May 9th, 2019
3 Essential Tips When Choosing Your Wordpress Theme

Hands-down, Wordpress is one of the most popular content management services on the market. Countless articles and theme stores with stunning displays make the process look tremendously easy. Live mock-up sites allow you to stroll through the content effortlessly. If that isn’t enough there are literally over a thousand different themes available for purchase. With so many options, how do you decide what to choose? Investing in a theme is just that, it’s an investment in your business and the wrong decision will make you feel like you’re in a barrel heading for a waterfall.

If you had to exit this article right now, three things I want you to takeaway…

  1. Be aware of the functionality you need now and a year from now.
  2. Invest in a premium theme, you want a dedicated, professional staff supporting the software.
  3. Customization is your enemy. You will be tempted to customize your theme (customize, meaning write or change the base code). Don’t do it unless you are a professional developer or can afford one over the long term.

Think ahead.

Where do you see your site 6 months, 1 year from now? Make sure you are aware of the functionality you need now and in the near future. The first step is to take inventory of your needs. Take a big step, literally if you want :) Ask yourself, what do I want my visitors to do when they get to my site? What will I anticipate needing 6 months, 1 year from now? Will your customers need to...

  • Purchase products?
  • Contact you for your services?
  • Read/consume content?
  • Sign up for events?
  • Give donations?

Wordpress was originally designed as a blogging platform but it’s functionality has been expanded to support many more features (mostly through 3rd party plugins). For those who haven't worked with plugins, “A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites.”* This plug-and-play type of functionality is what allows a generic platform (Wordpress) cater to so many different types of needs (blogging, ecommerce, photography, etc.). With your list of functional needs in-hand, verify that your future theme is compatible with the widely used plug-ins (and your current plugins, if your already on Wordpress). If your potential theme doesn’t list out or describe which plugins it is compatible with, take that as a sign of caution. For example, if you plan to...

  • Purchase your products?... Popular plugins are WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads
  • Contact you for your services?... Contact Form 7, WPForms
  • Read/consume your content?... Constant Contact, Yoast SEO
  • Sign up for events?... Event Espresso, The Events Calendar
  • Accept donations?... Give, Charitable
*source: https://www.wpbeginner.com/glossary/plugin/

Go premium.

You want a dedicated, professional staff supporting the software. A premium theme helps minimize the chance it will be abandoned by the developer. Put yourself in a Wordpress developer’s shoes. They love Wordpress but life happens and a little financial incentive to put out quality code goes a long way. The Wordpress platform is constantly churning out platform updates (e.g., security patches). Your chosen theme sits on top of this platform, and if the developer isn't keeping up with the foundational changes, you will quickly see parts of your theme start to crumble.

The following notice is placed on themes on Wordpress.org. This should be a major red flag. Stay away from these themes…

Most theme stores indicate when the theme was last updated. Here is another example from themeforest.com

As of when this blog post was written, this particular theme was updated about 2 weeks ago, which is a really good sign. It means the developer is keeping this theme “healthy” and compliant with the latest Wordpress platform updates

A second and often overlooked aspect of a theme is whether there available live support for your questions. Many popular themes offer an add-on which is highly recommended.

Troubleshooting issues via Google usually works but think back to that last time when you kept hitting countless dead-ends and off-topic messages boards. Being able to reach out to a human being can feel like a breath of fresh air. It’s important to remember what your time is worth; precious hours can fly by and you need to preserve every minute.

Note, most of this support is via email, which you should confirm, but even this can help preserve your sanity when your stuck.

Don’t Customize Your Theme

Later down the road, after your theme is up-and-running, you will be tempted to customize your theme (customize, meaning write or change the base code). Don’t do it unless you are a professional developer or can afford one over the long term.

One of the biggest advantages of Wordpress is you do not have to know how to code. You also don’t need to be a developer to install plugins for supplementary functionality to your site. That is the beauty of this platform and eliminates huge barriers of time and cost for entrepreneurs and small businesses. The biggest trap for folks starting out is to customize a theme (again, ‘customize’ meaning changed the core theme code). If you know code or your brother-in-law is a developer, you are the exception.

In my experience, small businesses start to customize Wordpress code because they didn’t perform their due diligence upfront (e.g., didn’t map out their functional needs) and are heavily invested in their current theme or they are stuck in the theme with no customer support. When you start down the customization path, you are creating something unique for your business BUT you are also generating a debt. Wordpress is a living platform with good folks constantly updating it to improve performance, thwart security threats, etc. Your theme lives on top of this platform, and when the foundation changes, there is a good chance something above will break.

Picking the right Wordpress theme is a big decision that requires a high level of awareness of your functional needs and being honest with yourself about your available skill sets and bandwidth. If you need help with this decision or implementing Wordpress, hit me up in the contact section.


February 16th, 2019
5 Steps to Increase Website Conversions with Contact Form

In an earlier blog post, we talked about how to identify your brand personality . A very simple but effective route to identify your brand with 7 descriptive words. In this session, we take that baseline and put it in practice. Your brand personality should strongly influence and be consistent on your entire website.

One of the most important elements that rarely receives the sufficient level of design love is the Contact Form. You are probably thinking, its just a form, what more is there? Just list out a few questions, get their email address and make sure there is a submit button, right? That is just the start.

A polished, succinct message to ‘contact me’ is saying 'trust me, I got this' and establishes confidence in your products and services. Consistency is key in establishing trust with your potential customers. Poor design can make them start to second guess their decision to contact you and ultimately bounce them to your competitors website.

So what is good design around a Contact Form? When I work with clients, we discuss these 5 major pillars...

  1. A clear understanding of what you want the form to accomplish
  2. An eye-catching and descriptive title
  3. Introduction paragraph, including the benefits you will provide
  4. A critical few questions to get you the needed information
  5. Your call-to-action button to submit the data

Step 1 - Your Objective

To start, grab a pen and paper and jot down your thoughts on “what do I want my visitor to do” or “what is the call to action”? In most cases, it’s new sales leads but also could be other items like providing customer service. This is your guiding star. Don’t overthink it. Just go with what pops into your head.

Step 2 - Your Title

Depending on your brand personality traits, the verbiage of your “title” could vary quite a bit. For example, a “outspoken” vs. “reserved" title might look something like the following examples.



These small details come together to establish consistency and ultimately build trust.

Step 3 - Intro/Benefits

After your title is established, take a pass at a 1-2 sentence note. This is your chance to show who you are and depending on the type of questions, why you need this information.

To start, let's switch places with you and your potential customer. Ask yourself...what pain-points could they be encountering? How does your product or service solve these problems?

For example on my site, most visitors are small businesses or organizations with no graphic design or IT department. With an overwhelming number of options, they need someone to help them get started. With my brand leaning more on the casual-side, I roll with…

Step 4 - Critical Questions

Now we get to jump into the deep-end with the questions. Keeping it simple is the hardest challenge. It’s very easy to overload your form.

How many times have you wanted to contact someone but never did because you stumbled upon an overwhelming number of questions that took too long to answer? It happens way too often and is a huge blocker to finding new customers or keeping your existing customer happy.

Studies* on the relationship between the optimal number of questions and the conversion rate, show there was a …

  • 25% conversion rate with only 3 fields
  • 20% conversion rate with 3-5 fields
  • 15% conversion rate with 6+ fields
* Quick Sprout

The lesson here is to keep it short and simple.

Step 5 - Call-to-Action Button

The final piece to the puzzle is that shiny button at the bottom of the form, also the called the submit button or call-to-action (CTA).

If there is one quick win you can employ in this entire post, it’s DO NOT use the word ’submit’ on your button.

“Forms using 'Submit' have an almost 3% decrease in conversion rate”
* Hubspot

Other terms such as ‘Click Here’ and ‘Go’ fared better in these studies. But it’s also important to remember which tone to use from your brand exercise. For example, on the question whether your brand is “playful” vs “assertive”, you could run with the following…



I hope you found these tips useful. Here’s a quick recap...and if you still need help with your site (or want to know the best coffee in California), please give me a shout.

  • Be clear on your objective. Know where you are going.
  • Grab them at “hello”...use your brand voice to get their attention. Make it clear...what’s in it for them
  • Less is more. You don’t want this to feel like they’re doing their taxes
  • Be yourself - even with your call-to-action button. Brand voice. Brand voice. Brand voice.

Additional sources


October 5th, 2018
How To Make Group Decisions Suck Less.

Does this sound familiar? You’re working in a group, frustrated with the lack of progress; there are too many opinions, no clear leader or decision-maker. Do you think it would be easier if you called all the shots? Probably. But for projects like building a company website, the solution tends to be better in a group because of the diverse perspectives and expertise. Group decisions are hard because everyone's got an opinion and egos, insecurities and personal conflicts can get in the way.

In my previous BLOG post, we dove into discovering your brand personality (one aspect of my discovery process). This time around let's discuss a challenge that's common in medium to larger projects... making the dreaded group decision. There are tons of tools out there. The model that I use is called the DACI (an acronym for Driver-Approver-Contributor-Informed). Don’t get me wrong, this method isn’t going to solve all your problems. You may not all be singing kumbaya around the campfire BUT it’s simple and effective in my experience for making decisions smoother and keeping the project on time.

At the beginning of our project, you will outline the role of every person on the team (see example below) to reduce confusion and stay on track and on time. From my experience, if there’s more than 2 people on a project, DACI is good insurance. It only takes 5-10 minutes to hash out...a smart bet considering no amount of re-work is ever limited 5 to 10 minutes. Never.

To help provide some color, here’s a simplified example with my Owl Peeps...

Let's review some detail on each role…

  • D = Driver = the person driving the ship (this is one person, no more).
  • A = Approver = the person whose head is on the chopping block if the project fails (ideally this is one person, in reality its 2-3 people).
  • C = Contributor = peeps doing the work, which could be from many, many different internal (e.g., engineer) or external (e.g., publisher) people.
  • I = Informed = folks not doing the work but are impacted by the progress and results.

I know you’re thinking, “I’ve been managing projects forever”. Why do I need this extra layer of overhead on my project, especially a simple effort? As human-beings (which is usually most of us in projects), we are naturally terrible at estimating.

“Our brains are designed to be optimistic about the future, and we have a tendency to forget unpleasant past events.”
* Project Management Institute

The DACI can minimize this risk by ensuring you have brought the right folks into the fold. No one likes rework or reopening a previously made decision. It can be frustrating and demotivating for the whole team.

There are many, many other aspects of the DACI we could cover but this general introduction gives you an idea of how we'll manage this project together to keep us on track and organized throughout the process of building your company's website. I hope this is helpful.

Drop me a line on my contact page, I’d love to hear how you stay organized on design projects or if I can help with your digital projects.

-Tom




September 3rd, 2018
What Is Your Brand Personality?
Project kick-offs involve several cornerstone activities that each play a significant role throughout your endeavor. One of the most critical tasks is defining your brand personality. Make no mistake, this isn’t YOUR personality, it's how your customers will perceive your service or product. I’m not a fan of big, long, wordy requirement documents, so I utilize a set of 7 questions (as one part of my kick-off process); Small/Big, Assertive/Playful, Masculine/Feminine, Young/Mature, Different/Trustworthy, Modern/Classic, Reserved/Outspoken.



The exercise is not meant to be all encompassing or conclusive but serve as a living guide for other requirements. Put something together, throw it against the wall to see if it sticks. It's incredibly easy to overthink these questions, if this happens my advice is to (1) go with your gut (2) allow only a few seconds for each response (3) if your stuck on something, skip it and come back later. In less than one-minute, your first pass at your products brand personality is done.

Drop me a line on my contact page, I love hearing from you all.