Website Support and Maintenance Services

maintenance

An article I read recently asks “Should You Sell Website Support or Maintenance Services?” Well, why wouldn’t a designer sell those services?

Some designers want to do only that – DESIGN. Build a site and then let it go. There are also clients who want that. Build it for me and then I’ll take care of it myself.

I have had my share of both approaches. I have also designed sites and handed them over only to have the client contact me months or a year later to ask if I would do updates. Their intention to keep the site updated didn’t work out.

There are also some companies that focus on support and maintenance services.

Why offer clients support and maintenance services? The number one reason must be that it is ongoing and so means steady income. Let’s say you charge a client $2500 to create a small restaurant website. Then you offer maintenance services at $50 an hour. If that site only requires an hour per week, you will make $2600 in the next year.

You can also offer these services to someone whose site you did not design. I have maintained sites that people already had on places like WordPress, GoDaddy, Squarespace, and Zenfolio that they either didn’t know how to keep going or simply didn’t have the time or desire to update. Two of those clients eventually asked me to build them a brand new website.

Support and maintenance services, though not as interesting or creative as designing, can be lucrative. If you have a less experienced employee, support can be a good training activity before giving them their own design projects.

 

Brand Ambassadors

I received an offer recently to become a “brand ambassador” for a product line. The company is owned by someone who is an acquaintance and knew I had a background in social media marketing. Boosting brand awareness by using celebrities, customers and employees is becoming more and more common.

Though customers and employees may not have the audience and followers of a celebrity, they may have more believability as a spokesperson, especially if they are not being paid to endorse (which is what celebrities have been doing for a lot longer than there has been social media).

When you officially make some a brand ambassador, you should not just let them go on their own.

Most brands will create clear guidelines as to what they can post. A bad post can do a lot of damage.

You would need to create and curate relevant content for them. Images, logos, and text can be provided with guidelines how how much personalization and variation can be done.

I did this kind of campaign with a large national professional organization. The official but “unpaid” ambassadors who completed a series of campaign tasks around a national conference could get all or a portion of their conference stay covered. It was a good motivator.

Employers will often use a platform like Hootsuite or Smarp to facilitate employee engagement and advocacy by providing an internal content management system. Employees can access shareable content and schedule posts.

Customers – who are generally unpaid and unofficial ambassadors – can also be effective. As in my own experiences, when someone retweets or shares your official post they are endorsing (unless they make a negative comment along with that share!). That kind of 1:1 or 1:many word of mouth promotion is very powerful.

You’ll see offers made in this vein. For example, retweet this to your followers with a special hashtag and the company will select 10 retweets to win a product package.

When Clients Don’t Provide Content

photo of a woman handshaking with a man

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I saw a topic on the Squarespace Circle Forum titled “How do you work with clients who are lacking content?” Squarespace is a popular website creation website and I use them with several clients. (Note: the forum is open to registered users) Though the posts are focused on web design clients, the question applies to other design situations.

I design courses online and faculty are my “clients” in that instructional design role. An ID designs a course but the content is almost totally provided by faculty.

I’m currently working with faculty at a community college and the biggest problem encountered is getting faculty to provide their course content in a timely fashion.

I also design social media strategies. In that role, I often am the content creator to a degree. I often write posts, add images and repost/retweet relevant content. But that can only be done from the raw content (text and images) from the client.

In all three situations, we design based on the content. It doesn’t work very well the other way around.

So what do users on the forum suggest? Most of their suggestions are aligned with my own practices. Here are some suggestions for working with clients that don’t provide content – or even better, for trying to avoid the no-content situation.

  1. Talk to the client about content and imagery before beginning. Be clear about what is ready to use, what needs to be created and who will create it. I have for some projects created copy, images and media.
  2. Have a timeline with milestones that need to be met by the client (I like weekly ones) in order to trigger your own design work.
  3. Many designers use a questionnaire of some kind. For example, in designing courses, we ask faculty to fill in a worksheet with course goals and objectives (they are not the same thing!) and a syllabus.
  4. You may need to create video how-to’s for the client on how to create content for their site.
  5. Stay in touch. You need to contact them when they are behind on delivering their content. Their prep work determines your ability as a designer  – some hand holding/teaching how to write copy for websites, etc. Email is the least effective way to stay in touch. Phone conversations are better. Web conferencing and screen sharing is better. Face to face meetings are still the best way.
  6. I like having a place for sharing files and collaborative space. Google Drive works, but I prefer Dropbox which has features for collaboration. Both are free for basic cloud space and can be expanded for multiple projects.
  7. You might use temporary filler text and images on a website so that you can continue designing.
  8. The “client” may actually be many individuals such as writers, photographers, graphic designers, media creators, librarians etc.

In some unfortunate cases, a client not providing content will not only delay a project but could end your relationship with the client.

Set the Timer

Being a virtual worker has its obvious advantages, such as no commuting, variable work hours and days, and working in your pajamas from the couch. It also has its disadvantages, such as allowing you to do nothing and lose track of time.

Because much of my work these days are billable hours rather than a salary, it is important that I keep track of how long I work on a project. I need those stats both to invoice clients and to give estimates to new clients.

This was a skill I needed to develop when I shifted my working days to virtual ones. One technique that I started using turns out to have a formal name. More on that in a bit…

This time management and productivity technique is very simple. When you start a task (not a project, but a piece of it), set a timer and work on that task for 25 minutes. Then, take a short break (3-5 minutes). Start working on the task again for 25 minutes and repeat until it’s completed.

I just started doing this on my own and it was only later that I discovered that I was using the Pomodoro Technique.

Il pomodoro.jpg
Pomodoro tomato timer
from Erato at Italian Wikinews. – Transferred from it.wikinews to Commons by Fale using CommonsHelper., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. His technique was to use a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Originally, he broke it down into six steps. These intervals are named pomodoros, the plural in English of the Italian word pomodoro (tomato), after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.

The technique has been popularized more recently via a bunch of apps and websites that provide timers and instructions.  I just use a cheap digital timer that can count down. I tried using my phone timer but for some reason it was less effective. Perhaps because the screen would go to sleep, so those numbers weren’t always staring at me.

One of the app options is Focus Booster which will automatically record your timesheets  for each project or task and lets you export it for easier invoicing.

This technique is closely related to several other productivity techniques, such as timeboxing, and iterative and incremental development.

Timeboxing allocates a fixed time period, called a time box, to each planned activity. Several project management approaches use timeboxing. It is also used for individual use to address personal tasks in a smaller time frame. It often involves having deliverables and deadlines, which will improve the productivity of the user.

Iterative and incremental development which is often used in software design. The basic idea behind this method is to develop a system through repeated cycles (iterative) and in smaller portions at a time (incremental), allowing software developers to take advantage of what was learned during development of earlier parts or versions of the system.

What’s Cool With Gen Z?

gen z
I looked at “It’s Lit: A Google Guide to What Teens (Gen Z) Think is Cool”

The social media global penetration will hit three billion people worldwide by 2021, and one of the fastest growing, quickest adopting generations on social media is Generation Z  These are the current teenagers and they make up about 26%, of the US population.

Where are they posting online? Snapchat, and Instagram are cool. Twitter and Facebook, not cool. Still, Facebook is still almost a daily habit for most teens for viewing/consuming content from friends and family, but they are not engaged there or posting.

Snapchat and Instagram don’t encourage sharing as much and are more about who you follow which makes them feel more private/closed allowing messaging and shares without it being public.

Apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, and other chat services may play no roll in your clients’ or your personal social media landscape but are growing in popularity with Gen Z.

Pinterest is down with only a 26% reach with teens. In Google’s report, they don’t treat their own YouTube property as social media but as a streaming service. In that category, teens rank services in this order: YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, and Hulu.

I was surprised at some of the brands they engage with most often: Oreo, Playstation, Doritos, Xbox, Apple, Nike, Amazon, Chik-Fil-A, and Go Pro. Low engagement goes to  Patagonia, Zara, Lululemon, Quicksilver, Oakley, Nordstrom and Sunglass Hut. If you are in that latter group, you would want to consider where these teens will be looking and buying in the next decade when Gen Z purchasing power increases significantly. Will you have lost them?

The Gig Economy

work at home pexels

Sometimes people chuckle or look confused when I say I work in the gig economy. They think I made it up. I didn’t.

A gig economy is usually defined as an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.

Twenty years ago, I would have associated “gigs” with musicians. You play a gig at a club tonight, next weekend you play one somewhere else. Maybe you luck into getting a regular gig (almost an oxymoron) playing every other Friday night at the same place for a few months.

It is not “part-time” work.

The trend toward a gig economy has been climbing and a study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors.

What is pushing this trend to short-term jobs? One thing is an increasingly mobile workforce that can increasingly work from anywhere. Job and location are not always linked these days. Freelancers can select  jobs and projects around the world, and employers have a much larger pool of candidates.

Employers often like this arrangement as it means no office space needed and, as with part-timers in general, probably no benefits. Not being responsible for employees’ taxes and benefits allows companies to operate with 20% to 30% less in labor costs than the traditional competition.

People tend to change jobs more often throughout their working lives than in prior generations and the gig economy can be seen as an evolution of that trend.

Employers can contract with experts for specific projects who might be too high-priced to maintain on staff.

My newest gig is doing instructional design of online courses for a college. It is a one-year gig, so it is actually pretty regular work. But it is all virtual work from home and the hours are set by me. I have milestones and deadlines to meet, but the schedule is mine.

For this gig, I am getting an hourly rate, but the college has set a cap on the number of hours I can bill per course (though we have already discussed the possibility that some courses may run over that amount, while others will be under). The Dean in charge of this project would prefer to have an instructional designer full time on staff, but the budget line for that position won’t appear until next fall when their “virtual college” actually launches with student.

Gig workers like the improved work-life balance offered over most traditional jobs. Ideally, the worker is able to select jobs that they’re interested in – though obviously if you’re in need of work, you may have to take a gig that isn’t your first choice.

Despite any benefits, the gig economy is part of  the sharing economy, the gift economy and the barter economy and there are downsides to all of these. You are like freelancers and self-employed workers of the past and have to deal with insurance and other benefits and issues.

Finding hard numbers on the size of this gig economy workforce seems rather inexact right now. Government data sources have difficulty counting how many gig workers there are, but it is being tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Gig workers are seen in some government stats as contingent workers, defined as “those who don’t have an implicit or explicit contract for long-term employment.” Alternative employment titles also include those who identify as independent contractors, freelancers or independent consultants, on-call workers, and workers provided by temporary help agencies or contract firms.

BLS data lumps gig workers in with all the other alternative workers. The Census includes them in nonemployer statistics data – a self-employed individual operating a very small, unincorporated business with no paid employees.

Fast Company magazine warns that lawsuits around the gig economy are an issue of concern. Uber, Lyft and other gig drivers have protested and “gone on strike” and other companies that have built their business model on gig employees have seen some employee resistance.

Homejoy, Handy (both cleaning services) and workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (an online platform that pays independent contractors cents per task) recently orchestrated a letter-writing campaign to Jeff Bezos asking for him “to see that Turkers are not only actual human beings, but people who deserve respect, fair treatment, and open communication.” Legally, Uber and Lyft are also facing charges of misclassifying workers. A case against an online work platform called Crowdflower was also opened.

What might bring down the gig economy? Besides some class-action lawsuits, there might be intervention by regulators (many cities are clamping down on Uber and Lyft at the behest of traditional taxi companies). If companies can ever hybridize traditional jobs and gig ones, you might end up with a new option that offers both the freedom and some of the benefits of traditional work.