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Web Sites, Philadelphia, and the Ruminations of a Small Business Owner

The president of Brio Solutions comments on Web Design in Philadelphia, business, technology, and the world in general.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

To Flash Or Not To Flash

Just a warning, this blog is a tiny bit technical.  If this stuff makes your ears bleed, then stop reading.  Otherwise, enjoy...

Whenever we are designing a website, the question about Flash ALWAYS comes up.  For those that don't know, Flash is an application currently owned by Adobe.  Flash makes it very easy to animate text and pictures on the web.  Normal browsers can't understand flash files so they need something called the "Flash Player" in order for you to view the animation.

This is the root of the controversy with Flash.  Since normal browsers can't understand flash files, it makes it very difficult for search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing to understand flash files.  This is a HUGE problem.  Being found on the internet is an absolute must in today's business world.  If I tell a potential client the name of my company and they can't find my web site, then the sale is lost.

User interface is just as important as search visiblity.  The user interface is the way you interact with a web site: How intuitive the site is, what colors are used, how the user's eye is guided to what is important.  By using flash for the user interface, you have a lot more freedom in designing an elegant and intuitive user interface.  This is why I usually recommend that my clients DO use flash, but use a very small amount of flash.  

Brio designed and built an all flash website a few years back.  The website is one of the coolest sites I have ever seen, which is why we still have the site up at  I still use it in sales meetings as a great example of our creative and user interface capabilities.  The problem with this site is that it is virtually impossible to be found through search.  Even though the flash site had over 15 pages of content, Google could only see 2 lines.  At the time, Brio was relying on word of mouth business.  This worked for a while, but if you want to grow a business, you cant rely solely on word of mouth.  That's when we decided to re-build our web site and create a Search Engine Optimization strategy.

In our new site, we used standard web technologies(HTML, Javascript, and ASP.NET).  We also included a flash "movie" on the home page to spice things up a bit.  Now our site is pretty well ranked for a number of local searches involving Philadelphia Websites and Philadelphia Business software.

Another major drawback of building your whole site in Flash is updates.  It is much more difficult to update most flash sites than it is to update sites built using standard technologies.

So in conclusion, DO NOT let anyone build you an all flash site, unless you don't care AT ALL about being found via search engines.  But whatever you do, don't forget about your user interface, because getting users to find your site doesn't really matter if they can't figure out how to use it.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why you may want to lease your web site

We had a big week at Brio this week.  We finally picked up!  I have wanted the .com domain for years.  I am undecided whether the “.com” STILL has a leg up on the other extensions, and I really have grown to love my “.NET” domain, but it is no doubt better to have both.

We also launched a new product line, Brio ONE Site.  ONE Site is a hosted solution with tons of features.  So what is a hosted solution?” A “Hosted Solution” is a web site that you lease.  And just like leasing a car, you end up getting more web site than you would normally be able to BUY for the same money.  The real question is why would you want to lease a web site?

There are really three factors that will determine if you are better off buying or leasing.  The first, and most important to a small business, is cash.  Buying a site is obviously a larger cash outlay up front. You are probably going to pay a few thousand up front for a basic site as opposed to $500 up front for a more advanced Brio ONE Site. The monthly cost& for a ONE Site will be more expensive. ONE Site will cost between $50 and $80 per month as opposed to a hosting fee for a normal site, which will be $10 to $20.

The second factor is what you want to do with your site.  If your site content doesn't change very often, and the main goal is to have an online presence, you are probably better off buying your site.  On the other hand, if your site content does change often, you want to use your site to communicate with your customers or you want to use your site as a marketing and sales tool, then you may want to consider leasing your site.

The final factor is longevity.  By longevity, I mean how long your site will last.  In reality, a basic, static web site will last at least 6 to 8 years.  That type of site doesn't rely on advanced or cutting edge technologies.  

Now let's look at the more advanced site, a site that has a blog, customer logins, interactive pages, or any other advanced function.  That site probably does need to be updated every year.  If your company has the means or resources to maintain an advanced site in-house, then buying that type of site is probably a better move.  However, if you don't have those resources, then leasing is a great option.  The leased site IS upgraded at least once a year.

We have been selling this type of solution to larger companies for quite some time, but a web site like this was always way too expensive for small businesses and startups.  These sites are so attractive to larger companies because of the extensive feature list: a robust content management system, easy integration with social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, great looking themes, and powerful email marketing tools.  Now Brio is able to offer these features to small business at an affordable price.  Hopefully this is a win for everyone involved.  Our clients get a very powerful and extensive web site, and we get some long term clients.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Startups are such sweet sorrow

In Philadelphia, and in every other place in the world, one of the first things a new business needs is Web Design.  As a result, Brio ends up working with a lot of startups.  This is probably one of the most exciting AND scariest parts of our business.  The scary part should be fairly obvious…startups don’t have money (typically anyway).  You may be thinking that the exciting part is pretty obvious too….well you are kind of right.  It IS exciting to see startups turn an idea into reality.  But more exciting to me, is that startups are a whole different type of business with a whole different list of issues, considerations, and goals. 

I know a seasoned business man who used to run a large retail store.  He got involved in a startup.  At the beginning of his journey he said to me, “Running my startup is 1000 times easier than running my old business”.  That gentleman is still struggling to get his company off of the ground 2 years later….and he is probably 2 years away from any profit.  Running a startup is not like running a more mature business.  That’s the plain and simple truth.  Running a mature business is like riding a horse down a dirt road; there are bumps and forks in the road, but at least you can see the road.   Running a startup is more like holding on to a bull.  You can’t tell which way you are facing and if you can just keep your grip for a while the bull will settle down and everyone will be happy, but until then, you better hold on for dear life. 

One of the trickiest decisions every entrepreneur faces is what to do with your most valuable assets…CASH.  Cash allocation and cash flow (or lack there of) can be the death of a startup before it even gets going.  If you are too aggressive, then your cash reserve runs dry before your business has a chance to generate any income.  If you are too timid, then your startup will just sit in limbo, never really making any real money.  What is the right balance?  Do you spend money to develop your product first?  Do you spend money on sales first, selling something software developers like to call “Vapor Ware”? 

Unfortunately there is no right answer.  Every startup is so unique and the balance is so delicate that you can’t even use a rule of thumb.  With a startup, there is no manual, there is no guide….you invent as you go.  You get some right and you get some wrong, but if you can hold on for long enough, you find that the reward is worth the struggle

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Art of Logic – a tug of war between designers and developers

In the web/software industry, there is an inherent conflict between designers and developers.

A designer, who is responsible for the way the site looks, and the user’s experience, is the creative force, the artist, the right brain, and wants to add every shadow, rounded corner, floating image, and (insert any other special effect here) that contributes to the user’s experience on the site. The designer should be constantly thinking of the user, asking “How will the user feel when they use my site? Is it easy to navigate? Can the user find what they are looking for? Is there proper emphasis placed on priority items?”

The developer, on the other hand, is responsible for the functionality and performance of the site, not to mention the arduous task of translating the designer’s piece of art to three or more browsers. The developer is rooted in logic, carefully deconstructing every piece of the site into blocks of code. The developer should be constantly thinking of performance. “How will the computer interpret my code? Is the site fast? Is the site scalable?”

Therein lays the conflict; one party concerned with the end user, and one party concerned with the computer. This is music to my ears…this is actually a GREAT THING. The result is two forces pulling hard in, quite often, opposite directions, which leaves the client with a perfect balance of design and functionality.

At Brio, we make sure those two forces are present on each project. We do that by putting passionate designers and developers on the same team right from the beginning.
Too often, I meet someone in my industry that claims to be a designer AND developer…… Now I know that many developers know how to use Photoshop, but that doesn’t make them designers any more than me knowing how to drive my Volvo makes me a race car driver. And the same is true with designers, when they tell me they know how to use Dreamweaver (which is a common web development tool).

If I were building a house, I would hire an Architect to design the house and a builder to construct it. I would not let my architect start swinging a hammer; and I would not let my builder design my entire house. Maybe as the web industry matures, it will be understood by all, that design and development are COMPLETELY different disciplines. Until then, watch out for those designer/developers because you know there is a lot of fighting going on in that head of theirs. And when the fight is over, the client turns out to be the loser.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My First Blog

Hello World,
My name is David Rose.  I am a small business owner( who is married with a kid and lives in Philadelphia.  Some may find it hard to believe, but this is my first blog entry EVER.  That is hard to believe because “A”, I love to talk and “B”, I live and breathe technology….but nevertheless, blogging has yet to become one of my communication channels until today.
So what’s this blog going to be about…..if you know me, then you could have easily guessed either technology or business.  Well… I think I will make it about both(and there may be some politics mixed in once in a while). 
One of the biggest problems for technology companies today is that they don’t bother to understand the relationship between technology and business.  You would have thought that after the internet boom and bust of the 90’s that technology companies would have understood that you need more than a cool idea.  You need to figure out a way your new technology is going to be useful and profitable.  Unfortunately, I see a log of companies that do one or the other, but if you can get both right then you have a winner. 
Anyway….that’s all for now.  Stay tuned for more exciting and more meaty blog posts.  Also, feel free to check me out on twitter(@briosolutions)

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