter

On the 11th April, 2016, the doors shut on FutureStorm which was a small business I had been working in with my wife Andrea. To be honest, by the time I got to that point, I felt a bit worn out and used. My response was to replace the business website with a message letting people know why we were closing down and delivered ‘an open letter’ highlighting what I learned and hopefully help others avoid a lot of pain in the process of starting their small business. Keep reading and please feel free to leave a comment.

Date: 16th April, 2016.
Title: An Open Letter
Author: Murray Chapman

FutureStorm came from a long desire to do quality work at a price affordable by most small to medium businesses. It was about creating content on the web that was personalised and considered the client in every way possible. 

As with business, money makes the world turn and without it, businesses cannot function. Sadly financial stress is the reason why FutureStorm is closing. Not many businesses would be upfront about it but I want to share this as a means of shedding light on being part of a highly skilled business.

We have have the opportunity to work with lots of great businesses and really wished it did not have to stop. The problem we found was that truly personalised work was not financially viable with our current business model. We were told by other businesses to adopt a tougher attitude towards issues we were facing but I could see from industry insight that it was a quality and care trade-off. Hardening up in areas meant less personalisation and less real care of the clients wishes and desires. We were told to just off-shore our work and save a packet. Our desire was to keep the work and dollars supporting the Australian economy and so we really did not want to go in that direction. We did give it a go a few times due to needing extra hands urgently but ended up causing issues which cemented the idea to keep it local. We were told to charge more but some of the prices being charged I found ridiculous and I have decades of industry insight to make that statement. It was a tad disheartening when we found ourself having to justify our very reasonable prices but we get that people want to know what they are paying for.

On a side note, I want to address directly those that want a website or an update to their current online presence. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are planning and deciding on your budget. It would well be worth reading and will most probably save you a lot of time and money (translation: blood, sweat and tears).

  1. Websites are highly complex and have just as many nooks and crannies as a physical store. Even these fancy drag and drop website tools (that really aren’t anywhere near as good if you want something original) do a lot in the background that you do not see. There is a lot going on in the background that needs just as much attention and care as what is visible. The strength of your walls around you are governed by the structure that holds them. A rushed job with cheap materials will always end in disaster.
  2. Websites are not cheap to make properly. $200 will barely even get you a design these days. With some companies, it will not even get you in the front door for a consultation. A decent website starts at $1000 and that will get you a single highly customisable and responsive web page. If you want a store to sell your services or products, expect to add a couple of thousand to that price. Maybe more depending on where you go. Why so much? Try thinking about all of the devices the website will need to work on and all of the customisation involved to personalise for each device. Consider the security that needs to be monitored to stop cyber criminals from ruining your online business. Add to that the many plugins and add ons that are needed to make your site function just the way you want it. What about all of the testing at the various stages to make sure your website is functioning in all circumstances…? Making every part of your website work together in harmony is complex at the least. In short, it is a lot of work and as the famous quote goes, “if you want to make money, prepare to spend it.” If you are not paying a decent amount for your site, I would be concerned and asking your designer/developer why.
  3. If you want to save some time and money, have a clear idea about what you want in your website. What is the purpose of your site? Identify your target audience and try and investigate a few good ways you could appeal to those people through your website. Try to identify what do they have in their site/store that you think works well? What did you like and why? What did you not like and why? Most web designers will help you work that out but at a cost. Having some idea wil lsave you both time and money.
  4. Preferably, take some time to think over your site’s intended purpose and content. Try and get it right before the designs and technical specifications are finalised. Most designers will allow you to make some changes during the development life cycle. When I say changes, that means small changes. Making an element in a page bigger or smaller is in most cases not an issue. Changing the order of elements is probably also not an issue. Waiting till it is in full swing to tell your developer that you do want a store or that yo uwant additional features is really not a good thing. It is also not always easy to move a page element a bit to the right or change that colour without causing disruption to other elements in the page(s). Sometimes late changed cause delays which in turn can increase your financial outlay. in short, late changes are rarely isolated from causing delays to the project.
  5. Web design is a process and it takes time. If you want a website done quickly, be prepared to either pay a premium that could be a sizeable markup or an alternative is to get your website started sooner. An average website can take months to build. A smaller one page job at least a week. A few weeks if you actually want something good.
  6. Don’t stop the ball rolling. Putting your website development on hold can cause a lot of issues. If you decide to put your website development on hold for whatever reason(s), don’t expect the developer(s) to be ready to go when you are. They have other clients to look after and at that point in time, those other clients have priority.
  7. Give feedback and please make it objective. Let your developer and/or designer know and please say more than “The form doesn’t work.” Statements like that will only result in them having to get back to you and ask for more information. If you provide adequate information up front, the problem can get sorted a lot sooner. What information am i referring to? Consider screen captures with the issue visible at the time. What did you do to cause the site to not function as you would wish it to and anything else like that helps speed up the repair or tweak process.
  8. If you do not understand or are unsure about something that is happening, ask. It is better that you ask and understand what is going on rather than live in the dark.
  9. Designers and Developers are people to. An occasional word of praise can go a long way.

I think that covers a lot of it. What I have said is in no way pointing the finger at anyone or any business (specifically). Consider this open letter a collection of insights and experiences I have had in and with web design and development.

To all, safety, security, peace and love. Make your mark and make a difference.

Warmest regards
Murray & Andrea @ FutureStorm

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