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Projects // BT Logo / Bionic Turtle /

David Harper

I’m running about 250 – 230% ahead of the sales rate from last year. What more could I ask for?

In the 3.5 years since I launched my site, I hired/fired five or six designers. I also tried a couple of offshoring experiments. As a small businessperson, finding a web developer/designer has been my single most difficult vendor-related task. I don’t think I’m alone; pretty much everybody I know who builds a site finds the experience painful. (In part, this is surely because it is much more difficult and iterative to launch a complex site than a non-technical person would believe).

First, I tried to do it myself. Which took hundreds of hours more than I planned. Plus, as a small business owner I tend to think I can do everything; but building a dynamic website (e.g., membership) requires a singularly unique blend of technical and creative skills. So, my own site pretty much sucked. Then, I hired somebody because I really like their portfolio. This was my “age of innocence” when I thought aesthetics was the goal. I see this “mistake” often when somebody asks for advice on launching: they may focus almost exclusively on the “look and feel,” the aesthetic impression created by the site. So, my next version looked good; people said “your site really looks good!” But it’s usability pretty much sucked. So, my hard-earned customers were confused. So, I finally came to appreciate: a website is my presence, it exists not primarily to make a keen visual impression, but to attract customers to get stuff done. I don’t know if usability fully captures this, but the point is, the website serves a (higher) purpose. It is a rookie mistake (just my opinion) to go looking for a web designer/develop with only an eye toward only portfolio design; you really want somebody who can do that but place it in a larger “strategic awareness” that the site has a job to do.

That’s why I came to Lea, because I wanted to improve the usability in service of customers. Also, since she has branding experience I’ve given over the logo/branding aspect.

I already had a expression engine platform. I contracted with Lea to redesign my site to increase its usability (e.g., to make it easier for visitors to find stuff, to make it easier for potential customers to purchase, and to make it easier for existing customer to get the movie/element they want). Lea redesigned the entire site, including the protected member page, the blog, category pages, home page, and the purchase flow.

The new site designed by Lea is less than one month old, but I absolutely thrilled with it! But I parse my overjoy into three parts: design, usability and process. In regard to design, Lea took a design (that frankly we did like) and created something that now is much more appropriate to our goals and the brand that I want to convey. It is classy and clean, yet personal too. In regard to usability, my primary objective, it is vastly improved. But don’t take my word for it. My customer Chintan wrote, “I really love the new website. The resources tab has the screencasts arranged very appropriately. Navigation and search, now, is really smooth and awesome.” And my customer Lee wrote, “First, I should say that The new website looks much better and organized than old one !”

In regard to process: In my opinion, if you are buying web design/development services, this (project management) should be your #1 criteria. Veterans already know what i mean, as the majority of these projects go over-budget and over-schedule (sometimes, both in dramatic fashion. I’ve seen grown men reduced to tears, building construction/remodels seem downright timely in comparison). Unfortunately, this critical intangible element (project management) cannot be seen in the portfolio. Lea was fantastic on process, she communicated with brilliant regularity. I don’t think I ever had a question unanswered. And here is the kicker: we were on budget and a bit ahead of schedule. (which I’ve never heard of!)

The site is a success because: first, my existing customers have voiced nothing except approval (the acid test); second, it was a fun process for me (which is the first time it was ever fun to work on the site); third, it’s only a month out, but I’m running about 2.5x to 3.0x (250 – 230%) ahead of the sales rate from last year. What more could I ask for?