Indianapolis Web Content Management

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Development

Development

Alway Development Corp Website

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5/14/2007 - Alway Development Corporation, a South Bend, IN based custom home builder, launches a new website designed and built by Marketpath, Inc.  The new website highlights two Alway communities, Fernwood and Deer Hollow, and presents detailed information about homes for sale and available models from which to begin the building process.

Alway manages their website with Marketpath CMS, a website content management solution.

Visit http://www.alwaydevelopment.com to learn more about Alway Development Corporation.

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How to Build a Company When You're a Programmer

Posted 12:47 AM by

If you've read any of Michael Gerber's books you'll know that one of his paradigms is to work on your business, not in your business. This simple statement escapes most programmers who one day stumble upon a great idea and believe they can build it. And build it they do with great fervor! They stay up late, night after night, avoid going out with friends and family, and dedicate a silly number of hours to their hot new endeavor.

And that's how it continues, week after week, month after month, until the programmer wakes up and realizes they are never going to actually sell anything. Not because they can't or because they don't want to but because they are stuck in an increasingly addictive cycle of innovation. In their highly technical mind, the product is never quite ready. "If I add this feature" they say, "then it will be perfect." And sadly, just one failed sales attempt triggers a longer continuation of this cycle. Programmers aren't built to be salespeople by default. Programmers are built to solve technical problems and leap over insurmountable obstacles in software.

It's Me

If you read the overview of this blog you may have made the connection that I am included in this group. I'm a programmer and I've been building my business for the last 10 years while I lived what I described above. In 2002 I started building a SaaS e-commerce platform for small businesses named NetEmporium. This stole away approximately two years of my life. I worked diligently every night and day to build it. In the end, I sold it to four companies and made a whopping $5,000 before scrapping it altogether. Hardly worth the effort.

Around that same time I built a SaaS collaboration tool that included email, calendaring, contacts, tasks, and more. This was one of the first SaaS collaboration tools available (besides Outlook for the Web) but again, I failed to sell it and only saw a return of a few thousand dollars. Shortly after that I built a SaaS web content management tool named WebTools. This is the grandfather of our current web content management system, Marketpath CMS. I made a few thousand off of that one too.

Needless to say, I learned this lesson slowly, always thinking I could build a great product and it would sell like hot cakes! Truth is, I did build a great product - some features of NetEmporium have yet to make their way into Marketpath StoreFront, our current e-commerce module for Marketpath CMS. But my problem wasn't building software it was selling it.

Incremental Development, Marketing, & Sales

One of our salesmen has mentioned multiple times that he wished he could code (develop software) because he wants to help out with our never ending list of feature additions and bug fixes.  Each time I've told him it's a curse and to stay away. The reason is simple - software will always have new feature requests and bugs but unless we have people that sell and market it well, there will be no reason to develop those features and fix those bugs. 

So, for those of you programmers dying to know how to be successful developing and selling a software product, take the following points to heart. They are simple, straightforward, and lack fanfare - which is what you need before you kill off a couple of your best years.

  1. Prove the Market Need: Build software in small stages. You don't need to solve every problem with your software on the first push to production. You just need to solve one problem better than your competitors. Build that one feature really well and start selling it. If you get bites (and you won't need a great deal at this stage) then move on to the next round of development.
     
  2. If you can't sell the early version, dump it.  You have to know when to kill an initiative before it drags you down too much. My grandfather once told me if you don't make any money in a business after a year, then find something new. Now, with software, if you can't make any money after a few months then that's the time to dump it. Don't get hung up on your own stubbornness.
     
  3. Ignore the Feature-Creepers: Don't let would-be customers over-prescribe their own medicine. Every other customer will ask for a feature addition to your tool. Listen, but don't operate on the assumption that you need to build that feature. Your goal is to prove your product has a market. Once you do that then you can add more features. Find the customers that can use your tool as it is or else you'll be spending all your time adding features for that one customer (even though others might be able to benefit too, but this distracts you from your goal to sell, sell, sell.
     
  4. Hire a Replacement. When you have increased your revenue by building your software logically and in small chunks, hire a developer to replace yourself. If you've made it this far (you're making enough revenue to hire a developer) then outsource that portion of your job to someone else. This allows you to focus on planning, marketing, and selling. Or, alternatively, bring on a partner who has experience building similar companies. Just know your strengths and weaknesses and hire people who are smarter and more skilled than yourself. If you can't lead the company yourself, you need to be very sure the person you bring on can. They should have a proven track record.  Don't fall for the "I understand the job and can do it" responses. Track records are worth their weight in gold.
     
  5. Look for Investors. If you've proven that your product has legs then don't hesitate to look for investors. Capital is the life-blood of every business and without it your growth will likely trickle. I can attest to this. I've seen other local firms in my area excel with the proper capital resources while my own company grew much more slowly. 
     
  6. Find Advisors. Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on and a helping hand when questions get to big. You can't always look to your staff for help (they might be the problem). Having a network of advisors who have "been there, done that" can be a tremendous aid to your venture.

The biggest thing to keep in mind, as a programmer and new entrepreneur, is that you cannot code your way into a profitable business. There are flukes to this rule, for sure. But 999 times out of 1,000 it holds true.

For the last ten years I've received my GMBK MBA, that is, the "Getting My Butt Kicked" MBA. I've learned the hard way many, many times. This is not the easiest path, though. When resources are stretched, I still sometimes jump in and do a little development. This is partly for my own enjoyment because every now and then, it's nice to hole myself up and escape for a bit. But I realize this adds almost zero value to the success and growth of my company. So I try to limit it as much as possible.

As you dive into your new venture, your million dollar idea, keep in mind these simple tactics. You'll thank yourself later.

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Think You Know What's Best? Ask Your Customers.

Posted 6:52 PM by

I was in a prospective client meeting yesterday where we were discussing a possible e-commerce addition to their existing website.  The company’s product list, although not too extensive, consists of a highly-specialized product…which isn’t exactly e-commerce friendly when you add in the fact that you probably can’t purchase these items with your American Express Business Card ($). 

After about 90 minutes discussing the current site’s limitations and the extensive goals for an online ordering system (there was quite a bit of custom development that would need to occur to make e-commerce work with the business model, which meant quite a hefty price tag for the development), I asked the question: “So, if we build this, you’re sure your customers will use it, right?” 

Listen to your CustomersAfter thinking for a few moments, the CEO mentioned that their old site had an e-commerce system, but only a small fraction of their customer base utilized it.  When the e-commerce functionality was removed during the transition to a new CMS, only one client complained about it, and they still continue to order today.  It didn’t take too much more thought to realize that all of this discussion about added functionality was probably overkill. 

After further discussion, we did determine that it was going to be important for growth to allow for online ordering, so I suggested sending out an online survey to their client base to find out what they would like to see in an online ordering system.  Letting their customer’s guide the design process to ensure they get a tool they enjoy working with will ultimately lead to a more successful (and economical) project.

I think a lot of companies make this same mistake.  Getting caught up in the day to day aspect of their business can sometimes hinder the growth and decision making.  Assuming that they know their business and what will be best for it, they don’t take the time to get an outside perspective and listen to who matters the most…their customers.

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Your Website is Not drudgereport.com

Posted 7:30 PM by

"All you have to do is throw up a few pages, pretty up the images, and plug it into your CRM. Bada Boom! Done." I've heard comments similar to this a lot. Then the person who said it motions that they're wiping the dirty work off their sleeves, which, in fact, they did before they made the remark. In their mind, there's the idea and then the finish. The rest of us have to worry about the details of implementation - that fat, middle chubby area of website development.

Website development and design is not simple, Marketpath Inc.This post is for those inviduals who plan and build websites and this brings me to the point of this post. Your website is not drudgereport.com because drudgereport.com is incredibly simple. They have a couple images and a bunch of links that point outside of their website. The only thing they have to worry about is making sure that the page is highly availlable - the one, single, ridiculously light on content page. And as far as website design, development, and implementation goes that's about as simple as it gets. Sure, they may have had a billion visits this past March but that's about infrastructure, and not about building a website.

Now, let's move up the difficulty scale. Your website has many pages, perhaps it  plugs into some external systems, and maybe it has e-commerce. The level of difficulty in planning and implementation just increased by 100.

If you have those people who love to oversimplify complex scenarios and state all that has to be done is "bada boom", ask them how. They won't be able to answer you. With this in mind, do not, under any circumstances, allow them to have a part in setting the timeline. And don't let them bully you into comitting more than you are comfortable with. It's so easy to simply get the bully off your back by saying "sure." Because once you say "sure", in their mind you're comitted. Instead of saying "sure," explain to them the real world timeline and what it takes. Then, if they still try to oversimplify that, ask them once again the magical question - "how?" And don't stop asking "how" until they give in to your timeline.

You're the expert. You know what it takes. You're job is not just building the site but managing expectations and if you set expectations too high, you'll pay for it later.


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The amazing capabilities of jQuery UI (Part 1)

Posted 9:10 AM by

The abillities of jQuery's UI 1.8.x series is amazing. Some of the built-in features of the UI are tabs, dialogs, datepickers, accordion, sortable items, and draggable items to name a few.

Tabs

On our project management site, Nexus, we use the tabs feature of jQuery's UI for our project details screen (see below).

Marketpath Nexus' Project Details Page

Creating the tabs is a very simple jQuery function call (see below). In addition to this basic function call to tabs, there are other settings using JSON that can be set to fully customize the tabs. Also you can use ThemeRoller or your own custom styles to make the tabs look more integrated into the website's design and layout.

$('#tabs').tabs();

In the HTML code, the tabs are set up as seen below.

<div id="tabs">
     <ul>
          <li><a href="#tabs-1">Tab 1</a></li>
          <li><a href="#tabs-2">Tab 2</a></li>
          <li><a href="#tabs-3">Tab 3</a></li>
     </ul>
     <div id="tabs-1">
          Content in Tab 1
     </div>
     <div id="tabs-2">
          Content in Tab 2
     </div>
     <div id="tabs-3">
          Content in Tab 3
     </div>
</div>

As you can see, jQuery does all the styling and it saves a lot of time. For more examples using tabs, visit the jQuery UI Tabs demo page.

Dialog

In addition to using tabs in Nexus, we also use dialogs provided by the jQuery UI (see below).

Marketpath Nexus' Project Details Dialog

The dialogs are created the same way in jQuery as are tabs (see below). There are also options which are passed in to help customize the dialog's look and feel.

$('#dialog').dialog();

In the HTML code, the tabs are set up as seen below.

<div id="dialog" title="Basic dialog">
     <p>This is the default dialog which is useful for displaying information.</p>
</div>

The dialog can be any size and can be positioned to appear in a specific location on the page at the time of the dialog's crteation. In addition, dialogs, by default, have an 'OK' button but jQuery dialogs can have customized buttons. Also, you can bind functions to events such as adding a function that saves data in a dialog when the user closes the dialog.

Conclusion

Instead of reinventing the wheel with Javascript objects, check out jQuery's UI and see what has already been done. It will save you a lot of time in development.

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Pros and Cons of Software as a Service Content Management Systems

Posted 9:07 AM by

Last week I discussed the pros and cons of open source web content management platforms, such as Wordpress, Drupal, and Joomla.  To continue the conversation, this post will cover the pros and cons of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) web content management systems (CMS). 

Advantages of SaaS CMS:

  1. Low cost of entry - SaaS CMS is based on a subscription model, so there is no large upfront licensing fee.  Usually, a SaaS CMS project will have a small setup fee that covers the cost of implementation.
  2. No Extra Burden on IT Staff (Supported) - When a support issue arises with a SaaS product, the burden to fix the problem no longer falls on internal staff.  The company that provides the platform is responsible for fixing the issue, most of the time at no added cost.
  3. Highly Accessible - Since SaaS CMS is usually a virtual product, they are accessible from any computer with an internet connection. 
  4. Security - Since all the development is handled by the company that owns the CMS, there is no need to worry about malware or buggy add-ons to the CMS.  If it is released by the CMS company as a feature add-on, you can rest assured that it won't expose your site to security threats.
  5. Multiple Users Model - Most SaaS products have a multiple user model, where the price will increase with the number of users given access to the system.  This is great because it is often easy to add new users to help spread out the workload.
  6. Subscription Fee Fits into Budget - Since support is often times included in the subscription model, you can rest assured knowing that the monthly fee will not increase even if something goes wrong with your website.
  7. Ongoing Innovation - All software products have innovation, however, with the SaaS, new features are added quickly and often.  Usually these features are available to all users at no additional cost.
  8. Speed of Implementation - Since the CMS is already developed, launching a new website can often times be done in as little as 30 days.  With custom functionality and e-commerce, the project lengthens a bit, but it is still extremely fast compared to traditional website development.

Disadvantages of SaaS CMS

  1. No Local Data Control - Since SaaS CMS platforms are built and housed at Data Centers, the IT staff feels like it loses a bit of control when it comes to security.  However, SaaS CMS's are built behind firewalls and are often times more secure than a company's local servers.
  2. Subscription fee is Added Cost - Since there are "free" systems out there, recurring cost is often times looked at as a downside to the SaaS model.  It is up to you to determine the value of the SaaS platform for yourself and your business.  However, I encourage you to read an earlier post about support issues.
  3. Closed Development - Since SaaS CMS platforms are often times proprietary systems that belong to certain companies, they do not allow for an open source type development model.  This means that customers must request features to be added by the company, instead of searching the internet for a plug-in that is probably already developed. 
That concludes my list of the Pros and Cons of SaaS CMS.  I believe that the days of installed software are numbered, and that open-source platforms are great for certain applications and not great for others.  It is up to you and your team when evaluating different CMS options to find the solution that best fits your project, as not one CMS platform is the universal choice for all website builds.  However, I truly believe that SaaS makes a strong case in most projects, so make sure you take a long, hard look at it as a viable option. 
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Pros and Cons of Open Source Content Management Systems

Posted 6:14 PM by

Last week, I touched a bit on the main difference, as we see it, between Open Source Content Management Systems (Joomla, Wordpress, Drupal) and Software-as-a-Service CMS's like Marketpath.  To dive a little deeper into this topic, I decided to list out a few pros and cons of the Open Source model.


Advantages of Open Source Content Management Systems:

Software is "free" - This is partially true. Open Source software is software that has been developed by a community of people that do not charge licensing fees for their work.

Plug-ins - If you want to add functionality to your website, there is often a plug-in already built.  There is no need to pay for custom development.  

Flexibility - The right tool in the right hands can be extremely powerful and flexible. Many of these open source content management systems can be set up to do just about anything. The possibility is almost endless.


Disadvantages of Open Source Content Management Systems:


Software is "free" - The old adage "you get what you pay for" is very appropriate here. While there is no ongoing subscription or licensing fee, Open Source technology often takes tens of thousands of dollars to set up properly. Plus, who do you call to fix the software when a bug is found? The open source development community may eventually provide a fix but there are no guarantees as to when.

Plug-in security issues - Some of the plug-ins work better than others, but you can never be sure until you install it. If it doesn't work, however, there is nobody to call for technical support - you're on your own. It seems that not a week goes by where you don't hear or read about a major security flaw either on a prominent website, or with the content management system itself.

Updating versions - Often times, these open source systems need to be updated to work properly. Updating the open source CMS behind the scenes of a website can often times cause problems on the website itself.

Steep learning curve - Many of these systems have a steep learning curve, as they are built with the developer in mind, not the non-technical marketer. It is possible to learn any system, but these more technical systems can often times lead to frustration and lack of use.

Have any other advantages or disadvantages of Open Source systems? Let us know in the comments section below.


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5 Easy Steps to Establish Marketing Rhythm and Momentum

Posted 12:43 PM by

We see this often. A client purchases our design and development services, gets trained in our web content management system, and then flitters away to rarely use it again. Their website marketing efforts die right after launch.

5 easy steps to establish marketing rhythm and momentum (Alfred Gockel art)Then at some point, a couple years or so down the road, they call and tell us that it's not working for them like they had hoped. Most fess up and recognize that they didn't dedicate time to add meaningful content and continuously improve the website over time. One former customer yelled and screamed that our business relationship was one-sided to the point it was insulting. Ouch. It's a good thing I take my jabs in stride (that customer never logged in once after launch).

The problem is simple. It is seen in many industries throughout the small business world. A company provides a high qualilty product or service, a buyer never uses it as it was intended to be used, and the buyer gets upset with either themselves for wasting money or with the vendor for the product not providing the expected results.

Web content management systems are no different. These are tools that provide users a mechanism for updating their website with content that, if meaningful and relevant to prospects and customers, will increase visitors, improve site engagement, and convert more visitors into paying customers or advocates. But this takes time and effort that most small business owners don't have.

Here are easy 5 steps you can take to avoid the same trap and to establish a rhythm and momentum for producing great website content:

1. Setup a Content Strategy

Evaluate the type of customers you have and want, then brainstorm questions they might have and information they seek. The best source for this might be your existing customers. Ask them two simple questions: 1) What problems did our product or service solve for you? 2) What more could we do to improve that product or service?

You'll get the information fairly easily from your customers. They know you and won't think you're trying to sell them on the product they already have. You might also gain some insight (likes & disklikes) that you wouldn't have gained otherwise.

Once you  have these questions, brainstorm topics that your customers and prospects might find interesting. Use the notes feature of your PDA or send yourself a quick email whenever a new topic pops into your head.

"Content Strategy" might seem a little overwhelming, so don't think of this as some exhaustive process. Keep it easy and keep the topics light. Otherwise you'll find yourself trying to write lengthy white papers you don't have enough time to finish.

2. Involve Your Whole Company


Whether you are a two man operation or have five hundred employees you have a wealth of knowledge within that can be tapped and leveraged. Use it. Ask your staff to contribute content. Let them come up with their own ideas and have fun with it. You're not writing novels, so as long as you proofread the posts before publishing you should be fine.

Keep in mind that not everyone will be a great writer. They may be passionate about their job but not able to communicate it well. Work with them and encourage them to keep at it and that they are not getting graded.

3. Set a Schedule

Without a schedule, you have nothing to hold your people accountable. So, setup a schedule unique to each individual. Require one post per month, bi-weekly, or per week. Our developers are required to write one per month because we keep them very busy with projects. Our marketing and sales staff are required to write one per week.

You should set incentives for employees. Instead of saying "if you don't write one per month...", try saying "if you DO write one per month, then I will....". For example, if an employee has contributed their quota consistently for 3 or 6 months, they get a $25 gift card. Or perhaps, the user with the highest trafficked post (most visitors) receives the prize. You could also provide incentives that aren't financial, such as, a prime parking space, or they get to wear jeans and a t-shirt for a week.

4. Reuse Content for Other Marketing Channels

If you have established rhythm and momentum writing new content then after a few months you should start accumulating a lot of great stuff. You can use all of this in your other marketing efforts. Send the best posts in your email marketing newsletters. Take one post and begin a larger, more in-depth effort to write a white paper. At the end of the year, you might even send a summary message or letter that has your best writing.

New content will spawn all sorts of ideas and may even change your business. Act on those.Stick to your schedule.

5. Promote Your Content

Producing great content is nice but if nobody finds it what's the point? All of your content should be broadcast to Twitter, Facebook, your email subscribers, your direct mail subscribers, local Chambers and industry organizations. There are many great organizations that provide free posting of industry news topics (keeping in mind the content is not blatant self-promotion).

Watch your website statistics to see what your top referrers are for these posts. This will help you know where to spend more time and effort in the future and what type of organizations to target with the posts. Of course, you need to watch for conversions too. More visitors does not mean more customers.

Ask trade organizations if you can provide some content for one of their newsletters, magazines, etc. This is not only a great way to spread your message but an opportunity to establilsh expertise in your industry.

However you approach writing content for your website, you won't get the job done without a plan. Spend an hour or two putting your plan together and then execute, execute, execute. After all, what good is a plan if there is no execution?

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How Important is Support?

Posted 7:31 PM by

"Why should we pay a monthly/annual fee to subscribe to your CMS when there are systems out there that are free?" 

Well, well well...if it isn't the question that we run up against in most of our prospective client meetings.  It is actually one of my favorite questions to answer, not only because it means the client is doing their research into the content management industry (or having another vendor present a different solution), but it is relatively easy to make a strong case for the Software-as-a-Service model. 

"Free" Isn't FreeFirst, let me just say that the majority of the time that Open Source is brought up, the client is referring to one of four CMS's: Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, or Plone.  Each one of these systems has its strengths and weaknesses (I promise they all have downsides, no matter what that programmer tells you).  These systems are incredibly flexible and can seem to have an endless amount of plug-ins that can be utilized for increased functionality.  They are typically free from any sort of subscription fee, which is also very enticing. 

Software-as-a-Service Content Management Systems, on the other hand, are often times proprietary systems that rely on a single company's efforts to expand on the product functionality, which can be a bit limiting at times.  These systems, many of which have been in development for years, can also be incredibly powerful and flexible though.  The main difference, in the eyes of the customer, is that "pesky" subscription fee.

If you're a small business owner, marketing director for a mid-size company, or the Chief Marketing Officer for a fortune 500 company, you just want your CMS to work when you need to update your website.  You probably don't care about the technical specs, or how many developers contribute to the vast database of plug-ins, you just require simplicity and reliability.  My question to you, then, is "How important is support?"

Support is where Software-as-a-Service differentiates itself from Open Source Systems.  If your Open Source CMS system breaks, who can you call?  You can't call the developer of the plug-in that is broken.  You can't call Wordpress or Joomla.  You have to call whoever built your website in this system, and I'm willing to bet, the time required to fix your issue isn't free.

Software-as-a-Service CMS's come with unlimited support for the system.  If you have a problem, you can call the programmers who built the system and get it figured out.  There is no searching the web for help, scouring documentation that, depending on your technical skills, might as well be in a foreign language, or digging into your bank account to pay unexpected support costs.  Think of SaaS as a true website partnership with a CMS company.

With all of that being said, no CMS is the right CMS for every project. Since this post was primarily about supporting a CMS, I didn't get into detail about specific pros and cons of each type of system.  I plan on detailing this list over the coming weeks, so stay tuned.                      


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How Bootstrapping Teaches Lessons the Hard Way

Posted 6:16 PM by
If I were to go back nearly ten years and start this company all over I would take a much different path. But that's only if I had the knowledge and experience that I have now. Easy to say, obviously. It's scary, though, to think how much time I've wasted on different undertakings - everything from operational chores to sales to development to phone systems. If I could go back I would take the Chris Baggott approach. 

Chris has always been a mentor to me. I met him back in 2001 when I started my company and he started his, now a $100 million a year company named ExactTarget. Chris had a sales and marketing background and I had a technical background. I could build a killer application and Chris could sell a killer application (and he could probably sell rotten meat to a butcher). I could tweak and improve an app and Chris could direct other programmers to build what he needed. Chris spent his time selling and marketing and I spent my time building and not selling so much. Besides trades, the biggest difference is that my company is 100% bootstrapped (self-funded) and Chris has relied on outside investments.

So here are a few lessons that I've learned from Chris' success and from my own mistakes and missteps on a shoestring, bootstrapped budget:
  1. Once it is built, sell it. This is fairly obvious but there are some OCD aspects to me that lead me to improvement after improvement. The problem is, those minor improvements won't sell any better than the first revision. They may improve the user experience and keep them from calling all the time for support but there has to be a stopping point and that has to be early. Once you get a few new accounts then make your tweaks and sell some more. Once you get a few more accounts, make some more tweaks and then get back to selling. Wash, rinse, repeat.

    Don't make my mistakes of washing.... then washing again..... and, oh crap, there's a little dirt still there so wash again.... rinse a little... wash some more.... rinse a little bit more. You get the point. In late 2008, I presented to a group of investors and the number one comment was "I'm sure you can build great software but I just don't feel you have the sales and marketing leadership." Wash... then rinse.... rinse... rinse.... rinse....
     
  2. Don't reinvent the wheel. Several years back, rather than spending several hundred dollars per month on a CRM, we decided to build our own. Why not? We're fast, efficient developers and could build the core functionality within a week. The problem came once we started needing more. We got to a point where everyone hated the system and we were too busy to make necessary changes.We failed. I was told once by a man wiser than me that you shouldn't build an application or tool if one exists that is good enough. It doesn't have to be perfect. That advice made me ditch the tool and start using Salesforce.com.
  3. Hire a bookkeeper. I am guilty of this until today because until today I managed all receivables myself. I just couldn't separate with this because I didn't want to pay someone something that I feel needs intimate knowledge of our customers and processes. But then again, needing intimate knowledge of customers and processes isn't very scalable. We did use a firm for all of our accounts payable and balancing but that didn't happen until I was in business for 8 years. Think of all the time I could get back had I simply paid someone to do the bookkeeping. My sole number one job is to figure out how to feed the funnel - not so much how to sort it out once its in there. Feed that funnel!
  4. Always nurture your clients. This seems incredibly obvious - give your clients the love and attention they deserve. You'd be surprised, though, how quickly you can take this for granted. Clients can be demanding and you become less and less available (especially if you're doing your own books and building software that already exists). If you can't adequately give your clients the attention they need then you need to establish a system that helps accomplish that.

    As you grow your business, though, it will be impossible to be right there, a phone call away, for all their immediate needs. They will still expect that and will very likely complain a bit that you're not as available as you used to be. Don't fret, though. This is the time to have a quick conversation with them explaining how you desperately want to provide them the same level of personalized service - but because your business is growing and doing so well (much thanks to their early business) you have a slightly modified way of getting the immediate help they need. A simple phone call will help alleviate their frustration and establish a new acceptable path for them to get what they need.
  5. Bring on the right partners. This is interesting because tomorrow I'm attending an Executive Roundtable put on by Katz, Sappler & Miller titled "The Art of Convicing Brilliant People to Jump Off a Cliff." Building your company requires you to hire brilliant people - probably much smarter than yourself. In early 2006, I brought on two fantastic partners to help get Marketpath's CMS initiative off the ground. These two provided all the expertise and skill needed to build a killer application. The problems started happening later, though, when our own networks were exhausted of sales leads and business life became a bit stagnant.

    Our very first sale went something like this, "This is great! We'll take it for all of our websites and we'll need a 5 year contract term." We did the math and that would have been nearly $200,000 for our first sale ($40,000 per year)! We were on cloud nine. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite that simple. We did end up with about $20,000/yr for that first sale, though and they are still a great client.

    We kept it up after that for about 6 months. Then we began the downward trend. We still brought on new accounts but not a rate quick enough to cover all the time we spent developing the application. And we all spent way too much time developing and not enough time selling (notice the recurring theme?).

    The point is this. Partners come in all different flavors. I've had several and I'm still happy with my choices. You have to be prepared, though, for the time when those partners have exhausted their capabilities and you need new talent to bridge the gaps. When you bring on partners to help you build your company make sure they fit your needs now but can also grow into whatever future needs may arise. But they won't be a one size fits all and you shouldn't expect them to be.

I come from a somewhat blue collar background, didn't have the best financial education, got a C in Accounting 101, and dropped any future business classes. I have a bachelors degree from Indiana University in Computer Science and probably never should have gone into business for myself. But I love the art of building and growing a business, I enjoy difficult challenges, and I am a stubborn SOB - so I haven't backed down yet. What I have learned with my other business partners has been completely bootstrapped and self-funded and most often learned the hard way. Whether that is a benefit or a disadvantage we shall see. But I will say this, any lesson learned while burning through my own time, money, and resources is about as ingrained as a lesson can be.


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Visitors, Personalization and Engagement

Posted 8:01 PM by
Because we are not an SEO company, I have decided to expand my blog a bit and focus on the topics of getting visitors, personalizing their visits, and engaging them to the best way possible, instead of just focusing on SEO.  From now on, each post will be focused on one of these three areas:

Attracting Visitors 
Whether your visitors are coming from direct traffic, search engines, referral sites, or the ever popular social media atmosphere, the bottom line is everyone wants more, as long as they are the right visitors.

Personalizing a users visit to your Website
Personalization is the new holy grail of Internet marketing, in my opinion.  While we are truly at the base of the "Personalization Mountain" right now, you can rest assured that this is where websites are going.  Just think, customizing each users visit, to the best of your ability, to market THE product or service they are most interested in based upon their search query, entry point, or referral site.  Email marketers have been doing this for years with personalized email...why stop at email?

Engaging each user with targeted content and specific conversion goals
The mark of a truly effective website is not just based solely in the amount of traffic that it gets.  If my site gets 10,000 hits a day but I only convert .01% of those into a sale or a customer, it would be hard for me to consider my website effective (depending on the industry and goals, of course).  Every site owner these days will stop what they are doing and listen if you mention the words "Search Engine Optimization", but what good does that do?  SEO paired with engaging content and clear goals is where true value is derived.  
So, stay tuned as we explore these different areas of website development and all things Internet marketing.  Also, feel free to join the conversation in the comments section below. 
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Marketpath Honored to be Part of Techpoint's Measured Marketing Initiative

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The Measured Marketing initiative, a joint effort between Techpoint, Ball State University's Center for Media Design and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, was launched today.  The initiative shines a spotlight on 70 Indiana based, return-on-investment focused companies, and Marketpath is honored to be part of this group.    

Marketpath - Indiana Measure Marketing InitiativeWith support from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, Techpoint will conduct a national public relations campaign to help draw attention to the great products and services offered by Indiana's thriving Measured Marketing businesses. 

Download the full press release from Techpoint

or

Check out Techpoint's Website for more information on the initiative.

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Marketpath Named #1 Content Management Solution

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Marketpath is honored to be named the #1 Web Content Management Solution in the industry by BestWebDesignAgencies.com.  Earlier this month BestWebDesignAgencies.com selected Marketpath as their top CMS, based on an extensive evaluation of numerous applicants that included vendor reviews and interviews with vendor clients.

              Best Web Content Management                                             Web Design Winner

BestWebDesignAgencies.com is an independent authority that categorizes and ranks web design and development companies based on their specialties and expertise in various categories including design, deveopment, content management, branding, strategy, etc.

To view the official announcement from BestWebDesignAgencies, click below.

 BestWebDesignAgencies.com Names Marketpath as the #1 CMS

 

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Marketpath CMS Adds Site Search and Sitemap Generator

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Marketpath's development team has just finished its latest addition to Marketpath CMS - Integrated Site Search and Automatically Generating XML Sitemaps. These features are now available and highly recommended for all of our customers, not only for general usability purposes, but for search engine optimization best practices, as well.

Integrated Site Search 

Site search gives your website visitors the ability to seach for specific topics, pages, or products within your site by simply typing a search query into the new site search box that will be incorporated into your site. Upon searching, your visitor will be directed to a results page that ranks each listing based upon relevance, dramatically helping your visitors find what they are looking for. This is a crucial feature for websites that are constantly growing and changing.

Automatic Sitemap Generator 

Google highly recommends incorporating XML sitemaps into any website so their robots and spiders can more easily determine the site structure, helping your website rank higher for your targeted terms. By utilizing the new site search feature explained above, Marketpath has built an XML sitemap generator that automatically populates based upon any page that is linked in your menu.

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Sweet, Sweet Fortunate Revelation!

Posted 8:50 PM by
Today, I found out that Marketpath CMS works with Google Chrome. As a matter of fact, I'm writing this blog post using Chrome. This is important for three reasons I'm about to completely make up: 

  1. Google Chrome now commands 16.7% of all browser usage (see http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp). That is approaching 1 of 5 people using Chrome. If you're not any good at math that's a lot of people. By comparison, only 1 of every 32 people follow Lady Gaga on Twitter and she is the most followed twitter user.

    This is important because we want to make sure we cover the major browsers. Sorry all you SeaMonkey people!  
  2. Google Chrome is making frequent version releases and holds up very well against the other browsers. It is fast, lean, standards compliant, and has simple usability. This means they are doing a lot to improve the quality of their browser and adding new features and improvements on a regular basis. Their old release schedule was quarterly and now they are trying to move it monthly or sooner - more of an Scrum development model. This is important because when it comes to new, highly interactive and robust websites speed is king. Whoever has the fastest browser and renders sites the most consistently will win the most users.  
  3. Marketpath CMS Treeview in Google ChromeThe best reason is that getting Chrome to work with Marketpath CMS didn't cost me a thing!

    Bravo to Google for fixing our issues with their browser! Our biggest issue was with our tree control (right). We discovered this as soon as Chrome was released. We slowly watched the usage numbers trickle up and were very close to adding the fix to our dev cycle. We planned to implement a new jQuery tree across the entire site but that would have been a huge undertaking and now we can delay it for a while to add more beneficial features.

    Thank you Google for picking up the tab!


Now I can sleep like a baby because we work in Chrome. No more tossing and turning and no more late night munchies. Let's just hope this baby publishes.


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Marketpath Sponsors Dads Inc.'s Fatherhood Hall of Fame Induction

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Dr. Eugene White and Marketpath at Fatherhood Hall of Fame InductionI was fortunate to attend an event recently that honored two great Indianapolis men and Dads - the Dads Inc. Fatherhood Hall of Fame 2009 Induction.  One of Marketpath's goals is to support local organizations via in-kind donations of our Web Content Management Software, our time and web development services, or financially.  And in this case, I was privileged to help honor two men, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, Dr. Eugene White, who have done incredible things for Indiana, while also acting as positive role models with their commitment to their own children and families.  After listening to both men speak, it was even more clear to me that Indiana could use more leaders and role models like these impressive individuals. 

If you are a local father, Dads Inc. is a great organization that works to advance actively engaged fatherhood and the importance of strong fathers to our children, families, and community. The mission of Dads Inc. is to provide support and education for fathers in order to develop healthy relationships and involvement in their children's lives.  Marketpath and our founder, Matt Zentz, who is also a Dad's Inc. board member, are proud to do our part for such a worthy goal. 

See the above picture of Dr. White, his family, and the Marketpath team.
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Marketpath and DreamTrust team up to launch Harry Potter themed website

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Marketpath and DreamTrust, two Indianapolis companies, are teaming up to launch HarryPotterWallArt.com, offering removable wall art for the highly popular film franchise.

Indianapolis, IN-August 11, 2009-Marketpath, Inc. (www.marketpath.com) was chosen to design and develop DreamTrust Corp.'s new website, www.HarryPotterWallArt.com. The innovative website will sell reusable wall decals, consisting of licensed images from the Harry PotterTM films.

DreamTrust needed a partner that could bring its product to life on the Web, helping fans visualize how the Pinhedz wall decals could transform their homes. To accomplish this goal, DreamTrust selected Marketpath, Inc., an Indianapolis based company specializing in website design and development services and on-demand Web content management and e-commerce solutions.

"We are excited to work with Marketpath to deliver this innovative new website for Harry Potter fans of all ages," said Rick Barretto, DreamTrust founder. "By partnering with Marketpath, Inc., who specializes in Web software and design, we'll bring our products to life on the Web with a richness that allows fans to envision how their favorite characters and scenes will look in their homes. Marketpath's software will enable our marketing staff to update and enhance the site easily without having to rely on technical developers and long timelines. Their software is extremely user-friendly, which lets us add new products and features quickly to the site."

DreamTrust Corp. offers hundreds of officially licensed images for sale from each movie in the series. Their patented Pinhedz material consists of self-adhesive, fabric matte paper that attaches easily to any non-porous surface. DreamTrust brings to life the Harry Potter images, varying in size from 12 inches to life-size pictures, and makes them available for the home or business.

Marketpath CEO Matt Zentz believes www.HarryPotterWallArt.com will be a huge success. "When you combine DreamTrust's vision and superior Pinhedz product with Marketpath's Web content management software and design expertise, the result is a website that should please our target audience. And with our help, Harry Potter fans should be able to immerse themselves in the film experience while in their own homes."

 

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Web Content Management&nbsp;for Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer!

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It has been a long time in the making but Marketpath CMS is now fully cross-browser with all the major web browsers. Building a standalone website that is cross-browser is very easy. But building a tool with as rich a user interface as Marketpath CMS is quite an undertaking!

When we began development on Marketpath CMS in early 2006 Internet Explorer had a 57% market share (even higher if you count only corporate users) so we built our tool with that in mind. We recognized, though, that we would eventually need to mold Marketpath CMS into a fully cross-browser compatible tool and that's just what we did.

Supporting alll the major browsers provides even more convenience and simplicity for our customers. Managing website content should be easy and Marketpath CMS makes it so!

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Upgraded&nbsp;Editor Coming Soon

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The Marketpath development team is in the final stages of re-developing the Marketpath CMS editor. The editor is the most important part of Marketpath CMS. Although the editor has seen a battery of small tweaks and enhancements, it is time to take a look at the big picture.

After careful consideration of past support issues and the ongoing feedback of our valuable users, the next generation editor will feature the following:

  • Special paste functions for Microsoft Word and plain text.
  • Better color palette options and the ability to specify hexadecimal color values
  • Improved reliability when changing font styles and colors
  • Simplified table management capabilities with quick access to functions such as inserting/removing rows and columns and adding/removing cell spans
  • Anchor tag link management
  • Overall performance enhancements
  • And much, much more

 

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Google Web Browser and What it Means for Marketing

Posted 1:28 AM by

Just two days after I post about Microsoft IE8, I get an alert that Google has announced their new web browser, Google Chrome, will be available in beta for download September 2nd. If you're not familiar with the term 'beta', it is basically a testing release before the official '1.0' is added. Read the official notice from Google.

From a consumer perspective, hurray! I do like having a choice..... but not too many. Too many choices and I just get confused and easily cheated by imposters and me-toos (ok, I don't get cheated with software much because I am a developer by trade, but my Grandmother does... and my parents, and my sister, and my cousins.... I hope you get the point). So, now I can use Firefox (the champion of people who dislike Microsoft), or I can use Internet Explorer (the standard built-in browser for Microsoft Windows), or Safari (the Mac OS built-in), or Google Chome (a wonderfully simplistic, yet powerful browser - I'm sure). Of course, there are a couple others, but they barely register as a blip in the browser usage radar.

From a developer/marketer's perspective, I am a little annoyed. Building rich and dynamic cross-browser websites can be a challenge, even though development has improved a lot over the last 5 years. There are still inconsistencies, mostly with Javascript and CSS (style sheets). Developing cross-browser websites is sort of like putting up a billboard that can only be read by people in certain types of cars. If you drive a BMW it appears perfect.  If you drive an '84 Chevy Celebrity (like my first car) the billboard shows a big red X. It's challenging to get the message right for everyone.

If your website is not dynamic, i.e. contains no Javascript, then you will likely be fine. The challenge is with rich sites - those websites that have put a lot of time and effort into improving the user experience. There will most likely be compatibility issues and you will need to fix those as soon as you can.

Google has a huge following. To many people, they are still the underling that develops cutting edge software. Once Chrome is released in beta, you can count on a ton of people trying it out - if not adopting it entirely. This means you need to test your corporate websites, landing pages, micro-sites, and customer applications.

Google is pretty good at releasing quality software, but I have seen several applications in beta that were buggy. If Chrome gets adopted by a large number of consumers, I hope they have worked out most of the kinks.

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Conference Blogging

Posted 4:26 PM by

Today, I am at the blogINDIANA conference learning about different blogging topics and also promoting our product, Marketpath CMS.  It's interesting, even now, how many home-grown web content management systems there are.  We knew this when we began building our product.  We knew that home-grown CMS's would be our largest competitors. 

One benefit of the home-grown CMS is that the relationship to the developer, the company who built it, is very personal. It has tremendous value because the customer is working with a vendor they trust.

The disadvantages of the home-grown CMS are in system maturity, features and benefits. Every home-grown CMS I've seen is immature.  It lacks the full-scale development and quality assurance required to deliver a quality product from which end users derive their return on investment.  Additionally, most larger changes (like adding a new page) require intervention from the original developer. Keep your fingers crossed they are not on vacation or too busy on another large project to assist for another 6 weeks.  Believe it or not, that happens a lot.

What we are recommending is that instead of trying to build a home-grown application that is limited in functionality, become a reseller of a mature web content management system. We have a program in place that allows resellers to make a nice return on every new customer.  And the return is recurring every year. They get the benefit of a mature content management system that is always growing in features and benefits, and offers the expertise of the vendor behind it. Do it right, go with a pro.

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The Future - Not quite here yet.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;

Posted 12:48 PM by

Everyone's always talking about the future.  How is technology going to play into our lives?  I envision a world where we'll carry around a palm sized pal that has all the information we need.  For example, this past weekend my fiancĂ©e and I were attending a birthday party for my cousin at an uncomfortably crowded bar in downtown Chicago.  By 2 AM we had had enough so we decided to nix the original plan of staying with some friends and hit the road back towards Indiana and get a hotel.  We stopped in Merrillville and went to five hotels before finding one that was suitable.

the iCMS of the now or the future?In the future, Planet Earth v2.0, I'll be able to grab my palm sized pal, type in "available hotel rooms in Merrillville" and have instant access to which hotel rooms are available, pricing, pictures, and maybe...just maybe... a smell feature (nobody likes a stinky hotel room). 

Why are we still waiting?  APPS DEVELOPMENT!  The technology is already in place. (except for the smell feature - someone seriously needs to get on that)  We're waiting for its widespread implementation.  (I don't actually have the iphone yet)  It's so close.  It's so close I can taste it.  Maybe I should co-design these types of features into our content management system.  It couldn't hurt.  Actually these types of apps are probably under way as I sit here mindlessly waxing about the future.  Oh well I guess I'll have to be a little more patient.

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Does your Internet marketing have good legs?

Posted 11:09 AM by

Higgly Town Heroes have no legsLegs are important to most people, animals, and tables.  Legs are not important to the Higgly Town Heroes.  I have asked my four year old son repeatedly, 'How do they get places?'  He doesn't understand the question.  He says they just do.  Good enough, I suppose, for an animation and a four year old. 

Internet marketing legsBut what about your wine?  Does your wine have good legs?  Many people think legs are a great indicator of a great wine.

What about your Internet marketing initiatives.  Do they have good legs?  Here's another way to ask the same question.  Does your Internet marketing program have a solid foundation with which you can measure, analyze, and make adjustments as necessary?  Can you measure website ROI?  If you said 'no,' then you are like most businesses that are trying to leverage the web as a marketing tool. 

A good place to start is with a marketing firm that will help you plan and establish baseline goals.  Most website development or design firms are not marketing firms.  Sure, they can build a killer website, but when it comes to getting a true return on investment, you need to have a strategy, a game plan, or..... good legs.  Be sure to select a partner that can help you build a strong foundation so you can measure true ROI. 

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Introducing Marketpath CMS

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4/30/2007 - Indianapolis, IN - Marketpath, Inc., an Indianapolis-based software development firm, has implemented Indy's first full-featured content management solution that offers an easier way to manage websites.

Outdated and stagnant websites are a major ailment for the Internet's business community and Marketpath has the remedy.  With sophisticated tools for editing and publishing website content, Marketpath CMS can lower website maintenance costs and the time to publish by virtually eliminating programmers.

Most website pages are 80% to 90% static information.  Companies can spend $100 per hour or more to keep those pages updated.  The money used for updates could be better spent on custom software development that connects and enhances relationships with customers.  Simple website updates should be left to capable marketing staff using a full-featured content management solution like Marketpath CMS.

Marketpath CMS allows users to manage everything from website pages, headers and footers to documents, images and navigational menus.  Marketpath CMS also provides visitor statistics so users can see what pages are receiving the most visits, where those visitors are originating and where visitors typically abandon the site.

Marketpath CMS not only makes website updates easier and more convenient through its browser based toolset, it also lowers website maintenance costs and decreases the time it takes to deploy those updates.

Click here for more information.....

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