Commonwealth Creative

local web designers in virginia beach

Launch of Our New Website and Expanded Services

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Launch of Our New Website and Expanded Services

2014 is poised to be an exciting year here at CCM not only for us but for our customers as well. This week we launched our new and improved site www.ccm-web.com which showcases our new focus of building responsive website designs that render as mobile sites on mobile devices and normal sites on larger format screens. You can learn more about responsive web design on our page here.

As excited as we are about responsive site designs, it is the expanded full marketing services that we now offer our clients that really has us pumped for 2014. In addition to custom web design, hosting, site management, printing and SEO, CCM now offers amazing print solutions like vehicle wraps for business fleets, food trucks, delivery vehicles, trailers or pretty much anything on wheels. We also have added banner and tradeshow booths, stands, kiosks and professional signage at discount small business rates.

With out partners at Adams Outdoor, CCM now offers billboard advertising and placement in over 12 markets in the U.S. including the Hampton Roads region here in Virginia. Our wholesale small business rates for billboard advertising are so attractive businesses even save money by using us instead of going straight to the big outdoor companies directly.

In late 2013 we added full service video and… audio production to our agency services. You can learn more about tv, web or radio advertising production on our video production page.

Need to figure out a media marketing plan and where and when to get your ads to run? Media Buying is just another convenient all-in-one service here at CCM!

It’s long been our vision to brand ourselves as the “full service ad agency for small businesses” and now we’ve truly become your one-stop-shop for all your marketing needs whether it’s online, digital, print, video, strategy or out of the box guerilla marketing. Our commitment to you is:

Quality, Effective Work at Reasonable Prices That Won’t Break the Bank

 

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Why We Love Working With Small Business

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Why We Love Working With Small Business

Early on in my career I got a “thrown to the fire” introduction to Corporate America.  Out of college I worked for a large corporation that had clients that were even bigger corporations.  Even though I wasn’t working for an “ad agency” like I’d wanted to, I was gaining solid business experience.  It didn’t take long to figure out I didn’t really enjoy the corporate atmosphere of being monitored all hours of the day, the ties, the shoes, the reports, the pep rallies and so on.  I kind of imagined myself doing my job unbothered by bosses and only bothered by people who needed my help… and me sort of acting as a central helper and having time to have fun while I worked.  I wanted to wake up excited to go to work, not dreading it. I also wanted to wear flip flops but I knew that was pushing it a little.

I finally gathered up enough “business experience” in my field that a real, respected Ad Agency deemed me acceptable to hire.  It was a great feeling and I finally felt like I was doing what I’d always wanted to do, working in the environment I’d always wanted to and with the types of people I dreamed about.  What I learned next was that the “Ad Agency World” had problems of its own.  That problem is that when one or two clients go away, so to do employees… practically overnight.  Stability was a problem, and although I felt like I was making a name and a lot of friends and advocates, I still found myself bouncing around from agency to agency for a few years.

During this whirlwind time I had the pleasure of working with clients of all sizes.  Big ones like Wal-Mart, SunTrust, Popeyes and Troy University… and little ones like an MRI/CT Scan office, a local bank and local restaurants.  They were all fun and unique in their own ways, but after a while I found that I preferred the entrepreneurial spirit of the small business owners over the corporate guys who had to dodge mazes of red tape just to decide whether they could answer me honestly or not.

I think the turning point for me was when I was working on the Window World account in 2008.  Window World is a national company with franchisees all over every state in the U.S.  They have a corporate office in North Carolina that I worked with but they didn’t force all their employees to work with us.  They let it be known that the company I worked with was their “preferred” agency and that we had created a fine library of creative print, web, radio and tv spots for them to choose from, but they also left Johnny the entrepreneur in Tucson the freedom to make, and run his own terrible ads featuring him, his son and the family dog.  I kind of liked this philosophy.  Although it would’ve been nice for our pockets if their corporate office forced all their franchisees to spend all their advertising dollars with us, it was rewarding to be working with a company that was willing to let their owners (their livelihood), make their own decisions and succeed or fail on their own.

I really liked talking to these individual entrepreneurs from all over the country, discussing how each of their markets differ and what “would and wouldn’t” work in certain places even when the product was the same in every place.  It was unique.  It was fun.  And the people spoke and breathed with the true American spirit.  They wanted to build their business into a success so that they and their families and children could live a good life.  They were grateful of their opportunities and wanted to make money.  That was it.  They weren’t in it to impress share holders, or to afford 3rd homes for all the titles that begin with the letter C.  They were normal, hard working people like you and me.  They were small business owners.

Right after I left that job, I started working with Matt, Sarah and company, whom I started my first company with about a year later.  We all shared the same philosophy that small businesses were the ideal client for us to work with.  Small businesses deserved nice marketing, quality websites, and “ad agency” creative, but at a fair price.  Small business website design quickly became a staple of our company, followed by discount printing and search engine optimization for small business.  Every client I talk with is different, but they all have the same entrepreneurial spirit that we share.  And that makes doing business an easy and special thing. Oh, and I get to wear flip flops 9 months out of the year.

-Marc

 

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5 Things a Web Designer Needs in Order to Build You a Great Site

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5 Things a Web Designer Needs in Order to Build You a Great Site

things a web designer needsKnowing that you need a website, or that you need a BETTER website is one thing. But in order for a web designer to be able to knock your socks off by constructing what you have imaged in your head is the most important, and sometimes tricky part. As an owner of a web design firm, I see a big mix of clients come in my door. Some know exactly what they want and lay it all out on the table for our staff to clearly see. Others just seem to be unhappy with their current/old site and want something new. The later always seems to segway into several meaningful conversations about what “you like” and you “don’t like”, what you’ve seen out on the web that you like, and how you envision your new website looking and working. It’s okay to be somewhat unprepared with knowing what you want. Part of my job is to help my clients figure that out. But in an ideal fantasy world, it sure would be nice if every client coming through a web designer’s door had an answer to these five questions:

1. Why do you want a new site? To be more specific… Why do you hate your current site? Does it not generate enough leads? Is it too difficult to navigate? Does it look old and boring? There are many, many reasons why someone could need a better site. It’s first understanding what you don’t like about what you have that can lead to finding out what you would rather have. If you don’t have a website there are more reasons to have a site than simply “because we need one”. The key is listing out the REASONS why you need one. Is it to provide information to the public? Is it to educate the public? Is it to capture leads? Is it to sell products? Is it to promote something?

2. Do you need a Content Management System? Since every site’s functionality needs are a little different, so then are the requirements of how the site should best be built. If a client wants a blog on their site, I’m definitely going to build their site in WordPress 9 times out of 10 because it’s easy to use and SEO-friendly for blogs. To be honest I’d probably build almost every site in WordPress if we could. eCommerce, blogging, commenting, logistics and more are all factors that need to be discussed with a designer before coming up with a plan. What is the future of this site? Who will manage it? These are also important questions.

3. What’s your domain name? Don’t have a domain name… well, let’s think of some ideas and find one that’s available. Already own a domain name… well, you should have your domain/DNS account access ready for your designer so that they can easily set the DNS for the new site and take your new site live without any delays. The same applies to your hosting account if your new designer won’t be hosting your new site for you. You’ll need to go and set up your own hosting account. Do this ahead of time so the designer isn’t stuck waiting on you. If you give a designer reasons for delays, they’ll move on to the next project and you’ll be stuck waiting for them. This can turn a 1 week delay into a potential 3 week delay.

4. How do you feel about colors and pictures? You have a logo, right? Is it always a certain color? Well then, that’s definitely going to be one of the main colors on your site. The question is… what other colors look good next to this color and which colors do you like and not like. A good designer can automatically figure this out and present it to you in a mock-up, however the earlier the input on this from a client, the better and smoother the design process will go. Color is something easy to think about when picturing your new website in your head. The same goes for images. Do you like the idea of pictures scrolling across the top or body of your site? Do the pictures have a message with them that you can click on? Or do you imagine a static page with little to no images or movement and a more clean look? Do you like a background that’s white, black, gray, something else? Knowing what you like will save a designer some time and headache from the beginning.

5. What’s your message? Any site can look pretty and artistically impressive, but within regards to its effectiveness the content is king. A site won’t show up in search engines without well-written copy, titles, tags and so much more. A site won’t persuade, entice and peak any interest if the content doesn’t have a clear message. Ask yourself this: If my new site could say one thing in one sentence, what would it say? The answer to this question is what is most important about your business. Sites can be complex and contain many messages, but this alone, this is your most important message. This is what will become the basis for all content to be written around. This is the heart of your message. Why You? Tell your designer what makes you different from others that do or sell the same things that you do. What makes you different or the best? The answer to this question will be your main call to action on your site. Knowing the answer to this question can be the difference in whether your phone rings or not.

8 Things NOT to do on Facebook

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8 Things NOT to do on Facebook

My internet marketing firm spends all day online. I personally spend a great deal of time on Facebook for business reasons, and have a large and varied friends list. This blog post will help you steer clear of bad etiquette on Facebook.

1. Stalking on Facebook is just as inappropriate as in real life. If you are commenting on and/or liking EVERYTHING that someone posts, that is a form of stalking.

2. Punctuation matters; there is nothing as aggravating as having to mentally insert the missing and or corrected punctuation while I am reading a post. Slow down, and have some respect for your reader.

3. Don’t use quotes every day as your status. It’s boring and lazy and tells your audience nothing at all about you, hence it is poor for engagement; and that is what supposedly you came to Facebook to do…you know, engage with actual people.

4. DO NOT FRIEND FARM!!!! That is the act of pillaging one of your popular, successful, networked friend’s list and sending friend requests to whom you think look cool, or a good business target, or whatever. It is rude, and it is the height of bad online manners.

5. DO NOT accept people as friends if you think you are being friend farmed. If you don’t know them, click ignore. There are no trophies for having the biggest friends list, and why the heck do you want to interact with someone you do not even know?! Unless they are in your very favorite band, say no. This is how friend farming will finally come to a halt.

6. Grammar matters too: Google it if you have to or re-word, but when you use the incorrect form of your, their, or wear, it makes it hard for people to read.

7. And whatever you do, do NOT be judgmental on someone else’s wall; you may misunderstand their humor, you may not know the inside joke, the back-story, or the reality on someone’s post, and for you to pass judgment in a snarky, superior way ON THEIR WALL is unprofessional.

8. Do not post links to or about your business, charity, project, or passion to someone else’s wall without asking first. It is both presumptuous and rude, and is akin to putting a sign for your business in your friends’ yard without asking.

In other words, be kind, be intelligent, be polite, be positive. Just like in real life, if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. As a partner in a small business marketing company, I can promise that obeying all these rules will make your Facebook world a better, happier, more cheerful place.

~Kim Finley, Sales Director

Yes, Small Business CAN Play with the Big Boys!

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Yes, Small Business CAN Play with the Big Boys!

The Internet has leveled the playing field for small business in many ways, even with larger companies having the advantage of big bucks.  Large advertising dollars can pay for expensive pay-per-click campaigns, expensive social media contests with expensive prizes and expensive tie-ins with other forms of advertising.

So how have small businesses made up the difference?

1. A visually strong website that contains calls to action and instructions for your visitor.  If you do not have a qualified person on staff, engage an ethical, small business website design company to help.

2. Always consider a niche, specifically, your niche.  You don’t need to appeal to EVERYBODY on the web, so don’t spend your money or your time doing so.  Target market to a very narrow segment of people who NEED your solution to their problem.

3. Execute search engine optimization (SEO) practices to the extent you can afford.  What you can’t pay for or outsource to a professional, do yourself.  It is a time investment that can pay off dramatically in revenue, if done right.

4. Set up your analytics to run on your website, and TRACK everything!  Design your sales funnels and your conversion goals and monitor your results, tweaking where you can.  Data is power.
Remember, Google has an interest in a level playing field, and the consumer does too.  So you CAN beef up your online presence without breaking the bank.

~ Kim, Sales Director

Why Prebuilt Themes Are Bad for the Web WordPress, Joomla, Drupal get a bad rap

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Why Prebuilt Themes Are Bad for the Web WordPress, Joomla, Drupal get a bad rap

There’s been an ongoing debate by everyone in the industry as well as with the do-it-yourselfers aspiring to have an easy-to-build, easy-to-manage website with dynamic capabilities… Which of the “big 3” content management systems is the best?  Over the past several years the “big 3” CMS’s have emerged as leaders:  WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.  So which is best for what? and why?

Let’s pick on WordPress for a second…  It’s the most popular of the 3.  Originally developed to be an all in one blogging platform with easy to use SEO plug-ins, content widgets for streaming and open-end development, WordPress quickly became a popular option for bloggers.  Soon after it became apparent that WordPress could be used for much more.  It then morphed into a CMS where anyone, whether skilled in web-design or a novice, could grab a template and make a decent looking webpage.

My first, second and probably 328th impressions of WordPress were that I could identify a WordPress site from a million miles away.  Their templates all looked the same with a two-toned header that runs all the way across the page, a white solid background in the body, a thick footer all the way across the bottom of the page and widget boxes down the right hand side.  You know what I’m talking about… you’ve seen this site a millions times.  Even Joomla templates can be equally as boring and played out for the most part…  as seen here.   Here’s something I came across recently that I find astoundingly yucky:  A very large ad agency in Washington D.C. uses a prebuilt WordPress theme for their own site.  Ummm Shouldn’t an ad agency design their own creative site?  If this is what they’re doing for their own site, I don’t wanna know what kind of creative they’re selling to their clients!

Then I realized that WordPress isn’t necessarily about themes.  It’s not necessarily about blogs.  It’s not even about widgets.  It’s about a content management system that makes building, organizing, managing and editing a website much easier.  At CCM, we have a strict philosophy that we only build our clients’ own themes from scratch, never using/purchasing non-unique, prebuilt themes to be customized, but rather creating customized website designs for our clients based on their needs, branding and uniqueness.  We use WordPress all the time… but a major difference in what we do from what other designers do is that we design the site ourselves and then put it into WordPress so that its easy to manage.  Our clients end up with a creative, unique site design that is easily customizable to their individual needs and branding.  What I can’t stand to see is many of these other designers buying preexisting themes for their clients, putting them in WordPress and trying to customize them slightly.  Nine times out of ten they’ve limited themselves right from the beginning.  Most prebuilt themes were built for a reason.  When you try to take someone else’s work and make it work for your client, there’s almost always going to be something that can’t work out right.  Whether it’s logo placement, an RSS feed in a certain area, or a slideshow it’s inevitably going to happen.  About once a week someone will send me their existing site and ask me if I can make a few edits to it.  Once we begin playing with their pre-bought theme it becomes apparent that what they want simply won’t work.  I have to explain to them that the pre-bought template they’re using is limiting them and if we can build them a new customized site from scratch, this problem will be avoided.

Before working in WordPress as our preferred CMS, we did a lot of sites in Joomla.  Joomla isn’t bad.  In most ways it’s the same as WordPress, and likewise for Drupal.  They all have little hiccups and features here and there that you may like better with one compared to the other, but WordPress gets my vote for the overall easiest to use, best SEO plugins and ease of blog and social media integration.  But in the end it doesn’t matter which CMS you work with.  They all mostly accomplish the same thing.  WordPress just does it easier in my mind.  The real issue is whether or not you’re using your CMS for evil or for good…  For uniqueness or for the ordinarily stale depreciation of the web.

Let’s face it… Themes aren’t going to go away.  We all get why they exist:  someone develops a theme and sells it to the masses of people who need a website for a profit.  They captivate buyers with discount prices and simplicity.  It’s a business.  Look at Intuit, Verizon, AT&T, Godaddy and 1and1.com just to name a few.  They all offer several hundred pre-built themes you can customize in some fashion or another, but they’re ordinary, limiting and existing all over the web.  If we as an industry know what is good for the web, we should commit to using content management systems as CMSs without prebuilt themes.

311 said it best… You’ve got to come original.