Start Up Web Development

This week we talk with Dan Sabados about web development for start up businesses. Dan is a specialist in Ruby on Rails, an open-source web development technology that helps developers create sites quickly and with less cost compared with other methods. Watch the video below or Download the audio interview.

1. The Difference between Web Design and Web Development

Web designers focus on information architecture, look and feeel and visual aesthetics. Web developers primarily work on building functionality that you cannot necessarily see when you visit a web page, but lives “under the hood”. Many web designers will have some basic coding or development skills and most developers can write HTML and CSS. Any online start up business will need skills from both camps.

2. Online entrepreneurs should look for strong development skills

Dan reckons that start ups should hire people with stronger development than visual design skills to begin with. Given a limited budget, a start up business may choose to have a web developer in-house, and contract in the services of a designer when necessary. This is in line with our thinking that early stage online businesses should first focus on building functional applications rather than “pretty” applications to prove the concept.

3. A full time commitment from your web developer helps

If you are serious about the success of your online startup, you are probably going to need the full time commitment of a web developer or designer. Building and maintaining a business grade application is not something that can easily or capably be done in someone’s spare time. Development should never finish at the launch of the website, but should continue throughout the life of your business as you constantly refine functionality to meet the changing demands of your customers.

4. Ruby on Rails: Agile framework to speed up and reduce costs of web development

Ruby on Rails is the development framework that Dan used to build the ServiceSeeking.com.au application with less resources than using other technologies like Java and PHP. By following the “Don’t Repeat Yourself” (DRY) and “Convention over Configuration” philosphies, Rails means developers write applications in fewer lines of code, which is easier and cheaper to write in the first place, and easier to maintain.

5. The Benefits of Open Source technologies like Rails

Ruby on Rails is also an open-source technology. This means that thousands of web developers worldwide are constantly contributing improvements to the software and sharing snippets of code with others to use as they see fit. For many pieces of common functionality, Rails developers have written “plugins” which are small pieces of code that can be easily integrated to almost any Rails application. If you need a mapping functionality, or some functionality to authenticate users, chances are a plugin has already been written which you can use.

6. Learn Ruby before Learning Rails

Learning the Ruby language is the best way for designers or developers to start with Ruby on Rails. Whilst a novice can  start developing functional websites without specific knowledge of Ruby, a good understanding of the language is helpful in going beyond the basic level.

7. The Final Word

Even though design may be something you contract in from outside on occassions, it’s an essential part of any online startup. It’s easy to build a website that is hard to use, and very hard to build something functional. Spend some time and money on design – especially interaction design and basic information architecture. It will pay off!

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5 cheap tools to help online startups

Jeremy and Oliver review some handy tools for running an online startup business. They discuss tools for creating and sharing wireframes and design mock-ups, bookkeeping, sales presentations, website analytics and more.

Watch the video below at YouTube , download the full audio, or subscribe to our podcast via iTunes.

1. iPlotz helps us create and share wireframe designs quickly

We use this great little app to build wireframes and mock-ups of new site designs, features and functionality. It’s easy to collaborate on design concepts and then export images or preview links to share with others. We find it particularly handy for explaining design concepts to our outsourced design team. You can get a free account to test it out or it costs about $99 per year.

2. Prezi helps us create engaging sales presentations

Prezi lets you create non-linear, 3-dimensional presentations which are incredibly engaging compared with the standard Powerpoint slide show. You really need to create your own presentation with Prezi to fully appreciate what it’s all about. You can create a free account to try it out.

3. Record how people use your site

Clicktale creates flash videos of your site visitors as they navigate around your site. It’s like you are watching over every visitor’s shoulder as they use your site. You will quickly discover which pages people get stuck on, and general trends about common navigation paths. This is a bit more expensive at over $100 per month, but really useful.

4. Google Analytics

The best general analytics program available in the market. It’s free, too.

5. Saasu helps us with bookkeeping

We use this online bookkeeping service to stay on top of our financials. You can quickly import and classify transactions from your bank accounts, take care of payroll issues and tax requirements. It also has great reporting features which allow us to keep investors abreast of the company financials. We pay about $50 per month for our Saasu account.

Marketing your start-up through search engines

Jeremy and Oliver share their thoughts on marketing a start-up business using Google Adwords. Watch the 2 part video series below or download the full audio podcast. You can also subscribe via iTunes.

1. Understanding Google is essential

About 80% of web browsers begin any “web journey” in a search engine (mostly Google), so understanding how Google and Adwords work is an important step in marketing a successful start-up business.

We find that Adwords is the best way of marketing our business as we get feedback on the performance of our campaigns quickly, and it’s easy to measure success and trends.

2. Build custom landing pages for different searches

Build customised landing pages tailored to each ad-group in your Adwords campaigns. Building specific landing pages helped increased our conversion rates from click to customer from less than 5% to over 10% in most campaigns.

Customers that search for ‘plumber sydney’ should see text ads that re-iterate the search term like ‘Find a plumber in Sydney’. If they click on the ad the landing page should have a header like ‘Sydney Plumbers’ which emphasises the keywords and text ad. Make sure there is consistency between keyword, text ad and landing page will reduce the number of customers who bounce out dramatically.

3. Optimise your landing pages

It’s a good idea to test different combinations of elements, copy, colours and graphics using the Google Website Optimizer. You can run experiments to test how different designs compare to one another.

We increased the click through rate from our landing pages by 30% by changing the colour of a button from orange to green and a simple text change.

4. Our thoughts on traditional advertising

We have found other forms of advertising are generally not as successful when promoting a new business.

TV, radio or banner advertising can reach a large number of people, but the vast majority of these people don’t care about who you are who what you do. Search marketing reaches the people who are relevant to your business.

5. Cost of pay-per-click search marketing

The cost depends upon the nature of your business. The trick is to be granular with your keywords. More specific keywords have less competition and so have a lower price.

6. Publicity is great, but can be hit-and-miss

The only thing that has been as effective as paid search marketing for us is publicity, but it can be hit-and-miss. You don’t have the control that you have with Adwords.

7. Track Conversions

Conversion tracking allows you to track which keyword resulted in a sale, how much this keyword cost and how much in total it cost to acquire each customer. You can use this customer acquisition value to refine your keywords and bidding strategies and attract high value customers.

Essential Tips for Online Startup Businesses

Jeremy and Oliver share the most important tips about starting an online business. Watch the video below or download the audio

1. Get to market cheaply!

  • When starting out online, get your prototype built as cheaply as possible. Look off-shore for web development, in particular India and Asia.
  • Consider open source platforms. ServiceSeeking.com.au is built using Ruby on Rails, an open-source agile web-development framework. We’ve been able to reduce the time to market by tapping into the Rails community and using open-source code as a basis for much of our site functionality.
  • Outsource as many basic tasks as possible to freelancers. In the beginning, we outsourced several graphic design tasks as well as basic admin. Now we outsource much of our site development and some customer service work as well. You can find freelancers at Elance or get quotes from freelancers in our services market.

2. Get to market quickly!

  • Get your prototype into the market as quickly as you can. Don’t waste time building the bells and whistles, but focus on the core concept.
  • Focus on functionality rather than beauty. Most people won’t even notice your site design as long as it works. Design is expensive and time consuming and something you can tackle once you have proven your business works.
  • Rather than predicting what customers will want from your site, get into the market and listen to customer feedback. Keep in mind that with this approach it’s vital to keep an eye on the customer service side of things to understand what people are saying about you.

3. Have a traffic driving strategy

  • You must have a traffic generation strategy before you launch. Don’t build a site and hope for customers to come because they won’t. You should anticipate spending much more on marketing and distribution than on site development.
  • It’s important to understand how Google works. Getting a handle on the difference between Google Adwords and free listings is a good first step in this process.
  • Consider publicity. Don’t pay for exposure on TV, radio, online or in print when you can get it free. Get a PR agent or start spruiking your business to journalists and bloggers who create news about your industry before you launch.