With the growth of the web and online business, crowd sourcing has become a serious hot topic amongst designers, developers and the public. In the past few years, companies that have offered the service have grown considerably and it has become a viable option for businesses looking for design and development work.

Crowd sourcing is a process that involves outsourcing jobs to a group of people. In the simplest  terms, problems are offered to an unknown group in the form of an open call for solutions. The 'crowd' submit solutions. The solutions are then owned by the original entity that broadcast the problem. The person who provided the correct solution in some cases is compensated either monetarily, with prizes or recognition. Those who seek crowd sourcing services are motivated by the idea of gathering large numbers of solutions or information inexpensively. 

For example, Bob is starting his new accounting business and needs a logo to use for his business cards, signage and stationary. Bob finds a crowd sourcing website online, and writes a post requesting a new logo and submissions. Bob offers $100 for the best logo. Entries are submitted. He picks his final artwork, pays the user the $100 and is now ready to start establishing himself within the community with his new image. 

Now, crowd sourcing sounds interesting doesn't it? So, we thought we would go through the pros and cons of crowd sourcing your work online. We'll use Bob's accounting business as an example. 

Advantages of Crowd Sourcing
Crowd sourcing websites are growing, which can mean that the model is working. These are reasons the crowd sourcing model is so popular.
  • Lots of ideas from lots of different people.
    A large group of people leads to more ideas, which makes it likely that among the flood you'll find something you're looking for. 
    For example: Bob isn't sure what he is really looking for in a logo, so with so many ideas he has lots of options. 
  • Cheap and cheerful.
    Crowd sourcing is usually used to cut costs. You don't have to employ people and pay them a wage, and you will find someone who is willing to work below the standard industry rate. 
    For example: Bob is a startup, and capital is limited. If he can save money in one area, that leaves him with more for other areas of the business.
  • Fast turnarounds.
    Crowd souring gets the job done. It takes less time to find the right person to complete the job for you - sometimes it almost happens instantly. Usually, someone is available right away.
    For example: Bob would like this over and done with, so he can start sending out business cards to advertise his business as soon as possible and focus on other areas of the startup.

The conclusion? With low capital and little time you can still set yourself up with a new image for your business or venture. You'll be introduced to hundreds of new ideas that you may never have found and you potentially find untapped potential. 

Disadvantages of Crowd Sourcing
Everything has its good sides and bad sides. Below are the cons to crowd sourcing your design and development work.
  • The work can lack quality.
    When hiring lots of different people to do the job, it means you will be receiving work from those who have never done such work before, to beginners to experts. The latter category is the smallest, and is greatly outnumbered by the other two. Work can lack consistency, or end up being incorrect for the purpose. You are not guaranteed a professional standard of work. A thousand untrained eyes may not catch an error that a handful of professionals would see right away.
    For example: Bob's chosen logo seems to be exactly what he needs, however he comes to realise that the logo has not been designed to look good on printed material, only a website. He also discovers that it's impossible to reproduce the logo on his business shirts as an embroidery. In all instances, the branding looks different which creates confusion for his clients.
  • It can be unreliable.
    Since the model is often a 'best effort' basis, you can't count on receiving what you need, when you need it.  
    For example: Bob needs the logo within the week. However the logo he likes the most still needs lots of work before it looks perfect for his business. It takes a few days to hear from the website about changes, and there seems to be confusion about Bob's requests. The project ends up running too long, and in the end it's still not quite right.
  • Confidentiality.
    The logos you request are now on the internet for the world to see. Of course you can post a very detailed task description without revealing too much important information but for vital projects it would be impossible for the task to be completed effectively without you offering up everything.  
    For example: Bob has an idea for a website that his clients can use to provide his office tax information. It's never been done before, and he feels it would be very successful. He wants to outsource the website development but knows if all the information can be found online, one of his competitors would see it and build the website before he can. He is also aware, without full disclosure, the project would most likely fail. 
  • Copyright issues.
    This can be a big problem for business. There is no guarantee that the logo you select is custom artwork and whether it has been used by another company or a complete copy of another idea. You select the winner and after a month, you have others contacting you about copying work. You are left alone to defend the art (impossible if it is copied) or deal with the stress of completely changing the image of your business. 
    For example: Bob has been in business for 6 months. He has his logo reproduced in many places - advertising, stationary, in trade magazines and online. He's approached by another business who is using the same logo, and they can prove this idea is stolen. He is ordered to change his branding or face a lawsuit. 
  • The image may not reflect what your business represents, or does not hold up well to competition.
    In the beginning of the design and development process, the client offers a brief about the company. It includes its past, present and future. It outlines what the business does, their customer base and what the company stands for. Research is then conducted on the industry, the competitors, etc. Crowd sourcing lacks proper engagement with the client. Work can lack effectiveness and value, and you are essentially writing a biography without knowing about the subject. 
    For example: Bob loves the branding that has been created for his business. He soon discovers however that his logo does not effectively communicate to his clients. They mistake his logo for a business in an unrelated industry, and his baby boomer customer base feel it portrays a service that focuses on younger cliental looking to make risky, long term investments and so they work with companies that appear to cater to their needs. Bob's brand isn't recognised as he wants it to be, which makes it harder for him to find clients. 

The conclusion? Lack of professional involvement can mean your business may need to invest a lot more money in the future to make up for simple mistakes that would have been outright avoided with an industry expert. Crowd sourcing also means you and your business are missing out on industry advice and knowledge. A professional can point out issues or advantages you may not have known about.

Bob's Other Option
Using the sliding doors metaphor, we can imagine Bob's outcome if he had decided to approach a design and development studio for his work. Initially, Bob would have discussed his deadlines with the manager and they would have negotiated a reasonable timeline for work completion. More importantly, Bob would have discussed his budget and the manager would have come up with a project outcome that fit within Bob's cost expectations. No surprise invoices and he wasn't sacrificing capital that would have been used elsewhere. 

The manager would have taken a full brief from Bob, and asked all the right questions which would enable them to give Bob some ideas that he really liked (even though Bob didn't really know what he was looking for!). The branding would have been developed to fit within print and online guidelines, and they would have been able to setup the artwork for his signage and advertising as well. Bob would have skipped all the technical issues found with a logo designed off the cuff because the studio already knew the limitations of reproducing art and how to overcome them. 

Bob's work would be completely original and while fitting within his industry's image, it still stands out next to his competitors. He would have been able to have his website idea developed in secrecy as the studio would have a standard confidentiality agreement in place for him to sign. He could fully disclose his plans and ideas, and know that he was safe from someone else taking information and adapting it for themselves.

Bob walks away knowing that his logo reflects him and his business. He has also developed a relationship with the studio, which means ongoing work is straightforward. The manager knows about his distaste of particular styles, fonts, imagery and colours and understands how Bob would like his business to be perceived. 


The Verdict
Crowd sourcing is a growing industry, and can be hailed as a cost effective and a way of involving lots of people to come up with fabulous ideas. However, lack of professional involvement in your design and development work can mean more than more money in your pocket at the end of the day.

Crowd souring your design and development can be likened to asking 100 tailors to make you a suit. You outline your size, general taste and how much you want to spend.

The end result can appear wonderful. A cheap, good looking suit! However you find the buttons and lining fall apart quite quickly, as the tailor made shortcuts to save himself money. When washed, the suit fades and the material begins to pill due to the tailor not having enough experience in textiles. The navy you specified is not quite right, because you picked it by looking at a photo, not in person. You also notice that there are no pleats in the front, something you wish was included but didn't realise had to be specified.

Design and development is more than pictures and colours. Professional designers spend years learning and understanding how to effectively communicate ideas and solutions. They are experienced in knowing how different people absorb information,  and how to apply that to your branding or visual material. They're also aware of common and uncommon problems, the solutions that would apply and discovering new ways to troubleshoot and develop new and old material. 

Working with one studio, designer or developer can be extremely rewarding for you and your organisation and it can be extremely cost effective. Working with a local business does not mean taking out a bank loan. Professionals are experts at developing ideas to suit your needs, without lacking quality and precision. 
 
In 2011, two out of three businesses in Australia didn't have a website. In this day and age, technology moves so fast it can be quite daunting if you've never been online before but nowadays, it's no excuse!

Development has come a long was since HTML and tables. Lots of clients laugh with relief when I tell them they need not know any code to be able to update their website. If they've used social media (and even if they haven't) they are capable of keeping their business information online and up to date.

So, why do you need to get online?
  • You're missing out on a national or global audience.
    With a website, you're able to communicate to people all over the world, at all times of the day. If you're looking to expand your customer base or increase sales, having an online 'shop front' allows you to let people know you have products to sell or services to provide without you having to come face to face with each one. You never know, you may find a niche market overseas!
  • Anyone, anytime, anywhere.
    A big advantage to being online is your business information and details about your products and services are available and accessible by anyone. By having online contact details, potential business can get in contact with you, whether you're at a computer or not. Instant connections. You can also feature your address and directions to store fronts which has become popular due to availability of GPS systems in smart phones. 
  • Publicity and advertising.
    You may think of the advantages of a website in terms of advertising and publicity. The costs of having a business website are very low. Affordable website design can start at a couple of hundred dollars which would include a basic design, a domain and good quality web hosting. The ongoing costs are minimal, but the return could be significant. You can advertise sales, special offers or even new products without having to go through printers, designers and advertising companies.
  • Future generations will lose you.
    If you plan on your business being around for the long haul, you should be aware that today's generation do not know anything but websites and being online. Internet is akin to electricity and hot water, and if you don't jump online, you'll struggle to be found.

And here comes the plug.
Elephas Design offers very simple solutions for micro to small businesses. Whether you offer a part time service or sell craft as a hobby, we can structure an affordable package that's easy to update and maintain. We even offer ongoing support so you're not left in the dark about what to do once the website is finished.
 
It can be tricky getting the search engine optimisation right on your website. Often, small and micro businesses don't have the money to have large SEO companies dive in and pull their rank to the first page. It changes often, and it can be downright confusing. 

There are over 200 factors (yes, that many) involved in getting a good ranking on Google. However, if you can cover the basics, you'll be further ahead than most small business owners. Below are some basics of SEO to help you boost your website traffic. 

Keywords
If you have done any other advertising lately (Yellow Pages, HotFrog) you would have been asked to add in keywords that relate to your business, your products and your services. Basically, getting listed on a search engine for a keyword (of any kind) comes down to you doing a better job than your competitor when optimising your website.

With the right keywords getting listed on a search engine for any one keyword (search term) largely comes down to doing a better job than your competition at optimising your site for that keyword.

If you're trying to be well ranked for a popular keyword like 'art', you're likely to find it difficult to get ranked for it. On the other hand, if you're one of the few businesses looking to get ranked for a niche keyword or phrase (perhaps, 'pink elephant paintings') you will have a much better time.

Looking at search engine optimisation:
  • Including the keywords in the page titles of your website.
    Create page titles that target the keywords that you would like to rank highly for and target just one or two per page. For your home page, use your most important keywords. For example, "high quality art" for the home page and "custom one colour portraits" for a particular service page.
  • Focus on your copy.
    Use page headings that contain the keywords you are trying to rank well for and talk only about those topics in the copy. Don't worry about how many times the keyword appears, just write as if you were speaking with someone. Make the pages and the copy informative because the more unique it is, the more likely search engines will like you.
  • Label you images.
    If you have images on your website, go through and give them the appropriate name and create alt tags. Alt tags are descriptions of your pictures that are incorporated into their HTML code. For example, a picture of a painting should carry the file name pink-elephant-painting.jpg and the alt tag describing 'pink elephant painting photo'.
  • Use descriptive URLs.
    If your website or CMS allows you to, use descriptive URLs for all your pages, such as www.minisart.com/elephant-pantings.html
  • Use descriptive anchor text.
    Clickable words that link your pages together are called anchor text. Ensure these are descriptive as well. For example, Google will respond better to text that reads "Getting your art in a gallery" than it would to "Click here for more information".
  • Keywords should be in your meta description.
    Your meta description is the line or two of text that describes the content of your page that will show up in the rich snippet of the search engine listings. Make it compelling enough to get visitors to jump onto your website.

SEO that doesn't happen on your website.
  • Quality back links.
    A key factor in your SEO should be getting other websites to link to your website. These links should ideally come from a wide range of websites relevant to your industry. The greater the competition for the keyword, the more links you will need to rank highly. These links should be anchor text.
  • Avoiding no-follow tags.
    These tags are incorporated into many websites that tell search engines to ignore the links. It prevents spammers gaining links by leaving worthless comments on forums and blogs. In order for the links to pass, they must not incorporate no-follow tags.
  • Be consistant.
    Ensure your website stays the same. Stick with www or the non-www version of your website for links.
  • Verify with Google.
    Start by signing up to Webmaster tools at Google and verify your website there. This account gives a lot of information about helping your website and it will guide you to the areas you need to improve to rank better and achieve more traffic to your website.

Monitor your hard work.
Jump on to Google Analytics and monitor your progress. You will be able to change and improve your SEO from simple watching the traffic numbers go up and down, and how they are finding you. 

Remember however!
It's a competitive place out there and businesses need to manage their SEO to to capabilities of their websites. Otherwise, expectations can be too high. Getting the keyword combinations and targeting right can take some trial and error, and it takes some continuous work to manage your online presence. 

Easy to use CMS
Is your website setup so you can easily access the data online? If not, you can have a chat to us about converting your website to our simple Weebly system. Drag and drop and no ongoing fees, it can make managing your online world very, very simple!
 
In the days of online and digital, it is harder and harder to learn who you're actually dealing with especially if a business operates exclusively online. That's why it's always recommended that you put up in your 'About' page, a collection of photos and information about the team behind the business.

It seems like a bit of a drab idea (especially if you're a bit camera shy) but these guys at Lateral have put together a fantastic (and different) concept to show off their talent.

Visit the page now and check it out!