Monday, 10 October 2011

TCRM and the Ecommerce Website

I was tempted to call this blog ‘TCRM and the Dragons’., as it sounded a bit more fun and exciting, but sadly not as SEO friendly (see, we know what we’re doing).

Anyway, after many months of development the new TCRM ecommerce system has been rolled out. You can give it a go here. Kevin’s brief for the system was that it had to be flexible enough to sell a sandwich or an engine. A bit random but it was a philosophy that served us well in the development phase. By considering how to build a custom sandwich or choose the specs of an engine  the system caters for any sort of product and business model from off the shelf choices, such as DVDs and books, to businesses offering custom made products where a large number of choices need to be made by the customer. Sandwiches, custom built PCs and made to measure clothes like Elvis Jumpsuits are just a few examples which spring to mind.

Okay, you’ve seen the product, what’s our angle? We are living through one of the worst recessions in living memory. Large and small companies alike are shedding employees at an alarming rate and don’t want to hire again anytime soon. People can’t rely on the fact big companies might start hiring hundreds or thousands of people. They need to go out and create opportunities for themselves. They need to start their own businesses and create new employment opportunities. A couple of hundred small businesses employing between three and twelve people each would make a big difference to thousands of families. Yes. we’re a fan of small business and want to take further the interest stoked by popular programmes such as The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den.

Luckily in this wired age the capital outlay to get businesses off the ground can be reduced. You no longer need a physical store and all the problems that come with it. A good ecommerce website and suddenly the whole world is your potential customer base. That’s where we come in. We want to help promote small business and help them grow. Allow them to reach out to a wider customer base and bring in those sales and contracts.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

TCRM and the Website Refresh

Web design companies like TCRM face the same problem that any other type of business faces- that we are so busy looking after our customers that we have no time to take care of matters closer to home. In our case we have been trying to update our website for about six months, but other sites always came first. Well finally last week we launched the new look TCRM site (take a look here), but it was not a smooth process. From a technical standpoint it was straight forward, as we have the process of building a website down to a fine art, but this time we were also responsible for deciding what content to include in the site. This is something that the customer normally decides upon but it fell on us this time. The time taken arguing over which pictures to include and the wording of every piece of text on every page was quite amazing. Just the way the websites were arranged in the collage image on the web design page tested a few nerves to their limits. I was just glad there were no heavy objects around. It’s hard to tweet with both your arms broken.

What the site refresh highlighted was the amount of time taken over the content of a page, compared to putting the structure of the page together.  Yet this step is out of our hands as the customer provides the text and images. But much can be done to  help your customers. Try and provide as many examples and possible and don’t be afraid to ask if they would like any advice. Putting a website together can be a daunting process, especially if you don’t have much IT experience, so it would be a painless a process as possible. We are experienced developers and we were getting quite fired up about the content involved. It could be down to the fact that you look at the coding and structure of a site in a very calm, logical and methodical way, yet can’t approach the content in the same way. It’s always a good exercise to put yourself in the shoes of the customer and we hope we’re able to offer a better service because of it. Please let us know if you have any questions or queries about the way websites are put together.

Friday, 15 April 2011

TCRM and the Magic Bullet

A website, even the fanciest and well constructed website, is not a magic bullet. Shortly after it goes live people will not be beating a path to your door by the thousand and begging you to take their money. They will not be instantly heralding you as the best thing since Facebook and nor will they will be carrying you aloft through the streets of your home town.

The truth is that a website (even a web design from TCRM) is not something that instantly makes your business successful from the word go. And this is especially true for new business. Good small business is a mixture of word of mouth, a good network of contacts, a reputation for good service, value for money & professionalism, and good advertising. Apologies for the grossly over simplified overview, but I think it’s clear from this list that these aspects will probably not be present for new businesses the moment your website goes live, but take time and effort to build up.

So why have a website? Well a website is one of the most important tools in the 21st century for helping you achieve those aspects of a successful business I listed above. For example, a search engine optimized website works in conjunction with traditional networking techniques to help promote your business, while a good looking and well written website projects a professional image. And a clear pricing policy detailing the services provided will help satisfy the customer that they are getting value for money.

So a website can do a lot, but it cannot do it all, nor do it instantly. A reputation for quality of service, for example, is something that can only be built up over time (but a testimonial page will help you make the most of that good feedback). And all the professional sheen of the shiny new website can be blotted out instantly by poor customer service from the staff. People remember bad service more than a good website.

A good website is just one tool in creating a successful business, but our aim is to make that tool the best it can be and help you get your businesses off the ground, just don’t pin your hopes on a miracle. It will be hard with sweat, tears and long hours, but we’ll be there to support you in every way we can.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

TCRM and Social Media

The last few weeks and months have seen a bewildering number of dramas played out on the world stage. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the protests in Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the violent uprising in Libya and, most recently the devastating earthquake in Japan. What has struck me is the big role that social networks have played in all of these events. In the case of the revolutions about the middle east and northern Africa social media sites such as Facebook allowed opposition groups to come together and communicate with each other, while in the case of the Japanese earthquake we are seeing far more information come out of the region from the ground level than we would have seen previously. And one could argue that the success, or at least strength, of the opposition movements was down to the various groups being able to organise themselves through the social networks.

It is hard then to deny the impact that social networking has had on the world. It has become a standard way that many people now communicate their ideas. Instead of writing a letter, a newspaper article or phoning a friend, people write a blog, create a web page or update their various statuses (seems a more appropriate word than states). When Stephen Fry updates his Twitter status, over 2.3 million people get the information. This could seem pointless when he tweets about what he had for breakfast, but when a person with a potential audience of 2.3 million states his preference for one opinion/policy/product or another, all of a sudden this is not trivial or pointless.

If a business wants to grow and reach a new audience then through the social media is the way to do it. It needs to be a part of your marketing strategy with the same amount of planning and effort as would go into your print, conference or television advertising. You may not like it, but social media is here to stay. Much of it is trivial or banal, but so are many telephone conversations, and think how vital the telephone is to business.

Friday, 11 March 2011

TCRM and Web Design Goals

The TCRM website has been in need of a design refresh for a while. It’s a bit of an irony that web design companies rarely have the time to update their own sites. Those of you who have visited our site will know that at the moment it is a ummm, a little cluttered. Despite being busy we decided enough was enough and Thursday in the kitchen, I mean the TCRM boardroom, was the venue on a design meeting to discuss the new look of our site. Coffee flowed and tempers became heated as two opposing camps formed and the battle lines were drawn…

The TCRM site is a little different from most sites as it needs to serve two functions. One, it needs to show off the technical possibilities of the web sites we produce and two, needs to look good to show off the look we can achieve in design. If someone is looking to build an online database, the customer needs to be aware that we have the expertise in buckets. On the other hand if a potential customer needs to put together a brochure site for their art gallery, our design skills need to shine through.

As I’ve said before, for other sites it is important to have a set goal. A primary aim that guides all your choices regarding the site. If you are putting together a brochure site for your accounting firm then you want a uncluttered business style site. If you are putting together a social networking site for plasticine users then it will be feature rich, but fun looking. Nothing says fun like plasticine.

So as you can see, the TCRM site is different, with its two roles. Lately it’s been leaning a more towards being a technology demonstrator rather than a brochure site. This revamp will look at these issues and we will come a good compromise of form over function, however the first boardroom battle has been fought but the war has some way to go.

Friday, 25 February 2011

TCRM and Bespoke Web Design

TCRM build a wide variety of sites from brochure sites like Neath Florist Dolly Bach’s  or e-commerce sites like Elvis Jumpsuit supplier ETA Supplies they put together to a high standard using techniques we’ve practiced and refined more and more with each site we do. But every couple of sites we get a request to do something we haven’t done before and made part of our “toolkit”. It can range from a new questionnaire system to a different e-commerce model.

Bespoke web design is not an easy process to schedule and too easy to underestimate. Open up any book on software engineering and there will be a chapter detailing the horror of project over runs. Things can get so bad that the developers involved start questioning their chosen career path. They look longingly at the hassle free lives of the people serving them their cheeseburgers and begin to believe they won’t look that silly after all in those little hats.

I believe that the most fundamental reason for bespoke web design taking so long is that programming is a complicated business. There is no escaping that fact. And the more people  get online and use web sites more frequently, the higher their expectations are. A simple data capture form is complicated enough. A well written SQL script to write the table is an art in itself. Then the HTML form to capture the data. JavaScript to validate the input. PHP to process the input and well formed HTML to display a result. On top of that it needs to be well tested. The phrase, ‘Can I just have a form for doing this,’ always sends a shiver down my spine. There is no ‘just’ when it comes to programming. It takes time and effort to get even the simple things done properly and along the way you will wonder how long it takes to get those little stars on your name badge.

Friday, 7 January 2011

TCRM and the New Year

Happy New Year to all! And as we are already into the second week of the new year and things are starting to get back into some sort of order, I thought it was a good time to look back and reflect on the past year and what this one has in store for us. So let us down the last of the mince pies together before they go out of date and look with anticipation into 2011.

E-commerce looks like playing a big part for TCRM in the next twelve months. There are three reasons I think for this .Firstly, thanks to the rapid increase in online buying over the last few years, more and more people are seeing the benefits of shopping this way and feeling more comfortable about doing so. This creates an increasingly visible customer base which sellers see more and more potential in.

The second reason for the growth of smaller e-commerce sites is the recession. With increasing numbers of people out of work, or needing to generate a bit more income, people are looking to set up their own businesses and see an e-commerce site as the most efficient way of doing so without the need of the high overheads of physical retail premises.

Third is the range of goods and services on offer. While at first it was just primarily goods bought on line in digital versions of shops (ie putting books and CDs in an electronic shopping basket) the e-commerce sites are becoming increasingly varied. One of my favourites at the moment is the photo centre. Upload images from your camera into online albums, cut and rotate as you please, select your print types and pick up your photos next time you’re in store for a pint of milk and some cheeseburger components. It’s this variety which broadens the appeal of e-commerce and TCRM currently have a site in the works where you do not buy physical goods, but a service. A life changing service at that. Stay tuned to TCRM Facebook and Twitter pages over the next couple of weeks for details.

That brings us nicely on to social media, and regular readers will notice how unusually slick that link is for me. Social media is here to stay but I think there will be a less hyped up approach to social media and a maturing of the techniques used as it becomes an accepted part of personal and business life. It will be another box to tick when putting a site together rather than selling a site solely on the fact it is a social networking site.

But one area that does look to be growing is that of mobile computing. The uptake of smart phones such as the iPhone and the Android powered phones, as well as the new tablet market led by the iPad, means that more and more people are accessing the internet from a small mobile device rather than a traditional desktop computer or laptop. Web sites will need to be optimised for these devices, or at least be written with this sort of use in mind. The touch screens of these devices offer new challenges to web designers, and with touch screens looking to make an impact on desktop machines (the next version of Firefox will have multi-touch capabilities) it can not be ignored. Personally I am hoping that we skip the big touch screen phase and go straight to motion capture control like in Minority Report and, with the release of Microsoft’s Kinect, seems to be getting closer. See here and here.

So there’s my brief glimpse into the new year. Please feel free to comment on whether I’ve totally gone astray, missed some important things out or should change my name to Nostradamus. I’m looking forward to the year ahead and all the challenges it has in store for TCRM. At the very least it should make for an interesting read for you.