A Warm Cozy Feeling

I get a warm cozy feeling when I launch a new website project. In this case the feeling is particularly so because the client, Cozy Home Performance LLC of Easthampton, MA (mycozyhome.com), makes a business out of making people feel comfortable in their homes.

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Music for Families

"HooteNanny is about music, family and community, and the ways in which learning to sing, play and dance can enhance all three" That is an apt description of what these two sisters provide in their Hootenanny program.

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Knit one purl two - Knitwear web sites

In this case it was not purl or perl... but coldfusion and Wordpress. There are just too many puns when it comes to the knitting community, but I just couldn't resist. Over the past few months I have had a full immersion into the world of knitwear design, Ravelry.com, self publishing, and the power of the blog.

In September and October I had the pleasure of working with my friend Gudrun Durham in the transition of her very successful knitwear blog into a full blown web site. She had been blogging at Blogger.com for quite a while and had built up quite a following. She creates her own patterns and has been successful at selling them to a worldwide audience of knitwear enthusiasts. With the help of Ravelry.com, she is able to easily manage the commerce end of things because they provide the shopping cart and the cut-n-paste code that allows knitters like her to put "buy" buttons on their own sites that link back into the Ravelry.

Here is the home page of TheShetlandTrader.com:

Gudrun's website was very enthusiastically adopted by her fans, and helped to launch her first self published book of knitwear designs - The Shetland Trader Book One.

What astounded me was how ravenous the other knitters online were... and this is a huge testament to the power of a good blog based on a niche topic. Hundreds of followers started commenting on the new site praising the simple and understated design, the photography, and many pledged their support for the new book. And they noticed something else... my signature at the bottom of the pages.

That led to a new client for me within two days of launching TheShetlandTrader.com. Wow!

I have now had the pleasure of working with another knitter and knitwear designer, Caryl Pierre.

Caryl lives in NYC and she also has worked the blogosphere building a following, selling her patterns and keeping her thread through the knitting community. She has a very successful pattern called Ruffle My Feathers and with that success she too decided that her Wordpress.com free blog was not enough to really grow her knitting into a full business.

I helped Caryl with her new company concept: CarylStyle. This involved developing a logo, business cards, and the new website. She also uses Ravelry.com to sell her patterns, and has successfully migrated her blog audience over to the new website format... which, of course still includes a blog.

Which leads me to the technical commonality of these two clients. Both come from the blogosphere, and so blogging is their lifeblood.... that is the main marketing activity that makes their businesses grow. But having a free blog on Blogger or Wordpress just doesn't communicate in a way that says "this is my professional enterprise."

Enter WordPress. After these two projects, I am really loving WP as a full blown CMS. There is so much more to Wordpress than blog. The plug-ins, widgets, and overall easy of use makes it a great way to build a website, and have a blog all in one package.

In addition to WP, I also installed one of the modules of my Coldfusion CMS, that allowed for a home page that the client can update outside of WP. I think that with a little more looking, I could do everything within WP, and I already have a few proposals out that will get me deeper into the Wordpress pimp role. Stay tuned!

Programming flexibility into a Yoga Studio Website

My latest ouvre. Yoga-Sanctuary.com was a website that had been stretched to its limits. It was a classic site, static HTML, frames, and outdated branding. There was third-party integration with MindBody, a business logic software system for scheduling, taking online payments and payroll for yoga studios, salons, gyms, and spas.

My work was to install my ColdFusion CMS so that the studio manager could maintain the site, integrate a live feed from MindBody into the site for a nicer user experience, and to supply mechanisms for adding galleries, taking in and displaying testimonials, teacher bios, display a blog feed on the home page from Blogger, integrate Constant Contact newsletter sign up, and work with the owner and studio manager to design a site that was pleasing, dynamic, and not overly feminine. The result, is a wonderful example of the zen of website development.

Here is the homepage as it was:

Here is the homepage now:

The building and customization of the CMS was a large task in itself, but it built up a codebase that I have been working on for almost 2 years now. This is the best example of what my gCMS can do. I learned several things about how to use CF and MySQL to do all the back-end stuff, and still publish static and dynamic pages on the front-end. I can see that I have to refine things a bit now too, like for example, I need to add a back-end function for publishing or regenerating all the pages in the site with one mouse click.

The juiciest bit of programming was integrating the MindBody feed. That meant exploring the CFHTTP tag and after pulling in the XML feed, a lot of XPath data manipulations so the front-end display was what we wanted, with conditional logic, styling and fail-over code in the event of a communications time out with the third-party server. Take a look. Although it just looks like a simple page, there is a bunch of hard-won knowledge behind it.

Old Dog, New Tricks

Here's one of the ways that Facebook has been a good thing for my business. Simply put it is the network part of "social networking" that pays off. The more contacts you make in your network, the more people know what you do, and that is a good thing. Basic marketing.

Here's the story of one FB contact that thought of me for her Dog Training and Boarding business.

Well, there's not much of a story really... her website needed to be updated... the design was, well, "vintage." It was fun connecting with an old friend from my life at UMass and learning about her business.

The homepage states: At Northeast School For Dogs, we offer obedience training, boarding, and daycare.

Here's the site before:

Here's the site after:

Puffer's Website Gets the Esthetic Treatment

This Aveda Concept Spa and Salon in Westfield, MA, needed a website update. I have done several spas and salons in Western MA, and I enjoy working with people who are all about the esthetic. What they bring to their customers in the way of renewal and relaxation, their website needs to communicate too.

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Buy Coffee and Tea Online

I am pleased to announce the launch of a new website for Esselon Coffee Roasting Co., Inc. We redesigned the site, and took their online coffee sales business to the next level.

The new site is built on the Shopsite platform served at Lexiconn in CT. Shopsite gives the website owner the power to manage all parts of the site via a full-blown ecommerce shopping cart and content management system. The site manager can add, edit and update products, spotlight sales on the home page, and control the navigation of the site. Shopsite has a built-in rich text editor that allows non-coders to do the basic web page edits as well as upload photos (with mulitiple resizing) and manipulate page content as needed, then publish static Google-friendly pages to the site.

This project was also exciting for me because it is the first collaboration with Jennifer Williams of Verilliance, who handled the SEO research and content consulting. With Jennifer's talent on tweeking the copy towards online sales and search engine marketing, the expanded offerings of product, and with the power of Shopsite to manage the site, I am certain this marks a new era in the business of Esselon.

If you didn't know, Esselon is also an amazing cafe in Hadley, MA that offers breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner with beer and wine and a kicking menu of savory goods!

Below is the before and after shot of the Esselon.com home page... but don't stop there... check out the full site and buy some coffee or tea!

Before

After

Recent Launch: NECCEE Cosmetology and Esthetics School

The tagline is "Redefine your life." We redfined their site.

New England Center for Cosmetology and Esthetics Education website not only needed a make-over to update their look, but they needed a plan for how to really drive prospective students to make admissions appointments and to help them make a career choice.

UPDATE - June 2010: NECCEE was sold to BrioAcademy, and their website was mothballed as part of the brand consolidation.

I worked with the owners and the admissions staff to determine what people needed to know in order to make the leap. Questions like: Do I want to be a hair stylist or do I want to be a spa manager? How can I pay for this education? When can I get into a class? Will I get a job after I am done? We redesigned the home page to feature those four questions, to give entry points so that users could make those choices.

Their old website was already rich with information and background on careers, course descriptions, and institutional information. We maintained all the old search-engine-indexed URLs, and re-packaged the info in the new wraper.

We launched a blog on Blogger.com to enable staff to easily generate keyword rich content that links back to the main site. It was amazing to see that Google indexes those posts within minutes of them being published. I took an RSS feed from the blog and populate the home page with the latest blog headlines giving a nice sense of currency to the site.

One of the features I am really proud of is a simple, non-scientific career/personality quiz. Based on a group of traits, the user must pick 10 that they identify with... then my programmatic magic rates their likelihood to fit one of three career paths. See it here.

The whole site is ColdFusion driven, and the next project is a custom build out for the schools' alumni... with job matching features and job seeking tools to help graduates make the most of their certifications.

Love, Aviary

That is how they signed the "welcome" message when I got the email confirmation for my account. What is Aviary you ask? It is a cool new suite of web enabled applications that provide graphics tools similar to Photoshop and Illustrator created by one of the founders of Worth 1000.

These apps are totally cool. Phoenix, the image editor is like PS. Layers, Filters, History... all the goodies that you would need if you had to live without Photoshop. There is a vector tool, a colors tool, and what they call a visual laboratory. And they have more in store...

There are online screencasts, and demos... they offer tutorials and wikis on how to use the apps. It is a really great idea because, though I have always used the Adobe tools, having them has been a bit of a stretch on the wallet.

I really like the fact that this guy Avi, from Worth 1000 realized that his awesome site was a little exclusive... you had to have the pro apps to really get fun work done. So he leveled the field and in true Internet spirit has brought democratic access to creativity to the masses.

See you in the Aviary!

Do you know That Artist?

I am proud to announce the launch of my latest site: ThatArtist.com, the website for a Brooklyn artist named Mark Parsons. Mark's work in sculpture, printmaking, and collaborative projections sets him apart from many of his peers. His innovation and vision have brought his work to a another dimension. Mark teaches at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, and we launched his site just in time for the Armory Show, a big expo of new and contemporary art taking place in NYC from March 5 to March 8th.

I am very excited about the ThatArtist.com project, because it futhers my experience with building effective back-end systems for my clients. I used much of the ColdFusion/MySQL knowledge that I specialize in, but I also was thrilled to incorporate the FCKeditor into the admin tools for the first time. This gives Mark the opportunity to not only manage text and images, but to control styling, upload files, embed Flash and so many other great WYSIWYG stuff that requires him to know nothing except how to use a browser.

The site includes a galleries management tool, the ability to add pages at will, and the ability to edit the main navigational pages as needed with total control over text and images all delivered through a variable template based on the YUI standards of fonts, grids, and reset.

Instantly Mark took to the tools and began generating content and taking ownership of his site. It was amazing to see a friend light up when he realized that he was released from the prison of his old website that was managed by someone else and he was not empowered to interact with it at will.

I have great confidence that this site will open doors for me as Mark is a networking kind of guy, and he'll tell people how happy he is.

The design of the site is very minimalist... in fact I did not use ANY Photoshop in building this site. It gave me a nice feeling for what can be done with simple CSS and HTML layout that provided Mark with the simplicity that he required. I did not even size the images in PS... I was thrilled to start using ColdFusion 8's native CFIMAGE tag to upload, resize and create thumbnails all on the server... again giving my client the power to know nothing about what dpi his images were or if they were web safe. CF did it all for me!

Coming up next, I have another NYC artist in the pipeline, and we'll build off of some of what I made for ThatArtist.com, but I think we'll do more design, and there are a lot more features to implement. I am truly excited!

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