My Journey to Web Development – Content Management – Part 2
Keeping the content updated
[Continued from part 1]
Once the online jewellery site was live it started receiving visitors and I would watch the visitor stats increasing.
It was decided that the company needed to look professional and so we signed up for a merchant account with a local bank to accept credit cards. The orders started flowing in nicely and I was kept busy ordering and posting out products, dealing with the day-to-day tasks of managing a business and managing the content on the online shop.
In addition to the online store, I also had trade stands at many UK country shows during the summers to advertise the website and get rid of some surplus stock. The sales at the shows weren’t all that good and most times a whole day or weekend would be wasted sitting at the stall (in the rain and wind) with only about £130 worth of sales to show for it and then had to still deduct our expenses too! We also got items stolen from the stand!
So much easier to sit at home and manage an online shop… but we also learnt some good lessons on customer care and marketing. We also used to take our cute Jack Russell puppy, Eddie with us who was a big hit with visitors as he sat in his little basket. (I’ve written a blog called My Jack Russell Terrier Blog if you want to read about him).
Google search box & Adsense ads
We also added in a Google search box and Adsense ads onto the site and experimented with various tweaks, at the same time doing a lot of research about Search Engine Optimisation. In case you’re interested, here’s the latest Google Search Engine Optimisation Start Guide.
During that time the company earned between £40-60 per month from the Adsense ads which was enough to pay for the webhosting.
My husband was invaluable as he was able to draw on his programming experience to import and edit the product descriptions and images into the SQL database which saved a lot of time instead of typing in each one manually and uploading images one by one.
The company continued to get orders in from the online shop and I was posting out between 8-10 packets a day. Just enough to keep body and soul together but I was learning a great deal as I went along.
Selling and moving on
After about two years a decision was made to move on and the ZenCart jewellery site was sold, including the database of over 5,000 products and images, to a competitor who contacted me when he heard the site was for sale.
What shall we do now
The next project idea got bandied about. Me, being an immigrant and having to study for the British Citizenship test in order to apply for citizenship, my husband came up with the idea of creating questions and answers for me to work through in preparation for the test. He created questions and answers from the content of the official study material. I then practiced with these and found it easier to learn.
Then the business idea started forming. If I was struggling with the idea of studying for a test, then surely other people would be too.
At the beginning this was going to be a family-run business with family members helping out with software design and graphics. We were going to do it hands-on including self-publishing all the books. I was very gung-ho and launched into ideas for the publishing website. As well as designing the website, to cut costs, I formatted the manuscript my husband had put together into Word. Then exporting the file as a quality printable PDF with all the fonts embedded. I managed to create the covers and they got sent off to the publishers. Revisions to the publications had to be done each time we ran out of stock or there was a change in the rules, or whenever the software needed updating.
What Content Management System?
After researching on the internet for a suitable CMS to build the website on it was decided to use the award-winning content management system called Joomla! Always game for learning something new and wanting to find the cheapest, easiest software for me to get to grips with, as I don’t have a developer’s brain, a CMS like Joomla! looked promising. It seemed easy to install and learn and was very extendible. However, I soon found out there was a steep learning curve with Joomla, as is the case with most CMSs. I persevered and eventually uploaded the new site to the managed server and I was off again! Webbing away… adding in new content, installing extensions, experimenting with plugins and administering the website.
The original Q&A idea eventually grew into a monster. Several years later the company was publishing eight products; three study books, two with a companion CD-ROM, two standalone DVDs with quizzes (800 and 1,000 questions) and 3 types of downloads sold on the website.
In hindsight, I realise that I was taking on too much, trying to wear too many hats and I would soon run out of steam.
Running the online shop
Amongst the other roles of running a small publishing business (taking online orders, checking credit card payments, packing, posting out books and CDs, bookkeeping, filing, answering emails etc), my favourite was running the online shop and keeping the web content fresh. This meant creating information pages, category descriptions and FAQ sections including screenshots on each quiz software product. This part was my favourite side of running the business.
The motto of the business became ‘What would IBM do’. We thought of ourselves as a large corporation and imagined their company structure, thinking about what they would do in certain situations. This went a long way to help maintain and organise the business tasks professionally. But as a small business, this meant wearing so many different hats! We certainly didn’t have all the staff resources of IBM…nor did we have any business training. Whenever I wanted to know anything I would spend time researching the answers on Google.
In addition to selling the books and CDs in the online shop, we signed up with book wholesalers throughout the UK, people like Waterstones and WH Smith. Publications were also sold via Amazon Marketplace and a discount store on eBay. The store was set up using HTML/CSS with image links to the webserver.
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