Keeping Clients from Doing it Themselves - Long

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I need some advice.

I built and administer a small catalog-type (no ecommerce) website for
a business associate of mine. He sells very expensive cars. Since the
site is small (we get about 1400 visits a day), and since building and
maintaining this website is only a sideline for me, I do not have any
fancy catalog software on the site to allow the client to update it.
Its a bare-bones Dedicated Virtual Server running Linux on goDaddy
with virtually zero support from them. Instead, when the clients want
a new item put up, or want to make a change to an old one, they call
or email me and I take care of it, uusally within a few hours to a day
or two.

I charge them less than $40 per new item, when one is added. Each item
usually has about 20 pictures and two pages of descriptions, links
etc. They are almost all the same format, but I always have to make
some sort of change to the pictures,make thumbnails, layout etc, not
to mention administering the overall site and providing
interpretations of visits, statistics, etc. I make changes and remove
old sold items for free. Oh yeah, I also usually end up fixing all the
computers, printers, network, software, etc.  at this and another
unrelated  business location when I go there, as well. Pro-bono, as

I really didn't start doing this for the money, and only average maybe
$100/month off it when I am lucky. I originally built it and
maintained it for free, because I enjoy it. Created a professional
logo, seeded the search engines, etc. We are talking items that sell
for between $30,000 and $200,000each, so my fee is insignificant. The
owner is always telling me about complements he gets on the sitem, and
how I should make this into a business.

I use DreamWeaver to build and administer the pages, but since each
page is slightly different, or something gets out of whack, I
sometimes change the HTML directly, or use and FTP program to update
something. One of the employees that works in the shop used to work
elsewhere and used an automated program to add items to their site. He
has no clue what is involved in updating this site, but keeps telling
he owner that he "used to do that" and could do it for this one too. I
asked him about it one day, and he didn't know what HTML was, knows
nothing about Linux, has never made a site of any kind etc. etc.
Knowing of the times when I had to scramble to fix the occassional
disaster that was caused when I made changes to the site, I shudder at
the thought of this guy monkeying around with it.

So...I have several questions.

1. What automated catalog software do people usually use to update
their catalog sites. Are they free, and if they are do you pay more
for having them than what you get with a dedicated virtual server?

2. Should I tell the client he needs to move to a site that provides
automatic catalogs, or buy the software to do so?

3. Should I tell the client he needs to buy a copy of Dream Weaver
(which he doesn't have) and turn his boy loose on the site or give him
the 6 week free course in using it? If I do what do I get out of it?
Then, we he crashes the site, what should I do?

4. Just tell the client this is a bad idea, or am I just being old
fashioned in not automating this site?

Sorry to go on so long. I hate pouring blood sweat and tears into
something and then giving it away to someone who has no clue how to
maintain it.

Re: Keeping Clients from Doing it Themselves - Long


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You could fake your own death.

Charles Sweeney

Re: Keeping Clients from Doing it Themselves - Long

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That's one alternative.

Otherwise - we get three or four new posters here every day complaining
that they can't get their sites indexed.  Most of them claim to be the
best search engine optimisers on the planet.

Pick the worst of the crop - hell, pick the next - and send them over.

Re: Keeping Clients from Doing it Themselves - Long

On 15 Dec 2006 10:42:36 -0800, "Phil Payne"

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I'm not sure what any of that has to do with my questions, since I
didn't ask about getting picked up by search engines.

Re: Keeping Clients from Doing it Themselves - Long

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Since faking your death or siccing your friend onto an incompetent provider
are probably equally unattractive alternatives to you, here's some possibly
useful advice.
The guy is in business, and is accustomed to buying goods and services. Go
to him and tell him you like maintaining his site, but it's turned into more
work than you and he anticipated, and to make sure it continues to generate
business for him, you need to put your relationship on a (friendly)
businesslike relationship.
Tell him it's a two-step process. First, you and he need to agree on a fair
market rate for the work you are doing. The easiest way is simply to survey
some webmasters in your part of the world and find out how they charge.
Second, you want to explore technological issues, to see if there is a
better engine (catalog software, e-commerce, content management system,
etc.) that will enable some of the site management work to be handled by his
staff if necessary, or more cost-effectively by you.
(You might also want to make sure your hosting service has the
infrastructure and support you need. Good hosting is relatively inexpensive,
and the difference between a $9 per month account and a $69 a month account
is negligible for his business, but could make a huge difference in the
uptime of his site.)
Get him some awards and accolades for his site, and some post testimonials
from happy customers, and he won't care what you charge him!


Re: Keeping Clients from Doing it Themselves - Long

On Fri, 15 Dec 2006 19:00:31 GMT, "Alex" wrote:

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Thanks Alex. I am not sure I made my real problem clear in my overly
long post. I am not complaining about the fees I am receiving, or the
work involved. It has been a great learning experience for me. the
site has been successful beyond the clients wildest dreams and
receives many accolades from those in the market for his product. Its
a pretty specialized product he is selling, after all.

I was simply trying to make sure I wasn't being silly or old fashioned
by not having an automated site that they can update themselves, nor
do I want to needlessly want to cut myself out of the picture. I think
your suggestions to look into what it would cost to allow them to do
it themselves are good ones. Thanks.

Re: Keeping Clients from Doing it Themselves - Long

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If you're doing PC work onsite, or repairing PCs, remind your friend
that the going market rate for that type of work is $40-80 per hour
for work not done onsite, and can be upwards of $100-$150 per hour for
stuff done onsite.

You may, at that point, want to work out some kind of retainer
agreement, for the PC maintenance, web work or both...

Steve Sobol, Professional Geek ** Java/VB/VC/PHP/Perl ** Linux/*BSD/Windows
Victorville, California     PGP:0xE3AE35ED

It's all fun and games until someone starts a bonfire in the living room.

Re: Keeping Clients from Doing it Themselves - Long wrote:

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Let's forget the oily-fingered web expert for a moment, just from your
own selfish aims you should automate this process some more. HTML is
horrible stuff to write, especially when you've a bunch of pages that
all need their links maintaining. It's just too much dull donkeywork
for humans to do all this by hand.

You don't need a database. If you can _make_ the static pages, then you
can use the static pages just as they are now.

It's a small site, you can use scrolling navigation through a list
rather than searching. Again, you don't need an on-line database. Some
category-based navigation lists would be nice though.

The end results are also less than perfect. You've no obvious news, and
no RSS newsfeed of new arrivals in stock (hey, I'd read it - especially
syndicated to LiveJournal). The HTML itself is antiquated, the markup
isn't as deep as it ought to be (image annotation is negligible). Also
the gallery / popup handling looks very tired.

So how would I do it?  Two things, I'd do it with an off-line
publishing process, and I'd do it with XML / RSS / XSLT

Off-line publishing is great for sites of this level of complexity. You
have "a database" on your desktop (which might be a real DB, it might
be Access, it might be an XML file, a directory of XML files or it
might even be a Word document). There's also a big red "Publish the
Site" button. You press this and a script written in Python, Perl or
your favourite similar scripting tool "scans the database", "generates
the pages", "generates the index lists" and "uploads the new site".
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written them by hand, with a hammer and chisel.

Again, the way I'd do it, would be to hand-edit an XML document
containing RSS and DC (Dublin Core) markup to represent either "the
catalogue" or possibly (probably in this case) a directory full of such
documents, one per car. In here is _everything_ you know about the
product / car, including a list of the images, which in turn is a list
of lists of each format (thumbnail, standard, maximum size) you have

The "generate pages" script is in Python (it was Perl when I first did
it) and is very simple. All it really does is to load the source files
and then run an XSLT transform over them. It uses one transform to make
"the product-type page", possibly another just for the gallery page(s)
and then different transforms to make the "index-list-type pages", such
as listing by maker, decade, etc. Finally the script copies some files
around to a local staging server so I can see them, and optionally or
separately can upload them to the live server by ftp.

To do this you'd need to learn XML, RSS, XSLT and simple Python. Your
content author would then need to know either XML and RSS, or you could
have them write in anything (possibly an Access DB front-end) but you'd
have to develop that editing tool front end yourself too. This DB would
publish the RSS / XML files itself.

Once you have the RSS / DC / XML description of the content, and you
know some XSLT, then there's a huge amount you can do. Huge. RSS
newsfeeds of the latest arrivals and the "car of the week" would be
easy. You can use XSL:FO and Apache FOP to make PDFs for a postal
newsletter. Another stylesheet generates the monthly picks and artwork
for the magazine advert in Musclecar Monthly. It's even auto-searchable
so that people can register their own favourite searches of "SMS me
whenever you get a black Dodge Charger"

Another way to do all this (once you have an XML input) would be to run
Apache Forrest, which would do an excellent job on it. You might also
use Apache Lenya as the input CMS.

Yet another way is to install a Wiki (Mediawiki, for preference) and
only allow "content authors" to edit it. That's about the only way you
can have mechanics edit the live site successfully.

Re: Keeping Clients from Doing it Themselves - Long


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Thanks Andy. There is lots to think about there. Learning more PERL,
Python etc, may be more than I want to get into for almost free (afer
all this was just a hobby effort at first), but you guys have helped
set my mind in the direction it needs to go to sit down and explain to
the client that there is a whole lot more going on behind the scenes
than just pushing "Publish It" buttons. I will do some research and
present to results to him and let him make the decision.

Thanks again.

Re: Keeping Clients from Doing it Themselves - Long

| Off-line publishing is great for sites of this level of complexity.

We did this for a local art gallery client.  They had a local web guy design
the pages in dreamweaver, but then he had to update everything, which
involved the gallery sending photos off to him, him resizing them, and then
generating the new website.

Then every time a painting was sold he had to update the site too.

Eventually, he became unresponsive to changes needed by the gallery, so they
contacted us.

We came up with a template based system, that allowed them to describe each
show, and publish it themselves.  Basically, the program maintains a simple
database of images and text fields.

The gallery has been running its own website now for two years

As a result of the development we have also released the software for sale.
More details can be found at

I hope this helps.

Anthony Wieser
Wieser Software Ltd

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