four blossoms with the word jebrawebbed below

Jebrawebbed is the blog written by Debi Lewis, founder and owner of sustainable web site development company Jebraweb.com. Based in Evanston, IL, Debi and her firm are focused on building web sites for organizations with a purpose beyond (but not exclusive of) profit. Debi blogs about open source content management, non-profit and small business web sites, the importance of local community building, and women-owned business. She is the mother of two young daughters, married to a non-geek, prefers her bike to her car, and is the proud owner of a few too many stringed instruments.

You can find Jebraweb on Facebook and Twitter. You can email Debi at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Don't Just Nod and Smile: 10 Questions to Ask Your Technology Vendor

smiling brass pig faceI see a lot of nodding and smiling in meetings between geeks and non-geeks. The geeks say something extremely technical using industry terminology, and the non-geeks say something very vague about how they want their web site or software to work or look, and both parties smile and say "that sounds great."

This serves no one.

When you are hiring a technology vendor, you need to ask lots of questions, both about what they're going to build for you and what they understand about your needs. You cannot be shy about this -- you will be paying them for the solution they create for you, and you have both the right and the responsibility to be the most informed consumer possible.

What You Want: Why You Should Write a Requirements Document

woman dreaming of cupcakes"I would like a cake. How much is that?"

If you walked into a bakery and asked that question, you can bet your sweet tooth that the person behind the counter wouldn't respond with a price. He'd probably ask several questions: what size? how many layers? what kind of frosting? what kind of cake? do you need it decorated with someone's name? do you want it now or later?

And if you said, "I dunno. Just a cake. You know, tasty? for eating?" and the bakery gave you an estimated price, they'd be guessing. If you then walked into another bakery and asked the same question, with the same (lack of) clarifications, and that second bakery gave you an estimated price, they'd be guessing too. If those prices were different, you wouldn't have any real way of knowing whether the cheaper price was for a smaller cake, a simpler cake, or the same cake at a better price. No one had any idea what you wanted...

...so you probably won't get what you wanted.

This is not different with a web site project. Coming up with a simple list of requirements for the project you want completed makes good sense, not just once you've chosen your vendor, but before you choose your vendor. There are several advantages to providing vendors with a list -- just a page, nothing fancy -- of what you want your site to look like, contain, and do, and any special concerns you have before you start.

Righting the Wrongs: When Web Projects Tank

frustrated womanI am shocked at the percentage of work I get that comes directly from someone's miserable experience with the last web designer they hired. This is not how I hoped to build my portfolio or pay my bills -- on the backs of someone else's hard-won client, defecting to me. That's just not my style. However, after several of these  projects came my way and were followed by extreme gratitude and, frankly, relief from my new cient, I came to realize that I was more than the pixels and lines of code I was pushing around their broken web sites:

I was restoring their faith in their online presence.

The internet is an amazing place, the closest thing to a level playing field that a small business has in a world of product superstores and enormous corporations. Managing their own little corner of it is my way of helping my clients -- mission-driven, often social enterprises -- achieve their vision for the world. When I hear that someone has been abused by their last web designer or developer, it makes me angry. Today I'm going to respond to some complaints I've heard from my own clients about their developers, as well as address some examples shared publicly in other blogs and forums on the web.

Be Awesome Online

woman on beach at sunset arms outstretchedThis is a public service announcement from me -- a veteran of the dot-com boom, a consultant for web enterprises medium and small (but rarely large), a person whose life is lived with integrity online and off -- to you, a person who owns and runs (or is about to own and run) a business with a web presence:

Be awesome online.

Yes. Just do it. Just pretend the best, most authentic version of you as a business owner has been compressed into a gigabyte or two, and send that person deep into the internet to represent your organization. Send him or her with marching orders to consider every word, every image, every punctuation mark carefully. You're not "building an online persona." You're manifesting your most awesome self into pixels and characters -- and every single one matters.

The Elephant in Your Web Site: Cost

elephantwebsiteThe brilliant Jen Kramer wrote in one of her early books on developing web sites, a chapter entitled, "I Want a Web Site and I Want It Blue; How Much Will That Cost?" Everyone who has ever charged someone to build a web site understands immediately why this is sadly humorous. Of course, any serious conversation with a well-prepared prospective client doesn't start this bluntly, but it's true that the question of cost is always the elephant in the room.

The problem is that different vendors could very well charge you vastly different prices for the same type of web site. In the end, the responsibility for getting what you want from the end product is mainly your job -- so knowing what your vendor is charging you for each component, and why, should be an important piece of your vendor selection process. You shouldn't meet the elephant until you know what you really need to get out of the whole jungle, so to speak.

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