Rob Tomlinson's blog

Attitude, experience and sounding-off are filed-away here in various combinations. Topics range from the technical (web design), to the commercial (being a freelancer), to the nifty (great software to use) as well as the annoying and delighting. The opinions expressed here are unashamedly mine.

Billable hours? Not to be sneezed at!

One of my UK clients came to me with an interesting problem: he wanted changes made to one of his websites, but the agency that originally built it for him wanted to charge him £80 an hour plus VAT.

He wanted to know what I could do…

I had a look at the site and found some interesting things:

Advances in web technology: what this means for you

The detail of this may not interest you that much, but it’s offered on the basis that the better informed we are, the better the chance that we can make good decisions. So here’s a simplified run-down on the different approaches to building web pages, and how these have changed and improved over time.

The intention is to explain not just the nuts and bolts, but how these technologies bring with them advantages of cost, efficiency and speed. In essence, this is about publishing, and how quickly/cheaply you – the website owner – can get your ideas up onto your website.

Surrounded by orchids

It being May, the orchids are back and this year there seems to be an abundance of them. Perhaps this year’s unusually wet spring in the Gers favoured them.

In previous years we have counted between 12 and 15 different species of orchid either on our land or very close by. So far, the count is perhaps 9 and the late-flowering ones are yet to show themselves. What is different this year is their abundance and duration. They are everywhere and a stroll outside requires special attention not to tread on them.

A carpet of orchids

Tuning in to clients

Spending plenty of time working with potential clients is important. Note the word potential: this is before a client has decided to sign up for a website designed and developed by me.

Websites can be very personal and clients need to verify that x is the right person for the project.

So how can this be accomplished?

Well, each client is different, as is each website project. A constant is that both parties need to establish some common ground. This comes about by discussion (by ‘phone or by email – I prefer the latter but do both), and the obvious topic for discussion is websites:

Search engine experiments

From time to time I run some simple search engine tests, both on my clients’ sites and on my own. This helps me get some insight into how well these sites are being tracked by the SEs. I did this again yesterday – and the results are interesting!

(Firstly, a caveat: these results are relevant to 10th March 2009. If I run them on another day, the results may differ.)

The importance of web standards

One of the key selling points of my website development service is that sites I develop conform to web standards, and I keep banging on about this. So why does this matter so much?

To recap: web standards are a collection of international standards that specify what is and isn’t acceptable HTML, XHTML and so on – the code that holds together and structures the content of web pages. They are thrashed out and agreed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the organisation headed by Tim Berners-Lee.

Your website: who is the audience you are writing for?

The web has been selling products and services for enough time now for it no longer to be considered a nascent industry. We take it as perfectly natural that a site is promoting something, with some form of sale often being a site’s principle aim. In recent years, attention has been increasingly focussed upon the language used in websites, and upon how this language can be honed to increase the chances of a sale.

Many of us with British origins may understandably find this sort of perspective awkward; after all, we are renown for our reserve and for not discussing financial matters up front, and on the home page. Many people find that being a website proprietor changes that.

Freeconomics: the race to the bottom

King Gillette apparently started it all in 1895 when he gave away his new disposable-blade razors. These razors were useless in themselves, but the disposable blades sold in their billions – and a trend towards ‘freeconomics’ was born.

A recent article in the Guardian newspaper looked at where this trend seems to be taking us: Ryanair flights for $20, free phone calls, free downloads, free advertisements, free newspapers.

Hand-crafted websites

In a separate blog article I cited free website hosting (and development) as an example of the ‘freeconomics’ trend in business, a race to the bottom that removes quality both from the service that is provided and from the website that is produced.

The adage “You get what you pay for” is as true today as it ever was and I’m happy to mount a spirited defence of paying to have a website hand-crafted. So here goes…

Technical support: pushing spaghetti through a keyhole

Technical support. Five syllables and a yawning maw of potential frustration!

Here are the two extremes of the technical support spectrum:

Technical support. Five syllables and a yawning maw of potential frustration!

Here are the two extremes of the technical support spectrum:

How it should work:

  • you send an email explaining the problem, asking for a solution
  • an email comes back (without too great a delay) explaining the likely solution
  • you follow the advice that’s been given and it works!

And the alternative: