Back in 1980 when everyone else was begging their parents for Atari’s, Shane Birley was already taking apart and reassembling his first computer. Like a duck to water, he built his first website in ‘93 and over the years, his hobby evolved into a career.
Today, the self-professed “nerd” refers to his business, LeftRightMinds, as the secret sauce for businesses, as he helps prevent the bad taste in their mouths when their tech stuff fails.
“I try to teach people to love their technology,” says Shane, who shared a few important tips that businesses should know to protect them from avoidable mishaps in the future.
Take it from us, these will prove very useful – Shane has saved our clients’ bacon more times than we can count.
Have a plan for your website and a realistic content strategy
As a website developer, a red flag for Shane is when someone asks, “Do you design websites?”
Shane explains that businesses should consider their content first and design second, so they don’t waste time and money designing a site that doesn’t meet their needs.
“The design is not the most important component. If you only think of design, your content will ruin that design. Ask yourself, why do you want a website in the first place? What will you be using your site for after it launches? Who are you speaking to? Know your audience because you’ll be creating your content for them.”
“Your website needs to be a living entity to keep bringing people back. You can vlog on YouTube or Vimeo, informally connect with your audience on Twitter, or use Facebook and Instagram to reach your audience in ways that are interesting to you. But your website should be your main resource.”
While it’s not something a lot of companies want to hear, Shane reinforces the fact that creating and coordinating multiple channels of content is a lot of work. “It’s a full-time job. Sometimes two. The internet is a beast that needs to be fed with a big shovel to get enough attention.”
“People are addicted to the idea of needing to create a viral video. But that is not a realistic or sustainable solution,” cautions Shane. “You are competing against everything ever recorded ever since recording became a thing. Everything is online. You can’t compete. There is a weird level of expectation for the scrolling masses.”
Having a solid plan for your website and a manageable content strategy that points back to your site is far more effective than designing something that looks cool or trying to get lucky with a viral video. Take the time to do it right.
Work with a website developer you know and trust
Most small businesses do not have IT staff to pay attention to all the inner workings of their website. Instead, they hire outside companies to do the work for them. Over the years, Shane has witnessed numerous frustrated businesses burned by the hit and miss nature of the unregulated tech industry.
“There are so many situations where people have been left hanging when their developer moves on, and there is no tracking of records, like service providers, domains, expiration dates, and so on.”
Shane describes an incident with a client whose domain name had expired, and no one at the company was aware. The expired domain was purchased by third party in China who redirected it for their own purposes.
Oftentimes, there is nothing a company can do once they’ve lost ownership of their domain. “This is a serious situation that could have easily been avoided.”
Another common issue is when people build websites, but do not understand the tech behind it. “They can set it up, but if something goes wrong, they can’t help. Having a trustworthy partnership, where someone doesn’t develop and disappear, keeps companies protected.”
Shane advises, “Make sure you have a nerd who knows the best practices you should be following. Don’t get your next-door neighbour’s roommate’s cousin to design your site. If you don’t want to do it yourself, hire a reputable company. If you are stuck doing it yourself – do your research.”
Research hosting and domain service providers
When selecting hosting and domain service providers, it is good practice to research companies beforehand, even if you plan to hire a developer. A quick Google search will turn up countless results like GoDaddy, Webhost, and Dreamhost, but most are located within the U.S or offshore. Even some companies that have Canada in the name aren’t necessarily within Canadian borders.
Personally speaking, Shane prefers to work with hosting and domain providers based in Canada, simply because it always feels better to support the home team. Likewise, he advises companies to find providers that align with their own values.
“Don’t ever invest based on the price alone. Again, do your research. Why do you want to work with them? What are they doing? Consider the environmental impact of the hosting. How green are they? For example, some use smaller, more efficient aircon units to keep their infrastructure cool.”
A lot of hosting sites also include domain registration. “It’s easier to keep your domain in the same place as your hosting, but not everyone does.
The problem happens when someone who builds your website chooses your domain registration company for you and then they leave, and you are forever stuck with that company.”
Protect yourself – keep passwords on the cloud and use two-factor authentication
If there’s only one piece of advice you take away from this blog it’s this: keep a running list of logins and their passwords, and make sure, if you are the business owner, that you have that info easily at hand.
As contractors and employees explore new opportunities, a common problem for businesses becomes locating all the various pieces of information that keeps their online presence up and running, like logins for WordPress, hosting and domain registration sites, and social media accounts.
Shane suggests, “try to make sure someone at the company has a shared doc with the Developer through Google Drive or 365 so if someone gets hit by a bus, they can still log onto Twitter. Don’t keep it all on someone’s laptop or computer but place it on the cloud.”
As for social media, business owners should be able to access all their accounts themselves. “Multiple people within an organization can and should be able to manage social media accounts which prevents them from being taken over by a nefarious third party.”
Of course, a lot of things can go wrong with sharing private info with multiple individuals. Therefore, it’s important to get into the practice of changing your passwords every six months to a year using a long and complicated series of characters, as well as implementing two-factor authentication.
“Two factor authentication is the only way to really protect your stuff online,” explains Shane. “Two-factor provides a high level of security on both ends, as you get a text whenever you log in from a new location.”
Shane shares a story about how a client’s Gmail password had been discovered and in the absence of two-factor identification, their account was hijacked.
As a result, all their company’s emails and records were deleted by the hacker. If it wasn’t for discovering the infraction early on, the company’s website could have also been taken over, causing an even greater security breach.
Again, Shane explains how having a trustworthy partnership with an experienced developer can prevent these sorts of accidents from happening.
Taking these few simple steps to get to know, love, and protect your tech will really go a long way towards instilling greater peace of mind and saving yourself from preventable frustrations in the future.