Websites: CCA

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CCA WebsiteChristian Community Aid has been an Arion Productions client for several years and we were delighted to be asked to revamp the existing HTML site we had built into a more exciting CMS site that CCA could edit themselves. At the moment the site is still 'brochureware' and more features will be added in the future, including options for online donations and payments.

Websites: Blands Law

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We had built an HTML site for Blands Law two years ago, and revamped the site into a slick CMS with integrated blog and social media-centric features in late 2010. One of BlandsLaw's fields of expertise is social media law, and this site combines brochureware with an interactive social media hub. BlandsLaw runs several blogs and while Andrew Bland's blog is on this site headlines from the company's other blogs are fed into the site. BlandsLaw also runs several Twitter feeds which cover each aspect of it law expertise and feeds from each are also provided on the site. Arion Productions provided all images and montages for this site apart from images used in actual blog posts. Go visit!

Does your website work well on a mobile device?

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A mobile phone isn't just a mobile phone any more. Smartphones and other mobile devices give us tools and abilities to enhance our daily life - we can check our email from anywhere, surf the web, pay bills, use social media... add an iPad or other tablet to that, with its word processing and other office apps, and you have a device that can, for the most part, be a notebook/laptop replacement when you're out and about. These devices are growing in popularity so quickly that website design technology now has to take them into account and change to allow for the limitations and capabilities of these devices. There is an excellent article here by Siobhan Ambrose on making your WordPress website mobile-friendly. The advice in here is quite applicable to any website, not just one driven by WordPress. Siobhan cites some big predictions from Gartner Research on the rapidly increasing use of mobile technology. These include: "By 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide. According to Gartner’s PC installed base forecast, the total number of PCs in use will reach 1.78 billion units in 2013. By 2013, the combined installed base of smartphones and browser-equipped enhanced phones will exceed 1.82 billion units and will be greater than the installed base for PCs thereafter."  Wow! And also, "Mobile Web users are typically prepared to make fewer clicks on a website than users accessing sites from a PC. Although a growing number of websites and Web-based applications offer support for small-form-factor mobile devices, many still do not. Websites not optimized for the smaller-screen formats will become a market barrier for their owners — much content and many sites will need to be reformatted/rebuilt." Websites that use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) rather than tables have the advantage. CSS can expand and contract as you zoom on your mobile device. Tables can look awful on mobile devices, so if you've got a site you designed yourself a few years ago using FrontPage or similar software, it's time to think of updating and moving to a Content Management System (CMS) site driven by Joomla! or WordPress or similar software.  (There's also SquareSpace, but I don't believe it offers the same value as WordPress as there is a monthly charge to use it and limited templates at this stage.) IoS for WordPressWordPress makes it easy to update on the go with a free WordPress app for iPhone and iPad.  There are also versions available for Nokia, BlackBerry and Android from Automattic. I've been testing IoS for WordPress and find it easy enough to use on both an iPhone and iPad. See the website here for IoS WordPress. This app works whether or not you have a blog hosted on WordPress or your own website. If you manage multiple blogs, you can manage them all from your mobile device - how easy is that! The pic at right shows it in action, courtesy of the IoS site. I'm still investigating a Joomla! mobile editor, but if you want real flexibility for updating anywhere, anytime, head for WordPress and its mobile editing apps.

SEO Scribe – a must for bloggers

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As of 2009 there were 120 million blogs in the world (as tracked by BlogPulse). That was last year - so this number will have grown exponentially. So how do you make an impact with your blog? How do people find you as a blogger? You need to tweak your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and the best way to do this is with SEO Scribe. This tool is a brilliant addon for WordPress, Drupal and Joomla!. It's not free, but then if you want to get your blog posts up in their rankings it will be the best investment you've ever made. It is particularly good for novice bloggers, because it makes you think about how you structure your posts: using keywords effectively, the length of each blog, how many links you include. When you use SEO Scribe to evaluate your posts, it provides a thorough list of what's good and what's bad, and provides suggestions to tweak your copy for ultimate SEO. It will teach you to write well. To quote from the SEO Scribe site, here's the methodology it employs: "First, the Scribe keyword research tool tunes you into the right language before you write. Once your content is created, the Scribe keyword suggestion service shows you keyword phrases you might have missed. Second, Scribe analyzes your natural, reader-focused content, and tells you how to gently tweak it to spoon feed search engines based on 15 SEO best practices. Third, Scribe’s link building tools help you build back links from other sites, crosslink the content within your own site, and identify influential social media users who want to share your stuff." That's a powerful tool, and it's very easy to use. I use it on this blog and it has certainly helped me focus my writing. I love to digressthis software shakes its digital finger at my (its digital digit, perhaps?) and keeps me on track with my chosen post topic. If you wish to try it for yourself, a free 30 day trial is available. By the way, I'm not employed by SEO Scribe or in any way connected with the company. I simply think this is a fantastic tool and too good not to tell people about.

Recommended Reading: Corporate Blogging for Dummies

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So, you want to start a blog and use it to gain customers and raise awareness of your products and services. Everyone tells you it's the thing to do. But how do you blog successfully? I recommend reading "Corporate Blogging for Dummies", by Douglass Karr and Chantelle Flannery. Then get some help from myself and my social media expert colleagues to get yours underway. This book will help you choose a blogging platform (including of course the wonderful WordPress which I highly recommend), and guide you through developing a strategy for your blog. Because what you post on your blog - or indeed your website or any social media platform - is in the public domain, you'll have legalities to consider such as copyrights and ownership, especially if you use material taken from another website. This book will tell you all the CYA (Cover Your Ass) stuff you'll need to know. The authors share best practice tips, as well as the all important What Not To Do. The book features successful corporate blogs as examples you can learn from. Best of all, at my bookshop prices start from around $16 (exc shipping). With the Aussie dollar almost at parity with the US$, that's fantastic; even with shipping included it's cheaper than buying it in Australia. So go forth - buy! Part of a successful blog is the look and feel of the site it's on, and that's where I can help you (as well as with actual content if you need help writing). If your blog is a standalone site rather than part of your corporate site, I can match your corporate look and feel so you have consistent branding across your sites. Contact me about getting your blog up and running as part of your social media strategy.

New to blogging? Here’s the gen to get you rating from day one

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I love WordPress. So does Google. They're a pair made for each other.

But simply starting up a blog on WordPress itself or one your own domain name isn't enough.

If you're a newbie to blogging, there are things you need to know. Obviously you have to have your blog topic all thought out (and I'm not talking about the posts themselves, I'm talking about what your whole blog is going to be about.). And I'd advise, if you're using WP to build a corporate site, to sit down with a pen and paper or better yet an Excel spreadsheet and work out the framework of your blog before you press the 'install' button on WordPress.

Once you've done all that, and preferably chosen a good professional theme (as professional themes are better built for SEO), there's something you should read: 43 Blogger Tips for WordPress Installations.

Andrew Rondeau is from the UK and a very experienced and successful blogger (by the way, I am not affiliated by him, but rather impressed by his entrepreneurship). While I implement a lot of his tips on my site and sites I build for others, Andrew puts this advice so succinctly and clearly it's worth directing you to his post.

One thing I can add to Andrew's advice is to tweet your blog. Get on Twitter. Install Twitter Widget Pro on your site and tweet every post. More than once, if you can find something different to say about your post on a separate tweet or two.

Social media works best when it works in partnership: blogs with Twitter, or YouTube, or Facebook. Try and combine your social media memberships with your blog.

Monetizing your website

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Eager readers will know I've just added a bookstore to my site. Does that fit with what I'm doing in terms of business communications? Think about it - yes, it does. I'm offering people an easy way to get inspired and do more with their business as part of my portfolio.  And yes, if enough people buy books from me the nice people at Amazon will send me a cheque. Monetizing your website, whether you choose the way I've done it or accept paid advertisers, is a sensible move if the company you are monetizing with is a good fit and adds value to the products, services or information you are offering. I read a cycling blog, Lovely Bicycle, the owner of which has recently monetized her Blogspot blog. Her blog, which is far more regularly updated than mine, has superb photos and an engaging narrative style, was taking up so much of her time it was a case of either ditch the blog and concentrate on paid work or make the blog pay. She put the word out that advertising was available and was bombarded with suitable advertisers from the elegant cycling world (the lycra-free world... my world... where people cycle in normal clothing). Her blog has been a real success story in the 18 months since it started. Her advertisers pay her monthly for graphic links on her blog. Asking for paid advertising isn't something I feel comfortable with on a couple of levels. In all honesty my blog hasn't reached the same level of readership (yet) so expecting people to pay to go on my blog would make me feel like I wasn't giving them the best deal possible. Aside from which, this is my company's site with its own domain name. I will happily promote and link to people I work with - clients, associates - but essentially this little patch of digitalia is my online home and I don't feel comfortable with houseguests. On the other hand, a colleague put me on to Amazon affiliation. It costs me nothing to have my bookstore, and any money I've earned from it is from people who have used it to buy from me. Amazon doesn't give me a monthly retainer to have a store that might sell ten items one month and a thousand another. It's up to me to promote it or Amazon users to find it for themselves. Nor do I have to pay to use it; I can tap into one of the biggest sites on the net for nothing. Best of all, I can choose products that are a good fit for the services I offer. How good is that!? Essentially, I can target what I want to sell. Amazon has a huge range of merchandise these days; it's long past simply being a bookseller. I've started small and chosen to offer a range of books and software, as you'll see if you visit the store. I plan on extending the range a little but ultimately want to keep a balance of selling what I personally love to read in fiction and non-fiction (my hand is hovering over including cookbooks!) and what I believe are the best business and motivational books on the market at the moment, aimed at existing clients and potential clients, or people who simply are interested in my point of view on business communications. Setting up the store was a painless business. It's something anyone can add to their website with a little bit of time and patience. I'm now planning my social media-heavy marketing strategy for the store. I'll be telling people about specials and new releases on a regular basis via Twitter and Facebook; through Twitter it will also get to my LinkedIn contacts. Again, this costs me nothing. The potential for people monetizing their websites is enormous; if you're going to do it, do it now. The market will be saturated in a few years and only the strong will prosper from it. Most importantly, make sure that your monetization is a fit for your business and not just something you'll think will add to your bank balance. Your business is your credibility. If your business is selling cupcakes and you suddenly start advertising hardware on your website, your audience will scratch their heads. It's not a credible fit. So start looking now for your perfect match.

Lizards drinking have nothing on me right now!

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I worked out last week I've had six weekends since March this year where I haven't had to do some kind of work for clients. Some weekends I've worked most days all weekend; otherwise it's been a half day on top of the long hours I spend working Monday to Friday. It's not ideal; I'd like to have an orderly life where I could count on having weekends off, but like a lot of small business owners I've fallen into the bad habit of being a slave to the client... and delivering on time no matter how many long hours it takes. This month looks like being another huge one. For Ryde Business Forum I'm running some Small Business September events which theoretically I have to attend as the host, as well as the regular events for the Forum and all the admin, marketing and web work. One of my clients has, I think, four websites for me to build. I know it's at least three and I'm halfway through construction on two of them. I have another two websites to finish for another client. And I've got an exciting project in the planning process with a colleague, for which I'm sworn to secrecy. Somewhere in that lot I'm taking a long weekend in Adelaide with family and friends, and I think I'll need it just to clear my head and give me some new ideas, not to mention taking in the early spring in that beautiful city. But for now... I'm dreaming in code at nights!

Keeping confidences

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Whew, this month has flown by! I've had an order to rebuild three websites from an existing client, a lovely guy I've done work for for around 9 years now who is an employment law specialist. This is the second time I've redesigned his websites - or is it the third!? - and the first one is up now at I'm currently working on the other two. Interestingly, I also have as clients two other legal firms which specialise in employment law. I'll be building a new site for one of them soon, giving it a facelift and making it more dynamic and social media-centric. Being in this position, with three clients who are effectively rivals but deal with their marketing and media in different ways, means that I have to be trusted by all three of them. If one of them sees something on another's site and wants something similar on their own, fair enough. But I keep my confidences between my individual clients, and protect their IP as best I can with the sites I build for them. It could be a conflict of interest, but because I treat all my clients with the respect they deserve, it isn't. I manage the admin and events for two Chambers of Commerce, both of which operate in a similar geographical area. They have some members in common and realistically (and more contentiously) potential members in common. Again, I keep each of them and their strategies separate from the other. I also help a third Chamber of Commerce just over the river with its website (which I didn't design, but which I help maintain). Keeping the confidences of your clients increases the chances of your keeping their business. Being honest and stating that you already work with other firms in the same industry puts your status in the open, and it's up to your clients and potential clients to feel comfortable in your handling of their IP.

Send for backup!

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I've become anal about backing up my computer over the last few years. When I was working at a corporate, I didn't worry about it; it was IT's job to back everyone's files up on the server each night. When I started my own business nearly ten years ago, I backed up periodically onto CDs. Then I bought a portable hard drive. The night I bought it I plugged it into the laptop I had at the time and backed up all my digital images. There were many that I hadn't backed up onto CDs at that point. Because those were the days of USB 1.0 it took ages to back them up, so I decided to leave my work files, which I hadn't backed up recently either, for another day. Guess what? Yep, the PC crashed that very night, soon after I'd completed the photo backup. It crashed in a major way, too. The hard drive was scratched, I learned from the repair man. Weeks and hundreds of dollars later I got the machine back with the files recovered. It had cost me dearly in more ways than money, as I had to redo a LOT of work in the six weeks it took to recover my files. Since I've had my Mac I've used Time Machine, which backs up every hour. It's a brilliant system, as I found out this week. Last week my Mac crashed. The logic board and hard drive had to be replaced, and I didn't have my Mac for ten days. I used a borrowed older Mac and my old Windows PC to cobble together enough software to keep on top of at least some of my work during that time. I had the pleasant sensation of knowing Time Machine had done its job; I could access my external hard drive and get into the backups to retrieve files and keep working. When my Mac came back it had a new and very empty hard drive. One click of the button in Time Machine and all my files, including software, were loaded onto the new drive. Everything worked. I had a hiccup or two getting the Adobe products I have to recognise their licences but a call to Adobe's excellent support team fixed that. I can't stress to everyone enough the vital need to keep your backups up to date. You never know when you'll need them.