Feb 012013

The hottest eCommerce offers on the net today are the offers that say (copied right from their home screens):

  • “Everything you need to start selling online – today.”
  • “All-in-one eCommerce solution”
  • “Everything you need to create a successful online store”

Prices start at around $20 a month, give or take $5 either way. Too good to be true?

No. It’s true. That’s the problem. 

Right there, in that monthly charge, is your big red flag. Any eCommerce solution that starts out with a monthly charge is a “hosted solution.”

Even that sounds good. No added cost for hosting. Whoopee.

It’s a trap. 

The worst thing that can happen to you will be you have a really successful store. You sell tons of stuff and are making a few thousand dollars a week – and then you discover that the service has built-in limits. There’s a feature or function that your store needs that is not available from that supplier.

Maybe the company will add it for you? Of course they will. For a price. Their price. The price they want.

Negotiation? No. We do not negotiate.

OK, I’ll move my store somewhere else to another online service.

Go ahead, take your store off our server. But you cannot use our designs or templates. Even if we wanted to allow you to move them, they will not work anywhere else but on our hosting server.

Sorry, (they may say) but that’s the way it goes. We rented you the free software that is the store.

We own that software and you can’t take it with you.

BTW, (they will say) that database of products, prices, order details, shipping info, images and customers that is the soul of your online store? You own the data but we will not give you any tools that empower you to export it. You’ll have to copy/paste everything, one product, price, description, image link, customer contact info, order history, etc, one at a time, by hand. Could take you days of non-stop work for a successful online store.

Is that the way all these deals go? Usually Yes. You have simply bought a hosting service with a store thrown in for free. If you stop renting their hosting service, they own everything that they hosted. They may or may not allow you to walk away with some or any of it. And if you do, you probably will discover you only have a round peg that will not fit the square slot of any other hosting service.

What’s the alternative?

Start with a truly Open Source eCommerce shopping cart. One that you can install and manage on any of hundreds of thousands of eager to support you, inexpensive hosting services for prices that generally run $5 to $20 a month. You own the store. It will run on any of those hosting services (except those ones that offer a “free store.”

Whoooaaa? What’s that $20 per month stuff? I can buy hosting from BigDaddy or HostCroc or Bluewhatever for $1 a month on special or maybe as high as $6.95. Even when they are not “on special” they never cost more than $10 or $12 a month.

True, dat .

But be sure you are getting what you really need for the small money involved. Hosting is just like renting a real bricks and mortar storefront. There’s hosting and there’s hosting.

Dig in to make sure yours includes everything you need for a successful online store. Look for BOTH

  • Tech Support 24/7 by phone, for the inevitable technical issues such as infected software, broken scripts, lost files, etc. – These things happen all the time and you will want immediate help, usually on the seond ring, at any hpour of the day or night, holidays included.
  • Webmaster level help for your web site itself (most big hosting services won’t do that for any price). pro-active updating of your store’s software, themes and plugins, free backups and free restorations, etc.

Perspective:. $20 a month, the top price any small business needs to pay for the highest level of fully managed hosting service support is about 60 cents a day. That won’t buy you a cup of coffee in most restaurants. If you can’t justify that to make sure you have the best, most complete hosting service, maybe you should not be doing that business at all?

SUMMARY – Ours is a service business. Our goal and responsibility is to keep you in business. 

Jan 052013

And for very little money

“The right web site is the like a good spouse; the wrong one will be expensive and tough to live with.”

(Joe Harkins – www.buildinghosting.com)

When I started building web sites in January 1994, there was no Google, no Internet Explorer and no Yahoo.

In the years since then I have watched the net grow from a curiosity, understood by few people, to the huge thing it is today and . . . still understood by few people.

Some call that progress.

More new web sites came on line yesterday, before you finished your dinner, than were built during the entire first year I was acquiring experience. Thanks to free “site building” tools and blogs made from templates anyone, even someone with zero technical and artistic skills, can publish one in a few minutes.

That ease of building also leads to speed of abandonment.

Digital cameras make it easy to take a photograph. Microwaves make it easy to cook dinner. Word Processors make it possible to type out a novel or a poem.

But to do those things well . . . a book that people will actually enjoy reading and share with others . . . a dinner that people will pay for and come back for more . . . a photo that a magazine will put on its cover . . . . a web site that connects people to your enterprise and keeps them involved with your product or service . . . those things require deep understand of the technologies, respect for how people interact with the results and serious experience in the execution.

Most web sites created with “site builders” or “build your site tonight” tools, are abandoned within a year.

There are 3 basic principles and 5 basic rules to help you avoid that fate.

If you apply them you have a shot at success. If you ignore them, you will join those whose web sites didn’t work the way their owners thought they would. They become failed web sites. The time and effort andexpense (even if it is small) are wasted. 

A successful web site for a small business must have three qualities:      

  1. Affordable 
  2. Attractive 
  3. Effective

Affordable – It’s easy to spend $5,000 on a new web site. There are situations where you simply must be ready to pay for that. But it’s also possible, with advice from knowledgeable sources, to spend a lot less than that. We will look at some of those ideas in this report.

Attractive – this can be tricky. Some people think we are talking about animation, bold colors and lots of graphics. Usually those are distractions.  Worse, they are a waste of time and money.

A clean, simple layout where the purpose and message of your site are obvious in the first 3 to 5 seconds is best. Scientific studies consistently show that the decision to stay or leave a web page is made that quickly.

Danger Signs –

  • A Flash opening that begins with “page loading %” is like having a pit bull in your doorway.
  • If the first page takes 20 seconds to show itself, more than ½ the visitors have already left. Every 5 seconds after that, another 50% of those remaining will leave.
  • When you think about how much effort and expense went into getting a visitor to come to that web site, it is mind-numbing that someone would do something that drives them away.
  • Mis-Understanding The Web – just because it is on a bright screen does not mean a web site should be entertaining. A web site is not a movie or a game. Most of the time, a business or organization web site is for delivering information, capturing orders and engaging the visitor in the activities of your business or mission. Anything that delays or distracts from connecting visitors to those goals will hurt your business, no matter how much fun it is . . .  or how much money you waste on creating that bouncing, whirling, flipping image.
  • Big Logo – that is a big no-no. Take a lesson from the small logo in the upper left corner of the web sites of communication specialists like a major newspaper or television station or online shopping venue (ebay, amazon, overstock, ford, etc). 
  • Navigation – Attractive also means straight-forward, intuitive navigation that finds everything on your web site, no matter how deep or complex, in three mouse-clicks or fewer.  That often means putting the same horizontal navigation menu (with drop-down links) near the top of every page PLUS the same menu along the left side of every page and even repeats it along the bottom of every page in the the “footer.”
  • Legability and Readability – How easy is the information to see? How easy is it to read?These are two completely different but equally important things.
    • Is it Legible? Light colored text on a dark background is really cool – and a big headache because the eye is strained by more than a few inches of that.
    • Is it Readable? – fully-justified text (even margins on both sides) looks well-organized and professional. But when you have blocks of fully justified text that run more than 5 lines, you are taking away the subtle clues that help a reader’s eye find the start of the next line, making your information harder to read than if it were “left justified, right ragged” like the text on the rest of this page.  The combination of wide lines of text, grouped in big clumps of paragraphs that run 6, 8 or even 10 lines, fully justified like this one, are a big turnoff for most people. It is very likely you did not actually read this paragraph, so I will repeat it in its more readable and legible format.
    • Yes, it’s readable. This is a repeat of the previous paragraph in readable format. Is it Readable? – fully-justified text (even margins on both sides) looks well-organized and professional.But when you have blocks of fully justified text that run more than 5 lines, you are taking away the subtle clues that help a reader’s eye find the start of the next line, making your information harder to read than if it were “left justified, right ragged” like the text on the rest of this page.The combination of wide lines of text, grouped in big clumps of paragraphs that run 6, 8 or even 10 lines, fully justified like this one, are a big turnoff for most people. It is very likely you did not actually read this paragraph, so I will repeat it in its more readable and legible format. 

Summing up  – These issues are really important. They are only a start. But beware of web site projects that ignore them.

Also see “How We Work”


Dec 282012

Nowadays, just about anyone can build a web site. Many hosting companies offer a “site builder.”

Pick a graphic theme, click on some options and SHAZZAM!!! (thus revealing I was a preteen in the mid-1940s) you have a real live web site! It looks professional. The colors harmonize, the fonts are properly sized and positioned. You have a little (or a lot) of flashy animation. It’s your baby. And it a total waste of time and effort.

Because a free site builder must make a lot of assumptions, it also makes makes for a lot of poorly conceived and badly planned online businesses. Their only saving grace is they don’t last long.

It only takes the site owner 3 to 9 months to realize that their shiny new online business concept and web site has a lot in common with plastic underwear. It may look good, it may sparkle, and the colors are exciting. But otherwise, it’s uncomfortable and full of . . . sorry, I got carried away.

The single most important thing that will lead to a web site that pleases both the owner and the developer is pre-planning that starts even before you talk about prices or designs. The process I will describe is based on what I call The Five Essentials. (I know that “The Five Essentials” sounds like the latest Party Announcement from the Peoples Republic of China, but they have shown themselves to be pretty good business people, right?)

Different web site developers will prefer different tools (hoorah for competition that drives innovation!!). But here are ours . . .

1) BASECAMP.com – This is widely considered the best project collaboration tool. Go there now and look at the features. They offer a free, single project license with a few feature limitations. The principal limitation is that users can not exchanges files.

2.) DOCS.GOOGLE.com – (now known as Google Drive) This will make up for the limited file sharing system in the free version of BaseCamp. With a Google Doc’s spreadsheet, the developer and the client brainstorm the features and functions of the proposed web site. They can work together, online from different computers at different times, or they can make things go faster by being on the phone and them refreshing their own screen after the other party makes a change. The spreadsheet layout I use is a bit more sophisticated than the one you can see online at the link below this post.

3) PHOTOSHOP.com – there are some very good and free Open Source image manipulation programs that do many of the best functions of PS, but to my knowledge there are none, paid or free, that do ALL the things PS can do.

4) OPTION – a Content Management System (CMS) such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. I have listed them in the order of their complexity and sophistication. There are others, some specific to certain kinds of web sites. Those three are head and shoulders above other CMS.

The great majority of web sites can be built with one of those three CMS. Those that cannot are high end, very high concept, very high traffic, cutting edge coding required sites.

After the client and the developer have used a spreadsheet to define the site’s features and functions, and thus its cost, the choice of which CMS is indicated will be obvious to an experienced developer. There will be features and functions that one CMS will do better than either or the others. The number of hours and the standard hourly rate for any given function developed in the indicated CMS will affect the project cost, thus giving rise to a cost/benefit judgment.

5) OPTION – if you intend to take orders online – a Shopping Cart. There are shopping carts that can be integrated within any of the three Major CMS tools. But, none are as fully-featured and fully-functional as a dedicated (made for the specific purpose) shopping cart such as CubeCart.com or OpenCart.com. For situations where you need a highly sophisticated shopping cart, Magento is a difficult but very powerful alternative.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Having the right tools is elemental. But if you do not know what the project needs to accomplish, if this has not been fully investigated and reviewed by the developer in concert with the client’s key people, the fanciest, shiniest and most expensive tools are of little value.

So beyond the right tools, a successful web site project, must start with open, intelligent communication that examines and reveals a long list of facts and intentions. The result should then be put in writing, in detail. See “How We Work” (link in the left sidebar).

May 152012

The Internet has become a war zone and by having a web site, you are placing yourself on the front lines. Religious and political fanatics of all stripes and spots, in all parts of the world, are the aggressors. What they cannot achieve by persuasion and the value of their dogmas, they act out by attacking web sites of innocent bystanders, like yourself.

A famous comment says, “War is just another form of politics.”

If you are lucky and diligent about protecting yourself, you probably will not see evidence of that battle. But your web site – all web sites – are under contant attack.

There are men (it’s almost exclusively men, because women are not allowed to attend school in many of those countries) whose delight is hacking into web sites solely for the purpose of changing the home page to an ugly and noisy rant against something they hate. The tools they use are commonly available all over the Internet.

They are able to do this because, contrary to what you may think you know, just about any web site can be either entered and tampered with or even taken over. All that’s needed is time, the right tools and a blind determination that is not limited by time or money.

In the past year alone, successful hacks have happened repeatedly to the web sites and internal computer systems of NASA, the US Department of Defense, Microsoft, – and just about every major business and government in the world.

(Ask Iran what happened in 2011 to the computer network that manages their nuclear bomb-making-materials factory.)

It is scary, but not at all unusual, that our own hosting servers, like everyone else, are attacked repeatedly every hour, every day. Fortunately, we have strong systems in place that are constantly monitored and updated. That diligence is why you pay us to host your web site. That’s where a lot of that money goes.

But we cannot protect you from yourself.  The site owner is the most vulnerable chink in our defenses because we cannot see or control the things a site owner can do. If you leave a door open or a window unlocked, or turn off your home alarm system, the local police department only learns that your prenises have been burglarized after an entry.

The problem with web sites is, you can’t be expected to recognize what an unlocked system looks like or how to relock it.

So, from time to time, we will write here – and post links to other Internet news stories – on how to protect your web site on any hosting company’s server.

Here are two articles we HIGHLY recommend to all web site owners.  Click on a title to read it.

What We Do

 What We Do  Uncategorized  Comments Off on What We Do
Jan 082010
Joe Harkins, owner of BuildingHosting.com

Joe Harkins, founder of BuildingHosting.com click for the closeup

We BUILD and HOST web sites for clients of all sizes and types all over world. The list in the right sidebar is just a small sample. Click on one.

Building a good web site means we spend whatever time it takes to understand what you do, how you do it, what your special needs are, what resources and skill you have to maintain and promote the web site, what you want your web site to do, define metrics that monitor that performance, and so on. We’ll ask a lot of questions and float a lot of suggestions before we give you solid estimates of time and cost.

No charge for that. See “How We Work” for details.


If you are looking for cheap hosting, we are not. But we are not expensive. If you look at the services you get, free of added cost, you should recognize that we are a bargain. If you not recognize that we actually cost less than low cost hosting, thank you for visiting.

We will always welcome you back after you find out that so-called cheap hosting is actually more expensive .

Jan 072010

click to enlarge

All development work is based on a Written Proposal*– We begin your project only after you approve a written, detailed formal proposal and contract that:

  • spells out every aspect of the project,
  • defines the technology we will use,
  • lists the resources we will use,
  • spells out who will do what, such as create graphics, install texts, etc.
  • establishes objective performance criteria,
  • includes links to similar work
  • includes links to verifiable references
  • spells out a site management training plan
  • sets firm deadlines and
  • sets a firm price and terms

All web development is collaborative. When we start a project we establish a private, password-accessible web site on our development server, just for you. Designs, suggestions, samples and concepts are posted there for your review and feedback as they are developed. Your approval or change order is  requested at every step before we go to the next one.

We also establish an Online Project Manager (OPM) that monitors every step of the project, every email, every To-Do, every Milestone, every suggestion and every approval until the project is completed in accordance with the formal written proposal. You participate at every step.

This assures both of us that the finished product is exactly what is in the written proposal and contract, not just our opinion of what you should accept.

We are professional. We will finish what we start for the price we agreed upon. No hidden extras or surprises or charge-backs, ever

Until you put your final approval in writing, the job is not done.

*IMPORTANT NOTE: we do not charge for informal analysis or research or suggestions or estimates. You are under no obligation and will never be billed for discussions or informal estimates.

However, a formal written proposal is something we do not write without certain expectations. A formal written proposal is the functional equivalent of a set of architect’s blueprints for a building or an engineer’s specifications of a bridge. It is professional work that takes hours of knowledge and experience. When our written prposal is completed, any well-qualified web developer could follow it to a good result.

We create a formal written proposal only on your assurance that you are ready to go ahead with the project that has been defined in the informal discussions. It is the written version of a verbal agreement already established. If you do not proceed promptly with the project after we do the specification work, in good faith, of writing the formal proposal, you will be charged a price equal to 50% of the total value of the project it describes.

If you want a formal written proposal, but without making a commitment to award the project and finance it, with the freedom to use it as a biddable document or for inviting RFQs from suppliers, please tell us beforehand and we may create it for a price and terms to be negotiated.

Regarding payments, we accept payments by major debit or credit card.

Apr 212009

What’s that you said? “OMG – this is a dull web site. Why don’t you have any rolling images and whirling stuff? Ya, know, some eye-candy, some . . . Pizzazz???”

Wait – WAIT. I said puh-ZAZZ not pizza.  (At least it’s genuine Chicago style.)

Well, Grasshopper (or Biff or Tadpole or Pilgrim), let me ask you a question.

You came to this web site for information about building and hosting web sites, right?

Do you notice that you can see what we offer, right here in front of you, without delay and without jumping through more than three links? Did you notice there is no “page loading . . .” screen?

What you are experiencing has a fancy name “Optimal Information Delivery.” In simple terms, what you want to know, as fast as possible.

To accomplish that we don’t waste your time on Flash or pizzazz. And we think that’s what your customers want when they come to your web site.  That doesn’t mean your site must be visually dull. Take a look in the column to your right at some of the sites we’ve built for restaurants, or shopping carts or B2B.