#89 Websites and Computers: Here is the 411 for Small Business Designers TODAY!

This posting is for all you designer/quilters/artist’s who want a website to sell your patterns, dvds, art etc. This posting is a result of a major change in Apple computers. They have decided to drop the iWeb program from their line up of software. I have tried to outline what I do and why I have done it. I start with my computer choice and try to explain why I do my own website.

Computers for Designers: PC vs Mac

This is simple. Mac computers are MUCH more stable and much faster than PC computers. PC computers are MUCH cheaper than Macs. So bottom line – you get what you pay for. I started on a Mac in the 1980s! Stayed with them until around 2000 when I just could not afford the Mac any longer and all the programs I used were available for PC. I use Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. As I went into business I could not tolerate the slow speed and the constant battle with viruses and crashes. I bit the bullet and went back home to Mac. It was worth every penny! So my advise for serious designers – especially patterns and art for fabric go with Macintosh. It will cost more money but save you so much frustration and time. Also it syncs with the ipad and iphone which is so great! I did purchase a program called Parallels which allows me to run PC software on my Mac when I have to…in the case of embroidery designing and sewing machine software.

Websites are a MUST for businesses

Being  an artist/designer working on a Mac computer my posting will be in reference to Mac software. That said, the PC world is similar but they have their own software to create sites. I am just not familiar with that software.

If you are an artist/quilter/designer and want to sell your wares it is imperative that you have a website. The 411 is not having a website is NOT an OPTION today if you are serious about your business. Prospective customers need instant information available on their handhelds, tablets and/or computers. They want to instantly know who you are, what you have, how much it costs and how to get it. If you don’t have an efficient accurate up to date website – forget it!

Is it going to cost a fortune?

So how can you get a website economically?  You can certainly hire someone to design it for you and maintain it. That is not cheap and be prepared to pay ongoing tab indefinitely. You can go back to school and learn it in a continuing education program if you have the time. Or you can do what I did by self-teaching  with user-friendly software. Many small businesses do not have money to pay for web hosting, web design, and maintenance.

I started my website 4-5 years ago using iWeb which is an EXTREMELY user-friendly website building free software from Apple that is very versatile and intuitive. That was awesome until about 6 months ago when Apple announced they would be dropping iWeb! YIKES!!!!! What that means is that the program is not going away – it does work with the most recent operating system – Mountain Lion, however there is NO guarantee that will remain the case as they update the operating system. They will not be upgrading or making any revisions.

So what does that mean for me, Zebra Patterns? Basically I needed to find a replacement for iweb from a third-party. That is NO EASY FEAT with all the stuff on the internet. But I can safely say that after 3-4 weeks of research on the net, talking with the apple professionals and plain old trial and error I may have found it.

Mac I-web replacement Options

Here is what I have learned. There are three programs out there that do not require an engineering degree in computers to operate. The first is Sandvox. Sandvox operates very similarly to iWeb however it is VERY limiting. You MUST work from within one of their supplied templates. That did not meet my needs. I wanted my own look. Being a designer it was too restrictive. However if you are not a designer and are happy with templates – I think this is a good option at only 79.00.

The second is Rapidweaver – not to be confused with Dream Weaver. (Dreamweaver is a professional program from Adobe which requires users to understand code reading/writing) Rapidweaver is another option for a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get – pronounced wizzy-wig) user-friendly software. I found this to be a little less user-friendly than Sandvox, however there is more flexibility with in the supplied templates. But it was still not what I wanted. This one also is priced at 79.00.

The one I will be playing with over my vacation in Hilton Head starting tomorrow is called Freeway Pro. This program allows me to start with a blank page and build the site exactly how I want it. It looks like this will be the one I get. It costs 229.00. I will be doing all the tutorials and use the full trial before I purchase it.

How to know which one is “Right”

The way I figured out which one was right for me was by using it. All of the above mentioned programs have 30 day trials of the software. You MUST try them out for yourself. This takes time but it will be well worth it! All of them have written and video tutorials that are easy to follow. Right now I have all three programs on my computer. I tried to rebuild my home page within each program. The only one that worked for me was Freeway Pro.

So How Hard is it really to build your own Website?

Truth is it will take a bit of time to understand what you are doing. The only way to learn is by doing. If you have someone show you it will be faster but you will learn better and more thoroughly by doing the tutorials and looking stuff up when you have a problem. Most everything on the internet is built with computer coding called HTML. It takes years to learn how to code. It is an occupation. However, for people like me who want to control my own website there are experts who have written programs to make the HTML coding invisible. The programs mentioned above are brilliant WYSIWYG formats.

The most important thing to know before you start is how you want your site to look and what you want your site to do. In my case I wanted to have an online catalog for my customers. I wanted my wholesale customers to be able to access my entire line with detailed explanations of all of my products. I also wanted to provide the whole line to retail customers who may not be able to buy from all of my patterns as their store may only carry a limited amount of Zebra Patterns. The website also provides a comprehensive bio and background and my schedule as well as an art gallery of my fine art work. The website provides international exposure for my company and helps to build my brand.

The written copy

The website is made up of written information, pictures and interactive buttons. The written information throughout the site is very important because it is what search engines use to find your site. For example if I write-up a description of one of my patterns as: ” An easy-to-do appliqué baby quilt patterns for beginners.” When you go into a program on the internet like Google or Yahoo and do a “search”…the engine will search the entire internet for the key words you enter. In the case of the example, if they are looking for a “baby quilt pattern”, or an”appliqué” the engine will find your copy and list you. So those words are critical for new customers to find you. It almost becomes an art to write very descriptive lines of copy that include all the words someone might search for. That said, there is a lot more to “tagging” (what it is called) but that is the general idea.

One bit of advise: when writing text try to use the web safe fonts. They will be explained in the software. It is a standard list. They will display faster, display properly, and size correctly on most computers. If you use a decorative font from your font list things can go wrong. If you are using a decorative font for a heading it is better to make it in another program and save the file as a jpeg or a png file. Then you would place the text as if it were a picture.

Adding Pictures

The same theory of tagging goes for pictures. When you place/insert a picture into a site there is a place in the web design software to add tags. That is where you want to add every descriptive item you can so that when people search for an image your item comes up.

One other tip about placing graphics/pictures is to keep the files as small as possible. By that I do not mean visual size, I mean by computer size. Computer pictures are built of little squares of color like a mosaic. Each little square is called a pixel. Pixels can adjust to your monitor and devices. The standard for viewing a picture (pix) on a computer is 72 ppi – pixels per inch. Every pixel on a computer uses up memory. If you had a pix of a dog that was 3″ x 3″ that would convert to 3 x 72=216 pixels. ( 3 inches time 72 pixels or a 216 x 216 ppi pix)   Now that same picture of the 3 x 3 dog if it were saved at a higher resolution – say 300 ppi would be a 900 x900 ppi image. That is more memory and more time to load onto a webpage each time and will not look any better on a monitor than the 216 x 216. So why waste the time loading – use 72 ppi images. This will make you site transition faster. Have you ever gone to a site where the picture comes in very slowly? Well that is because the pix are NOT 72 ppi – they are much higher, much more information to transfer and much slower to load. Unfortunately todays consumers are VERY impatient and will go to another site if the site runs slowly.

Where do you get the option to make the files smaller? When you import digital pix from your camera, or create graphics in a program,  or scan an image  in to your computer – there will be a dialog box that will ask what resolution you want. Sometimes it will say “Web”  other times it will say “low” and other times it will say 72, 150, 300 – pick the 72. These images will only be good for screen viewing. Higher resolutions of 300+ are required for printing. Sometimes you will save images in several formats. I always save my images in 72 for web work, 300 for digital printing and higher for photo printing. I cal the first ones Lo-res and the bigger ones Hi-res. I would have two files… “dog Lo-res.jpg” and “dog Hi-res.jpeg. I would only use the lo res for website work.

Adding Functions

What kind of functions ca be added? You can add direct links to Facebook. You can add links to “BUY” something that will take you to PayPal or another collection company to have an online store. You can add links to other websites. You can add forms to collect customers information. You can add links to email you directly. You can add U tube videos. There are so many options.

Is it hard to add functions? Yes and No. The programs make  it as easy as possible but it will take some careful research of the particulars in the software manual. The functions I have allow me to attach my blog, Facebook, have an online store, have a wholesale store and have free demo videos to my site. All of these items enhance your site and get people to come back. Advice:  Build your basic site first and get good at the basic positioning of pix and writing of text. Once you get the hang of it then think about functions.

Once the site is built – how do I get it online? Is that hard?

Again yes and no. Yes it is a bit tricky because it is not intuitive as a massive amount of coding goes into taking the website you have built through the proper steps to get it to be live on the net. However, most people these days are NOT programmers and there is ample support for you to get your site onto the web. You will need a Web Host. A Web Host is a company that will literally store your web information in their computer and make the necessary transitions to make it go live. That web host collects a monthly or annual fee for that service. It is usually very reasonable – say 9.00-29.00 a month. Price will vary with the size of your site and if you want any of their extra services. Most hosts offer special services to get your site well placed in the search engines and other services like that. Once you have chosen a web host they will direct you how and where to enter the proper links to make everything work. The good news is they will walk you through the whole process and you really should only need to do this once. I use iPage as my host for Zebra Patterns.

Summary 

In my case it took me a good month to get a basic site together 4-5 years ago. That is devoting 1-2 hours daily during the week to the project on average. As I learned about new things like Facebook – I added them.  My original site was just information, no store or special links. As I got comfortable I added a store. Again there was a learning curve but not anything I could not digest. I will say that building the site incrementally was key. If I had tried to build the site like I have it today it would have been overwhelming! 

If you want a site you can manage yourself – You can do it. The good news is yes there is a learning curve but no, it is not rocket science! The important thing is understanding the basic concepts of how the internet works and what a site is. The software developers have designed the software for people like you and me who are NOT programmers. Just remember when you are starting it is a bit like learning a new language. But once you get the basic concepts down it is really quite repetitive. You can do it your self and have exactly what you want and only have to pay for the initial software which can be as little as 79.00 and pay a monthly hosting fee. Many of the big email providers and cable providers even host for free if you have a contract with them.

My Recipe for Successfully Building your own website

  • Mac Computer
  • Plan and write out what you want your website to do for your business
  • Download the FREE trial software with WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) capabilities. In my case Freeway Pro, Sandvox and Rapidweaver.
  • Read and Complete ALL of the tutorials included with the software. I really mean that – do all the tutorials.
  • After tutorials build your home page with pictures and written text. If you have trouble – repeat the tutorials.
  • Create a couple of more pages in your site – like a contact page and a gallery
  • Publish your site to your computer. (That is a “pretend” version of going LIVE – explained in tutorials)
  • Decide on which web software is best for your needs (I think it will be Freeway Pro for Zebra)
  • Find a Host that suits your needs (I use iPage)
  • Launch your home page as soon as you get it the way you want through your host
  • Add pages slowly over time.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: Be positive and know that you can do it. Stick with it. It is not rocket science trust me.
  • Know that if you have any questions – just email me at debra@zebrapatterns.com. I am more than happy to share. There are NO DUMB QUESTIONS!
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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sandy Lynch
    Aug 11, 2012 @ 19:38:47

    Great comments on web building. Yes, the classes are great, but TIME and LEARNING are the main items. And like you said, figure out what you want or need and build from that. I’ve taken webdesign classes but never put it to use, but it did help me to make a blog!!.

    Reply

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