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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the tenth session (held on 22nd August 2014) and presented by Andrew, our Technical Director. During this session, we looked at the qualities that make someone dispensable or indespensable.
 
One of the biggest tasks I face in business is recruitment and staff management. From the conversations I’ve had with other entrepreneurs, this is an area that is never 100% resolved, whether you are a small company or a large multinational. You are constantly wondering if you need to bring in more people, replace existing ones or reduce on the number you have (say to bring your wage bill and expenses down).
 
For me, the one thing I’m constantly trying to calculate is: if I had to drastically cut back on costs today (say due to a sharp downturn in business or cashflow) who would I keep and who would I have to let go. I don’t wonder about it because I think I have a bad team but simply for practical reasons. You could have the best team in the world but if you can’t afford to keep them then you have no choice but to let some of them go.
 
During our bounce session last week, I decided to let the team into this side of my responsibility and get them thinking about what qualities would make someone dispensable or indispensable. We all have a bit of both and you can never be 100% in one camp or the other. However, by thinking about them, my hope is that as a team we can all start to work towards all being indispensable. Ironically, if we all worked towards being indispensable, chances are that there would be no reason for it to become relevant as the company would probably be very successful as a result.
 
Qualities that make you dispensable
  • Your boss worries about your work
  • You delegate upwards
  • You complain about having to work late or weekends
  • You shy away from challenging roles/situations
  • Your boss can do your tasks better than you
  • You focus on the process rather than on delivering results
  • You not missed when you are away
  • You offer problems to solutions
  • You have grown complacent
  • You need to work late/weekends
  • You restrict your learning/knowledge to your own role
  • You have a “Can’t do attitude”
  • You shy away from taking risks 
 
Qualities that make you indispensable
  • Your boss seeks your advice
  • You volunteer for challenging roles/situations
  • You are smarter than your boss
  • You do what it takes to get results
  • Your absence is felt
  • You offer solutions to problems
  • You are constantly improving
  • You don’t need to work late/weekends
  • You work late/weekends without being asked
  • You help others in the team
  • You are interested in learning what others are doing
  • You have a ‘can do’ attitude
  • You are not afraid to take risks to find solutions
 
Posted by Andrew (Follow him on @andrewmugoya)
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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the ninth session (held on 15th August 2014) and presented by Angela, our Finance & Admin Manager. During this session, we exchanged ideas on how to effectively measure performance.
 
Every Tuesday, we have Stout, our weekly stats and project status meeting. I am responsible for compiling our performance stats for the meeting and each time I do so, I cannot help but wonder:
  • Are we measuring the right thing?
  • Why are we measuring what we're measuring?
  • Are we measuring processes or results?
  • Now that we've measured, what next?
  • Does anyone really care?
To answer some of these questions, I decided to take the team back to the very beginning and asking "What is our purpose as a company, team and individuals?" From there we could then ask "How would we know and visualise if and by how much we are achieving our purpose?".
 
Our purpose(s)
 
In definining our purpose as a company, Andrew articulated it as being the following:
  • To solve problems using web and digital tools
  • To create an environment where the team members feel empowered to grow personally and professionally
  • To be sustainably profitable
Other purposes the team members suggested included:
  • To earn a living
  • To work on exciting projects and ideas
  • To work in an environment with a flat hierarchy
  • To become an all-round individual by getting exposed to the various sides of the business
 
Effectively measuring our performance
 
Once we had discussed our purpose, we then attempted to figure out what would be the best way to measure it.  How do we know if we are solving problems and how effective we are? How do you measure subjective goals such as creating an environment for growth? How do you avoid the team focusing on the process rather than the results?
 
Needless to say, peformance measurement is easier said than done.
 
One of the dilemmas is: How do you find the right balance between measuring the process (box-ticking) and the results, especially where the results are not easily quantifiable. For example, how do you measure and quantify the effectiveness of a developer? How do you also avoid overwhelming the team by setting metrics that appear so grand that the team struggles to translate the goals into their day-to-day activities?
 
If you are in business, like we are, revenues and profits are a good measure of whether or not you are achieving your goals. In our case, we'd know we are effectively solving client problems as our clients/customers would be willing to pay (and continue paying) for the solutions we are offering them. However, a difficult challenge we face is, apart from revenues and profits which are easily quantifiable, how do we know we are achieving our other goals?
 
Unfortunately it seems there are few better options than the subjective peer reviews that are more about opinion than about tangible results. 
 
As you can guess, we struggled to find the perfect answer/solution. The two things we were able to agree on were:
  • The process of arriving at the right answer will evolve and be subject to a lot of trial and error
  • A mix of quantifiable metrics (revenue, leads, prospects, etc) and subjective peer reviews may be the way to go, with each metric being based on the specific role.
 
 
What has been your experience with performance measurement and statistics? Are you like us trying to find the right formula. We'd love to hear if there are any great ideas out there we can adopt.
 
Posted by Angela.
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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the eighth session (held on 8th August 2014) and presented by Andrew, our Technical Director. During the session, the team shared tips and ideas on how to better manage time and prioritise tasks.

Time management is something many of us struggle with. Even for those of us who have a system in place, there is always room for improvement. So during our Bounce session last week, we explored and shared some of the best practises we adopt in our roles. In no particular order, here are some great ideas that were shared:
  • Having a weekly timetable (like the ones you had in school) helps ensure your week is properly mapped out and important tasks have dedicated time allotted. 
  • Timetables also help you set boundaries that others start to recognise in engaging with you, helping you avoid the common office problem of conflicting schedules.
  • Taking time to plan the week or day ahead always helps avoid wasting time jumping from one task to the next as you figure out what to prioritise.
  • Evans shared how he uses the Pomodoro technique to split his day into 30min slots (16 in total) and this helps him measure how many slots have been constructively used.
  • Having a to-do list is a must. This is especially so for the smaller tasks that you assume will be easy to remember and never do.
  • Andrew shared his insights into how having a consistent routine (e.g. through regularly scheduled events like team meetings) helps create a sense of stability in the team.
 
A big part of time management is prioritisation. Anyone who has a to-do list inevitably finds themselves in the position where there is more to do than there is time or urgency for. So we also shared some tips on figuring out what to do and when to do it.
  • At any given time, you can only do one thing. Once you determine which task you will work on, focus on it and give it your full attention. Trying to multi-task often means you do many things halfway or poorly.
  • “Once you start something, finish it before moving on to the next thing.” Otherwise you leave a trail of half finished tasks.
  • Most of the team use one of several prioritisation techniques such as color-coding, numbers/letters or an asterisk system.
  • “One person’s chaos is another’s order.” A messy desk is not always a sign of disorganisation. It could simply be a sign of another system of organisation.

 

What tips and tricks do you use to manage your time and prioritise your tasks? We'd love to hear of and share other great tips that are out there. 

Posted by Andrew (Follow him on @andrewmugoya)

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The design eye: We've all got one (somewhere)
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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the seventh session (held on 1st August 2014) and presented by Sammy, one of our Web & App Developers. Sammy shares reasons why we all have some design bones in us and some tips on how to utilise them.

Design is one of those disciplines that many of us assume is only done by ‘Designers’. Yet, we all do it in one form or another in our daily lives. If you make decisions (or merely have an opinion) about the look or functioning of something, you are already designing it (or how it could be). In other words, if you had a chance to be involved in the making of that particular thing, then you would potentially influence it's final outcome. Everyone has got design instincts and can make decisions, knowingly or unknowingly, about the design of items they interact with. For instance an office chair may “feel right”, “look right”, “function right”, “fit right” and so on.

During last week’s Bounce session, we explored this idea further and discussed various reasons and ways we can and should enhance our design instincts.

Why we should all be involved with the design process

  • Design is not embellishment, it is the solution. We should all be part of the solution.
  • Design is not only about how it looks but also how it functions.
  • Whatever your role, you are much better at it if you have an appreciation of how you can design what you do for better results.
  • You work better with professional designers or creatives if you already have an appreciation of what goes into design.
  • A good designer combines two things well, a creative mind and knowledge of the necessary tools (e.g. PhotoShop). Not knowing how to use the tools doesn’t mean you can’t still exercise your creative mind.
  • Good design breeds confidence in your product. Lack of confidence in it (due to poor presentation and functionality) lessens its chances of success.   
Ways you can improve our ‘design eye’
  • Get involved in the design process. You learn by participating.
  • Find and catalog inspirational material. These will come in handy for reference when you are coming up with your own solutions.
  • Work with professionals. You learn best by watching the professionals.
  • Think of how it works as a whole, not just how it looks
  • Practise using the tools where possible. You may not master them but there is still a lot you can do on your own.
  • Give your solutions a story. There is rarely a wrong answer in design, just flawed reasoning and/or bad explanations. 
  • Empathise with the users. Put yourself in their shoes and ask 'how can this product/process be better or more effective?'
  • Learn the difference between the decision-makers and the end-users (they are often not the same) and how you can convince each of them to buy into your design.

What has been your experience in exercising your (hidden) design talent? Do you agree we all are (or should see ourselves as) designers? We'd love to hear what you think. 

Posted by Sammy (Follow him on @onks_)

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Team meetings: Do yours serve their purpose?
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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the sixth session (held on 25th July 2014) and presented by Rasoah, our New Business Manager. Ras shares some pointers she's picked up on how to have effective team meetings.

Team meetings are a very essential part of a company or organisation. Whether held in-person or by remote conferences (like how we do), team members get to delve into each other's world, share their goals, joys and woes. Ideally, team meetings should help bring out the best in each team member. This is where the team members feel the support of each other and also gauge whether they are working on a collective goal. If well conducted, team meetings can highly boost the team's productivity.

Two key things that I've noted that can really help improve team meetings include:

  • The team meeting should be something the team looks forward to
  • Each team member should be encouraged to participate by being made to feel that their viewpoint is valuable

From my experience, here are some tips that may help in achieving the above goals:

  • Ask: What is the reason for holding the team meeting? It should not just be out of routine.
  • Distribute an agenda before the meeting. Having a meeting without an agenda is like leaving your house in the morning with no idea of where you are going.
  • Some time prior to the meeting, remind the the team about the meeting just incase others are buried deep into their work (happens a lot with creatives and developers) or others have completely forgotten.
  • Consider having stand up meetings when having short agendas. This will ensure that the meeting takes the shortest time possible.
  • Start on time. This saves everyone's time and avoids distraction from the main agenda.
  • Start the meeting by going over the agenda and possibly letting the attendees know how much time has been assigned to each of the agenda points.
  • Give each member the opportunity to say something, but with the option of a pass. Feel free to interupt any team member who talks for long. It helps if you can make it a discussion.
  • At the end of the meeting, surmarise any key points and assign action items.
  • Prepare and distribute minutes promptly after the meeting.

We would love to hear of any tips or pointers we may have left out. What has been your experience with team meetings? Feel free to share by leaving a comment below or dropping us a line here

Posted by Rasoah (Follow her on @RasoahM)

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Online vs Offline
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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the fifth session (held on 18th July 2014) and presented by Evans, one of our Web & App developers. Evans shares the story behind Grape, one of our latest products.
 
Grape was born from a brainstorm between Andrew (our technical director) and I in which we were trying to figure out how to bring some of the goodness of offline shopping to the online experience. In particular, to how people experience products.
 
The problem
The online shopping experience suffers from lack of the following key advantages that the offline experience possesses:
  • Ability to touch and inspect the products
  • Ability to try out the products
The common approach of using photos and some text to display products is unfortunately inadequate because:
  • Some details are difficult to capture with just photos and text
  • There is often a lack of photos (or poor quality ones) for the products
  • The copywriting is often poor or inaccurate
 
A better way: video
By displaying product videos, you are able to capture more aspects of physical products. Video gives your customers a better feel of the product and it enables them to 'experience' the product (albeit through the eyes/hands of someone else) before they buy it. With video you are more likely to avoid the often heard complaint "That is not how it looked like on the website!"
 
The problem of video however is:
  • Creating good quality videos requires expensive equipment and talent
  • The video shooting and editing process can take long
  • Videos tend to require high bandwidth to be effective
 
Vine: Video made simpler
Vine is a video app and social network developed by the folks at Twitter. It enables users to take quick, 6-second videos via a smartphone and share them with friends or family. Not only is each video viewable on the Vine social network and shareable on other social networks, but it is also embeddable which means you can include it on your website or e-shop. Vine has been described as the 'Twitter for video'. 
 
With vine, the barriers to taking good videos of your products are drastically diminished.

A creative and ingenious use of Vine by Ikea to give a demonstration of one of their shelves

 

 
Enter Grape: Completing the loop
Although Vine enables you to easily take cool videos, there is still the problem of adding them or linking them to your e-shop. Embedding the videos each time you take them can quickly become cumbersome and would require you to always reach out to your web developer. 
 
Grape breaks down this final barrier. It:
  • Automatically links each product in your e-store to its corresponding video on vine so you don't have to keep linking them each time
  • Presents the video in the product page as a pop-up box that seamlessly integrates into the page
  • Is customisable so the embedded video's pop-up matches your stores style and design
  • Enables you to present all your product videos in one place via your own 'store front' on the Grape website.
Grape's video popup on a product page
 
 
A shop store-front on Grape's website
 
If you like what you hear about Grape, why don't you drop us a line to schedule a demo or get a free trial.
 
Posted by Evans (Follow him on @evansmusomi)
 
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Afriapps Asilia shared experiences
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Social media has a way of making you feel as though you are the only one with challenges. As this video we shared sometime back shows, it helps to not believe the hype.

As we do with relationships, we in business are notorious for highlighting our victories and downplaying our losses. It's the PR game we play. No matter the hype, some things are definite in business. One of them is losing clients or customers. Every business experiences it. In this post, we look back at the reasons it has happened to us, how it happened and how we have learnt from it.

Poor service
We’d be lying if we claimed to be perfect. Let alone perfect every time. There have been occasions our standards have fallen below the levels we’ve set and understandably we’ve been punished for it.  

What we’ve learnt: Our experience has taught us that the best way to resolve these scenarios is to come clean, apologise and offer a free solution or offer the client their money back.

High cost
A high percentage of our clients when we were starting out were also young businesses. And as our first clients, they inevitably got discounts or got our services at ‘starting-out’ prices. As we’ve grown, our expenses, quality and therefore prices have inevitably risen. Unfortunately, some of the businesses we started out with have been unable to match our growth and meet our higher prices.

What we’ve learnt: Our growth is compromised if our clients don’t grow as well. The first (and preferred) option is to help them grow as much as we can. It is the reason we blog and share our experiences. In cases where we can and have to lose the client, we try and make it as amicable as possible and be as helpful as we can in their transition to other service providers.

Arrogance
Like teenagers, we started out assuming we knew more than we actually did. However, life has a way of bridging the gap between theory and reality. Looking back, there are some clients we should have been more willing to meet halfway. The ‘our-way-or-the-highway’ approach is one of the least sustainable in business.

What we’ve learnt: Every business has to have standards and principles. However, every business should also be willing to learn, especially from its clients. Adopting the attitude that 'no feedback is bad feedback' (no matter how painful it is to take) is helping us to be more open minded about what feedback we should take on board.

Poor systems and processes
As I highlighted in this post, one of the things I’d do earlier is invest time to set up and document sustainable systems and processes. In particular, capturing and documenting project requirements and specifications. Some clients express frustration at the overhead (cost and time) this adds to the project but when things go wrong you get heavily punished, even by the clients who object to it earlier in the project.

What we’ve learnt: This is one of the standards a good company has to be firm about, even to clients. Explaining to both clients and your team the benefits of proper, sustainable systems helps reduce the pushback. Unfortunately it is one of those things you only appreciate if/when its neglected and the project goes wrong.

Getting sued
It goes without saying that a client that is suing you is a client that you have already lost. OK, I know this is not really a reason you lose a client but it is one of the ways that we have lost a client.

What we’ve learnt: The thought of getting sued sends shivers down the spine of many a new entrepreneur. However, if your business is to grow, it is an (almost) inevitability that at some point you will get into a legal dispute. In our case we believed we were right to stand our ground and thankfully this was confirmed through the courts. The key thing for us was losing our fear of being taken to court. Until then, we’d have been ready to do just about anything (even when we knew we were on the right) to avoid a client resorting to this option. Ironically, losing this fear has allowed us to be more open and firm (when we need to be) with clients, thereby making our solutions for them better.

Payment disputes
Every business (and I mean every business) has cashflow issues at some point. We are no exception and neither are our clients. When both they and us are having poor cashflow at the same time, heated exchanges become inevitable. Even when the dispute is resolved, the resultant scars are hard to heal and some of our client relationships have ended due to this.

What we’ve learnt: Being open with our clients about the fact that we experience cashflow problems when we are paid late helps them work harder to try and pay us on time. We have also found that having fixed payment dates (rather than one’s triggered by project progress), enables us to plan and manage our cashflow. This also helps keep the project on track.

Mismatched visions
Not all relationships have been ended by the client. There are times when we have had to terminate a client contract. At times this has been on ethical or moral grounds. At other times it has been due to us realising that the client’s vision or expectations are simply not aligned to ours.

What we’ve learnt: Honesty is the best policy. Not only do you maintain your integrity but you gain the respect of the client.

 

Has this list been helpful? What has been your experience? We'd love to hear from you.

Posted by Andrew (Follow him on @andrewmugoya)
 

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Asilia Bounce session lead by Cliff
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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the fourth session (held on 11th July 2014) and presented by Cliff, our Business Analyst. Cliff shares some of the lessons he has learned in his role at Asilia and lets us know how he manages client expectations.

All projects have ups and downs, that’s part and parcel of the project cycle. However, when there are more downs than ups, then it's time to be worried. Often the cause is a poorly managed project and mismanaged client expectations.

Managing client expectations starts right at the beginning of the project. What happens at this stage affects the rest of the project. Starting off with a face-to-face meeting or a phone call is preferred to exchanging multiple emails. This avoids miscommunication and a lot of mistaken assumptions. Other tips and tricks I've picked up on include:

  1. Understand the problem. It may help to break the problem down into manageable chunks rather than looking at it as one big overwhelming problem.
  2. Never assume. Ask for clarifications if something is not clear. Draw mockups or pull up examples of how you envision the idea to turn out. You'd be surprised how divergent you and your client's envisioned solutions could be.
  3. Set clear goals and agree on realistic deliverables.
  4. Document everything in detail. 
  5. Plan, plan, plan. Plan everything in detail.
  6. Be honest. Tell the client honestly what you can do and can’t do for them and let them know of any hitches in good time.
  7. Control the conversation. Remember that you are the expert (that's why your client came to you). Offer effective solutions and don't simply regurgitate everything they say.
  8. Be decisive. Clients are reassured by decisiveness. Remember you are the expert. 
  9. Keep everyone updated, regularly. It's never a good sign if you have to be chased for updates.
  10. "Let me get back to you on that". Sometimes it helps to take time to say "No", especially if it may lead to an ugly confrontation or argument. Bad news is often more palatbale if appears to be considered and well thought out.
  11. Learn to push back. Scope creep is inevitable. However, not managing them can kill your project dead!
  12. Keep the project in context. Don’t assume yours is the only project the client is dealing with. Your project may be top priority to you but bottom priority to them or just one of many priority projects.
  13. Be professional. Always. In both good and bad times. Don't get carried away and do or say something regretable.
  14. Be human. You are not dealing with robots so it's important to sometimes be able to be informal, empathetic or friendly with your client.  
  15. Leave them better than you found them
  16. Always ask for feedback. There is always room for improvement and most clients will see this as a positve gesture.
  17. Finally, it's not how you fail but how you recover. We all make mistakes. The key is to avoid excuses and finger-pointing but instead concentrate on how to make things right. (http://consultingacademy.com)

These are just some of the tips I've picked up but I'm sure there are many more. Let us know if you have any other tips to share. We'd love to hear from you.

Posted by Cliff (Follow him on @cliffanami)

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Happy Birthday Card - A techie version.
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The lightbulb moment is an exciting time. As a developer, it's always fulfilling to see novel ideas come to life and graduate to the web. Recently, about a week to my girlfriend's birthday, I was inspired to surprise her with a birthday card. A techie, Google-like version of it.

Check out the result at www.agneswangui.com/happybirthday/.

Click the doodle image on the landing page or any of the links or buttons in the header or footer to see what happens. Enjoy.

Posted by Evans (Follow him on @evansmusomi)

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Bounce at Asilia
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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the third session (held on 4 July 2014) and presented by Brian, one of our Web/App Developers.

The word Internet is often used to refer to that place where you browse websites and send your email. Most of us have an instinctive (albeit basic) knowledge of what it is and how it works. Despite this, there is a lot about the Internet that is misunderstood, or unknown. Nowadays, very few businesses can survive without an online presence. Therefore, a better understanding of how the Internet works is bound to be beneficial for any business.

The list below is a collection of random facts that will hopefully help you better understand the online environment your web-based business is operating within. Some may be obvious, some counter-intuitive, some debatable while others irrelevant. Either way, I hope they are all eye-opening. Enjoy.

  • The Internet is a network of networks. It is a collections of millions of networks around the world.
  • The World Wide Web (WWW) is NOT the Internet. Merely a part (or section) of it (or one way in which the Internet is used).
  • Tim Berners Lee invented the WWW (not the Internet) in 1990 as a CERN scientist.
  • Only 20-30% of the Internet is publicly available. The rest is hidden behind private networks.
  • The first prototype of the Internet was called ARPANET and was developed for DARPA (a us government research organization) in the 1970s.
  • The Internet is made of 3 tiers
    • Tier 1 is the backbone of the Internet and is made up of very large companies and research institutes who build out very large capacity networks.
    • Tier 2 is made up of ISPs, smaller telecom companies and governments which provide network access to smaller ISPs or large organisations and businesses.
    • Tier 3 is made up of relatively smaller ISPs and provide network access to home users and smaller businesses.
  • There are millions of ways the internet is used or accessed. The most common ones are:
    • WWW - for information sharing via documents and other information on the internet as websites
    • Email
    • Torrent - a way to upload and download large amounts of information quickly to many people
    • Tor - a way of using the Internet anonymously
    • FTP - For sharing and transferring files
    • Chat - e.g. Skype
  • No one body controls the entire Internet. ICAAN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is responsible for assigning domain names. It does this by assigning authority to regional bodies and governments who are then responsible for the domain names in their respective regions.
  • Cyber-squatting is the process of buying domain names in the names of companies or individuals, hoping that these companies or individuals will one day try and buy them from you at a high price.
  • There are many types of businesses based on the Internet. These range from infrastructure companies, ISPs, hardware companies, software companies, security firms, domain registrars, web hosts, website designers/developers, app designers/developers to network administrators. As the Internet is vast and varied, most companies will specialise in one or two areas of expertise.
  • Owning a domain (e.g. www.mydomain.com) is not the same as having a website. The domain is registered via a domain registerer but the website is often developed separately by a web developer and hosted separately by a web hosting company. Specialisation at play.

Posted by Brian (Follow him on @jgisairo)

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