Know what's difficult?  Running a business.  Raising children is tough, sure.  But the results of your failures aren't quite as immediate.  If you screw up in raising your kids, you probably won't realize it until they're meth addicts or shooting at people from a clock tower.  Running a marathon is difficult.  But it's difficult for 18 weeks leading up to it and then for 4 hours during (or if you're a complete stud like me, 3 hours and 35 minutes).  Running a business is always difficult.  It never gets easy.  No matter how well things are going, there are always new challenges.  Back me up here, Trip Durham!  And if you screw up, people lose their jobs.  If you screw up BIG, you lose everything.

Off-Season Preparation

One of those difficulties we face every year is how to be properly prepared for the onslaught of "busy season" for the upcoming year.  Right now we're in our "dead season" which doesn't mean that we don't have lots to do.  It just means that compared to August, September and October, the spring months are a breeze.  But Old Hat has been around for 9 years and each year we have seen exponential growth in the amount of work that we have coming in.  And it seems like each year we are understaffed through those busy months.  What I am faced with each spring is making sure that we are properly staffed for that time period but not OVERstaffed.  We don't want to be put in a position where we have to lay-off someone after the busy season ends because we don't have enough work. We also have to decide when to bring in new people in order to train them and have them ready for busy season.  If we hire too soon, we're putting money toward an unnecessary payroll expense for someone that doesn't have anything to do.  If we hire them too late, busy season comes and they aren't properly prepared.  So every May/June, we have to decide who we're hiring, how many people we're hiring and when to bring them on.  Hire too many and we spend too much on payroll and profits suffer.  Hire too few and everyone is miserable all fall because they're working too much.

Painful Growth

Growing is painful at times.  And even though you can analyze past successes and failures, study your numbers, etc... it's all just a big guessing game.  Sometimes I guess right and sometimes I guess wrong.  I've gotten better at it over the years but last year we had the biggest jump in growth we'd ever had and there was no way to know it was coming.  It seems to have just happened.  Do I prepare this year for that level of growth?  Or do I prepare for what we had typically done in prior years?  Or is this the year where it all levels out and we hardly grow any?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Last weekend we all got infected here at Old Hat Creative.  Staff infection is a point in the year were we all gather to discuss what has happened, what needs to happen, and what will happen in the coming months at Old Hat. Along with a little bit of painting!

This was my second staff infection at the company and it is something I value quite a bit about working at Old Hat.  Zac takes the time to let us know where he sees the company going and to listen to what we have to say.  

This year was different in the fact that we broke up into small committees to discuss the issues facing Old Hat.  In fact, each committee took it one step further, solutions had to be offered.  Each committee addressed the problem and came up with a solution to implement.  

As a whole group, we discussed the problems and the solutions.  We all know what we need to do to improve and we all know what our goals are for the coming busy season.  It should be an interesting year!

My life literally revolves around websites, well at least my work life.  Everything we do is working towards our next project.  The processes we have built are setup to make us better at our job.  The funny thing to me is we established the processes based on websites we have built for everyone but Old Hat Creative.  Now it is time to build a site for Old Hat…

Project Initiation:
To me this was the most interesting aspect of building our new site.  The last Old Hat site was completed before I worked for the company, before a lot of the people who now work here were here.  Everyone who has any stake in the site, had an opinion about what it needed or did not.  Features that were important (Random Animal Noises) and those that were not (I know he is disappointed but we did remove the Date with Geoff from our store).  My job going into this is to be able to listen to what everyone wants and turn it into what everyone needs.  Each division needs the website for a different reason and all of Old Hat needs it for the same reason.  

Information Gathering:
At this point we have heard a generalized description of what everyone wants.  We know what is most important as a whole but need to drill down to why.  Why does our CMO want to be able to send people directly to a page with our entire on site photo shoots?  Why does my developer want to change the way we input and organize our client list?  Why does Zac love those animal noises?  

Within each change there is a goal that someone has in mind.   My developer wants to change how clients are organized.  Our CMO wants to be able to market easier.  She wants to have a list of products we have easily accessible with quality images that explains why YOU might need that product.  She wants us to be able to sort everything we do, quickly and easily. Zac really just likes animals… I guess.  

As I mentioned before each request has an end goal.  We may not always be able to give them exactly what they want but we can give them what they need.  Maybe we do not give each product a page but give each page a sorting option.  Allow people to pick and choose how they want to sort things so they can easily find the examples of products they need.   Change the way we input content and clients so it is easier to build the database to hold all of that information. 

Presentation of Concepts:
Now that I have listened to everyone, it is time to start building this out.  Dustin is incredibly important in all of this.  He is THE web designer and had the opportunity to listen to what everyone wanted as well.  He now has to turn all of these requests into something pretty.  

This is where decisions start to get made and requests start to get culled.  Some things are over kill. Why do we need to link to twitter four times and have a feed on the home page?  Dustin is great at visualizing the site as we have these conversations and always produces something amazing.  Unfortunately, his amazing design is not the end of the road because regardless of what he designs it still has to function.  After he completes every design we sit down with our developers and walk them through how we envision the functionality.  

This is the part of the process where there is the most give and take.  We want it to look this way but it will hurt the functionality.  Developers think in terms of programming and functionality, not always design.  Development is always a chore and we want to make sure the design we use makes sense to the users, while functioning like everyone needs it to.  In the end however, this is a project that we all get excited about.  Rarely do we get the opportunity where our developers can do fun things.  If you are reading this blog, you know Old Hat and you know that we have fun but a site like this is fun because it challenges our team.  It gives them the opportunity to do something they never get to do and if there is a new programming technique that most website budgets cannot afford; they might get the chance to do it.  Our developers always want to do something awesome but some times they have to be realistic.

Every website is different.  No matter what, there is some different aspect that will change with each site. This is a big reason why we use Drupal.  It is an open source CMS and allows our developers to build custom modules or take existing ones to make changes. 

After the brainstorming, the planning, and debating it is time to present the first drafts of the site to everyone involved. 

Revisions:
I have a love/hate relationship with this step in the process.  We talked with the stakeholders about what they wanted and planned for their requests.  In a perfect world, we nail it, and there are no revisions.  Pigs also fly, there are never tornados in Oklahoma, and Robert’s hair looks like that as soon as he wakes up.   

Back to reality, there are always revisions, usually, about two rounds of revisions. Everyone has a vision of what their requests will look like and those visions may not match Dustin’s.   Sitting down with the stakeholders at this point is good for everyone.  We will walk them through the design, explain the functionality, and make sure we have included the important elements.   Once we go over it, we take their revisions and go back to Photoshop.

Production of Deliverables:
After we have concluded the revisions stage and have received the design approval, it is time to start programming.  Before we start programming we usually sit down with the developers to map out how we will program the site.  Talk about what aspects are most important and look at the time frame we have.  

Programming for most websites is a four-week process.  Programming for the new Old Hat site has been a seven-week process.  Typically other projects come up in the middle and our developers have to bounce around but big projects always mean someone may be working on the same site for the next two months.  

Once we finish the initial build it is time to start testing.  There are entirely too many web browsers available.  Of course there are the major players; IE, FF, and Chrome but then there are many other obscure browsers out there.  We only test the two most recent versions of the major browsers.  Fonts render differently in each browser.  There are a few standards but you never know what IE is going to present you with.  There is a reason you will NEVER catch a developer using IE.  We still have to look at the site on different computers, browsers, and devices to make sure it looks good.  We also have to go through the entire site on those other browsers to make sure the important content is available no matter how you look at the site.  

Once the testing is done and we have checked for other errors we send the link to the client and have them go through the site.  This usually causes us to go into another testing phase as we try to recreate any issues the client is seeing on their end.  

Delivery (TODAY!!):
Old Hat Interactive mostly delivers its products to the web.  Launch day can be both exciting and nerve racking.  Typically, I wake up at least once in the middle of the night before launch day, worried about some aspect of the site I forgot or we did not build.  It is always a challenge to keep myself from calling a developer.  That is part of the excitement of launch day.  We get to help our clients display a new website to the world.  Something we built will be visited by 100’s of people that day and our work will be tested throughout that time.  We work with our clients to determine a time for the launch and make sure everything is setup properly. 

Today we launch the new Old Hat site.  It has definitely been a process.  In the end we created something that should help everyone on our staff as well as our clients.   Take a look around, see what you can find, and let us know what you think. 

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