Recreating a quality website

The Munro House Bed and Breakfast in Jonesville, Michigan, has a newly designed website. After years of complacency, the decision to build a new website became necessary. This is a chronicle of the development and decision making process I went through to create my new website:

I had created my original website, from scratch, about 10 years ago. It was something I was proud of and really didn’t feel I was in a rush to make any changes. But, a few years ago I decided that change was good. I was one of many innkeepers who fell victim to the UXL studios offer: they advertised a new website at an unbeatable price. I paid the money upfront and they went out of business just days before my site was complete. They had been using their own software, so the code they wrote was gibberish to other web developers. Big bucks down the drain, no new website, and I needed time to save some money to start the process all over again–from scratch. This time I vowed to do it with someone I knew and could trust.

Since then, I had been talking to several web developers, including Lisa from Acorn Internet Services–off and on–about redoing my website. The dilemma was–finding the money. I have a BIG website–sixty pages would cost a lot more than a simple 5 page site. I was not willing to downsize, so I had to save a lot of money–a little at a time.

This past Spring, my good friend Andrea came to visit. She teaches teachers how to teach using all the hot new technologies that kids are raving about. Anyway, we were blogging together one night when she brought up my home page on her laptop. She told me that I had a really nice website and that if I had been in her 7th grade class back in 2000, she would have given me an “A”. It was at that moment that I finally realized how dated the primary display of my business really was and the time to change was now.

A few days later, I was in Atlanta for the PAII conference and made myself available for as many of the technology classes and meet’n greets with vendors that I could fit into a few days. I learned a lot about Twitter and Facebook and blogging and SEO and online reservations and google and website enhancements. By the end of the conference, I found that a great deal of the useful relative information came from the folks at Acorn Internet Services. Acorn was the vendor who was giving the most time to make sure that innkeepers were well-informed–whether or not they were current clients. Acorn was the vendor who was showing innkeepers the most basic techniques that would significantly affect their website in a positive way. Acorn was the vendor who taught innkeepers to understand how things worked on the internet and what could be done to improve each B&B’s visibility in their market. Attendees didn’t have to buy anything to get the benefit. All anyone had to do was attend the seminars. It was obvious who I trusted the most to get me where I wanted to be on the internet.

I decided to let Acorn create a new website for me and we continued to talk about how I envisioned all the elements of my new website to appear. My communication with Acorn became more frequent as we fine-tuned the look of my new website and how it would function. I spent a couple of months checking out many websites of colleagues from across the country. When I finally committed to start the project, I had many, many hours of research logged in already. All I had to do was communicate all this information to my webmaster step-by-step.

It seemed to take weeks to just get my home page done. The navigation was complicated because of all the pages. Then we had to create links to my Twitter and Facebook pages along with my all-important blog. I also had to learn my new online reservation software and build those pages and have them linked to the new website. We then added feeds from my bnb.com reviews and my latest tweets. We customized my google map,too.

Meanwhile, a new website requires new pictures, so I also had to hire a photographer. Instead of hiring an expensive national photography company that specializes in B&B’s, I found a local artist to take outdoor and common area photos, and a local printing company to get shots of the guest rooms. I bought a new camera and took some high resolution pictures of my own, too. I tagged along with the pros and told them how I wanted them to shoot each room. At first, I thought I was being too picky, but the pros told me they appreciated knowing the kind of shots I wanted so they wouldn’t waste time taking pictures at angles I didn’t like. The first area took a while. After that, we rocked. Between the three of us, we took hundreds of pictures. Then I had to wait for the discs with all the photos, choose the ones I wanted to use, grab some from my personal collection, find some royalty-free photos on the internet, and list the pages where I wanted each of them displayed. I spent about 40 hours on this task alone! Acorn took my selections, resized them for consistency, and arranged them beautifully on each page.

 
 
Once the home page was done and the picture selection was chosen, the rest fell into place very quickly. I had been happy with the performance of the content and meta tags from my existing site, so they were copied over. The pictures were put in the right spots and the remaining 59 pages were done in about a week!

Very late in the process, I requested that several pages have a flash photo show added. The changing pictures on appropriate pages is something that I enjoy watching and hope my visitors do, too. I have a lot of favorite pictures, but too many pictures on a page can make websites too busy. The flash is my favorite state-of-the-art technique on the website and it lets me share my favorite pictures with potential guests in an uncluttered, modern, classy way.

Acorn did all of the work, but I was completely involved every step of the way. I am very satisfied with the process I went through with Acorn, starting with the extensive time that I spent describing my vision, and leading to the approval of the design of every page to get it precisely the way I wanted it to look. Mine is not from a cookie-cutter template that looks just like lots of other websites. Mine no longer looks like a middle-school project from the last millennium. Mine is extremely detailed, absolutely unique, and quite pretty. I achieved this by taking the time to work with Lisa at Acorn, listening to her expertise, discussing new ideas, communicating my vision, and working out all the details to create a fabulous website that I am very proud of.

 
Check it out:

 

 

Mike Venturini – Innkeeper
“Life is good in Jonesville”

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