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Equity Partnerships For Web Designers

I would be willing to bet that every web designer or developer has been approached at one time or another to do work on a website in exchange for an equity percentage of the company.  You see this a lot on ad listings sites: people pitching their great, million dollar to prospective web designers in hopes of enticing them in a once in a lifetime, business partnership which will be the next Facebook or Twitter.  Not so surprisingly though, very few (if any) developers worth their salt entertain these offers, and there's a few reasons why.

Million dollar ideas are a dime a dozen.  GoDaddy ran a commercial during the Super Bowl which pointed this out in a comical way.  Your great idea which you are certain will make a lot of money and make everyone in your life happy, has most likely been thought of by someone else.  That's ok though, people thought of Facebook before Mark Zuckerberg did, but for some reason he's the one that made it work.  This leads to the other issue with equity partnership proposals.

Web designers talk to owners of start-up companies all the time, and we work with many as well.  We hear the great ideas, and in some cases the ideas are great.  We feel the passion in the client's voice in regards to how perfectly planned out everything is - how every corner has been covered, and we hear their excitement as visions of inflating six and seven figure bank account balances scroll past their eyes like a stock ticker.  Then the work begins and the vision becomes complete.  The website finally gets launched and the client sits back and waits for the money to start rolling in.

As a web developer who may have agreed to an equity deal with this client, I will be waiting for my first cut of 20% to come in.  It most likely was a good idea and I probably did a halfway decent job on the site, although chances are if I actually agreed to do this, I didn't have much experience at all with professional web development.  But that's neither here nor there.  Hopefully I would have signed a contract, but anyone who signs a contract most likely understands that it's about as valuable as the paper it's printed upon unless you pay an attorney to look it over, amend stipulations in your favor, and then have the client re-do it.  This almost never is an option.  If you, as the developer, requested this, the client would almost certainly find someone else.  But let's say it was all done legit with a real contract and attorneys for both parties went over it with a fine toothed comb, leaving me as the web developer waiting on my first check of 20%.

A new website is like the elusive Planet X - it's out there but nobody can see it.  This is really the crux of the equity partnership problem.  Getting a new website noticed takes time and money.  The time component can only be overcome if you happen to get an advertisement on television in front of millions of viewers, or if you get a write-up on one of the major news networks, or maybe if you're Tweeted multiple times by Lady Gaga or Beyonce with their endorsement.  If you can't get this type of instant marketing, then it will take time.  Time and money - in most cases, lots of money.  

So as a website developer, when approached by a client to do an equity split in exchange for thousands of dollars worth of work to get a website launched, the first thing that pops into my mind is, "if he/she can't afford to pay me $5000 to develop their website, how are they going to afford to spend three times that amount, or even more, to get the website bringing in enough visitors and producing enough business to actually be able to pay me back for the time I spent, in a somewhat timely manner?  And, will that one year contract even be close to enough time to pay me back given these circumstances?"

The clients that it would be worth while to do an equity split arrangement with, where I as a developer will actually make my money back in a timely manner, and then some, don't need to enter these arrangements and more importantly, wouldn't want to enter into one of these arrangements, because it would be cheaper just to pay up front than give a percentage on their million dollar idea.

NTR Imagescapes is a Chicago web design and development company that offers premium yet affordable web services to individuals, small and medium sized businesses.

Tue, 05 Feb 2013 00:00:00 -0700

Starting A Successful Online Business

As a Chicago web design company, we are contacted by many individuals looking to start an online business, and get in on the perceived "easy money".  Being able to launch a website with a service or product you're offering, and sit back while the money comes rolling in is obviously a very desirable situation.  But as almost everyone quickly finds out, if they don't go into it prepared, starting an online business can be very tricky, difficult, and even costly.  It's important for anyone looking to start an online business to understand the factors involved in making it successful, and to learn of the pitfalls that could be awaiting ahead.

Everyone has great ideas - which is a good thing and a bad thing.  In other words, if you've thought of an idea that will make millions, chances are good that someone else has thought of that exact idea too.  Now it's possible that you really are the exclusive owner to this million dollar market, but let's assume you're not.  One way to be certain is to type in the keywords associated with your idea or market into a search engine and see what comes up.  This may produce a website owning the exact name you were thinking of using, or it may produce a lot of sites that are hardly relevant.  Before purchasing a domain at this point, it's important to still get a better idea of what potential this market has.  A great way to do that is using a keyword tracking tool.

Google offers a keyword tracking tool that allows you to enter in a keyword phrase and receive the number of searches for that phrase, locally and nationally, and how competitive that phrase is.  More importantly, it also displays similar search phrases, and most often times these phrases are ones that will be more important to your market and ones you never would have thought of.  If the phrase you were keying in on only has 1000 searches a month nationally, and another phrase that is similar produces 10,000 searches a month nationally, then it would be logical to focus on the more popular keyword.  But, there is a downside to that.  The more popular a keyword is, the more competition it has.  You can gauge a keywords competitive rank with this Google keyword tracking tool, but even with the help of that, there are still a lot of unknown variables involved which may or may not be able to be determined.

The more competitive a keyword is, the harder you'll have to work, and possibly the more money you'll have to spend to get it ranked high in the search engines.  Remember, no matter how great a website is, and no matter how pretty it looks, if nobody knows about it then it basically doesn't exist.  Of course if you're just looking for direct traffic and don't need organic traffic, then this won't play a major role in your decision, but if organic traffic is going to be the key to your online business's success, then determining the strength of your competition should be one of the top factors taken into consideration as to launching your new business.

The good news is, no matter how competitive your market is going to be, you'll always at least have a chance to succeed in it with a properly designed and developed website.  There are companies out there that can assist with your search engine marketing, and there are plenty of resources freely available that anyone can use to enhance their search engine exposure on their own.  So should you start that online business?  It would be foolish as a Chicago web design company to say no to that. 

Copyright 2012 NTR Imagescapes, All Rights Reserved

Sat, 02 Feb 2013 00:00:00 -0700

Using PayPal For Credit Card Processing

When it comes time to start a website that accepts credit cards, the choice for merchant providers (credit card processors) invariably comes down to PayPal or Authorize.Net.  NTR Imagescapes has done extensive work with both systems, including implementing the basic API's the respective companies provide, as well as modifying and customizing systems from scratch in order to fit the customer's unique needs.

PayPal's Standard Business Account

For those wishing to have the ability to process credit card transactions but don't care whether their customers are able to input the credit card information on their website, then PayPal's Standard Business account is perfectly fine. Contrary to what many believe, this standard method does allow customers to pay with their credit card even if they don't have a PayPal account. The only exception to this is when it comes to signing up for memberships, which needs to be done (in this instance) with a customer's PayPal account.

PayPal's Business Pro

This version is $30.00/month and it's very good. In fact I would recommend it to almost anyone.  For the relatively cheap monthly fee, the customer is able to process credit cards on their website (with an SSL certificate installed), and process any administration functions such as updating the customer and product tables in the database, sending confirmation emails, etc..., all on site without ever leaving. Users never know that PayPal is handling their transaction, which is something some customers want to keep the illusion of.

Once the transaction is processed and approved, the funds need to be transferred to a bank account manually as this does not happen automatically like it does with Authorize.Net.  This can be a major issue if many transactions are handled on a daily basis, and needs to be taken into consideration during a consultation.

Sat, 24 Nov 2012 00:00:00 -0700

The Myth Of Hourly Rates

Like most web designers, we get asked a lot by potential clients for what our hourly rate is. Sometimes they even insist we only give them an hourly rate.  The reasoning for this, as we're often times told, is so the client can compare pricing from multiple design and development companies. But the obvious problem with this is just because one company has a lower hourly rate doesn’t mean they will be cheaper to accomplish the same task.

Do they round up to the next hour?

How long does it take them to complete the job?

We typically work efficiently so we can accomplish a task in the least amount of time as possible while also performing the tasks in a smart and proper manner. If for instance our hourly rate is $75/hr and the other company's rate is $50/hr, you would most likely spend more for the other company – and it took them longer to get it done. As with everything in this industry, you get what you pay for.

With an hourly quote, what usually happens is a rate is given and an estimated time. That time is only an estimate, often times a rough estimate, and it could be well go beyond that time. As a business owner getting work on your website, you ultimately have no idea what you will be paying in the end. There is a good chance the 10 hour estimate will turn into 15 hours and your cost for the project went up 50%. At NTR Imagescapes, we like to give fixed bid pricing so you know what you will be paying – no additional, hidden costs.

Ultimately hourly rates are used by every company including ours. We use hourly when a project is open-ended and we have no way of knowing how long the project will take. We also use it for ongoing maintenance of our client websites. But we don’t round up to the next hour, it’s always in 15 min intervals.

Tue, 19 Jun 2012 00:00:00 -0700

Web Design Basics - The Layout

If you're like most people who are new to web design and have just purchased an HTML text editor like Dreamweaver, you're probably wondering "where do I start?".  And like most people with that question, you've undoubtedly turned to YouTube for tutorial videos to guide you in the quest of getting the ideas in your head onto the webpage, or you've gone online and read numerous articles (like this), only to be left scratching your head and still wondering - "how do I do this?".  Well let's make it simple.

First off, never rely on the interface that software like Dreamweaver offers.  You need to learn to code HTML yourself.  And the good news is, it's not that difficult.  HTML is one of the easiest coding languages to learn by a long shot.  In fact, you could probably learn the rudimentary aspects of HTML in an afternoon.  But don't get too high on your horse after you learn to code tables and div tags, because now you'll need to learn a little CSS.

CSS - also known as Cascading Style Sheets - is what makes the HTML look like something other than a Word document.  This is actually a lot more complicated than HTML, but the basics of it are easy to understand and can transform your website into something that people will not only notice, but also be impressed by.  The basics of CSS will change the size, type and color of your text, and it will set a background image or color for your page.  While the more advanced CSS will actually layout your entire page and keep it looking the way it's supposed to on everyone's screen.  This is the most important aspect of CSS.

When designing a website or webpage, you need to decide on the layout - how the content will be arranged on the screen.  This is where it's very important to learn to code HTML yourself, and have a strong understanding of CSS.  Learning to do it yourself will make it so much easier - trust me!

There are a few standard layouts for the overall page.  Using CSS, you can have the page centered - which is what most websites do - or you can have it start at the left of the screen and have it spread to the right.  Both work well, but regardless of which you choose, you need to understand that viewers have different size monitors set to different resolutions.  A big no-no with web design is to make the page so wide that people have to scroll from left to right.  So to prevent this, and to make it so 90% of the people viewing the web don't have that issue, set the overall width of the page to about 900 - 950 pixels.  This will work well with most displays and most layouts, centered or shifted to the left.  Once that is decided, you move to the segments of the page. 

Typically - almost 99% of the time - a webpage consists of a header, navigation, body, and footer.  The header is where the branding image is displayed (the logo), and where important contact information is shown.  This part of the website is what everyone sees first - but it shouldn't be cluttered.  The header can span across the entire screen, or it can be confined to a specific width.

The body contains the important information that the website is trying to convey.  This body is in fact a series of sections - this is where the layout of your site becomes very important.  With HTML and CSS, everything is arranged in rectangles.  Because of this, you need to figure out how you want your rectangles arranged.  Think of a newspaper, or better yet, look at a newspaper.  It may look boring but it should give you a general idea of how to arrange columns.  Of course your website won't have to be boring like that, and if you're creative with graphics and CSS, can be a very deceptive in its structure. 

The footer goes at the bottom and can contain secondary navigation, copyright information, phone numbers to contact, miscellaneous links and whatever else that is of secondary importance. 

And then there is the navigation.  Website navigation can either be horizontal or vertical.  This part of your website could possibly dictate your entire layout.  Horizontal navigation can go into the header as basic text links, or underneath the header as a wide navigation bar.  Vertical navigation typically stays on the left side of the page in a column.  Using CSS and HTML unordered lists, you can design a sharp looking navigation simply and quickly.  Of course using a little JavaScript and jQuery can make it look unbelievable, but that's for another lesson.

When designing all of these portions of the site, it is vital to section them off the proper way and link them to an external style sheet.  Always use an external style sheet!  There's really two ways of sectioning everything off: tables and divs.  Tables sound nice but are not the way you should layout a website.  Always use div tags to wrap your content and position it where it needs to go.  Identify the div tags with classes or id's, work from the outside in, and be mindful of relativity, pixel widths, margins and padding - all of which will affect cross browser compatibility, as well as other display issues. 

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 00:00:00 -0700