Becoming a website owner – part one

Crop of the ac4designs home page

Building your own website is a challenge I understand from personal experience

In terms of being a website owner, this post is a case of ‘do I as I say not as I do’. I hope however it does offer some useful insight into the things to consider and the potential pitfalls of choosing to set up and manage your own website. This first part will consider aspects of planning and approach and the second post will follow with some practical issues to discuss and implement.

I began developing my WordPress sites at the beginning of the 2012 ahead of a planned business launch in January 2013. Half way through 2012 I realised I need to radically reconsider my approach. I essentially needed to stop and create a new plan to develop my website structure from the ground up. This has taken rather longer than I would have liked (due to a number of other demands) and much of the work I had put in on my websites in the early part of the year has been lost. However the lessons learned are real and valuable and the new versions will be much improved. The content creation and the planned structure are now all pretty much ready to implement and over the next month or so the Phoenix will rise…

During the second part of the year I have also helped develop and deliver a seminar to  colleagues a the Audit Commission on setting up as a website owner. This post contains content from the worked completed as part of that task and thanks must also go to my colleague Jim Gwilliam for his clear and concise advice.

Owning a website is a BIG decision!

Certainly choosing to set up and manage a website is a complex task.

.. .and the bad joke of the day! A website is not just for Christmas…

I have come to think of owning a website as very much like deciding to own a pet or have a child.

  • It requires planning (always better to do this before the arrival).
  • It requires commitment – in terms of time to nurture and develop.
  • It will turn your world upside down! With demands you just won’t expect!

Do you really need a website?

The  first choice in the website journey is – Do you really need a website? Once upon a time the only way to get an online presence was to have a website, understand html, coding and essentially be a nerd (sorry if I have offended any nerds out there). However, social media, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +, Pinterest, Instagram and all manner of other blogging and online platforms have changed the web landscape forever…
You can now promote, advertise, sell and brand build yourself, your services and your productswithout ever having to own a website. The possibilities are really only constrained by your creative thinking around how to use any given social media platform to deliver your online presence. For example:

  • LinkedIn: A great personal profile and networking tool. There is the option with his platform to add a company page where you can promote your business products and services.
  • Facebook: The social networking platform of the masses! You can also promote your business and even sell direct through Facebook. Facebook advertising lends itself well to product selling to targeted audiences.
  • Pinterest: This growing social media network is becoming popular with product-focused retail sellers looking to promote their products visually. By linking profiles directly to purchase options such as Amazon a small business can create a simple sales route.

The pitfalls of using social media platforms as your key online presence

Using social networking to promote your business and deliver an online presence is certainly a practical approach, as many big and small brands are showing. When starting out, give these options some real thought. Take some time to assess the platform and whether it offers your business proposition a clear audience. You may decide that focused energy spent on a social platform that you can affect is better than lots of energy spent on something (creating a website) that is beyond your control. If you can create a connection with your target market you will be achieving your business goal.

However, the potential disadvantage of building your business proposition on social networking platforms is that you don’t own the site or in many cases the content (make sure you understand the T&C’s of any platform you use). You will have much less control over how a platform might change over time. Changes made to the infrastructure of your chosen delivery platform might have serious consequences for you business, with little you can do about it.

Social media is now an important part of your online presence and for the most effective outcomes ensure social networking is integrated with your online activity. If you chose to use it as the main delivery platform for your products or service, make sure that you keep up-to-date with potential changes and new features to your chosen social networking platform to make sure you don’t run into difficulties.

Define your objective

The key question to ask yourself before you proceed any further is simple – What is my objective?  This is vital to understand before you begin to consider how to build and mange your website. Your reasons for developing your website will be your own. However for the purposes of this blog we are going to discuss them in these terms.

  • Personal – Just for fun, to support a hobby business, raise an personal profile or to support a charity. Essentially a website you have time to learn and develop with and where ultimately financial success is not the driving factor.
  • An online e-commerce business.
  • A business providing services (a website can support online and offline business services).

Why does this make a difference?

Because it should lead you to your first big decision… DIY or professionally developed?

If you are looking to build a website to support a serious business proposition aimed at delivering real returns you should consider the following. While you’re learning to build your website you are not working on growing your business. Your value to your business, let’s say as an hourly rate, is likely to be much more than that of your web designers. It’s really a question of the best use of your time.

How much is your time worth?

 This blog isn’t about offering financial business advice. However the following approach to evaluating the value of your time is useful.

  1. Decide upon a figure for the annual return you would like.
  2. Now divide this by the hours you wish to work (1840 is 46 weeks, 5 days a week for 8 hours as a guide).
  3. This will give you your base hourly rate.
  4. Now multiply this by your chosen non-productivity factor. No one is productive for all of their working day. Even the most successful business people tend to accept that they are productive for only about a third of their time. So multiply your base rate by 3 or 4 to give you your final figure.

The number you have come up with is the total that your time is worth per hour. My guess is its higher than you expected. It certainly was when I completed the task. Why is it of value? Because I believe it should give you a different perspective on the potential of buying in services, such as web design. Better to spend time learning to build a website? Better to spend time building your business? Yes, a web developer will cost money, but your time is not FREE. Building a website takes time. And lots of it if you don’t know what you’re doing or have a clear objective.

If it takes you two hours to adjust something technical on your site, it’s going to take a professional less than half that time (if they are any good).

So get some rates, do the maths, and ask yourself, ‘Am I really saving money?’

Get your website priorities right 

OK. So your still determined you should take on this challenge yourself! Then the next step is to get your priorities in the right order. Most novice web owners view the priorities of their site in this order (and I know I certainly used to):

  • Design
  • Technology
  • Marketing

Wrong! 

Marketing is the factor that will decide whether your website succeeds or fails. Focus on this before design or technology. Design and technology are things to be adjusted to fit your marketing goals.  Your website is about getting traffic and converting visitors.  If you’re planning to build a website to support a business then I would recommend reading Make Your Website Sell by Jed Wylie. This book walks you through the entire planning, set-up and management process.

Marketing your site

Step 1: Customer profiling

Define your ideal customer (and not your average buyer) considering these attributes:

  1. Name
  2. Gender
  3. Age
  4. Appearance
  5. Occupation/salary
  6. Other identifying traits – (relationship status, past failures/successes, likes/dislikes – look for common identifiers that bind your market together)
  7. Emotional needs (to feel secure about business, freedom from stress, etc.)
  8. Core desires (to earn more, spend more time with family)

The more detail and types of customers you can identify the clearer your picture of what is required will be.   

Step 2: Ask yourself some key questions

Next answer the following questions about your website and from the answers (taking into account your customer profiling) you will have some clear ideas about how your website should work.

  • Who (is it for?)
  • What (do you want them to do?)
  • How (are they going to do it?)
  • When (do you want them to act?)
  • Why (should they bother?)

You have reached website base camp

OK, so this is the end of Becoming a website owner – part one and hopefully it has challenged you to think about what you want to achieve and how you might best go about this. In the end the decision as they say is yours, choose wisely and make sure you stay focused. Becoming a website owner – part two will continue the website owner journey a little further and look at more practical issues to discuss and implement.

Thanks for reading…

Colour is so important to your business brand

f4967bf0ba1a11e18bb812313804a181_7Why small business should make the most of their colour!

This post is about a simple but highly effective approach that can significantly improve the visibility of your brand. Big global brands take full advantage of colour use but many smaller businesses fail to grasp and make effective use of this attribute.

The power of colour

Colour is a hugely powerful and emotive in all aspects of life. Colour is used all around us everyday to warn us, direct us, define our mood and re-enforce our perceptions. We all understand why a fire engine is painted red and what a blue flashing light means. For business branding and marketing colour is just as powerful. The best brands really understand the importance of colour to support the visibility of the brand and messaging.

“ Research reveals people make a subconscious judgment about a person, environment, or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on colour alone.

Source: CCICOLOR – Institute for Color Research

The quote above can also be found in this article on the same theme along with a number of other very interesting facts.

www.colormatters.com/color-and-design/why-color-matters

Take the colour test

As a bit of fun take the list of colours below and write a brand name next to each one. See how many match my answers at the end of this article. (No peaking!)

  • Red:
  • Orange:
  • Yellow:
  • Green:
  • Blue:
  • Purple:
  • Red & Yellow:
  • Green & Black:
  • White:
  • Multi:

It will be interesting to see how many of your answers match mine, but actually that’s not the point. After all colours are not owned (with a few exceptions) by brands. Colour is not the only aspect of establishing a successful brand identity. However, I would be more surprised, nay astonished if you could think of an answer for each. The point is simply to emphasis how important colour is to establishing brands in the mind of customers.

The lessons for small business

So how is this applicable to my small local business? Well you may have a smaller number of actual and potential customers but the rules are just the same. If you can secure your colours in the mind of your customers the recognition of your brand and its message will be amplified. Now it’s important to make clear that colour on its own is not a winning marketing strategy. The importance of your message to the customer and your capacity to deliver on your promise remain the key factors. Painting your falling down wooden fence a consistent shade of red isn’t going to stop it being ineffective at keeping the chickens in the field. In fact it can have the opposite effect and just get your ineffective fence noticed more by your neighbours… (Slash customers!)

BUT there are several key benefits to using colour consistently with effective messaging:

  • Increased recognition of your brand.
  • Increased engagement and trust.

The common colour mistake small business make

This is really obvious but happens so much in my opinion. Inconsistent use of colour! Most business owners understand they need a logo to define their business for marketing purposes, but few consider application. Consistent presentation of your identity and use of colour has so many benefits. It simplifies the time, effort and money required to deliver your message. Essentially because there is no debate to be had on the issue of presentation style or colour. This allows you to focus on getting that marketing message just right. Sadly so many small business fail to take control of their presentation style and colour use. This leads to marketing material that may be effective in its messaging, but which is not embedding your brand recognition. It will also inevitably lead to increased costs in creating materials as the presentation of colour is debated each time a task is undertaken.

The 5 simple rules for small business colour use

Before you read my list I should make something clear. This list defines a simple approach to using colour in your brand. There are plenty of examples of brands that use colour in complex and creative ways. However, the more complex the use of colour the more time and money it takes to manage, so if you’re a small business try the following:

  1. Define a simple colour palette for your business
  2. Ensure your logo reflects your use of colour
  3. Use colour consistently in all your marketing
  4. Document your colour palette and ideas for use of colour in your business and across marketing. Share this across your business and with those that apply your brand.
  5. Be consistent!

Clearly the use of colour by some brands is very much more complex. There are times when you will need to adjust your approach to colour. Sub brands or developing individual product brands are just a couple of examples. But for a small start-up or existing business keep it simple. Look around you and ask yourself what your brand colour or colours are? Now ask yourself (and others) if your customers would give you the same answer? Look at your marketing material and ask yourself does it all look as if it comes from the same business? If the answers no then I can be pretty sure it’s cost you more money than it should have. And probably missed an opportunity to embed your brand in your customer’s mind.

Colour by itself won’t make you successful. But it will help!

PS. Link to great info graphic http://www.bitrebels.com/design/what-your-logo-website-colors-say-about-your-brand-infographic/

>>>

This is my list (remember I’m UK-based so my answers are bias that way and its all subjective to your own experience).

  • Red: Coca Cola
  • Orange: B
  • Yellow: AA
  • Green: M&S
  • Blue: Boots
  • Purple: Cadburys
  • Red & Yellow: McDonalds
  • Green & Black: Starbucks
  • White: EBAY

Brand shouldn’t be forgotten!

Remember your Brand is your business

In the current economic climate you might be forgiven for thinking that grappling with the complexities of your Brand are the least of your problems.

However, a strong Brand and effective management can help protect your business in tough economic times. In some cases it can even position you to take advantage of potential opportunities.

Follow the big boys example

Brand example: photo of the Apple logo

Big businesses such as Apple know this, but the same is true for us smaller guys. It’s just sometimes harder to stay committed when times are tough. Effective brands help make sure customer loyalty and protect profit margin by establishing a robust market position.
Your Brand resides within the hearts and minds of customers, clients and everyone that it comes into contact with. It is the total of their experiences and perceptions.
If delivered well and managed successfully a strong brand can offer the greatest protection during an economic downturn.

Branding is not an optional extra

The fact is, investing in strengthening your brand, is simply something you be doing in the modern business world. An economic climate which is creating pressures can even prove a positive environment for a small business with a strong brand.

So start by asking yourself these questions about your brand.
• What is our message and is it delivered clearly?
• Does it enhance our credibility?
• Is it connecting emotionally with our customers?
• Does it help motivate our market to buy?
• Is it cementing customer loyalty?

If you don’t have answers to these questions then the time has come for you to start working out what they are. As a small business do some research (the internet is a free resource) and get your management team together. Analysis the status of your brand and develop a brand strategy. If this all sounds like a mountain you’re not sure you can climb on your own, seek professional assistance. The options are wide from freelance professionals to large agencies. Your budget may play a part in your decision. But remember, that you tend to get what you pay for. Even more important than the cost is ensuring that whoever you work with has a genuine empathy for your business and a real desire to see you succeed.

Deliver on your promise

In tough economic times it is even more important to make sure that your Brand structure and presentation is effective, adaptable and agile. It is important that it remains connected across your business. That all aspects of your business from customer service to corporate communications and public relations understand the role they play in delivering your Brand promise.
This is not highbrow stuff, that only certain types or sizes of business have time for. Every business has a brand, because every business presents a promise to its customers. Whether it is, we are the best, the cheapest or trust our quality. Ensuring that your business delivers the outcome your customer needs is vital to success in competitive economic periods.
My advice. Firstly focus on strategy. Now would be a good time to take a good old fashion look at your business. Ask yourself some of those big scary questions like, who are we, and what do we really offer? Then ask yourself what do you need to do to make yourself stronger, smarter and more relevant?
Then get creative. Think and re-think opportunity, not just survival. The opportunity to change your message, your offer, almost anything about your business to achieve a positive outcome is available.

Why not make a start and review this simple PDF guide to brand for business.

Related articles

Your brand can’t stay relevant without innovation

PDF files – 5 ways to prepare them for the web.

When PDF files are well prepared for the web they will effectively support your business.

Using PDF files on your website is an excellent way of promoting your business. Ensure you are making the best use of the tool. Stop being lazy and dumping your print formatted or poorly considered PDF content into your website. Take a moment to experience what some one finding your PDF content will see by looking at it yourself. Is it helpful, easy to use and impactful? If not, why not? Ensure that you can effectively prepare PDF files for the web by understanding the following 5 simple factors.

Portable Document Format (PDF) is an open standard for document exchange. Created by Adobe Systems in 1993, it has become a popular format for representing documents in a manner independent of application softwarehardware, and operating systems.

PDF files serve a number of purposes including delivery of high quality files for commercial print. PDF files are also a common method of attaching content to web pages. This has in the past been most common when documents designed for print also need transferring to the web. The PDF file format has developed in recent times to include multimedia, video, sound and 3D, in addition to text, full-colour graphics and photos. This means that the modern use of a PDF to deliver content to the web is evolving. Modern PDF files are capable of being much more than a simple artificial photocopiers for attaching existing content to your website. However it is important to prepare PDF files for the web.

For most business users the PDF format is simply an output process that delivers the final document via a print dialogue or a drop down menu. Most do not realise that not all PDF files are equal. High quality print PDF files differ in structure and capacity to that of optimised PDF files for delivery via the web. Loading poor quality PDF files to your website will act as a lead weight to your site. This will effect both Search Engine Optimisation and user experience. Follow this simple 5-point plan to ensure your PDF files are effective in the online environment.

1. Design

In most cases simply transferring a print based design to the web will leave your user frustrated. Even if you have addressed the issues that follow, leaving a viewer to consume content designed for delivery as a printed item on-screen can be ineffective. Design and communication messages that worked in the original document can fall flat and act as a barrier to proper engagement.

This does not mean that documents created for print cannot also be effective online. Effective solutions are possible even if your capacity and or budget to improve your PDF files is limited. Make use of some simple features such as bookmarks, hyperlinks and cross references to really assist the delivery of content in an online PDF.

Where possible consider good design practice for on-screen content delivery. An appropriate layout, use of high contrast colours for text, minimum text sizes and a logical on-screen read order are all important.

If you have a brochure type design ensure that the PDF presents the pages appropriately. For example pages might be shown as spreads instead of single pages to help the presentation of the information. Also ensure that the document is easy to print out. The print options in Adobe Acrobat Reader are simple to use but why not help your user by providing instructions. This should ensure it is output as you would prefer.

If you want to prepare PDF files for the web to the highest standard then you should explore tagging and structuring of content. I would recommend you seek professional assistance to do this to understand the full requirements and benefits. Properly tagged and structured PDF files provide the most flexible and accessible content delivery.

2. Size

Optmising your PDF files for online delivery is a simple and effective way to ensure that they do not weigh down your website with bloated files. It will also ensure that the experience of those who download them is not one of frustration. But we have high-speed broadband I hear you cry! True improved broadband does mean that downloading file sizes is not such an issue as in the past, except for two things:

  • not everyone gets that 20mb premium bandwidth; and
  • mobile viewing is increasingly becoming the preferred method of viewing content.

The objective of your messaging is to reach as may people as possible and ensure they can access the information simply. The size of your PDF can be optimised with no visible loss of quality making it a more effective tool.

Achieving this need not be a major task. It is true that getting a professional to consider this and creating an authoring file with this in mind will deliver the best results. However the editing version of Adobe Acrobat (latest edition Acrobat X) provides a number of simple scripts for tackling this process automatically. Take a small amount of time to review the software you use to create your PDF files. You will find that these provide output settings specific for the different types of file you may wish to create. Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign offer a number of options for outputting PDF files within the print dialogue. If you already have a PDF it is possible to optimise this using Acrobat Pro to improve the format of the document.

It may seem trivial but the ranking of web content is becoming ever more advanced. Search engines such as Google are increasingly reviewing all aspects of your websites content. Bloated file sizes shows lazy file creation and the logical progression of thought is that this will be reflected in the content. It is easily avoided and shows that you are taking your web content seriously.

3. Security

I am continuely amazed at the lack of understanding shown by many businesses in regard to the protection of their intellectual property. Now let’s be clear, if you are creating content to share on the web and you are not concerned with what someone might do with that information, then this section won’t be of much interest. Equally if you do post content to your website and blog it is important to explain that you will still have some copyright protection (as long as it is your content of course). However, let’s be realistic the web is essentially a free source of information and content. If content is on a web page it can be extracted.

This probably seems obvious, but what many do not realise is that the same is true of an unsecure PDF file. PDF files are by default open. Meaning that content from an unsecure PDF is easily copied and pasted into a word processing application and reused for any purpose. However, a PDF can be secured either by applying a password or using a certificate depending on how advanced you want to be. Both methods are applied using the full editing version of Acrobat and there are third party options also available.

If you create PDF files you should consider how valuable the content is and whether restricting the ability of others to copy it is worthwhile. Often the content posted in a PDF is of high value to a business and so protecting it makes sense. None of this alters your rights as the author of the content. But would you leave you bike unlocked outside the news agents while you pop in to pick up the paper?

4. Colour

The issue of colour is two-fold. It is important to make sure that your PDF is impactful and easy to read. The design and layout are vital elements but colour will play an important role. Use high contrast colours and considers issues such as colour blindness and visual impairment. The RNIB estimates forms of visual impairment effect as many as 2% of the population. This rises significantly as people age. Consider your potential markets and ask yourself whether potentially excluding people is really a sensible approach. With a little planning your PDF can be accessible by all.

My second point is in relation to colour reproduction and consistent brand delivery. When viewed on-screen, colours are displayed using the RGB colour space and this can differ significantly from the printed representation of a colour. Printed colour uses CMYK or Pantone systems. If you have invested time and money in your brand and understand the importance of consistent and professional presentation. Then you will be hugely disappointed to see your online brochure looking very different on-screen, than on your desk. You might even be horrified to learn that when printed out from the website the reproduction will look different again. And not in a good way!

There is no simple solution to these issues. Colour is a particularly difficult area to manage. You will need to seek expert help and accept that there maybe a level of compromise required. Selecting brand colours carefully, adjusting colours for online delivery and ensuring that PDF files are created in the correct color space will help achieve effective outcomes.

If you simply continue to use your print formatted PDF files on your website you can’t complain about how they look.

5. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

The first key requirement of any PDF that wants to be noticed by Search Engines is to ensure that it text-based. This simply means that it is generated from a text editing software application such as Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign. Rather than from an image based program such as Adobe Photoshop.

Next consider key wording of the document just like a regular web page. Be careful about heavy-handed adjustments to the copy solely with this in mind. Better that you make sure the document content is valid and informative than simply stuff it full of key words. But a like tweaking might worthwhile. Follow the basic rules. Try and include keywords in the page title, headings and at least a couple of times in the first paragraph. Including it throughout the content is also a good idea. Make sure you also name the file using the primary keywords if possible. This will make sure it shows up in the URL just like a normal web page and act as a relevance flag to search engine spiders. Finally, if you are able, use image captions within the PDF file to describe image content. The odd keyword here wouldn’t go a miss here either.

You should also complete the document properties. This includes the title, author, subject, and keywords. This is done in either the text editing application or in the final PDF. The title is the most important, as it will supply the page title in search engine results. If you don’t create a title, the search engines will use a line from the page, which may not make a lot of sense to potential visitors. The other sections have less impact but it is good practice to add information where possible.

To have the most impact on your PDF files SEO you need to make use of Tags. Using a full editing version of Adobe Acrobat you can add tags to content that behave similarly to HTML tags in web pages. Content can be defined such as headlines, captions, body text and images. Images can also have alternative text descriptions applied to clearly define what is displayed. This ensures that Search Engines can quickly scan your PDF and understand the content. It will also make sure your content is more accessible by ensuring assistive technology such as screen readers can use the content.

Finally make sure your PDF is easy to see. Linking to a PDF from your home page or top navigation (main pages) will make sure it is close to your root directory. This will help search engines find it easily. Another tip is to link from the PDF back to pages on the web. This will make sure that search engines notice your content when scanning the web.

Making PDF files accessible

Accessible content

Can  PDF files be made accessible to people with visual impairment or who need assistive technology to use the internet?

A college of mine recently asked this question, above, and thought I would post my thoughts.

To use PDF or Microsoft Word files with assistive technology effectively content creators must create files that have this in mind. This essentially means that the design needs to consider the user and that the document should contain good structured and tagging. To do this each element that makes up a document needs a definition – so define text that is a top-level heading (the title of a book) separately from a sub heading and from body text using styles – tag images to give an alternative text description that indicates an image in a non visual environment.

Design and publishing tools such as Adobe InDesign and Microsoft Word do deliver help in creating well structure documents, using style sheets and tagging tools, some of which is automatic. However to achieve a high quality solution this task needs considering fully as part of the process of creating the document file.

It is perfectly possible to take a PDF and complete all the tasks required to create an accessible file using Adobe Acrobat Professional or the newer version Acrobat X (please note this refers to the full editing versions of this software and not the free reader only options available). However, creating fully accessible documents using Adobe InDesign and Acrobat or Microsoft Word is still a pretty complex task. To be cost-effective it really needs building into the process from an early stage via templates in my opinion. The latest version of Adobe InDesign CS5.5 is reducing the need to complete tasks separately in Acrobat by allowing preparation in the source InDesign file. These preparations transfer into in the PDF without issue, something which is a vast improvement on older versions. The new features of Adobe CS5.5 are explained in two great videos found at the Adobe TV learning resource.

My knowledge of Microsoft Word is not as strong but my understanding is that while Word generally produces well structured content, achieved by using the built-in style sheets, there is still a need address images and make adjustments to make sure the PDF is of a high standard. WebAIM provides this useful introduction.

In the past Adobe restricted some of the more complex tasks to Adobe Acrobat and these were a pretty manual task. This is improving with much more automation available. Acrobat X’s improved scripting and accessibility features mean that much of this could be managed using a simple workflow to help.

In addition Acrobat Reader actually delivers many accessibility features which people do not realise. For example the accessibility preference settings in Acrobat allow the display of coloured text in black on white no matter what colour the text or background are. This effectively means that even documents with poor colour contrast are accessible (although I would always promote this being considered as part of the general design). It also allows for text to reflow allowing the increase of text size  without the need to scroll horizontally (with good tagging applied). Acrobat also includes a read out loud function which will correctly read a PDF if  tagged properly, meaning that alternative screen reader software is not required. This is I believe essentially how Commercial Screen Readers work also. I have very limited experience of screen readers but it seems that most users find a solution that works for them. Hence the reason I sometimes get requests for a Word version for use with screen readers. In most cases this is simply because the user knows how to use their screen reader with Word, rather than it necessarily being more effective than a PDF. Screen Readers essentially use the document structure and tagging to read out or display the content in an alternative way. They will include the ability to use tab keys and quick keys to navigate the document something that Acrobat does as well. There are many Screen Reader Software packages, some of which are Open Source, a popular commercial package being JAWS. Macs come with a built-in screen reader called VoiceOver.

So the answer is basically yes, but it’s still not that straight forward. Thankfully the increasing migration to mobile devices as our main source of web viewing is indirectly driving accessibility of documents up. While accessibility for a small percent of users with impairments has never been a huge driving force, the need to deliver flexible content for delivery across the widest number of platforms for the mass market is. As a result the software used to generate content must now help deliver final output which is well structured in a simple and efficient way. This is rapidly improving and will continue to do so.

Making the most of Microsoft for business

(I will highlight here that my references to Microsoft Office, Word, Excel, Entourage and PowerPoint will directly related to the 2008 version.

Like many graphic designers I have in the past regarded the creative capacity of Word and PowerPoint with a little disdain. But times are changing! I have come to recognise that the Microsoft Office Suit offers many great tools for small businesses. My wish to see small business make the most of the opportunities they have and to embrace good design means that I now see the task of getting the best from these tools and the other Microsoft products as a challenge.

My aim here is to highlight opportunities to integrate these tools with good design to deliver communications that stand out, define your business and which give your business as much control as possible at low-cost.

Microsoft Mail Merge Manager

(Previously known as Data Merge Manager)

For those small businesses out there that are already familiar with this aspect of the Microsoft tool set there are no great insights to follow. However, how many of you small businesses are still manually creating standard letters, envelops, labels and other communication to multiple addresses.

Lets look at an example. Suppose that you have to send a form letter to 1,000 (or even 50) different contacts. With the Mail Merge Manager, you can write one form letter, and then have Word merge each contact’s information with the letter that you created. You can also create mailing labels, envelopes, and catalogs. It’s simple, and faster than the manual alternative.

The Mail Merge Manager combines, or merges, information from a data source with information in a Word document so that you don’t have to create multiple versions of the document by hand. To get started, you open or create the main document.

There are lots of free templates available to get you started direct from Word so cost is no barrier. If you already recognise the benefits of a strong visual identity to your business communications and need help creating a template that fits your business need and delivers the capacity to use the power of the Mail Merge Manager. Then simply talk to your current creative resource. Make sure your clear about what you want to do and the task and cost need not prove an obstacle. Once you have your document, you tell the Mail Merge Manager what type of mail merge that you want (such as, a form letter, mailing labels, envelopes, or catalog).

A data source has the unique information for each mail merge recipient. For a form letter, this might include the person’s name, address, and other personalised information. If you don’t already have a data source (such as, an Excel sheet, Office Address Book, or FileMaker Pro database), you can create one by using the Mail Merge Manager.

Again this is simple and can be completed by anyone competent at inputting data. Obviously if you don’t already have a database of addresses setting up the data source will take a little time. But once complete it can be used for multiple documents and projects so the time will be well spent.

Placeholders decide where the Mail Merge Manager inserts information from the data source into the main document. For example, the Mail Merge Manager inserts the contact’s first name into the First Name placeholder when you complete the mail merge. Adding placeholders is easy. Simply drag and drop them into a text box you have created on your page ensuring the correct spacing and punctuation between each. Mail Merge Manager will do the rest.

You can use the Mail Merge Manager to send letters to a smaller group of recipients, such as those that live in a specific city or postal code. You can filter your data source by several criteria to choose the recipients that you want form your data source.

Before you complete the mail merge, you can preview your letters to make sure that they look the way that you expect them to.

To complete the mail merge, you select a format for the merged document. You have three format options: a new Word document, Entourage e-mail messages, or printouts.

I have deliberately not included any detailed screen shots or walk through in this article because the Microsoft Word Help presents a detailed walk through of how to use Mail Merge Manager under the Learning road map for Word. No point repeating what is already an excellent introduction. Why not take a look and add the power of Mail Merge Manger to your business tools.