social

Application Development

Application Development

Mysterious Floating Head Found in Application

Posted by

Indianapolis, IN - Employees of Marketpath, Inc. logged into the company's internal project management and support application and found a floating head of the founder and CEO, Matt Zentz, chasing the mouse wherever it was moved. Accompanying the floating head were terrible one-liner jokes that nearly caused one team member to choke on their morning Mocha Latte.

"I couldn't get the obnoxious head to go away and then these awful, awful jokes showed up," said Emily Oksay, a Senior Designer, "It scared me to death. I thought our site was hacked and was worried our support cases were exposed to some outside spy ring. I immediately reported this to our security team."

Samantha Heyman, Project Manager, was just as flabbergasted. "I came in to get some serious work done today and this is what I've had to deal with all day. It's a lousy prank and I wish whoever did it would fix it and let me work without these kinds of distractions."

Elsewhere in the office, desks were found trashed with post it notes covering every available surface and the coffee machine was turned into a Jello mold. "A Jello mold! For crying out loud! Who messes with the coffee?" commented Kevin Kennedy, CMO. "This has to be grounds for immediate dismissal. I'll be launching an internal investigation right away and following all handbook regulations for this one."

Even Jack Polson, UI Developer, was upset with the floating head. "I don't condone stogie time without my participation and this obviously did not include me."

The security team promised nominal progress and mediocre conclusions sometime within the next 4-6 months. 

link
| comments (0)

Startups Have it Easy, Sort of

Posted by

 

These days it's a lot easier to start a software company than it used to be. With the plethora of cloud services available at the click of a mouse companies can focus less on infrastructure logistics and more on their product. In this way, startups have it easy.

Before I continue I have a confession to make - Marketpath is not a startup.

Wow! That felt good! You don't know how long I've been holding on to that secret.

Ok, so maybe you read the about us page and you already knew that. We've been around since 2001.

We've claimed that we're like a startup but, in reality, that is far from the truth. We are established, healthy, and revenue positive. But along with being healthy we have our share of legacy systems with legacy problems. More specifically, we have a lot of old equipment running our infrastructure.

Wayback

In 2001, we purchased our first server. It was a Dell Poweredge 2500. I remember, because I bought it and was excited about the possibilities for that powerful server. General websites and web applications were a piece of cake. So, we added an email server and database to it. Then, over the next several years, we bought another server and then another. Initially, we only managed the servers. But then it changed.

In 2004, we moved to nFrame, a data center in Carmel, IN. Since then, we've had to buy all the firewalls, routers, switches, backup devices, metered PDU's, and all the other fun that comes along with managing a SaaS infrastructure. And that's just the hardware. There was a slew of software for everything from email to backups to databases.

For a small resourceful staff this was one heck of a burden, especially when things went wrong. We had to worry about single points of failure in infrastructure, server hard drives, backplanes, power supplies, fans, memory, SCSI cards, NIC's, and many, many other intricate and complicated devices going kaput. And then there was the software maintenance.

Me and other staff have spent many long nights standing above the air conditioning panel right in front of our rack. Luckily, in all these years, our longest outage for any website was limited to about 4 hours. And that's because when the you-know-what hits the fan, we got very creative.

Why Startups Have it Easy

Startups don't have to worry about infrastructure - at least in the same sense that Marketpath and every other software company that's been around for more than five years has had to. Infrastructure is a huge resource suck. Proper planning, implementation, and maintenance should be full time jobs. When everything seemed to be humming along nicely, some small issue was festering behind the scenes getting ready to rear its ugly face.

Startups can focus on building software and leave the infrastructure to the experts. Now there's Amazon Web ServicesMicrosoft AzureRackspaceBluelock, and many more infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) companies. These companies handle all the gory details and monitoring of core hardware devices. They provide virtual servers and other services that can be plugged into easily. 

Now, instead of having to high-tail it over to the local data center, customers simply jump on their iPad, launch the web portal and restart a server or provision more. Only the exact infrastructure necessary is deployed. In the past, we had to buy more hardware than we actually needed so we could scale up to meet demand. There were intricate formulas (that I never used) to calculate capacity needed now vs. capacity needed down the road.

Startups have this provisioning capability at their fingertips and can dedicate their time to building their business and building great software.

Don't get me wrong. Established companies have this too and often implement new projects in virtual environments. It's the legacy software that is the slow moving snail of adoption.

Virtual Marketpath

At Marketpath, we began our virtualization quest last summer. We implemented our internal project management and support system which was a simple database and web application. Not too bad.

Since, we've been 

 

 

link
| comments (0)

Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf Software

Posted by

Business needs vary enormously from one organization to the next. So, naturally, continual improvement to processes and techniques to effectively run the business is a must. Business owners always have to step out of the normal day to day to evaluate whether or not we're being effective, how we can improve inefficiencies and how we can plan for the future. 

Because competition comes so strong and swift, we are in an age of process perfection. That is, we must understand our processes and constantly mine them for improvements. In many ways, we need to be like McDonald's where every small step has a predetermined sequence. This doesn't mean we'll abandon creativity and personality. With all their systems, McDonald's can be an amazingly creative force (e.g. Monopoly, kid's meals, play places). It's a common misunderstanding that boundaries limit creativity, but the contrary is really true (see "Creative Constraint: Why Tighter Boundaries Propel Greater Results"). Instead, we need to impose boundaries by tightening processes. One way to do this and track results effectively is with specialized software.

This isn't an easy task and choosing the right software to help you grow and adapt is crucial. The question often becomes "should I build a custom app that fits my needs exactly, or can I adopt off-the-shelf software to get close enough?"

Sometimes, this is an easy decision. Accounting software is used by just about every business, so there are an enormous number of flavors to choose from - Quickbooks, Microsoft Dynamics, MAS90, etc. Building custom software for your accounting needs usually doesn't make sense. The biggest issue arises when the business need is not a commodity, such as, a recycling company that needs to monitor pickups, drop-offs, sorting, and selling. Or a school district that wants to monitor facility usage and automatically adjust the HVAC system and unlock doors. 

But, even with non-commoditized needs, someone out there probably has fulfilled the need and built an off-the-shelf solution that you might be able to use. So, the decision ultimately becomes how good is the fit or can you do it better with a bigger bottom-line impact by building a custom application?

Here are some pros and cons of both. 

Off-the-Shelf Software

PROS:

  • Lower up-front cost
  • Contains many features, often more than you need
  • Support is often included or can be added with a maintenance contract
  • Upgrades may be provided for free or at reduced cost
  • If it's software-as-a-service (SaaS) there is no hardware or software to install

CONS:

  • Slow to adapt or change to industry needs
  • Your feature request may get ignored if it doesn't benefit the larger customer base
  • May require you to change your process to fit the software
  • Higher customization fees (proprietary software vendors often charge ridiculous hourly fees unless they provide an open API)

Custom Software

PROS: 

  • You can start with the minimum necessary requirements and add on later
  • Can be tailored to your exact business needs and processes
  • Changes can be made quickly

CONS:

  • Very high initial cost
  • All changes and feature requests will be billable
  • May incur additional costs ramping up new developers

Ultimately, you'll need to decide if you can use out-of-the-box software and fit a square peg into a round hole without too much pain or if you should build around the processes and systems you've worked so hard to develop. I suppose you could also do nothing and stick to the old way you do things but what's the fun in that?

I was once told by a business veteran that if there is a software solution that is good enough, then why incur the expense for custom development? I guess the answer depends on how fanatical you are about your business systems and how effective you believe yours to be over theirs. 

learn more

Do you have any questions regarding software? We are here to help! Contact us today. 

link
| comments (3)

3 Solutions to the Same Project

Posted by

We met with a prospective client last week to discuss their upcoming website redesign & development project.  This prospect is your typical small business where the owners make all of the decisions without much input from the rest of the staff.  There isn’t a dedicated marketing department, nor is there a “techie” on staff.  If you’re a small business owner, this situation may sound familiar…and you can vouch that it’s not easy.

Any vendor selection process is an exercise in analytical skills.  The two owners that we met with aren’t website guys.  This whole process is new to them, and while they know they need a new site, they don’t exactly know how to go about getting the best bang for their buck. 

After talking with them about the project, we discovered that we were one of three companies proposing a solution.  After a bit more digging, it became apparent that the three solutions being offered were drastically different in nature, and in price.  The decision on which firm to use is going to be a difficult one, as I’m sure we have all outlined our value proposition, highlighted strong points, and helped educate the two owners.  Here are the three solutions that are common in this situation:

                                            Different Approach to the Same Problem

​Different Paths to the Same End Goal

A Company like Marketpath

Marketpath designs and develops websites with our website content management system on the backend.  We focus on enhancing the online brand, building an easy-to-navigate website, building an easy-to-update website, and creating the best “hub” possible for your marketing efforts.  There are a lot of companies like us, some with their own CMS’s and some that use open-source platforms like WordPress, but you can rest assured that these firms are the experts in useable website design and development.  There will usually be an upfront cost and an ongoing monthly fee for hosting/support.

An SEO Company

This option is similar to the firms listed above, except their sole focus is on gaining an ongoing SEO client.  A new website that is “finely tuned and internally optimized” is the first step in their service offering, as a lot of the smaller SEO firms will claim that they need to code the website to be successful in the long run.  After the website is built, there will be an ongoing, monthly “SEO Maintenance” fee of a few thousand dollars a month.  If you like this solution, make sure you know the red flags to look for when hiring an SEO company

A Full-Service Marketing Agency

This third option is the other player at the table.  These full-service firms are typically very large in nature and can bring a lot of value to the conversation.  They care more about overall branding efforts than rankings - they try to tie online and offline campaigns together.  They are out to build you the best message possible.  While they can build you a great looking website, often times these firms aren’t experts in the web.  If you’re not planning on using them for more services, it could be overkill to choose this option.

Our Advice

During the meeting, I tried to explain to the prospect that, a lot of times, these three types of firms can work together.  If you’re looking for a local presence (as these guys are), on-page SEO may be enough to gain the rankings you’re looking for.  If you build a highly-optimized website (as we do), and don't achieve the high rankings, then you can bring on an SEO firm to help boost the efforts after you establish a baseline.  Automatically assuming you need to spend thousands a month on SEO is one heck of an assumption.  Also, hiring the mother ship of marketing to build you a website if you’re not planning on tying it all together with a major marketing campaign could result in a sub-par website.  Full-service marketing firms aren't cheap, and they are looking for clients that take advantage of the entire offering.

It’s important, as a small business owner, that you ask questions and understand why there are three different approaches to the same problem.  Understand the product and service offerings and select the best option for your company.

Have you experienced this same problem?  What was your solution?  Sound off in the comments below. 

link
| comments (0)

Which Social Network Is Right For My Business?

Posted by

As a small business owner, you’ve probably asked yourself this question.  With so many social networks out there, and more joining the list every day, it can be downright intimidating to choose the right one(s) and get started.  This post will focus on the big 5 – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and the relative newcomer and everyone’s favorite right now, Pinterest.

Facebook

FacebookWithout a doubt the largest social network on the web, with something like a gazillion users, a major motion picture detailing its rise, and now a $100 Billion IPO, everyone in the world has heard of Facebook.  So, as a business owner, you think more eyeballs = better ROI…right?  Well, maybe not.  Typically, Facebook is utilized by individuals connecting with friends and colleagues.  This mindset of person-to-person, casual interaction, limits the effectiveness of most B2B efforts on Facebook.  B2C companies on the other hand have more success with this, as it’s not uncommon for Facebook users to Like their favorite consumer brands…it’s basically a status symbol.   Millions of people Like Coca-Cola, BMW or their favorite handbag brand, not their HR Company or their web development company.

Twitter

TwitterTwitter has grown exponentially since its inception.  Users share ideas, links and images 140 characters at a time.  While the majority of tweets are utter nonsense or completely useless, B2B and B2C companies have found success here.  Connecting with thought leaders within an industry, interacting with competitors or customers, and giving clients the ability to gain instant feedback have all helped Twitter become a necessary part of a content marketing strategy.  The time it takes to run and monitor a twitter account can be pretty nominal with the right tools (and the right company to set it up for you), so it’s a good bet for any business.  Remember, twitter shouldn’t be used as a 1 way megaphone…nobody will care.  Share useful articles, talk about others, and participate in conversations.

LinkedIn

LinkedInWithout a doubt, LinkedIn is strictly a B2B social network.  Professionals use LinkedIn to connect on a business level with colleagues, clients, and people they have worked with.  Because users are in a business mindset when they are on the network, B2B efforts can be effective and useful.  The important point to remember here is that you’re not selling while you’re on this network.  Answer questions, solve problems, become the expert in a group of people and your efforts should be rewarded.

Google+

Google+Google+ is Google’s social network.  Depending on which articles you read, it is either dying or thriving.  It’s hard to say what the network will become, but it is important you keep an eye on it.  Google is using data it gathers from the network and plugging it into its search algorithm to help craft search engine results pages.  The more you share on Google+, the better the odds of ranking for particular terms…or at least that’s what it looks like so far.  All signs point to the fact we'll see more and more integration in the future, so it is probably wise to set up your account now. 

Pinterest

PinterestTaking the Internet by storm, Pinterest exploded onto the social networking scene due to its visual nature and simplicity.  The user base has grown extremely quickly, so one again may fall into the “more eyeballs = more leads” mentality.  Before you go jumping into Pinterest though, make sure you have a clear strategy and understanding of what is typically successful here.  Highly visual elements dominate, so your content may need overhauled to fit.  There have been stories of B2B and B2C success here, but the majority of those all revolve around certain industries.  Arts and crafts, recipes, fashion, and home décor are among the top items here, so tread lightly if you’re outside of those industries.

A few key things to remember about getting into social media:

  • Be consistent with your updates and conversations
  • Be real
  • Likes and retweets don’t pay the bills, conversions do…Can you get your followers to take action?

What are your tips for success on these networks?  Join the discussion below.

link
| comments (5)

Creating Compelling Content

Posted by

Here at Marketpath, we help companies redesign and launch brand new websites with an easy-to-use content management system on the backend.  One challenge that we often run into, however, is gathering compelling content from our clients.  This is a widespread problem, not limited to just Marketpath’s client base, but to anyone that is redeveloping their online presence.  The dreaded “okay, now what do we say?” question always seems to arise.

Boring Content
Does your content make me want to do this?

Unless you’re paying an outside PR firm or freelance copywriter to write your website copy, it’s going to be left to you and your internal staff.  Once you come to this realization, and a few weeks pass by while you’re waiting for someone to step up and write something awesome,  you’re going to become desperate.  I’d be willing to bet that you’re going to start looking at your old website copy, talking yourself into the “well, it’s not that bad” mindset.  You’ll look at old marketing documents, old sales materials, and start sending it to your website development firm.  If this sounds familiar, I am here to urge you to stop.  Old content on a new site isn’t going to help any more than old content on an old site.  So, what to do?  Here are a few steps to help:

Change your tone of voice

People buy from people.  Stop using buzzwords that you’ve become so accustomed to because they don’t sound natural.  Write like you’re talking to someone you’ve known for years and see what you end up with.  Obviously this depends on the industry (although I always err towards the side of being casual), but humor doesn’t necessarily need to be off limits for your website copy either.  Again, show who you really are, let your personality come through, because after all, people are more likely to do business with people they enjoy working with.

Stop talking about you

I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but talking about you too much on your own website isn’t going to help.  Sure, your company’s history might have a place somewhere on the site, but the whole website shouldn’t be about your mission statement.  Realizing that visitors to your site have a problem that needs solved is the first step to this piece.  Be specific to the problems that you can alleviate.  This will help the visitor feel a bit more engaged, as they see their problems being addressed on your website.

Use a variety of content types

Some people love reading, others don’t.  Some love videos, others work in offices where their computers might not have sound.  Some love images, but not everyone is a picture person.  Realizing this and incorporating a wide variety of content types on your site can help appeal to the masses.  Static pages, blogs, videos, and image galleries all appeal to different parts of the brain.

What are your tips for creating content that is a little more engaging?  Do you have any secrets worth sharing?  Comment below!
 

link
| comments (0)