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I'll admit that I watch my fair share of reality TV and my favorite genre is "a smart guy comes in and fixes all your business shit" like Kitchen Nightmares (the OG British version, not the American one that revolves entirely around yelling), Spike's Bar Rescue, and CNBC's The Profit. I'm consistently baffled by reactions of some of the owners on these shows; they have a business losing gobs of money and in danger of closing, but they fight The Fixer at almost every turn even though he's come to save them. Didn't they invite him to come? Don't they want to make money?

I was watching The Profit last night while yet another fight about “You can't change the name of the place!” was happening when I finally realized what's going on here. These owners aren't running businesses to make money, they're doing it because they want to be A Businessman. Goals, strategy, execution, all don't matter. They just like saying, “I'm a business owner.”

I end up coming into contact with these people a lot in my job. When we meet with a potential client there are a ton of questions we ask to help determine what's the best course of action for their businesses. Questions like What's your target audience? What are your goals? How will you know if we've succeeded? Many times they'll have totally vague answers or maybe even none at all. “But I've made some sketches of the logo, and you need to make it pop!” they'll say, or “I really want the design to be so cool that people want to share it!” Their focus is entirely on impressing people and they haven't given a lick of thought to things that actually involve running a business and making money. But isn't that why we're doing this?

What's harder: getting a job or starting your own business? Well, to get a job, you have to find an opening, send a resume (maybe a cover letter too), interview, interview again, then maybe a third time, and cross your fingers. There are gatekeepers. You have to impress somebody. To start your own business you just need to send $500 to the Secretary of State's office and congratulations! You're what makes America great!

In America, being labeled “a business owner” gives you a shocking amount of totally unearned, immediate respect. You're the backbone of this country! You're a job creator! You're what really makes us work! That's the American Dream! I have to admit I've seen it happen to me. When someone asks me what I do, I tell them— “I own a web development company.” In many cases, they suddenly seem impressed with me, their eyes filling with a grain of new found admiration, as though they're thinking “Ah yes, A Businessman!” I think that's what these misguided owners are chasing. What they really desire is the respect and control that comes with the station. The real reason they bring in The Fixer is because the business is going to have to close and they will no longer be A Businessman. It's not really that they're losing money, if they cared about that they would have made changes years ago. They weren't in this for the money. They were in it to feel important, to be The Boss. Their name on the building. Their logo to be cool. For them to be an exciting go-getter.

As part of our No More Bullshit stance for 2014, we've become totally honest with everyone who contacts Ethercycle. Brutally honest. We tell people: Your non-responsive website is giving your audience a subpar experience. Your website is huge and slow and it's driving people away. That font is unreadable. Why are there so many steps in the checkout process? Where's your call to action? How does that make any sense? Why do you think that's going to work? Did you think about this at all?

And you know what? It's worked out swimmingly for us. It immediately bifurcates our client base: there are those that can explain how things got this way and can accept our criticisms as part of the building process, or there are those that push back, pay zero attention to our expertise, and insist on pressing forward with their own uninformed plan. You can almost hear them say “How dare you speak to me this way, I'm A Businessman!” Guess which side we would rather work with?

Before you do anything with your business you need to ask, is this something that makes me more money? Or is it just to stroke my ego*? We care about our clients achieving their goals and we do our damnedest to make that happen. We know you know a lot about your business, but we know a lot about what we do too. If you want solutions, sometimes you need to let a Fixer come in and take the reins. In the end, everyone will win.

*And I realize that's ironic coming from a guy who just wrote an 800-word blog post telling you how to think.

Sticky menus are a design pattern that fix the navigation to the top of the page.

While sticky menus make navigation quicker, they also present a new problem: They take up screen real estate. That might not be a problem for the six percent of you with 30 inch monster displays, but for the rest of us with 13" notebooks, it's annoying. Fortunately, we've come up with a mostly CSS solution:

Responsive design lets us solve the problem by moving the navigation out of the way out of the content. We've made a demo, we call it Crazy Responsive Sticky Menu.

On most displays, the menu is in the gutter or sidebar. I say most because this thing is crazy responsive. It works on all display widths, down to 320px. Yes, in all widths, the menu remains fixed to the top and readily accessible. On phones we cheat a little by using the popular iOS sliding menu style, but it's cool because we keep a navigation icon pinned to the top.

There are no dependencies. Aside from a little bit of JavaScript to append a class name on scroll, all the magic happens in CSS. This keeps your page load time low, and let's us sleep better knowing we're not using abusing jQuery.

Try out the demo or steal the code.

The most common question people have when they first contact us is "How much does a website cost?" That's a straight-forward question with a complex answer. Let's break it down.

The first thing to realize is that you're not buying a single product, you're buying a package of services. For an average corporate website built from scratch, you'll end up engaging (even if indirectly) the services of a designer, front-end developer, back-end developer, IT manager, project manager, and maybe a quality assurance person. That's assuming you already have your own content. You don't? Well then you'll also want to consider a copy writer, illustrator, photographer, social media strategist, and possibly branding and marketing specialists. It becomes clear why prices can range wildly from project to project.

Like a car, project prices are based primarily on options. I'll use my Mustang as an example. It's a common car, I see them all the time on the road, and anyone can go to a Ford dealer and buy one. Makes sense, they start at $22,510 for the base model. So does a Mustang cost $22k? Like a website, it depends. My Mustang was actually 68% more than that at $37,930 because I have many options not present on the base model... but I don't even have all the options! A full optioned-out Mustang Shelby GT500 Convertible is $70K. So what does a Mustang cost? It depends, but somewhere between $22K and $70K.

Like the car, the determining factor on a website's price is its options. We break websites (from a development perspective anyway) in to three broad categories:

  1. Brochure/Informational - This type of website usually displays the same information to all visitors. Similar to handing out a printed brochure to customers or clients, this is the most common type of website. A single page site with 200 words of content and contact form will be $3K, but a custom WordPress theme with custom functionality to sort through hundreds of pages of content would start at $40K.
  2. Ecommerce - A website focused on selling products online through a virtual storefront or online catalog. A turnkey Shopify store with very little custom work will cost $5K, while a fully custom Shopify theme will be in the $12K to $20K range.
  3. Web App - The most complex of the three, web apps range from one page utilities to entirely new service businesses. Think “Web 2.0” sites such as Twitter, Netflix, or Google Docs. These can't be estimated. A one page javascript app like isthisretina.com or rainycafe.com would be $5K while a larger app like a YouTube clone would be hundreds of thousands.

These prices are just a general estimate based on our own years of experience building websites. An accurate price estimate is the result of several interactions, meetings, interviews, and general gathering of requirements to determine an ideal solution. These prices are just a ballpark.

You may think our estimates are too expensive. That's fine. You can always find someone inexperienced or willing to cut corners to work for less, but it isn’t in your best interest. The truth is that websites are hard work. No one competent is going to agree to build your “MySpace for Poodles” project for $500.

Great websites don’t happen overnight. They're the result of considering different concepts, working through them, and then revising them. It’s important to tease out all the important details about your project so the design and development team can build to your project's exact needs and specifications.

If you're still wondering how much a website costs, we've built a calculator that'll help you get a ballpark for your specific project based on various options: howmuchdoesitcosttobuildawebsite.com

In the last two years, I've been quoted by Crain's, Fox News, Huffington Post, PC Mag, and more. It helps establish me as an expert, as well as boost my confidence. The best part is that anyone, including you, can do it.

It's a two step process.

  1. Sign up for Help A Reporter Out
  2. Follow up on relevant leads.

In the email to the reporter, I open with a one or two sentence introduction about who I am and, more importantly, why I'm relevant to the article. I answer their question, often by copy and pasting from my past emails, blog posts, or newsletters, and then close with: "if you have any more questions or need clarifications, I'm available for interview. Just ask."

To be successful at this, you need to put yourself in the reporter's shoes. Queries on HARO can generate literally hundreds of responses so it's great for the reporter to receive responses which don't require much, if any, follow-up. To increase your chance of being published, respond early, be succinct, and relevant.

There's also some SEO bonus here. Some articles will include links back to your website.

I challenge you to sign up for HARO today and in the next 24 hours respond to your first HARO query.

If you want a deeper dive in to PR, Amy Westervelt has a great look at how the media works.

A potential agency partner asked me, "What are your thoughts on front-end frameworks like Bootstrap or Foundation?"

Following my strict no bullshit policy, I told him my opinionated truth. Any good framework is just a set of opinionated standards. They’re great for inexperienced developers to pick up best practices from more experienced developers, but they can ultimately lead to bloat in any application or website. Since the person using the framework by definition doesn’t understand what’s going in to it, they can’t rightly remove all the unused cruft that’s left over.

We use HTML5 Boilerplate - HTML5 Boilerplate - because it’s the absolute bare minimum of best practices. (Even then there's room for improvement, like concatenating style sheets.) We even took HTML5BP a step further and released our own framework - Responsivize - as a way for people to see what a responsive website built from HTML5BP looks like.

His immediate response: "This all makes sense Kurt."

The problem with SEO is that people view it as a shortcut. Driving traffic is hard, creating content is harder, and advertising is expensive. Naturally, people are lazy, and try to pick up the magic wand of SEO.

The hard truth is that SEO is not a magic wand, and no amount of tweaking H1 tags is going to magically and simultaneously outsmart Google and rocket a website past its probably-more-competent competitors.

That doesn't mean we can't leverage SEO without creating content. You have other options:

  1. Optimize your page load time. Since 2010, Google has been incorporating site speed in search rankings. It makes sense, slow websites are a bad experience. Google wants to reward sites with great user experiences. Don't panic, there are dozens of ways to tweak your site to load quicker: http://websiteperformancechecklist.com/
  2. Mobile optimize your website. This year, we predict that 50% of web traffic will be from mobile devices. For businesses, that means not having a mobile-optimized website is not just a bad experience for customers, it's potential business suicide.
  3. Curate user generated content. Okay, so you don't want to create your own content. It's hard, I get that. That doesn't mean content isn't important. Posting, new, fresh, unique content on your website is still an important and powerful SEO tactic. Ask your customers to give you content. Ask them for reviews, testimonials, and photos. Make it a contest, reward them for the effort. Hell, a contest is good viral content too. Try that.

Of course, building fast, mobile-optimized websites is our thing. Like this one for Verizon - http://fightfomofsf.com/ - where we put to use all of the above tactics to promote the NFL Mobile app.

Change your outlook on design thinking with these usability insights.

When designing a website, its important to base the design around organizational goals, as well as usability best practices. But where do these best practices come from? Sure, some of them are teased out through experience, but there's also hard research on how people see websites. Literally. It's called eye-tracking. By knowing where and how people look at the screen, we can infer some best practices.

Source: Crazy Egg

We've learned a lot in the past year on how to build a website that builds a business. For 2014, we've boiled it down to three simple rules that will put you head and shoulders above your competition.

1. No more bullshit. (This is my favorite.)

If your site can't tell someone what they want, when they want it, and on the device they want it, they're going to click that back button within 5 seconds and move on to someone who can.

Your website takes 10 seconds to load? Too bad. The customer is moving on.

Your website has a splash page? That's not useful and this isn't 1998. The customer is moving on.

Your website auto-plays music? Obnoxious. Once she finds which browser tab is playing music, she's closing it and moving on.

Don't put up an impediment to her deciding on you. Be the one professional that gives her a great experience that starts with a website that just works. No more bullshit.

2. Mobile first.

I could ask the rhetorical question of whether or not your own a smartphone, but I already know the answer: you probably do. The start of 2013 marked the tipping point for smartphone users. There are over one billion smartphones in the world. That's 50% of people in the US, which means more people are getting online from their mobile device instead of their computer.

Even though the majority of people have smartphones, most websites haven't caught up. They aren't designed with mobile in mind. Just because the site loads on the phone, and you can pinch and zoom and scroll your way around, doesn't mean it's designed for mobile. People are impatient, they won't hunt around a bad website on their 4" screen. They want an easy to use design and don't care if that design belongs to you or your competition.

On the web, we know people buy based on the perception of professionalism. Having a website that looks perfect on any size device, immediately puts you head and shoulders above your competition.

3. Have a goal.

Everything on your website should drive your customers to take action. If it doesn't, get rid of it. It's superfluous.

If your site has attracted the right people, informed them about who you are, and inspired or engaged them through great content, then the final step is to get them in a relationship with you.

Give her more than one option. If the only call-to-action on your website is a "contact us" page then you don't have any calls to action. Let her follow you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter, or even better, sign up for your newsletter. Include a contact form in the footer of every page. Put your phone number and email in the header. Don't be coy, you want her to contact you, give her your number.

So to sum up our winning three point website strategy...
  1. No more bullshit. Make using a website as seamless as possible.
  2. Mobile first. If it doesn't work on a smartphone, it doesn't work.
  3. Be goal oriented. Once your website is generating high-quality leads, it's stopped being a brochure, and started being a marketing system.

I know that a website or marketing probably isn't as fun as your business, but if you learn and follow only these three rules, you can go out and do the stuff you love doing for your customers because your website will be a lead-generation machine.

No idea is stupid if you can monetize it.

To explore projects outside of clients’ demands, we began a Labs initiative in March 2012. Think of it as a palate cleanser between client work. It's resulted in about ten completed projects. The formula is pretty simple. Find a problem, build a website to solve it. If it can be done in an afternoon, we don't even think about it. We just do it.

Of the ten sites we've built in the last year, the most popular are:

  1. RainyCafe
  2. CalmingManatee
  3. Is this Retina?
  4. Will there be mail today?

Getting traffic is a pretty straight forward process. Submit the site to blogs in relevant niches. In the case of RainyCafe, we submitted it as a tip to Lifehacker who posted it the next day. Once you've got a major blog exposure like that, having frictionless sharing (in the form of social media buttons) is enough to keep it going. However, this assumes the content is compelling enough to share to begin with.

Sometimes doing that much isn't even necessary. CalmingManatee was different. We tweeted it once, and about a week later it was everywhere. A million visits in the first month everywhere. We received requests for interviews from NPR, Huffington Post, and some other random blogs as a results.

The success of these afternoon projects was a pleasant surprise, and the free publicity was welcome, but what would be even better is some extra revenue. As freelancers, having recurring revenue is critical to building our business.

Our first attempt at monetization was to sell Manatee greeting cards through Zazzle. After six months, we sold so few that we couldn't meet the the threshold to get paid out. Fail.

We switched to donations. Using WePay, we allowed people to donate via three suggested donation levels. That netted about $100/mo. Better but not great. We had to reconcile dozens of micro-transactions in Quickbooks which, when you factor the time, made it a net loss. Fail again.

Then we tried making a RainyCafe iOS app that we planned to sell for $1. Apple rejected it because they found that our Rainy Cafe app provides "a very limited amount of content and a very limited set of features" specifically because it "only contains two ambient noises." Strike three.

Finally, I got off my high horse and switched to AdSense. Here's our earnings for the last 30 days:

Not only did we hit out of the park with AdSense, but it was the easiest of our four monetization attempts to implement. I wish I'd done it sooner.

Lesson learned: Simple is great. Ever since CalmingManatee, if someone in the office has an idea that can be implemented in less than an afternoon, we don't even debate it, we just implement it, put AdSense on it, and see what happens. Some work, some don't. At the very least, we always learn something from it.