Wednesday, November 11, 2009

No Love Lost Over Web Work

The past couple of weeks have been all about the Village Works website redesign - and "Lost." I don't really know much else, not even my book right now. I've been watching Lost in the between times because I wanted to watch it when it first came on but it didn't work out. So for all these seasons I've been listening to my co-workers rave about it. I decided to just do it because that is what I do - pile too much on my little plate of little time. So as I work on my website, I might watch an episode or two. I made it through season one and through lots of angst over the site, trying to figure out how to do what was in my head. After about 2 months of on and off attention, frustration, questions to support, and much thinking, the bells went off, the big picture finally came in clearly and I went into website design overdrive.

I took a tiny break to clean my office one Sunday afternoon and do laundry. I also watched more Lost - a lot more Lost. Truly I am lost in Lost. I am one DVD away from finishing season 2 but season 3 was nebulous. One co-worker had loaned me season 1. Another one had 2. But her season 3 is currently being sloooowly devoured by her sister so what would I do after I finished season 2? Netflix, here I come.

Monday was another night of hard website work and now I am a Netflix member to boot. Season 3 DVD 1 is on its way, though I still have to watch that last DVD from 2. The new and final season - 6 - starts mid-January, I am told, and I am pretty determined to be caught up by then. And you know what else will happen by then? Before then? The website will launch. That's the plan.

This website design has been a major exercise in patience and creativity. My laptop seems to be getting tired too and I can feel my hand being forced to go figure out how to speed it up as well as my desktop. It's the holidays (yeah. Admit it. It is.) and I don't want to spend money on computer issues right now. But my kids are on there as much as I am, so that can't be helping. Darn it all, I don't have time to learn how to care for computers but I have to if I want to get this operational some time this decade. I'll start with the computer people I know to guide me (thank God for people I trust who have this kind of knowledge).

In the meanwhile, I am pressing on. trying to work on one thing at a time and always finding something else to do that will improve some tiny little thing. Last night's "little" improvement took me about 5 hours to implement. It was a custom form I created to go along with the puzzles we offer for customization. I couldn't display those in the same way I could the regular puzzles we can sell one at a time. So I had to figure out how to create a similar display that worked differently. It was a simple form. That's all it was. Or it was supposed to be simple. I am still thinking of ways to tweak it.

The upside is by adding that form, I may have figured out how to do something the support people said I couldn't do and that will majorly improve what my customers experience on our site. I would tell you what it is but first I have to get it to work and then I'll announce it in one of our newsletters one day. It'll be one of the many little bells & whistles we'll be looking to add over time. Well, little to the rest of the world but no small feat to implement.

It wouldn't have been the first time I figured out how to do something the support people said I couldn't so as they say, where there is a will, there is a way. And if you can call/IM the support people multiple times over multiple days, you will probably find the person who DOES know how to do what you want to do.

I have to admit. I have worked with 2 web developers, interviewed maybe 2 more after them, I am working with yet another to do just a custom homepage and I knew this wasn't easy work. But I have a whole new appreciation for what they do. The time it takes to do the simplest of things. I am working with a template which is harder to wrangle than you might think. I can't imagine building things from scratch in code! And oh yes, I do use a little code here and there too. Our template is full - FULL - of all kinds of things to discover and when they said it was customizable, I thought it was a sales pitch. But they were right. And having all those options makes the work that much more challenging, though rewarding as you watch your vision come to life.

It is amazing to finally see all of Village Works in one place, at last. It's like going from a studio apartment to a high-tech mansion. And we aren't even fully moved in. So many buttons to push and colors to add. Our plan was to make our online store the only place you need to go for all things Village Works. You can see everything we offer. You can communicate with us. You can sign up for our newsletter. You can get quotes. You can find out how to work with us as wholesellers. You can find out how we can help you do a fundraiser. And hopefully, later, you can find out much more that is specific to you, the individual customer. And all you have to remember - and bookmark - and share with rest of the world - is

I am truly happy we went this particular templated road. I didn't want to. Didn't expect to. But it was a good deal, even with all the work involved. Right now if you go to, you get an under construction page that looks like you got a computer error. It's not my style in the least. So hopefully tomorrow you will see a better looking under construction page. And soon, I'll have a select few testing out what I've done so far as I keep going. The plan is to launch before Thanksgiving and even then it will be just the beginning. You know I'll let you all know when you can see it live and online!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Web Wonders

If it's November, it must be NaNoWriMo time. I didn't do it last year, but because of the book I am working on, I quickly signed up this year as my way to force myself to get some more work done on it. And I have been. I started in October though, gathering the info. Now it's time to write. But I haven't. Not yet. Because I've been so very tied up in our revamped website. It's fun and tiring and overwhelming and so full of potential.

I am building it. I didn't want to. I tried not to. I wanted to give it away but it was so very hard finding someone with a vision that already was in line with my own so I'd feel like I could trust them to get the job done. But either the person was a disappointment and/or too small (we need major customer support at all times. No more 1-man operations for us.), or the company was too expensive for what we wanted. And I've always had a hard time settling for less. I do it when I have to but I go down fighting. Trust me.

So after a good year of searching and interviewing and maybe figuring out how we'll do this, we landed on our solution. The price was right - even better than the reasonably priced plan we thought we were going to go with - and I could get what I wanted...for the most part. And we were even able to get Graphic Guru in on it for herself. Truly a win-win.

Still, some concessions had to be made, but way less than before. It would simply require more work on our part to get there. We could have a site that showed what we wanted, when we wanted. People could EASILY buy. Everything connects there and it is good. On top of that, we have the extra bonus of being able to control our SEO work on the site and we even learned how to watch the competition too. Then I found a designer who could do some of the custom work I knew I couldn't do myself. We spoke on the phone and we clicked. I haven't seen her first draft yet but being the controlling person I am, I had already made a really detailed plan of what I wanted and created a visual to go along with it. You'd have to be totally about your own agenda and clueless to miss the mark on this. If she comes through like I think she will, it will be the icing on the cake.

So I haven't written yet. Because I have been wrapped up in the site. It is amazing just how many little pieces there are to put in place. And while doing this, we are also following though on Step 1 of our online marketing plan. But that will require time to complete since it shouldn't all be done at once. Bizzy Girl's sister agreed to help us out with all this and it's about time for me to bring her in on it now that I have a better handle on things. And that will free me up to write.

Am I being a little vague? Yeah. I know it. I can't give away all my business secrets after all. Though they aren't MY secrets. Just things we learned and decided to do. Anyone could do the same but I'm afraid you'll have to just watch us and see how we do. If you like it and want to do the same, I may be persuaded to share a tip or two. :-)

And don't worry. I will make time for some writing too and end the month with 50,000 more words to add to my book.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Movie Review: Drag Me to Hell

As much as I love movies, you'd think I'd share my personal reviews with you more often. This was the last time I did it, I think, but it didn't even come up when I searched my own blog. Gotta remedy that. Anyway, let's see if I can make this a habit.

Note: If you want to see this movie, some of this talk may be considered spoilers but movies don't get spoiled easily for me, even if you tell me everything that happened, so just consider the source before you read this.

I got to see Drag Me to Hell recently via a friend of mine who loves horror as much as - or maybe even more than - I do. It was not as serious as I expected it to be based on the trailers when they were out this past year. But I didn't know who the director was then - Sam Raimi who also did the Evil Dead movies (loved them but poor Bruce Campbell will never be able to escape being my visual icon for those movies), all gross and highly laughable but in a fun way. I got the same vibe from this movie so if you like Evil Dead, you'll like Drag Me to Hell.

There were some unfair times to me, and not just unfair in terms of what's happening to the loan officer heroine (that was unfair in a good way). Instead, there were clear moments that made you go, "Uh uh! That can't happen in real life!" It's not real life, Monica. It's a movie. Yes, I know, but even in the movies, you have to keep it honest if you want me to buy even a campy story like this one. I mean, really. NO ONE thinks her gusher of a nosebleed is something to worry about? Can one really get thrown about their home and NOT suffer a broken bone or twisted something or other? Not even once? But the whole thing was still fun. It made me jump big time even though I knew something was coming. There are plenty of startling moments to make the whole thing worthwhile but I can't help but go back to some things I thought were missed opportunities - like the very ending. I won't tell you what happened but I would be willing to bet you'd see this movie and just know it was going to end one way, it doesn't, and you're like, "Wait! My ending was way better!" Also, I was talking to the same friend about this and she made a good point - in most movies where any kind of devil is the nemesis, the main character or someone around them has the idea to try the church. Even the atheists. But God doesn't come up once as her possible solution to the problem. That was just odd. Maybe it's a reflection of the writer's/director's belief system? Maybe they are setting things up for a part 2?

I don't know. I just know this movie was fun but I warn you - if you have a sensitive stomach, don't eat before you see it. Just trust me on that.