April 2003 Archives

Today, we made Clemency’s status as a Smart Goat client official by adding them to our portfolio. We look forward to working with this guys a lot in the coming months.

Angela is finishing the last of the eBay CD sales. We’ve already had a few sales, so we should be Trading Assistants in no time.

We listed 10 more CDs for sale on eBay today. That, along with making a form letter thanking customers for the payments and letting them know when their item will be shipped, took up a good part of my evening. I’ve decided that even with Turbo Lister, which makes eBay listing a little faster, it’s still just a slow process. Perhaps it’s something you get faster at as time passes.

I also started on a list of restaurants that might be potential Hot Spot clients. It’s still very much in the preliminary stages though…

As we finished our first set of changes for Clemency, we realized we needed a good way to track our time. We considered developing our own, but then found that had already done all the work. We set up a free trial account (limit of four projects) with them, which will work for now. The nice thing about their site is that they allow us to log in and track our time, then provide a separate login account for each customer to view their project hours. They also have an invoicing system, in which you can mark which hours to include for a particular invoice, and designate the price per hour. They’ve done a nice job.

In other news, we spent a good part of the afternoon picking up litter for Litter Blitz. Since we officially did that as a Smart Goat function, and since our efforts will be publicized as such, I suppose that can be listed here too.

We spent 2 1/2 hours yesterday picking up trash as part of Oklahoma City’s Litter Blitz program. We chose about a half-mile fenceline that runs along I-40, an area we pass every day on our way to work. Being between a busy interstate and a grocery store, the fence tends to get littered from both sides. The plastic bags and grocery coupon newsletters that were stuck in the barbed wire fence, constantly waving in the wind, bothered me every time we passed the area. Fourteen huge trash bags and two painful sunburns later, we’re proud to say that it looks great. I even found $11 in amongst the trash!

On a side note (one I had 2 1/2 hours to think about), why shouldn’t this grocery store be responsible for cleaning up the trash (plastic bags, coupon inserts) that is at least partially their fault? Corporations should give their employees the option of participating in a program like Litter Blitz, perhaps as a paid alternative to working their shift one day. I think all corporations should have that built in as policy: if you want to participate in a volunteer community program (of your choosing), we’ll give you up to 2 days off per year to do that. They could require documentation of the work, and surely they could receive a tax deduction for the salary they basically donated to the charity. The worker is happy because they get to choose their charity and feel fulfilled in improving the community. And it beats participating in a company-wide charity like our company just did. They chose a particular group and asked everybody to go along. They received criticism from a good few folks who disagree with the group’s policy on animal testing. They had a lot of people frustrated that co-workers were spending more time drumming up donations than working. And they probably lost just as much worker time. One might argue that the “teamwork” aspect is lost if employees are given the choice of doing something on their own, but given the amount of disagreement choosing one charity raises, I’m not sure anything is lost. And if you still wanted to keep some level of teamwork, you could sponsor several team events through the year — “if you want to spend one of your volunteer days on Habitat for Humanity, join us this Friday,” for example.

Of course, any time the world is depending on corporations to do “the right thing,” we’re asking for trouble. We’ve all seen about all we can stand of corporate “ethics” lately…

Here we are, two-thirds of the way through our little experiment. I’m proud to say that, despite sometimes being tired of the whole thing, we’ve stuck with it this long. Every day, we have done something related to our business, no matter how small or vaguely related.

So, where are we? We have one client, several leads, and one opportunity with a lot of potential. The Toshiba Hotspot thing is a little scary. It will mean us becoming sales people, something neither of us is really good at. Also, it means being on-call a lot of the time, which is not really the type of work we want. So, we will have to do some research into that before we decide for sure it is what we want to do.

All in all, I’m happy with where we are and what we are doing. Smart Goat is doing much better than it was before we started this, and that’s what it’s all about.

Angela is posting more eBay auctions, so we can become Trading Assistants. After watching the OKCPCUG presentation about eBay, I’ve decided eBay could become a good way to supplement one’s income. I always thought that if I were lucky… er, I mean, unfortunate enough to get fired, I would, if necessary, take a minimum wage job just to keep money coming in while I looked for a better job. Now, though, I think I could make just as much reselling on eBay things I found at thrift stores.

One more things… we’ve decided, if we ever do the “90 days” thing again, it will be 90 business days. We want our weekends back! :-)

Toshiba accepted our application to become a Hotspot Operator — we received the contract today. Reading through it, it doesn’t sound bad, although I do wish they had more information on their website. I think we’re going to do it — it’s a little scary, because it’s a completely different direction for our business, but maybe that’s what we need.

Angela made the first site fix for Clemency. If you previously visited their Schedule, then visited again today, you might think all she did was fix the scroll bar. But, to fix that scroll bar, she had to recreate the whole page. A very well done reconstruction, if I do say so myself. And I do.

Browser Cam was my idea, and no I can’t prove it. I thought months ago that something like this would be a great resource, and I was right. No, you don’t need to thank me, since I had nothing to do with it. But, I am telling you about it, and that should count for something.

I used my trial registration to check out our home pages in a variety of browsers we do not normally have access to. Not bad. In Konqueror, the sidebar links of News Goat are too small. I can probably fix that. There is apparently no love lost between our sites that use CSS for layout and IE 4.0 for Macintosh, but that’s ok. We will agree to disagree.

Angela is busy working on Clemency’s website, fixing things that have been wrong for a while. Of course, she does not have the original code, so she is reconstructing the page. From where I’m sitting, it appears she is performing miracles. Flash is a foreign language to me, so I cannot imagine trying to re-write a movie without the source. But, she’s doing it, and doing a great job.

We tried calling a couple of our Marketing Tool leads that we have not started working for yet, but we could not get in touch with them. We will keep trying.

This is what it’s all about… a client! Today we signed a contract with Clemency, a local Christian rock band. Right now, they primarily want updates and maintenance to their already-existing site, but they indicated they have some big plans for the site as well. We’re thrilled to be working on this project and with these clients.

We chose to write a fairly simple contract, based in part on a couple of sample contracts we found online. Contracts are important, and we’ll probably want to draft a more official one soon — and perhaps even run it by a lawyer. But for now we felt comfortable concentrating on the payment terms and the ownership rights.

I did some research into Flash decompilers. The clients’ current website is primarily Flash-based, created by a college friend who no longer has the source files. I downloaded a trial of Sothink SWF Decompiler, but can’t tell yet if that will help me. It certainly wasn’t as simple as I expected, based on hearing various designers who were concerned about people stealing their Flash designs using decompilers. I guess it’s true… “Nothin’s simple!”

While I was working on our first update to the Clemency site, Billy wrote an article for the next issue of the eMonitor. We’ll post a link once it’s published.

More contact with the band. They gave us a login and password to their webserver, and sent us the first batch of updates that need to be made. Now we just need to put together a contract and get to work.

I’ve been researching information on the laws and considerations involved in running a sweepstakes. So far, the most useful site I found was Promotion Law Playbook. I signed up for their newsletter and learned a few things reading through their forums. I’d definitely like to run a monthly giveaway to generate traffic on Crafty Goat, but I’d also like to consider offering this as a service to our clients. Online “adver-gaming” is a great use for Flash, and something that I can only see increasing in popularity in the near future. If we could position ourselves as a provider in that market, I think we could find some bigger and more profitable projects.

Wheels currently in motion:

  • Angela spoke with the rock band again. They are very interested in having us do maintenence, and they have a lot of features they would like to add to the website. They are currently looking into getting us the access we need.
  • Since they have been so good to us so far, Angela added a “reciprocal link” to Marketing Tool on our About page. Besides being a nice thing to do, it will increase the position of our listing on their site.
  • Some minor changes were made to the Portfolio page.

Today we followed up with our first lead from As promised, we sent him a few suggestions for his site, along with a price list. We also got another email from the rock band; they seem eager to get started, as are we. We plan to talk tomorrow to set up a meeting time with them.

We heard back from the rock band — they are interested in talking with us about doing site maintenance, with the possibility of a site redesign at some point. Sounds like a good gig. We wrote back, telling them we would be happy to work with them on whatever they need. Hopefully, we will be able to meet with them somtime this week to discuss what services we will provide.

Also, after playing with Act as a contact manager, we decided to stick with the Palm address book. We can keep notes on our leads and categorize them, which is all we really need. Besides, Act does not play as nicely with Palm as we would like.

Since this coming week is the OKC Festival of the Arts, it seems appropriate to donate to their parent organization, Allied Arts. Allied Arts is also the parent organization for Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park, another of our favorite groups. Allied Arts was nice enough to give us a Star Card in exchange for the donation.

We called our new lead today, initially leaving a voice mail. He called back, but we only talked briefly because he was preparing for a show. I got the impression he was definitely interested in going forward with us, though. We’ll be in touch again early next week.

Last night we attended an OKCPCUG meeting about making money with eBay. The speaker had some good tips, including using the free TurboLister to make listing easier. We downloaded it tonight and plan to try it out for future listings. Becoming a full-time eBay reseller sounds tempting; while the speaker admitted she didn’t support herself with eBay, I do think it would be a good way to support one’s garage sale habit!

Along the same lines, I also finished an eBay book I had borrowed from the library. Unfortunately it was a little older than I realized when I checked it out, meaning a lot of the information was out-dated. It did, however, mention businesses selling services (like web design) on eBay. We glanced at the appropriate category and didn’t see auctions that actually had bids, but it might be something to try one of these days.

Now that we’re actively looking for leads, we’re starting to notice more businesses that don’t have websites. We need to start jotting down the info of a potential lead whenever we think about it, whether we’re browsing through the newspaper, listening to the radio, or eating at a restaurant that we suddenly realize needs a website. We certainly don’t want to forget a good idea and miss out on a potential customer.

Another lead from MarketingTool today. This one is for a Christian rock band. Every day, I become more impressed with the results we are getting from MarketingTool. We may look into other, similar sites to see if we can get similar results from them.

Contact management is crucial for a small business. You need to establish a process, and track that process with each lead. You don’t want to send the same client an introductory e-mail 12 times. And, you do not want to get a lead, then never make contact.

We’re looking at Act as a possible contact management system. The key will be if it integrates well with our Palm address book.

Also, as part of our contact process, we came up with a “standard” introductory e-mail to send to new leads. We customize it for each contact, so it does not have the feel of a form letter. We sent a version to our new lead, and to our last lead, who we’re still trying to get in touch with.

I was finally able to fax the HSO application to Toshiba. I gave up on the default fax driver and downloaded Mighty Fax, a shareware fax driver. Now, there may be absolutely nothing wrong with the default fax driver in XP, but the fact is, Mighty Fax worked on the first try, the default did not work after several tries. So, I bought Mighty Fax, and I’m mighty happy.

We received another lead from Marketing Tool. If they keep up this pace it will be a huge boost to our business. We tried to make first contact with our new lead, but had some trouble getting in touch with him. We’ll keep trying.

I spoke with our first lead from MarketingTool. He was a tad negative about websites — it sounded like he was not happy with whoever created his current site. After talking to him a bit, I convinced him to let us send some ideas for things he might want us to do, along with a price list, to see if there’s anything we can do for him. Not an ideal situation, but we still have a chance with this client.

Now that we are getting some leads, we decided it was time to come up with a contact process. Our plan goes like this: When we first get a lead, we send an introductory e-mail, telling the individual how we were referred and giving them some information about our services. This will be followed the next day with a phone call. We are going to take turns being the primary contact with clients. We are also looking at some contact management software, which might be useful in tracking our leads.

Fairly productive day — now, if I can just get myself fired so I have more time to work on this stuff. ;-)

We recently came across the following royalty-free image collections. Unlike iStockPhoto, everything on these sites is free (except in some cases — interestingly enough — for Microsoft employees). Should be a good resource for future design work.

Photo Stock Resources
Free Photos Bank

A few updates:

  • We purchased Flash 4 on eBay so that we can purchase the upgrade version of MX. This will save us about 50% off the full price of Flash MX.
  • I tried to fax the HSO application to Toshiba. Unfortunately, XP’s fax software is next to useless. If the fax fails, there is no way to resend that fax — you have to go through the whole “fax wizard” again. After multiple attempts and much frustration, I decided I would go to Kinko’s, or something, tomorrow.
  • We also tried to contact a possible client, but could not get in touch with him. It’s amazing, with so many avenues of communication at our finger tips, how many of them are rarely useful. :-)

I worked more today on the Sam’s Flash book. I’m now about done with Chapter 10, which deals with dynamic text. I hadn’t realized before that the HTML page in which the Flash is embedded can send it variables; it allows extra options for flexibility. I also hadn’t fully understood the steps involved in making text animations, and how easily dynamic text effects can be done. I’m playing with one now, and I suspect I’ll post an example of my efforts soon. I also hope to do some Flash template sites soon, based on what I’ve learned.

Today, we considered what we need for our business. Free software fills a lot of our needs, but it can not fill all of them. And companies that use software illegally get in trouble. I don’t like to get in trouble.

So, we decided to buy Flash MX. Angela is doing some wonderful things with the trial version we have, so this will make an excellent addition to our toolbox. It’s expensive software, but it’s also good software, and it has the potential to pay for itself.

We’re in Houston with limited internet access, so we may be a little slow making our daily updates. But don’t worry — we’re doing stuff! Today I continued working through the Sam’s Flash MX book. I’m now well into Hour 9. I also spent a little time working with Macromedia’s Contribute application. It looks like a good program, something that really might make web sites easily maintainable by the average customer. This is something we’re considering recommending for some of our charity-type work. That way, we can do the initial set-up for free (or low cost), then set them up with Contribute so they can make all future updates themselves. Still need to play with it more, but it does look promising.

We are half-way through the 90 days, which seems like a good time to look at what we are doing, and see if we are doing anything right.

I believe we are. We have quite a few leads, far more than we had when this began. We have websites we are not ashamed to demo to potential clients, and even more changes in the works.

And then there’s the wi-fi opportunity that I believe has lots of potential. Right now, I’m in Houston, sitting in a Dairy Queen that offers free wireless Internet. When was the last time you ate a Dairy Queen? Me too, until this weekend — we’ve been here everyday, and we have bought something everytime. And what is it costing them? Internet service, which they probably already had, and an access point, which is a one-time cost. Offering wi-fi is going to be a huge industry. Now is the time to get involved.

I think we are still on the right track. And, it’s all downhill from here, which is a good feeling.

This week, I gathered up a little of this and a little of that for donations. I donated our old futon mattress, a patio umbrella, and a box of clothes to the folks at work who were holding an American Heart Association garage sale. I also noticed that the Staples folks were donating $1 towards an Oklahoma education fund for every printer cartridge that received. Since we just happened to need a new cartridge anyway, we swapped them out and took the old one to Staples. I suspect I’ll be doing this same thing again in a few weeks, seeing how full our garage has gotten lately!

We got our first Editor’s Pick from today. They sent us a lead for a great-sounding project. We’ve followed up with the guy and hope it will work out. Just the sort of thing we’re looking for!

We also got received our business’s first credit card today. Someone thought enough of us to approve us! This will be quite convenient for the online purchases we make for the business.

And finally, we were contacted by a local businessman who’s interested in setting up banner ads on our sites. We think might be interested in something like this, but we’ll need to get feedback from TPTB in the group first. Seems like it will be nice to have at least one name of a local advertiser in case our future clients are interested in selling banner ads for local businesses.

Smart Goat logo with interconnected orange and green puzzle pieces behind it.This, weekend, Angela & I will be traveling to Houston for Mind Games. While there, we will be blogging the event, both here and on OKMensa. There will be a lot of people there, so it seemed like a good time to do a little advertising.

Logo with strange circular pattern behind it.Our vehicle and our laptops will be sporting decals similar to these. The more people see our logo, the more recognizable it becomes. I don’t expect to get much business from Houston, but it can’t hurt to be on display.

Mark Pilgrim who normally posts about accessibiltiy, standards, semantic code, etc., is getting married next month. He posted the vows he and his fiance wrote for the wedding, and invited others to share their own. It was interesting to read about the different ceremonies performed around the world.

Note: The following is humor. I hope. I haven’t written much humor lately, so it seemed like a good idea to identify it as such, so I don’t make anyone angry.

Continue reading “Analysis of a Workplace E-Mail”…

We filled out the forms today for Toshiba’s HSO program. Judging from the fields on the form, they might be looking for a company with a little more sales experience. Here’s hoping they accept us anyway!

We received the information we requested from Toshiba about their “Wi-Fi reseller” program. Here’s how it works: As a reseller, we would sell the necessary equipment to a location, making a slight profit on the transaction. We then make a percentage on each user that buys time at that location.

A quick search of Google News shows many people believe there is a lot of potential in offering Wi-Fi services. And I agree — having wireless access everywhere we went in Austin was wonderful. Good enough, in fact, that it would affect my lodging/dining plans next time I am on vacation. And I’m just an Internet addict — for people who are on business trips/lunches, it would be well worth the fees.

We are going to sign up, and see if we can find places in the Oklahoma City area to sell the service to. This may be just the opportunity we have been looking for.

We did a mock-up of how we might design the Yukon Chamber of Commerce site, as we told them we would. It’s a rough idea, but I’m fairly happy with it. Now we wait and see if they are.

I donated to the American Heart Association this week at work. We don’t necessarily approve of the amount of time our co-workers are allowed/expected to spend on this, our one and only work-sponsored charity event… especially with deadlines and big projects and the new blockage of the majority of the internet because “we’re all wasting too much time online.” But just because we don’t agree with some of the methods of our workplace, we shouldn’t refuse to give to a worthy cause.

In my case, I spent my donation entering two contests. The first was for four hours of landscaping help from one of our co-workers who specializes in that area. The second is for a 50-50 chance at a paid day’s vacation.

The landscaping drawing was held on Friday, and we actually won! We’re not sure yet when we’ll get together with him, but I think it will be good for our yard. I’d like to have someone with a little landscaping experience give us some pointers. The other contest will be held in a couple of weeks. Basically, it will result in either Billy or I (but not both) getting a day off of work. So far, my donations have offered great benefits!

A couple of weeks ago, we set up a reseller account so that we could offer hosting packages to our clients. We hadn’t decided what, if anything, we wanted to mention on the website… especially since we really don’t want to mess with hosting sites for anyone besides our customers. It would be too much of a hassle to be a web host on a large scale — a responsibility that would be next to impossible to do well in addition to our full-time jobs.

Today we decided exactly what we wanted to offer and how we wanted to present it. Our prices will be very affordable (about as cheap as a person can find on their own), but still cover our costs. We’ll offer up to 20 megs of disk space, 1 GB of bandwidth/month, and 1 MySQL database, in addition to some standard features. And we decided on a simple, basic mention of it on our pricing page. It doesn’t have all the details; it just lets folks know that hosting is available. We’ll see how it plays out!

Resources for us business types:

If you consider yourself an entrepreneur you should be checking these sites regularly for new ideas. For example, browsing around led me to an article about Wi-Fi and the potential market for those who provide wireless hotspots for traveling business people. This is an opportunity we have already considered. At the bottom of the article is information on Toshiba’s Hotspot program — you sell the hardware and support to the business, Toshiba provides service and support for the end users. This has potential. I wrote for more information.

Other bits: Angela made updates to the pricing page. It’s looking good… We checked out more books on Flash, web design, and kennels. Deciding which of these items doesn’t belong is left as an exercise for the reader.

Big news! We got a click on our Google ad.

I decided to fix the medium.swf on the pricing page (misplacing the Flash file had nothing to do with it — why do you ask?), so it would randomly generated the animation using ActionScript, instead of using the timeline for animation. I’ve been reading the Sams Teach Yourself Flash MX ActionScript in 24 Hours book (an impressive book, by the way), and today’s lessons were about using ActionScript to control movie script playback. I’m not sure whether _alpha, _scale, _x & _y are just the ones he chose to use for introducing the idea… or whether the scriptable movie properties are limited, but I haven’t seen a way yet to change the color of the movie clip instance just using script. Something to keep in mind as I learn more.

No brocure from the Chamber of Commerce yet, so we didn’t start on the mock-up. Hopefully it will come tomorrow.

Today was one of those days where your hair is perfect, your shoes match, and things really seem to be coming together. Okay… maybe not the part about the hair and shoes. But we had a pretty good business day.

We got a call from the Yukon Chamber of Commerce. They said they need someone to develop their website, and they also need someone to do support for their computer systems. While we’re not really interested in the second part (we’ve told him we’ll try to find someone else for that… any of y’all interested?), we are eager to do their website. Billy and I have talked over some ideas, thought about some designs, and plan to do a mock-up to send him after we receive their informational brochure (probably tomorrow). This seems like a good way to get our name out to the businesses here in town, since many of them will make contact with the Chamber of Commerce at some point. We’re excited about this opportunity.

We also wrote back to the manager at the Yukon Progress newspaper. We gave her more information on Smart Goat, told her we’d look forward to talking to them once they are ready to set up a website… and we also pointed her to our pricing page.

… And, oh yeah, we put together our pricing page. We put a lot of thought into how we wanted to present this, because (as we mention on that page), every web project is different. But I feel like many people will be too afraid of unknown costs if we don’t at least give them a ballpark figure. We hope this gives them an idea of our prices without going into the detailed formulas (3 pages + 2 pictures + 1 form = x) some folks use. We don’t want to give people a package setup instead of what they actually need.

The pricing page has a similar format to our portfolio page, but it also has Flash headers to add a little interest. I’d like to try some different text effects on something sometime, but I didn’t feel like scrolling text and the like would really be effective as headers.

Finally, a small complaint. We joined the OKCPCUG to network… and from the wording on their website, it sounds like that’s why most people join. But how can a PC group not have a email list, or an online discussion group, or something?! How can we pass along possible leads (Chamber of Commerce computer support) if there’s not an immediate way to contact those who might be interested?

Rant over. Things are looking good here. Even if nothing else pans out, at least we’re making Smart Goat a better site.

Today, we began work on a pricing page for Smart Goat. This will give potential customers an idea of what typical types of websites will cost. We are not pricing exact specifications — every project is different, and there would be little chance of a client’s needs fitting our molds. These are just examples to give customers an idea of what to expect. The page should be up in the next day or so.

Other tidbits: Angela is working her way through a variety of books on Flash, learning much about programming MX… I received a reply from the Yukon Progress: They are looking to setup a website soon, and they would like more information about our services. A good start… Angela contacted Flash-Kit about some problems with their site that were making it impossible for people to rate or comment on her game. We need all the feedback we can get.