October 10, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Would-Be Millionaires

Over the past 16 years since founding Encore Web Works, I’ve met with many people who earnestly believe they have the next “million-dollar idea”.  Typically, they come to us because they want us to take their idea from the concept stage into a working product (cloud, SaaS, PaaS, application etc).  

A few of those wanna-be millionaires were able to execute their ideas and we were thrilled to help with their successes.  However, the large majority did not make it past our first few conversations due to critical planning and expectation mistakes.

Here are the most common misapprehensions I’ve seen and how to avoid them. (Note this is not intended as an exhaustive list.  This is just the most common items from my experiences when meeting potential entrepreneurs and hopeful tycoons.)

  1.  Problem - Lack of market research. “I think it’s a great idea, everyone else will too!”  Have you ever thought of a great idea only to find out that you’re the only one who thinks it’s great?  I’m reminded of the “Jump to Conclusions Mat” from the movie Office Space (1999).    Solution – Do some market research.  Find out if there is a market and/or potential demand for your idea and if there is any way to monetize it (make a profit).  Pick someone to be a devil’s advocate and challenge him or her to shoot holes in your idea. This will help you determine if your idea is sound and if it can overcome the challenges it may face.
  2.  Problem - Lack of planning.  “I’m the idea man/woman.  I don’t need to think about the details.”   A French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery has been credited with saying “A goal without a plan is just a wish”. This is a simple truth.  An idea without a plan will never evolve from a concept to a reality.   Solution – Develop a road map with specific milestones to accomplish your goal or idea.  Even if you don’t fully know how to “get there”, put some estimated actionable (aka doable) plans into a timeline.  This will quickly help illuminate the holes in your knowledge base and help you identify areas where you need to get more information.
  3. Problem - Lack of reasonable expectations. “This should be successful by next quarter.  No problem.”  If someone hasn’t done any market research and hasn’t planned a road map, it is likely he or she will have an unreasonable expectation of how long a project could take to complete.  Solution – Find the right partner or people with experience to help you.  The right people (people with experience, technical knowledge, management abilities, etc.) can make all the difference and can provide you with some educated estimates about how long things should take to develop/make/build.
  4. Problem - Lack of experience. “I’ve never done this before, but how hard can it be?”  It’s easy to see successful people or businesses and believe they are “overnight” successes.  This is rarely the truth.  Most success stories have a long backstory and list of problems that have been overcome.  Solution  Talk to some successful business owners and ask them some questions about challenges, problems, and what-not-to-do’s.  Learn from the mistakes of others and avoid some of their pain.
  5. Problem - Lack of funding.  Big Hat, no cattle.   New entrepreneurs are often surprised that it requires capital to build a business.  It’s a cliché but it’s true.  It takes money to make money.  Solution - Using your market research, your roadmap (planning), educated estimates and advise from the right partners, you’ll have a good estimate on how much money it will require to build your idea.  Make sure you figure out how to get the capital you need before you start.  The worst thing you can do is to “spend” yourself half-way through a project and realize you must abandon it due to lack of funds.
  6. Problem - Lack of commitment/no project hero.  “I’m just going to turn this over to you so you can make it a success.”   In my opinion, this is the worst of the problems I’ve seen.   No one will be as passionate about your new idea as you.  If you aren’t willing to be the advocate for your project, why would anyone else?   Solution – Understand the level of effort it will take to accomplish your goal (see the previous suggestions), understand the risks involved, and be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to accomplish it.  If you’re unwilling to do these things, it probably means you don’t believe in your idea and should walk away.

The items above all equate to a simple concept that is not simple to execute; Planning.  Coming up with a great idea is the easy part.  Planning a specific strategy to accomplish the idea is the hard part.  But if you genuinely have a great idea and are willing to do the work to make it through all the stages, you may just be that next “millionaire”.   Our nation was built by people with great ideas and the courage to make them happen.  Good Luck!

September 8, 2017

Custom Cloud Applications and Business Systems

Productivity in the workplace is a hot topic. With the increasing use of electronic devices and the accessibility of information on the web, many employers and managers are concerned about employee productivity. While this may be a valid concern for an organization, cloud and web technologies also offer opportunities to streamline operations, foster growth, and increase the bottom line.

Custom cloud-based applications help organizations simplify processes, consolidate information, and improve workflow and efficiency. Many companies utilize online business systems to ease a pain-point or improve customer service.  (Think of a cloud-based application as a program that runs on the Internet, rather than software installation on a computer.)

Your organization has a unique personality, and with it, may come some unique challenges. Don’t settle for a one-size-fits-all software program that doesn’t meet your needs. Doing so often translates to investing in a system that includes extra bells and whistles that don’t serve a purpose for your business.  With the right development partner, a custom solution can be tailored to address your specific needs with room for expansion as your business grows or needs evolve.

The possibilities are endless.  Custom cloud applications may include:
  • Online forms systems
  • Data transfer systems
  • Workflow systems (secure communications, employee timesheets, document client info, etc.)
  • CRM (Customer Relations Management)
  • Customer portals
  • Online product activation systems
  • Online rebate systems
  • Mobile phone texting systems
  • and many more...

 Allan F. Mogensen, creator of Work Simplification, was on the right track when he coined the phrase, “Work Smarter…Not Harder”.  Online business systems help organizations streamline operations and minimize risk of data loss; working smarter, not harder.
  • Automate repetitive tasks
  • Provide real-time data
  • Enhance customer service
  • Streamline workflow
  • Data security and audit trails
  • Daily backups to preserve data integrity 
  • Automatic disaster recovery

Web-connected devices may bring some headaches for employers and managers, but cloud technologies and online business systems also bring opportunities for increasing productivity, and that equals increasing the bottom line.

Encore Web Works provides custom web/cloud application and online business system programming. We design, develop and manage all of the components for custom online systems for organizations of all sizes.  

August 2, 2017

The Importance of Logos in Business

What’s in a Logo?

The use of logos in the business world is a crucial and occasionally overlooked part of the marketing process. Without a proper logo, a company is missing a vital piece of the marketing puzzle. A logo is essentially the “face” of a company. A company logo is usually the first part of a company that a customer sees.   If it does not properly represent the company, a potential customer may not be able to create a “connection”. This may drive the customer away, resulting in a loss of business. Logo design can be a tricky process and should be handled by a professional.

When analyzing your company’s logo, there are many things to keep in mind. The way a logo is designed can portray many different emotions, values, and even company personality. The use of color, lines, and typography play a large part in the design process.

Color can influence customer emotion.
Lines help draw the eye to areas within a logo and can be used strategically within a design. Typography establishes a “voice” and “tone” for a company and can be a big challenge for some.

These elements, and other design principles come together to create an overall look and feel of a logo.

When analyzing logo design, it is important to take longevity into account. Many companies struggle with outdated logos. It is important to keep your logo up-to-date with modern design trends. Consider some of the big players in the business world. Companies such as Google, Netflix, and Pepsi are known to keep their logos updated regularly. Instagram has recently jumped “on-board” with this idea and is now working with a modern logo that matches its target market. Customers are drawn to companies that keep their logos modern and current.

Logos and Small Business

Many small businesses have poorly designed logos.  Most small businesses don’t have an in-house designer or full-time marketing team, so they don’t realize the importance of getting professional assistance. Often, someone with no design experience creates a logo (sometimes using Word Art or Clip Art).

In addition, small businesses often lack variations of their logos. It is important to have different demonstrations and variants of a logo to use on varying media including web, print marketing pieces, clothing, and letterhead. Professional assistance is the key to solving these problems.

Encore Web Works offers professional logo design and logo re-design services. If your company needs a new logo or a “refreshed” logo, we can help.  Professional expertise is vital when designing a logo that properly represents your unique business.

- Guest post by Weston Mooneyham

July 14, 2017

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - Compliance for Websites

Many organizations think ADA compliance pertains only to physical, tangible items such as wheelchair ramps or bathroom handrails. However, there are numerous guidelines regarding websites and ADA compliance.  ADA compliance is about fairness and providing the same accessibility to goods or services to the web.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990. In recent months, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has made it clear that it interprets the ADA as applicable to websites and mobile apps and has already begun enforcing it.

WCAG 2.0 - Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is the industry standard organizations should look to regarding their web content. These guidelines are designed to address the accessibility of a website and user elements. WCAG 2.0 is the gauge used by the DOJ in its court cases so far. (Click here to read the DOJ's position in their announcement of the Peapod Settlement Agreement.)

WCAG 2.0 has varying levels of guidelines: A, AA, AAA.  Level A is the weakest and has minimal impact to website style and design, but it also has minimal effect for users. Level AA guidelines encompass a larger number of users with disabilities, but is not so restrictive that it strips out all of a site's look, feel and functionality. The DOJ wants to see website compliance with Level AA.

How to get started

While WCAG 2.0 has been around for a while, this topic is still unfamiliar to many businesses and organizations - and website and marketing agencies, for that matter. It is important for organizations to understand the accessibility of their web content. Finding a website partner to review your site for accessibility compliance is the first step.

If you need assistance or more information, contact Encore Web Works. We would appreciate the opportunity to discuss your needs regarding website accessibility.

Making your website compliant and accessible for users with disabilities can enhance customer satisfaction and minimize vulnerability or risk.  It is simply the right thing to do.