Website Development

From Our Founder: Refocusing on the Forward View

First of all, I'd like to apologize for the lack of newsletters in December and January. I was hospitalized for almost seven weeks at the end of 2015 and admittedly didn't delegate writing our newsletters to another Forward View team member. (That was a mistake that I won't repeat.) In the hospital, I did have plenty of time to think about exactly what opportunities Forward View should be chasing and, more importantly, what paths we should not pursue. With a small business, I've come to realize that what we don't do is often more meaningful than what work we complete. Let me explain and offer examples:

Forward View sells investment research and has developed a loyal global readership. We don't, however, offer "corporate access" services that involve selling opportunities to communicate/meet with company executives. That is a change from the typical research industry business model. I, however, don't believe in putting a price on our contact list or the wonderful relationships we've developed in finance and multiple other industries. Forward View also doesn't engage in trading or investment banking services that would generate conflicts of interest with our research publications. Again, that lack of services is a departure from Wall Street. We simply enjoy being different and prefer to focus on our core strengths. Forward View's research team thus has no trouble sleeping at night because we're free of the typical ethical dilemmas that give finance a bad name.

On the consulting side of Forward View, we'll remain dedicated to small businesses and nonprofits. We're not going to pursue large corporate clients. The small business market is both extensive and woefully underserved, especially here in Southwestern Virginia. I enjoy serving entrepreneurs who've been ignored by other firms because they're both driven to find a consulting partner and exceedingly interested in our proposed solutions. Again, though, Forward View is defined by our self-imposed restrictions and "limitations."

This year, I'm going to refocus on The Forward View. (That's our unique outlook on the future of finance and small business success.) To accomplish our goals, we'll be launching a new equity research product in the Spring. Wall Street will soon have to pay more for our reports, but we'll also be making more analyses available to smaller investment firms for free/low-cost through StockViews. Our internal processes are also being revamped in order to better serve new, and existing, consulting clients. I look forward to presenting more of these developments in future newsletters.

In closing, I'm excited about what Forward View can accomplish in 2016! I believe we have a fantastic team and without them, almost nothing would get done. The future looks bright as long as we do what we do best... and nothing more!

Shop Small: A Holiday Season Preparation Guide

Here at Forward View, we spend most of our time working with small businesses. You might say that entrepreneurs are some of our favorite people! When we're not directly consulting with local companies from across the U.S., our team is likely reading and thinking about new ways to support the economic pillars of our communities. With Christmas and Hanukkah upon us, we'd like to help you prepare for Small Business Saturday (November 28th) and the rest of the holiday shopping season.

First of all, fire up your social media accounts and start promoting #ShopSmall immediately! Then, begin developing a cohesive campaign that combines an online marketing effort with an in-store/on-location event or offer for Small Business Saturday. (If you have an e-commerce business, then just focus on the digital component.) Create a special sale to drive holiday season visitors, says Forward View consultant Grace Wu. Our copywriter, Chelsea Hippler, adds that your digital efforts should combine the general Shop Small message with your unique business promotion.

For offline marketing, our digital artist, Kerri Costello, suggests you should mail postcards to potential customers in your area. A well-designed card with a coupon or invitation to a special event will stand out in the typical mailbox full of catalogs. Overall, utilize social media and your small business website to present a comprehensive message why patrons should shop with you this season. With big-box stores flooding the internet and airwaves with ads, you must clearly explain the reasons your business deserves hard-earned holiday dollars! Use Eventbrite to publicize your Small Business Saturday event for free. If you don't want to host your own holiday season gathering, Forward View analyst David Wilson says that your small business should sponsor or support community events, such as a 5K run.

Once you have developed your holiday season plan, get your business ready for increased traffic. The good news is that our friends at American Express have free information and content to jumpstart your on-location Shop Small campaign. Click here to access the American Express guides and materials. Also, ensure that you have enough inventory and staff to satisfy increased demand. The last thing you want to do is have a flood of potential customers come to your business... and not be able to satisfy their orders or requests!

We believe that "bottom-up" economic development is key to revitalizing American communities. One small business itself can't impact a regional economy, but a supportive and connected group of firms can do wonders! The key to a successful Small Business Saturday and Shop Small campaign is to network with other local entrepreneurs and business groups to build a cohesive message. Start your planning now so you'll be ready to go as Christmas spending begins in earnest. Make this holiday season your most successful ever!

For further reading, Grace Wu recommends:

Answers to Your Questions

Two of Forward View's greatest supporters recently sent us an article entitled 7 Questions Businesses Should Ask Potential Web Developers (written by internet marketer Seth Rand). We found each of these questions very relevant to our own business, so it seemed wise to answer them directly in this newsletter. Let's get started!

  • What are examples of sites you’ve designed, built and maintained?

We have a full presentation of our completed websites at New client projects will be posted this month, too. Check that page frequently!

  • Will you help me select plugins and third-party systems, including hosting providers?

Is the sky blue? Is the grass green? Is Forward View's team awesome? We'll absolutely work with you to select the best digital service providers. As a matter of fact, we typically present complete solutions to our clients, thus eliminating their need to contact additional companies. Our website packages are designed to reduce client stress as much as possible because we integrate every technology the client needs.

  • What portion of your work is done in-house and what portion is outsourced?

We outsource nothing. Period. Would outsourcing tasks to overseas firms save us money? Yes, indeed! Would you be satisfied with the results? Not likely. If our customers wouldn't be happy, neither would we! Confidential information is never shared outside of Forward View, and the people working on our website projects are the same folks our clients know on a first-name basis.

We never outsource to unknown people

  • How will we communicate?

Forward View uses Skype, phone, and email to communicate with our clients. Our founder is also happy to meet with local clients in person. We respond to inquiries within 24 hours, too.

  • What are the costs, and how are they calculated?

We present a firm quote for services in our website development contract. If a vendor raises our costs, Forward View won't pass along the price increase. We do pass along savings we receive from vendors, however, because that's only fair. Forward View isn't concerned about our own profit margin. Instead, we focus on long-term business relationships.

  • What happens if I change scope mid-project?

We'll work with you as much as possible. Major changes in scope will likely require a new invoice, but we find that such significant adjustments are rare because we carefully analyze client needs before building anything. Solid planning can prevent most headaches.

  • Will you provide me with training throughout the process?

Yes! While most of our clients ask us to maintain their website, we're happy to train them to publish website updates, too. No matter how you prefer to keep your digital presence fresh, we can help. We'll train you as much as you wish or manage the system completely. Flexibility is our goal!

We hope you've found this Q&A beneficial. As always, we're happy to answer you questions and inquiries. Our clients are more than numbers to Forward View!

SPAM: A 21st-Century Business Problem

After being repeatedly spammed with messages related to my clients' websites, I composed the following response to one spammed supposedly named "Fred":

You’re starting to annoy me, and that’s surely not a good thing. I’ve unsubscribed from your emails, and yet you’re still sending me the same garbage. I have never, and will never, click your link because your “generosity” is undoubtedly insincere. Your website will either infect my computer with a virus, or you’ll end up trying to charge me for something. So, here’s the deal:

  1. You’re going to stop sending me any email immediately.
  2. You’ll delete my address from your system. Now.
  3. You’ll delete my address from your archives, too.
  4. I won’t report you to the FCC/FTC/FBI. (Probably.)

If you fail any of the first three steps above, this will happen:

  1. I will report you to the FCC/FTC/FBI.
  2. I will keep pushing the case, including through my contacts in Washington DC and law enforcement.
  3. Your operation will be shut down.
  4. You will pay fines.
  5. You will be left either a) despairingly hungry and homeless or b) in a cell with a hopefully irritable, delusional or exceedingly boring cellmate.
  6. I will be very happy every single day.

It’s your move. Think wisely. Don’t test Forward View Consulting.
No regards,

Nathan Yates, M.S.F.

My message was, of course, bounced from the spamming account. As a research analyst and web developer, though, I tracked down the email marketing service used by dear old Fred. I provided the marketing company with sufficient information to can this spammer, but I know that 100,000+ other Freds exist. I'm especially concerned because my clients have also received supposedly website-related "alerts" that range from gimmicky SEO services to downright digital robbery. Each website domain name registration I complete fires up the internet trolls all over again. Forward View's future client services will include helping clients to identify website-oriented scams/spam, and we'll also begin aggressively hunting the online trolls for reporting to the appropriate authorities. Don't mess with Forward View!

2015 Web Design Trends

As with any area of design, digital styles change over time. Web design fads come and go quickly, but some trends are much more enduring. In this article, we'll focus on the areas of website design that won't be dated by morning. Here are the four key trends to understand:

Imagery: The trend in imagery is for larger, bolder photos and graphics. Header and background images are especially popular, with text flowing over and around the visual elements. While the current preference for retro-tinged pictures is likely to fade, impressive visuals are here to stay. High-speed internet and 3/4G cell service ensure that photos won't take hours to load. (We forecast that video will increasingly replace or complement static images.)

This image would be perfect for a contemporary website

Page Number: Until recently, there was a focus on increasing the number of pages in a website. Any page longer than two screen lengths was considered ripe for separation into multiple pages. Now, page consolidation is occurring as a response to the number of overly-segmented and less cohesive websites. Instead of creating several pages for each site, current trends are geared toward creating distinct blocks of content on fewer pages. Separation of design elements is still key, but that trend doesn't always necessitate additional pages.

Depth: A couple of years ago, websites were flat, but the graphics offered depth. Now, this has reversed. Flat images are being built into website layers which create the illusion of depth. The parallax design style even uses content blocks that roll over each other. (We'll be unveiling our first parallax website soon!) While websites aren't 3D yet, we're excited about new methodologies that improve the appearance of depth in the digital world.

A parallax design currently in progress

Multiple Screens, One Design: When the transition toward mobile web browsing began, designers considered the mobile experience to be of lesser importance than the traditional desktop website. The mobile site was thus built with an entirely different style than the "standard" site. (The technical limitations of early smartphones also dampened the ability to produce a fantastic mobile experience.) As smartphones and tablets have become more powerful, mobile sites and their desktop counterparts have converged. Instead of putting each site in its own silo, current design trends are centered around a unified user experience. The screen size used to view a website shouldn't affect functionality. At Forward View, our sites are always tested on multiple screens to ensure a delightful experience on every device.

We hope you have enjoyed this review of website design trends. It's not an exhaustive list of modern sensibilities, but this article should address the most noteworthy concepts for 2015. Technology can affect digital styles quite rapidly, however the trends we've identified should endure...well, as long as anything endures on the internet!

March News

March was a very busy month for Forward View, but I'm incredibly pleased with the results. We're moving multiple website development projects across the finish-line and have just begun a new one. Graphics designed by Kerri Costello and copywriting by Jamie Brown have been key components of these latest sites, and I'm very happy to have them both working on Forward View projects. We look forward to sharing the results of our efforts very soon!

On the finance side of the business, Forward View is pleased to announce that David Wilson will be our new contributing research analyst. David was my classmate at Southern New Hampshire University, and I'm excited to work with him again. I also enjoyed touring a Joy Global (NYSE: JOY) Center of Excellence last month and appreciated the company's invitation to see the facility. The research published following this visit has been our most popular report to date. Contact us to request a copy!

Last week, we rolled out our new research delivery system. You can now order research on the companies we cover through the Forward View website. We look forward to fulfilling your requests. We have also partnered with Seeking Alpha to provide a subscription platform. For less than $300 a year, you can access all of our research through a single portal. That's a significant savings vs. buying individual reports. The subscription service!

As always, I'm grateful to our clients and business partners for their continued support. Without them, Forward View wouldn't exist! We look forward to providing our new research offerings while we continue to support small businesses and nonprofits across America with modern web design services. -Nathan Yates

E-Commerce: Are You Ready?

E-commerce might just be the perfect subject for us to discuss because it's at the intersection of website development and finance. We certainly have experience creating e-commerce systems for a variety of companies, and we'll be rolling out one more e-commerce site this Spring. Before your business sells anything online, though, you need to answer these key questions:

Shopping online is becoming increasingly popular.

  1. How will e-commerce benefit us? Don't ever create a digital ordering system just because everyone else seems to have one! You should obviously investigate the idea if your competitors are moving into e-commerce, but that can't be your only reason to develop this channel. Think about your own unique situation.

  2. When/where do our customers buy from us? If your customers typically occupy your time with their calls to order standardized items (i.e. t-shirts, books or golf balls), you will probably benefit from e-commerce. If you have a service business or sell extremely customized products, e-commerce isn't likely right for you.

  3. Are our customers on-the-go? If you can implement a time-saving ordering system, especially one that's smartphone-friendly, your busy customers are likely to be happy. You might sell some pizzas just because folks can order them online easier than they can call your competitor and wait for an overwhelmed teen to get the order written down! (And how often does Junior make a mistake?)

  4. Can we manage a flurry of online sales? E-commerce can significantly boost sales, however it's not going to be valuable if you have insufficient inventory. Customers will be upset if your website promises delivery by a particular day but they receive their order late because you ran out of stock. Don't create scenarios for customers to be disappointed! The repercussions on social media can be deadly if you break promises to customers.

  5. Do we understand how to keep customers' payment information safe online? Don't be the newest entry into the Big Book of Hacked Companies. If your e-commerce system isn't secure, you run the risk of infuriating customers who are victimized. Lawyers will be standing in line to sue you, too! Ensure that your ordering platform isn't "protected" with a password such as "12345" or "mypassword."

While that's hardly an exhaustive list of e-commerce questions you need to address, we believe every business considering this type of system should research these topics before installing anything online. We're happy to offer a free e-commerce evaluation. As the economy becomes increasingly digitized, we believe more and more companies will need to seriously investigate e-commerce opportunities.