Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What Makes a Website Effective?

If you soon plan to develop a new website, or if you have an existing one, it's necessary that you understand the attributes and characteristics that can make or break the effectiveness of your online presence and brand. An unattractive or poorly built website will do more to hurt your online presence than to help it.

Website & Web Page Purpose
A good web design always caters to the needs of the user. Each page of your website needs to have a specific purpose & message. It must fill the need for your website users in the most effective way possible. Minimize mixing messages or topics on any one page. Keep separate topics or messages on their own pages, or create separate visual sections on a webpage with their own topics.

Organized for Good Communication
People reading on the web tend to want information quickly. So it is important to communicate clearly, and to make your information easy to read and digest. Some effective features to include in your web design include:
  • Organizing information using headlines and sub headlines.
  • Using bullet points instead of long winded sentences.
  • Each page or page section keeps to one topic.
Short Load Time
Everyone hates a website that takes a long time to load.  Tips to make page load times more effective include:
  • Optimizing image sizes (size and scale).
  • Do not use very high resolution images. Their data density requires more load time.
  • Combining code into a central CSS or JavaScript file, which reduces HTTP requests.

Clear Fonts
In general, Sans Serif fonts such as Arial and Verdana are easier to read online. Sans Serif fonts are contemporary looking fonts without decorative finishes of Serif fonts such as Times New Roman. The good font size for reading easily online is 15 - 16 point.

Block/Grid Layout
By placing content randomly on each web page, you can end up with a haphazard appearance that is unattractive and not functional. Grid based layouts arrange content into sections, columns and boxes that line up and feel balanced. Doing so leads to a better looking website design.

Add Images
A picture is worth a thousand words. Choosing the right images for your website can help with branding and in connecting with your target audience. If you don’t have high quality professional photos on hand, consider purchasing stock photos to lift the look of your website. Also consider using videos and other graphics. All of these can be much more effective at communicating than even the most well written piece of text.

Mobile Compatible
It is now very common to access websites from multiple devices with multiple screen sizes. This includes tablets and smartphones. So, it is important to consider that your website is mobile friendly. If your website is not mobile friendly:
  • You can either rebuild it in a responsive layout. This means your website will adjust to different screen widths and platforms.
  • You can build a dedicated mobile website. That would be a separate website optimized specifically for mobile users.
Search Engine Optimized (SEO)
There are hundreds of rules and guidelines for effective search engine optimization. However, this is not the place to cover them all. To start, follow these simple rules:
  • Include plenty of written content in HTML format. Limit using Flash, JavaScript or image-only objects for your navigational items.
  • Use your important keywords frequently and appropriately in your written content.
  • Leverage your links. Make them descriptive and use your keywords in the link text.
  • Add links to other websites.

Click here to contact me regarding this or any other blog post.
David Schuchman

Monday, August 1, 2016

How to Work as a Consultant

When you become a consultant, you may be abandoning predictability, a normal routine, interaction with coworkers and the safety of a regular job. Additionally, you may be venturing out on your own for the first time, and into unknown territory.

In my last post, I discussed, "Why Work as a Consultant". This post is the continuation of the discussion. Now that you are committed to work as a consultant, let's consider some of the things you need to do to begin to work as a consultant.

Do You Need to Create a Legal Company to be a Consultant?
You do not typically need to form a legal company (e.g. LLC, S-Corp, C-Corp, etc.). Consultants who choose to form a company usually chose an LLC (Limited Liability Company) because of its simple income tax reporting. An LLC does not require you to file an additional income tax return for the entity. Your corporate income is reported on ‘Schedule C’ of your personal income tax return. In addition, you will likely be eligible to deduct some of your corporate expenses from your personal income tax return. However, you should discuss this with a tax accountant for more information on this.

Forming an LLC is a legal, state-registered business entity. Working under a LLC may provide you some limited liability protection. However, you should discuss this with an attorney.

The cost to form an LLC will be about: $50-600 to start, depending on how you proceed. Many states require the LLC to file an annual registration, which costs $50 in NJ.

What if Client Requires Working via a Corp?
Sometimes your client will only hire a consultant via another business entity. When that happens, you have several options in order to accept the contract:
  • Find a consulting company to hire you - There are many such companies. When doing so, be assertive in negotiating the rate to be as favorable to you as possible. Often, a consulting company will take a large percentage of your hourly rate (e.g. 50% or more). They justify this since they also perform the recruiting. Since you are bringing the position to them and they primarily have only an administrative expense, you may be able to negotiate keeping are larger portion of the contracted rate.
  • Find a colleague or friend who owns an LLC or other corporation to hire you - In this case, you will be an employee of the colleague’s corporation. The colleague’s corporation will contract with your client. You colleague’s corporation will have administrative tasks related to employing you, so you should expect to give up some of your rate to them.
  • Engage with a “split-placement” company - A “split-placement” company is a business entity that employs independent consultants who need to work through a parent company. They usually do not perform recruiting, so the percentage of the rate they take is lower than working with a consulting company. In some cases, they allow the contractor to buy insurance and contribute to a retirement account. Examples of some “split-placement” companies are:
    • Top Echelon
    • NPAWorldwide
    • Fee Trader
  • Form your own LLC:
    • This takes about 2-4 weeks.
    • You can do this on your own, you can hire an attorney to set up the LLC for, or you can hire an online specialty company such as LegalZoom.com, Inc. or The Company Corporation to set up the LLC for you.
    • The cost will be about $50-600 to set up an LLC.
How to Become a Consultant
The first thing you need to do to accept working as a consultant is to say (out loud), “I am a consultant.” Next, you will need to do these few things:
  • Identify the niche in which you have knowledge, experience and support. Consultants that promote themselves as working primarily in a specific market sector or industry, or with a specific set of skills are often more successful than a generalist. That’s because the client will pay for specific expertise over someone who is a jack-of-all-trades.
  • Once you choose your working niche, research your target market. Understand the concerns, challenges and issues that your clients may have. Then, build your brand around how you solve those issues.
  • Alert & manage your professional network. When you are employed, you have a supervisor or co-workers with whom you can discuss your challenges or solution approach. When you are an independent consultant, your professional network includes the professionals that can provide that kind of support to you.
  • Develop a business plan. A business plan is a written description of your business goals. It is a document that describes what you plan to do and how you plan to do it.
  • Now that you are a Consultant, you must promote yourself and your brand;
    • Name & create your company.
    • Register your website address; and create a website. It's very important to be found online!
    • Define your service offerings & pricing.
    • Acquire any needed professional licensing & certificates.
  • Don’t do this alone. Get advice from:
    • Accountant and lawyer: Make sure you set up your business properly (legally), and ensure you take advantage of all available tax incentives.
    • Your colleagues, friends know you well and will also give you advice.
    • SCORE, Small Business Association. This organization provides free and low-cost advice to new business owners.
  • Update your LinkedIn Profile, as well as your profiles on other social media platforms. Make sure that other professionals can find you.
Getting Clients
Key to being successful as a consultant is to have clients. They are your primary source of revenue. Here are some steps you can take to build your client base:
  • Write a Newsletter and/or Blog - Writing is an effective means of communication. Newsletters and blogs represent a terrific advertising media for a consultant to sell his or her services. In addition, the general perception is that if you write often, you must be an expert.
  • Teaching and Public Speaking - Giving presentations, in a classroom or at an event, is another excellent way to find new clients and earn a reputation for having an expertise. Investigate business groups, libraries, adult education programs, professional association and join chambers of commerce. These are all terrific platforms for promoting yourself and your business to a targeted audience.
  • Ask for Referrals - An often overlooked means for generating business is to inform people you already know about your consulting business and offering, and ask them to introduce you to some of their professional contacts. Introductions to their colleagues, friends or business associates are powerful. People prefer receiving a referral for an expect instead of looking on their own.
  • Advertise - Advertising can be very expensive. Strategic advertising may yield positive results, such as the media that your prospective clients read. This could be industry journals and social media sites.
Becoming a consultant is a personal decision. Additionally, becoming a consultant can seem daunting at first. With a little initiative, preparation and hard work, you can become successful working as a consultant. And, you may enjoy it as an alternative to working as a full-time employee.

Click here to contact me regarding this or any other blog post.
David Schuchman