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An Interview with Harry Portwood


By Rose Jackson-Beavers, Chief Executive Officer, Prioritybooks Publications


1. Tell us something about yourself. Keeping in mind that I am a senior citizen, I could fill up pages with things about myself. I am married, with 3 sons and 2 daughters. Also, I have 5 grandchildren and a recently born great-grandson. Basically, I am still young at heart and full of vim and vigor. I enjoy music, both as a player and a listener. Also, I love traveling, photography, cooking, fishing and tinkering. My background is in electrical engineering, graphic art and web design.

2. How long have you been designing web sites? I began designing very unimpressive web sites about 15 years ago. It started as a hobby. Later, I was asked by my manager to design a site for our organization. As I began to think through the design process, I realized that I had very little idea of what I was doing. This discovery motivated me to begin taking classes in graphics and web design. I began designing web pages professionally about five years ago.

3. How do you hone your skills? In order to stay on top of a rapidly changing field, I subscribe to various related magazines, take a class when a new concept comes along. I also network with other designers, including one of my sons, who is a design executive.

4. Is designing web sites difficult? YES and NO! My basic philosophy is KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid), which results in a much easier time in the design process. I tell my clients early on that a web site is meaningless unless you focus of what you are trying to share with those that visit your site. You have got to focus on what your product is, who your customers are, when is the best time to communicate your message and where that message should be placed. Finally, you must determine how to best get that message across so that the customer will get to YES on purchasing your product.

5. Is it necessary to have a web site? To sell anything today, you need every resource you can get your hands on. As a writer, you need a publisher (someone to get your product to market), but you also need additional resources that will enhance your chances of selling your product. This can be helped by finding additional ways to make yourself and your product known. This could include book signings, speaking tours, etc. All of these tools still require some way for the potential customer to check up, follow up or research you and your product. One of the best ways to achieve this is through a web site. Print your site domain name on your forehead, on your business cards, on your letterhead and get it listed on every possible related site you can.

6. Is it better to use a free site or create a personal site with your own flavor? Free Sites: If this is just a fun thing, go for free. Otherwise, we are talking about being successful in selling whatever your product may be, including yourself, your books or whatever else you want to sell. Free sites assign you some meaningless domain name such as yoyol23a34.com (which no one can remember) and they surround your material with all kinds of meaningless ads that totally detract from the message you are trying to get across.

Personal Sites: Designing your own site is great if you are steeped in web design knowledge. Otherwise get help! A skilled web page designer can make your product sell by using various tools and techniques that most of you are not aware of. For example, how do you get the search engines (Yahoo, Goggle, etc.) to pick up your site? How do you modify those mega-pixel photos so that they will load quickly, or how do you make motion tools work effectively instead of driving the viewer nuts? Your site must have a proper flow and ease of use. If it doesn't’t, the user will leave and not visit again. These are just a few of the techniques that an expert designer provides.

7. How do you define success? To me success means to accomplish the purpose that you have defined. If my goal is to sell five books in ten years, then success is if I sell five or more books in ten years or less. My point here is that you must determine what your purpose is and make it clear to your potential customer. Then recognize that you must have a method that will achieve your goal. Many people go into an endeavor without doing a needs analysis. They don't figure out the cost vs. benefits of the product, and they don't determine what the break-even measure is. If you are lucky, you survive. But most don't because they did not do their homework.

8. Where did you get your inspiration to go into web site design? In the early days, the World Wide Web was mainly used by engineers, scientists and academics to share knowledge and to provide data to others in their fields. As an engineer, I used the Internet to do just that. So my interest was piqued early on. Later, my son got my juices flowing when he began to look for new techniques to show graphics designs. As I mentioned at the beginning, I am a tinkerer and when new things come along, I check them out. I found that I really enjoyed web site designing initially as a hobby and now as a business endeavor.

9. What are your other talents as they apply to web sites? I think my background in engineering and computers help me in my thought processes. Also, I have excellent photography knowledge and experience. I enjoy drawing and graphics, and I have a wide range of management experience. Putting all these tools together has helped to get me to the point of designing and maintaining web sites.

10. What advice would you give an author thinking about having a web site? First I recommend that that the author conduct some research on web pages. It would prove useful. Use a Goggle search on web page design. Read up on what is needed and how it is best done. Learn what is a good web page compared to what is bad. Take a look at the questions you need to answer regarding the who, what, when, where and how of your product. Research info on web page designers. Find out what designers are charging, and learn their level of skills. View their work. Take a look and make note of the sites that seem to represent your needs. Then contact a designer to discuss your needs.

11. Are web sites expensive? Yes, but they don't have to be! Typically, we get hung up with ego and want to have a great splash page with our picture, music and flashy do-dads popping up all over the place. Such features are expensive and can detract from the viewpoint of the user, who should be concentrating on what the purpose of the site is and why your product is the one they must consider purchasing. 

Let me give you an example of a well-designed, but costly site. Go to http://shop.dereon.com (Beyonce's Clothing). It starts with a beautiful splash page that takes about a minute to complete along with music. Beyonce uses the site to emphasize herself as an actress, an entertainer and a businesswoman. Note that the designer put in an On/Off switch for the music. The page then links to Design (who and what), Heritage (why), Retailers (where) and Shop pages (product). Looks like all bases are covered, and the site is easy to navigate. The House of Dereon's domain name, like Louis Vuitton, De Beers and others, is well known. However, lesser known or new sites should use a name that would focus on the product and provide a more lasting memory (something like Monica's Tee-Shirts or Fred's Books). 

Beyonce's site is an extremely complex and costly site that someone on a more limited budget could not afford. Also, such an elaborate design probably would not meet an author's needs. Remember KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). We want a simple site that focuses on our purpose and our product. We don't need music or Flash to sell books. Check out Sears, Target or other major companies. Are they using music or Flash? 

If you are selling only a few products, I suggest that you develop a two-to-four page web site that is well-designed, easy to read (no fancy text that might not work on inexpensive computers) and easy to navigate. Focus on purpose, the product and your customer's needs by using short, clear statements. Add a few pictures only if they add value, and aim for simplicity. If you do this, you can obtain a reasonably priced and effective site for around $300 to $500. 

12. Can a person like me maintain a site, or will it be necessary to hire an expert? You can have a site designed and then maintain it yourself or hire a webmaster (an expert that repairs, updates and maintains your site). Unless you have the skills and necessary tools to maintain your site, I recommend hiring a webmaster. Typically, it is not expensive unless you have a lot of modifications or need to make changes often. Keep this cost in mind when budgeting for your site.

13. What do I need to get started? Once you have determined who will design your site, you need to develop a set of documents including a stated purpose, photos of your product, a product description, an honest pitch to potential customers, and background information regarding yourself and/or your company. Finally, you need to purchase a domain name (cost: $10 and up) and sign on with a credible Internet Service Provider (cost: $80 per year and up). Managing the setup of domain names and site data uploads can be daunting for some. For this reason, consider using a web site designer or your webmaster to take care of this.

Good luck!

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