Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Techie Genius #1 Carol Poortvliet

As I disclosed last week, I’ve shared almost the full extent of my own knowledge about creating a new website, so I asked my techie geniuses to share a little advice with you. This week you’ll hear from Carol Poortvliet, graphic artist and website designer extraordinaire. Welcome, Carol, and thank you for your beautiful work on my website!

1. When you begin to work with a new client, what kind of information do you need from them? How do you get that information?

I need a clear vision of their ministry and what purpose their site serves, whether to provide an ongoing avenue of communication with their readers, generate a response from potential clients or to simply provide valuable information.

It’s also helpful to know the site’s target audience. Catering to women is obviously different than catering to men, and appealing to both requires a fine balance of visual elements. The same goes for an audience of varying age groups.

Next I like to get a feel for the atmosphere my client is trying to establish on their site. If the site represents their personal ministry, it should be like opening up their home and inviting their readers/followers in for a cup of coffee. How would they decorative their home (site) to reflect their personality and passion?

And of course, I would need some technical information such as whether or not they have acquired a domain name and hosting service for their site. If not, I can offer suggestions for providers. And I need to know which platform they want to use for the site. I currently design and set up sites for WordPress and Blogger.

These are the main points of information needed to get started. Other information comes as we work through the process. I usually send potential clients a questionnaire that walks them through elements of a site design. This helps them think through their purpose, which content/graphics they have for the site, and what they need to acquire or address in order for the site to be completed.

2. Do you start with a contract or agreement? How do you outline your services with a new client?

Though I own my own design business, I work very informally. I do not use contracts on a regular basis. I’ve been fortunate with my clientele. They are guided by the same moral compass and I haven’t run into any issues. But I will provide a contract for any client that feels more comfortable having my services in writing. I communicate mostly by email, though sometimes a client will request a phone call to relay their vision. In my initial email I outline my services and set fees. Sometimes I’ll ask for more information from a client in order to provide them with a more exact estimate. I’ll also give my client an estimated timeline and outline my design process so they will know what to expect along the way. I try to keep an open line of communication going with my clients so they will be aware of any roadblocks or concerns that may affect the schedule or outcome of the final product. After all, I work out of my home and around my family’s schedule.

After giving a client a projected start date, I ask them to return their completed questionnaire to secure they spot on my schedule. I then request they provide me with any graphics or content that needs to be incorporated into the site design prior to our start date. This doesn’t mean all site content such as text for every page, but more of an outline of elements that need to be included in the site and where. Obviously if the client wants to include their photo in their site, especially the header, I’ll need that up front. The same goes for any existing logo or imagery that is used in their ministry. Specific page content for support pages (about, speaking topics, resources, etc.) can be provided after the design has been approved.

3. How can a client best help you to realize their vision?

Communicate, communicate, communicate. If they have something in mind, I want to know, no matter how unsure of it they are. I would rather know that a client really wants to incorporate swirls and strongly dislikes the color pink before providing them with a design full of polka dots and hot pink hearts. I understand that some clients really have no idea what they want and are hoping I will come up with something that will knock their socks off. But it’s really helpful to have some point of reference. Clients can peruse other websites and point me to elements or layouts that grab their attention and draw them in. Or they can point out sites that don’t appeal to them at all. This at least gives me a starting point to work toward or away from.

As I said before, it’s important for clients to know their product (ministry) and their target audience. The best clients to work with are the ones who have thought through these concepts and worked out any inconsistencies on their own.

4. How do you work with a client when they have a difference of opinion about direction? A question or a concern?

First I will weigh the significance of the opinion or request when it comes to the overall site. Some small things aren’t as significant in the big picture. But if a client feels strongly about incorporating things that go against basic design principles, I’ll gently explain how I do not think it’s in their best interest to use those elements and redirect them to alternatives. There are rules of design just as there are rules of nature. The client may not have thought through the impact of their choice. If they are not deterred or are hesitant, I’ll provide visual examples because often seeing is believing. In the end, if we can’t come to an agreement, my belief is that the client is always right. After all, it is their site and a reflection of them or their ministry, not me. So I will give them what they want with my blessing.

Carol PoCarol_headshotortvliet lives in Greensboro, North Carolina with her husband and two daughters. She has owned her own graphic design business for 15 years. Carol works out of her home while juggling school schedules, dirty clothes and three pets. Fortunately she doesn’t have to do the cooking! She is passionate about spreading the Gospel by helping others to promote their ministries. When she’s not working she enjoys reading, jigsaw puzzles and playing games with her family. And she is always happy with a cup of Starbucks hot chocolate in her hand. You can find Carol online atwww.thedesigndiva.org. Email her at .

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hiring Some Help

I’ve shared everything I know about creating a website in the past few weeks. This is where I run into a wall.  If you’re technically challenged like I am, hiring the right professionals to work on your website is an important step.

Here are some people you may want to include in your website team:

  • Photographer–You’ll need professional level photos for your website. I did my website on a very slim budget, so I’m thankful to have a niece with a great camera and a fabulous artistic eye. You can hire a professional, but you may have someone like my niece Megan in your life. I’ve decided that I’d rather pay her than someone I don’t know, and I think I got better pictures because I was so comfortable with her. One of the things Megan asked me to do before our photo shoot was to make a Pinterest board of photos I liked. That gave her insight and direction before we started, and it gave me ideas from some props I used.
  • Brand Identification Specialist–Are you still struggling with knowing how to brand your website? It’s really tough to identify your brand on your own, so you may want to hire some help. Holley Gerth and Stephanie Bryant, creators of (in)courage, coach speakers, authors, bloggers and business owners in branding. Check out their services on their adorable website Squee!
  • Content Coach–(That’s me!) When you’re writing the content for your website, it’s often helpful to have someone outside your own though process to evaluate and shape your writing. I love helping women write a bio and topic descriptions that are audience-focused and describe your niche in ministry. You can take a look at our Menu of Services to see a description of what Next Step does. If you’re interested in any of the services, simply fill out the Request Information form, and I’ll contact you to set up a free consultation call.
  • Website Designer or Graphic Artist–Unless you have a particular gifting in this area (I’ve had a couple of clients who did their own beautiful design), I highly recommend hiring a graphic artist. Honestly, I truly believe they’re worth their weight in gold. A skilled graphic artist can help you with branding as well as web design, because they understand how to use visual elements to communicate subtle messages. Looking at lots of sites and finding the information about the designers of your favorites is one way to find a great one. This is a crucial person in your website development, so choose carefully.
  • Web Developer–Web designers sometimes can serve as both designer and developers, but true web developers usually have a greater ability to implement all the bells and whistles. They can help you choose a WordPress theme, buy a domain, choose a hosting site, strengthen SEO, and find Plugins for any function you can imagine. My web developer saved me money and honed details on the site. I’m also thrilled to have someone who can help me solve problems and work on projects in the future.

Next week I’ll introduce you to my techie geniuses and let them talk about what they need from us non-techie types.



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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Write Engaging Content

If you’re sticking with me, we’re really building up steam! Did you get your website map finished for your website last week? I’d love for you to share so we can celebrate together. Do you have any exciting ideas to share?

You’ve only got one more step before you’re ready to start connecting with your techie folks. Creating written content to engage your visitors might be one of the most challenging and most important steps. Take a look at your website map. Where are the places that require text? At a minimum, you’ll need some “About” information and descriptions of your speaking topics. Here are some additional areas to consider creating content:

  • A statement of faith
  • Free resources
  • An opening blog post introducing the new site

One of the ideas I implemented on my site was an area specially created for event planners. I was tired of emailing my bios, topic descriptions, headshots, etc. to each planner individually, so I have all those pieces collected in one spot on the website. When I have my initial call with an event planner, I let her know everything she’ll need is there. It has made life easier for me, and the planners seem to appreciate the ease of use too!

Just a few words about your writing… Make sure the writing on your website reflects your consistent presence online. If you have a casual presence, I think it’s fine to use a casual voice on your website. One of the words friends and Next Step clients consistently use to describe me is “warm”, so I wanted to convey that on my website. My “Amy’s Story” section is very casual (and hopefully warm!), but I’ve included a link to my professional biosheet as well. If your audience is more corporate or professional, you’ll choose a more formal voice. You want to use your natural, authentic voice so visitors feel they know you personally. For some great examples, read over some of the biosheets from Proverbs 31 Ministries’ speakers.

I found it took a big chunk of time to create the written content for my website, so it was nice to have it in hand when my designer and web developer were ready for it.

Do you have any questions about content for your website? I’m happy to answer them in our comments section today!




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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Create a Website Plan

If you’re working on a new website, I hope you’re building some momentum! You’ve found your why and looked around, so now it’s time to create a plan.

Once I created my long list of elements I loved from other people’s sites, I began to evaluate what I could implement. You may need to do what I did and create 2 lists: an “Elements I can Create Now” and “Elements I Want to Add Later”.

I decided I needed to made a concrete plan that I could pass on to the people who would be designing and building my site, so I started to divide my list of elements into pages for the site. I color coded everything just like a real map. Here’s a picture with my color-coding system and a sample of what the plan for one page looked like. The link for the PDF is below it if you’d like to print it for your own use.

website map pic

Website Plan

If you want to compare my plan against the reality of how it all turned out on my personal website, you can click here and look at the Speaking tab. You’ll see my site is still in progress. The sample video and MP3 download are still in progress. (Note: As Michael Hyatt says, you can’t wait for perfection. At some point you need to go ahead and launch!)

My sample is what I wanted one page to include. You’ll need to do a plan for each page. Once you have your techie people in place, they may have additions and suggestions, but with a plan, they’ll be able to better understand your vision and purpose.

If you’re struggling with what you want to include on each page, ask yourself, “What do I want the visitor to this page to know or do?” A friend shared that question with me when I was working on my site, and it gave me greater clarity. Try to put yourself in your visitor’s shoes. They don’t know anything about you, so fill in all the blanks.

Michaela, my wonder-intern, is posting some fantastic links on Facebook and Twitter this week with much more information about how to develop the elements of your website. Please join her there by clicking on the icons above and share with your friends!

Next week I’ll talk about creating great content for your site, and then I’ll move on to how to hire and work with your techie folks. In the meantime, how’s it going? Are you currently working on your site or upgrading your old one? What kinds of challenges are you facing?


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