Monthly Archives: January 2014

Why Some Web Pros Charge for Proposals and Why We Don’t

Recently I was involved in a discussion with fellow web designers and developers about charging prospective clients for putting together proposals. People on both sides of the debate made some valid points. We wanted to share them to help you make an informed choice when hiring a web professional.

Why Some Web Professionals Charge for Proposals

Building websites is a complex process and it’s not getting any easier. Web designers and web developers must deal with creating engaging multimedia experiences that look great across countless devices and browsers and that ultimate deliver more sales to our clients. We also have to make sure that the experience is accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities.

To further complicate things, the technological landscape is constantly changing. What was considered best practice a year or so, can be considered bad practice today. Design trends and available tools are also ever evolving.

When it comes time to write a proposal for a website, designers and developers have to put some serious time into investigating the needs of the client and create a comprehensive scope of work that meets everyone’s needs. This process can take a few days, even longer and more major projects.

It is understandable then that web designers and developers want to get paid for that time, especially if those proposals don’t convert into paid jobs. Time is money, and most of us work very hard for it.

A lot of other businesses charge for initial consultations (like lawyers) or estimates (auto mechanics). Why shouldn’t web professionals do the same?

Why ZenPunk Doesn’t Charge For Proposals

We take a slightly different approach to this issue. More specifically, we adopt a slightly different business model. We are not saying the other business model (charging for proposals) is wrong or bad or less than. It’s just not the one we have chosen to adopt.

Ultimately, we take position that we are not in the proposal writing business any more than GEICO is in the television commercial business. Both proposal writing and advertising are costs of doing business. So as not to go broke, businesses average out the cost of indirect expenses and build them into their pricing.

That said, we also take steps to minimize these costs. For example, before we meet with prospective clients, we ask them to fill out a comprehensive form on the nature of their business and the nature of the project. We ask about their needs, their customers’ needs, style preferences, competition and even allocated budget for the project.

It takes prospective clients some time to fill this out. It helps us qualify who is serious about hiring a web professional. Those that choose not to fill out the form don’t get proposals. They’re not committed enough to the project for us to commit ourselves to writing a proposal. Let them waste someone else’s time.

Consequently, the number of proposals that we write that don’t ultimately turn into paid jobs is very low. Everybody wins.

Which Business Model is Better?

Neither one. Our attitude is that web professionals should do what works for them. If you find you’re writing a lot of proposals that don’t turn into paid jobs, charge for writing proposals. If you find that you can sufficiently qualify clients before it gets to the proposal stage (so that you’re not writing a lot of unsuccessful proposals), be like us and don’t charge. Not right or wrong, better or worse, just different.

Need More Help?

If you liked this article, be sure to sign up for your FREE subscription to the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice newsletter where we send helpful articles every Tuesday and Friday. You can either fill out the form on the right side of this page or visit the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice signup page.

We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

Installing WordPress on a Hosted Site

In the previous article, I talked about what a content management system (CMS) is and how it makes keeping a website up to date so much easier.

Here at ZenPunk Web Works, we work mostly with the WordPress CMS. There are others out there, but we like WordPress the best. Mostly because it’s easy to work with and also because it’s free.

Installing WordPress can be a little technical, but it’s not exactly rocket surgery. In this article, we explain how to install WordPress on your hosted site. WordPress can also be installed on your local computer, but it involves some more steps. We’ll tackle that subject in another article.

Downloading the WordPress CMS

Screen-Shot-2014-01-21-at-1.20.55-PM_03Don’t freak out but there are actually two different WordPress systems. One is the CMS and can be downloaded from wordpress.org.

The other is for blogs hosted at wordpress.com. We don’t want that one since we’re looking to build a site on our hosting server. By the way, a server is just a computer capable of displaying web content. It’s no biggie.

one-touch-installA lot of web hosting companies offer a one-touch WordPress install on their control panel. If this is the case with your web host, great! It will save you having to upload all of the files (and there are a LOT of them).

If your web host doesn’t offer the one-touch install, start by going to wordpress.org and downloading the latest version of WordPress. It will come compressed in a single .zip file.

Uploading WordPress to your Web Host

Once you have the .zip file downloaded onto your computer, you will need to unzip it. If you are on a Mac, you should be able to right click on the file and open it up that way. Some PCs also have an unzip tool automatically installed. If not, you can usually find one on the web, such as WinZip.

Once the files are unzipped, you will need to transfer them up to the hosting server. This is usually done using a process called FTP, which stands for “file transfer protocol”. I have found the best tool for this job is one called FileZilla. It’s free and does a good job of things.

Whichever FTP app you use will require information about your hosting server as well as login information. This can often be found on your web host’s control panel. Look for something called FTP Settings. If possible, use the secure FTP options. If you have trouble creating an FTP connection to your host, contact your host for help. There may be a specific port you need to use.

Once you have established a connection with your FTP program, upload the WordPress files into the root folder of your site. Your root folder will most likely have a name like www or public_html. If it has both, just pick one.

It will take a while to upload the thousands of files, so by all means go fix yourself a cup of your favorite beverage. I’m a hot tea gal, personally.

Creating the Database

If you read the previous article on content management systems, you may recall that they store content information in a database. I know that may sound real technical, but all it is is a way to keep all of your site’s information organized.

To create the database, log into the control panel of your web hosting account. Look for something called MySQL Databases or Database Manager. MySQL is the type of database that WordPress uses to store the data. In the database manager create a new database. Your host may automatically create a prefix for it, such as yourname_mydatabase.

The database name should be all lowercase letters and/or numbers plus the underscore. Be sure to write down the name somewhere because you’re going to need it later. You will also probably have to create a database user and password. Write down that information, too. Finally, you may have to assign that user to have privileges to that database. Be sure to give it all privileges.

I know all of this probably seems real technical. Don’t worry. The worst is probably over. If you get confused or lost, contact your web hosting company.

The Famous 5-Minute Install

If you have the one-touch install, now is the time to click on that magical button. That will trigger a series of steps where WordPress walks you through the install process. Be sure to have your database name and user information.

If you don’t have the one-touch install option, but you’ve uploaded the files and created the database, open up your site in your browser. So if your domain name is mywebsite.com, go there in your browser. WordPress should automatically direct you to the install page.

The first step is to create what is called the wp-config.php file. To create this, WordPress will ask you for your database name, your username, your user password and the hostname (usually “localhost”). It will also ask you for a table prefix. Just leave this as wp_.

install-step3

WordPress will then ask you for a Site Title (this can be changed later), a username (DO NOT USE “admin”), a password, your email address and whether you want to allow search engines like Google to search your website. Be sure to write down your user name and password.

If everything goes okay, you should get to the Success! screen. To visit the front end of your site, just type in your domain name (e.g. mysite.com) in the browser. That should show you the main index page with a sample blog post, etc.

To visit the admin side, type ‘/wp-admin/’ after your domain name. That will take you to the login page where you put in your username and password. You didn’t use the username “admin” did you? Okay, good. Just checking.

On the admin or backend side, you should see a menu on the left side with menu items like Dashboard, Posts, Pages, etc.

Uh Oh! Something Went Wrong!

Installing WordPress can be tricky sometimes. If you went to the front of your site and saw a blank screen (often called the “White Screen of Death”), something went wonky. It is usually one of two places. Either the database information you entered was incorrect or the permissions on the files may not be properly set.

To check the database information, go into the File Manager on your control panel and open up the wp-config.php file. Scroll down to where you see lines like define(‘DB_NAME, ‘mydatabasename’). Make sure your database information is correct. If it is, check the permissions on your files.

Files and folders have permission levels that control who can see, edit and execute the files. Usually these are grouped together in three categories: Owner, Group and World. Within each category you can select read, write and execute.

Often these categories will be assigned values between 0 and 7 depending on which access levels are granted. Clicking Read will increase the value of that category by 4. Clicking Write will increase the value by 2. Clicking Execute will increase the value by 1.

Ideally, you want to have a permission level of 755 for all of your files and folders. That means the Owner can Read, Write and Execute files (4+2+1=7), while Group and World can only Read and Execute (4+1=5).

Many hosting companies won’t let a file display in the browser if it doesn’t have the right permissions. This is to prevent visitors to your site from modifying files without your permission.

If the database information in your wp-config.php file is correct and the permissions on all of your files are set to 755, then you may need to contact your web hosting company for further assistance.

Still Have Questions on WordPress?

Check out the WordPress Codex for answers to your questions. The Codex has tons of information on how to use WordPress, including how to install themes and plugins. It’s a great source of information.

There is also WordPress.tv which has videos of WordPress professionals talking on a number of topics, some beginner-level while others are more advanced.

Also, check out wp.tutsplus.com for a wealth of hands-on tutorials.

Need More Help?

If you liked this article, be sure to sign up for your FREE subscription to the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice newsletter where we send helpful articles every Tuesday and Friday. You can either fill out the form on the right side of this page or visit the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice signup page.

We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

What is a Content Management System?

Back when I got started building websites about 15 years ago, everything was hardcoded in HTML, the markup language used to display websites. That meant if you wanted to change something, even a typo, you had to pull up the file for that page and edit the code directly.

That was fine if you knew how to code like I did. But it left a lot of business owners out in the cold. Because while coding isn’t exactly rocket surgery, it does take time to learn. If you’re running a business you don’t have time for that.

Years later, content management systems began to be developed that allowed hardworking business owners to create a website without having to muck about with any code. They can log into the admin side of the site, open the edit window for a page and just edit the content. Sweet!

So What the Heck is a Content Management System?

A content management system (CMS for short) is a program that allows you to create, edit and publish content to the web from a central interface. What does that gobbledygook mean? In short, it’s a way to make a site that is easy to update and expand, usually without touching the code.

Popular Content Management Systems

There are a lot of content management systems out there. The most popular are Joomla, Drupal, and, at the top of the list, WordPress. Of all of the websites on the internet, nearly 20% are run on WordPress.

Here at ZenPunk Web Works, we are familiar and have worked on all three. But we like WordPress the best, mostly because it’s easiest for our clients to learn. It’s also highly supported which means there are many thousands of WordPress users all across the world who contribute to updates and provide answers to other users’ questions. It’s also free, and we like free.

Basic Anatomy of a CMS

In general, a CMS has three parts:

  • a set of core files (often PHP) that provides the functionality of the CMS
  • theme or template files that provide structure and styling to the pages
  • a database to store the content

A CMS typically has a front end, which is viewed by the public, and a back end, where administrators can create, update and delete content, as well as adjust a wide range of settings, change themes/templates and plugins (apps that provide additional functionality).

Themes Control the Look of a Site

With WordPress, there are thousands of themes available for free or a minimal fee. Some themes offer additional functionality like adding a slideshow or ecommerce, others are more basic. Some allow you to customize the look, setting background colors, inserting a company logo and other modifications.

People with a working knowledge of PHP, HTML, and CSS can create their own themes, which is a large part of what we do here at ZenPunk Web Works.

Need More Help?

If you liked this article, be sure to sign up for your FREE subscription to the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice newsletter where we send helpful articles every Tuesday and Friday. You can either fill out the form on the right side of this page or visit the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice signup page.

We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

How to Register a Domain Name

A domain name, as defined by TechTerms.com, is “a unique name that identifies a website”. For example, the domain name for ZenPunk Web Works is zenpunkwebworks.com. It serves as an easy-to-remember shorthand for people to find your website on the internet.

Without the domain name, people would have to know your website’s IP address, which is a unique numeric identifier for the server (computer) that hosts the files for your website. What a pain that would be!

The letters that appear after the period of a domain name are called the top-level domain, or TLD for short. It’s the .com, .org, etc. part of the domain name.

Some TLDs (like .com and .org) are for general use. Others like .mq (Martinique), .de (Germany) and .ng (Nigeria) are country-specific. Some country-specific TLDs like .ly (Libya) and .io (British Indian Ocean Territory) and .tv (Tuvalu) are sometimes used by companies not in their respective country.

To register a domain name, you must go through a domain name registrar. A registrar is a company that is licensed  by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) to register domain names.

Choosing a Domain Name Registrar

There are a lot of domain name registrars out there. Some also offer other services like website hosting, email hosting, and privatizing registration information. It’s important to use one that is reputable.

In 2012, lifehacker.com conducted a survey and compiled a list of the most popular domain name registrars. On top were Namecheap, Name.com and Hover. At ZenPunk Web Works, we like to use Dyn.com, but the ones in lifehacker.com’s survey may be as good (perhaps even better). We haven’t used them so we can’t say one way or the other.

I would suggest not hosting your site with the same company that registers your domain. If for some reason you decided to change your hosting, you don’t want that company to hold your domain name hostage. We’ve seen this happen to one of our clients BEFORE they hired us. It wasn’t pretty.

Choosing a Domain Name

Choosing a domain name can sometimes be tricky. The internet has been around for many years now, so a lot of domain names have been taken.

There are even companies called “domain name squatters” that buy up potentially popular domain names in hopes of reselling them at a higher price later. It’s not unusual to discover that the domain name you want is taken by another website or comes up with a page that says “This domain is for sale.”

There are some who suggest choosing a domain name made up of the key search terms ( such as best-barbeque-in-phoenix.com or greatreturnsinvesting.org) rather than the name of your business to improve search engine ranking. That is certainly an option. How much it actually helps search engine ranking is debatable. In our opinion, it makes a company look desperate for business, like when companies named themselves something like AAArdvark Widgets to get listed at the top of the phone book listings.

If your company name is already taken, try to be creative. If your business is Acme Widgets and you’re in Reno, NV, and acmewidgets.com is taken, try acme-widgets.com, acme-widgets-reno.org, or even shopacmewidgets.net.

There are some limits when it comes to domain names. You can only use letters, numbers and dashes (‘-‘) and it cannot begin or end with a dash. There is some debate about whether you can use underscores (‘_’). Best to avoid because it could cause problems.

If you discover that the domain name you want has been taken by a squatter, don’t buy it from them. You’re only reinforcing bad behavior if you do, plus it can cost you thousands of dollars. Best to get more creative with the name.

I Registered My Domain Name. Now What?

Now that you’ve registered your domain name, you need to find a web host and get your site set up. I’ll write more about those processes in later posts.

When you sign up with a web hosting company, they should provide you with domain name server (DNS) information. It usually looks something like

n1.myhostingcompany.com
n2.myhostingcompany.com.

Provide this information to your domain name registrar (there’s usually a place in your domain settings on your registrar’s site). What this does is tell the registrar where your website files are hosted. When someone types your domain name into their browser, the request first goes to the registrar, which redirects them to the hosting company, which then finds the files and sends them to the visitor’s computer. All of that should happen in a couple of seconds or less.

Need More Help?

If you liked this article, be sure to sign up for your FREE subscription to the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice newsletter where we send helpful articles every Tuesday and Friday. You can either fill out the form on the right side of this page or visit the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice signup page.

We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.