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Unboxing a Christmas Surprise, 2018

This week I received a surprise gift addressed to Waterlink Web. Generally, I only order software for Waterlink Web, and it arrives via the internet. So, curious about what was in this package, I recorded an unboxing video of this Christmas surprise.

Unboxing a Surprise

Turns out it is a gift from our branding and graphic designer, Courtney Stroup. She sent the gift using an online service that makes personalized greeting cards, Greetabl.

I’m posting this video as a thank you to Courtney and a reminder to all of us that giving gifts brings a smile to our friends and relatives. Merry Christmas today and keep sharing kindness all year long. Enjoy life!

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Waterlink Web

Service is in the DNA of Waterlink Web’s Business Strategy

The Waterlink Web story and my story are intertwined. Service to the community is part of my DNA. It is no surprise that service to Waterlink Web clients is in the DNA of our business strategy.

Waterlink Web’s Beginning — Pier Pool

Some of you may know that I live in St. Johns. In 2005 the City Council decided to close Pier Pool, our neighborhood outdoor pool. This pool is important to the children and families in St. Johns. So, along with some other parents, I formed Friends of Pier Park. We collected 700 signatures, we went to the City Council, and we testified about the value of Pier Pool to the St. Johns neighborhood. As a result, the City Council decided to keep the Pier Pool open.

Later I was at a Parks meeting with some Council staff when one of the staff members told me that both Pier and Buckman Pools had been on the chopping block and that the Council decided to keep Buckman open because at the time they had a website.

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2018 — the End of Net Neutrality? What Happens Next?

Mary Ann Aschenbrenner, President of Waterlink Web
Mary Ann Aschenbrenner is a WordPress website designer working in Portland, Oregon.

The concept of net neutrality is a hallmark of the American internet experience. It encourages internet providers to treat all content equally and enables the robust growth of social media channels, video streaming, and the accompanying rise and fall of tech startups. Startups compete on an equal footing because the internet providers don’t suppress content from one company or favor content from another.

Net neutrality can be compared to an open highway. The internet providers, like Comcast, build the road that the content providers — Google, Netflix, Facebook and others — drive on.

In 2015 the concept of net neutrality was made into law with the Open Internet Order enacted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It allowed the federal government to regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone service, and guaranteed net neutrality.

The decision was controversial. Many people cheered; the internet providers did not.

Why We Need to Be Aware and Informed

I build websites for businesses and nonprofit organizations always with the end in mind of creating a website that ranks well in search results and comes up fast. When I learned in 2017 that the FCC was revisiting the issue of net neutrality I decided to do my research to uncover the pros and cons and try to decide what may lie ahead for myself as well as my clients.

What follows are some predictions based on my research. I’m not picking a side, and I believe there is still much we don’t know about how this will play out.

Prediction:

In 2018 we will see access to the internet begin to change … slowly.

In December of 2017 the current FCC Chair, Ajit Pai, led the repeal of the 2015 order. He argues that regulations are not needed and that they act as a disincentive to keep internet providers from upgrading or expanding their networks to low-income urban and rural areas.

This decision is also controversial. Internet providers, like Comcast, are cheering the repeal of net neutrality. Netflix, Facebook, and many others, are not.

Expect changes roll out slowly because internet providers are promising consumers that their online experience will remain the same.

This is how it looks in countries that do not enforce net neutrality.

In countries where net neutrality is not regulated consumers choose between internet packages that include more charges for Facebook or streaming services. In the screenshot below, from the website of Portuguese internet provider Vodafone, you can see that consumers are being given a choice of internet packages. If you want Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, that will cost more. Music streaming services are also extra.

Vodafone Portugal screenshot
In countries that do not enforce net neutrality rules consumers pay extra to use Facebook and streaming services.

My prediction is that we will begin to see that in America as well. The internet providers are here to make money and they built the highway. Netflix, Facebook, and other content providers with services that compete will, eventually, need to pay to drive a fast car on that road. This is also called paid prioritization.

Because of consumer opinion, that change will be slow to arrive. It may show up in internet bundles where the consumer pays directly for those services.

Will it affect my clients, small businesses and nonprofit organizations? Not likely, in my opinion. The internet providers will not bite the hands that feed them or demand paid prioritization by slowing down the content providing search engines themselves, Google, Bing or Firefox, for example, that bring up the websites I build.

Prediction:

Rural areas without internet will get internet service.

Ajit Pai testifying on net neutrality before a Senate subcommittee in 2016.
Ajit Pai testifying before a Senate subcommittee in 2016.

In a PBS News Hour interview with Ajit Pai, he said that since the Open Internet Order in 2015, investment among the top 12 internet providers is down by 5.6% or several billion dollars. Smaller providers, those with 1,000 or fewer customers, claim the regulations have prevented them from getting the financing necessary to build out their networks.

It should follow that with net neutrality regulations lifted, rural areas will begin to see a build out of internet services. Rural areas are particularly hurt by a lack of internet service as marketing products and, in many respects, running a business have become internet based activities.

This will be a positive for small businesses, especially those in rural places that are now underserved. They may choose to build and manage websites to market what they grow or raise directly to the consumer and not sell at lower prices to middle men.

Prediction:

Paid prioritization will allow more low-income families to afford internet service.

According to Michael Katz, formerly chief economist at the FCC and now an economics professor at Berkeley, the most basic packages will likely become more affordable as some of the money that internet providers receive from content companies will be passed on to consumers. Katz believes that the low-cost internet option will entice more households to sign up, creating a win for both internet providers and content makers.

If these predictions bear fruit, that could allow the 13% of Americans without access or who cannot afford basic internet to become subscribers. This includes children living in poverty whose families cannot afford internet service in their homes.

Prediction:

Startups will have a harder time gaining traction

Over the past two decades startups have been very important to the American economy. Because all content was being treated equally, startups operated on a relatively equal footing with established companies. That could begin to change in 2018 if the costs associated with obtaining fast internet make it more difficult for startups, particularly for those providing content streaming services that compete with services provided by the internet providers themselves.

More to Consider

Lawsuit to be filed against the FCC over net neutrality.

Just when you thought this was settled a Silicone Valley lobbying group representing Facebook, Google, Netflix and dozens of other tech firms has announced it will join a legal attack against the FCC’s decision to deregulate the broadband industry.

Net neutrality is far from settled and brings to mind a quote from baseball great, Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over til it’s over.”

What I am confident of is that building websites that rank well in search results and come up fast will be just as important in 2018 as it was in 2017.

I will close with this quote from Ajit Pai where he explains the case for ending government rules requiring net neutrality,

I have met with folks from Kalamazoo, Michigan, down to Carthage, Mississippi, from Barrow, Alaska, to Diller, Nebraska, what they tell me is that the concern is not that their Internet service provider is blocking lawful traffic or doing something like that. It’s that they want more competition. They want better, faster and cheaper Internet.

Will deregulating net neutrality rules offer better, faster, and cheaper internet? It remains to be determined.

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Waterlink Web

In Memoriam: Lucie Bea

When my youngest daughter, then in 6th grade, confided she was afraid to go walking or running alone, I began to look for a dog. We found one, one that joined our family for 13 years. I named her Lucie because she her fur was red and because each time I came home I could say, “Lucie, I’m home,” in my best Ricky Ricardo voice. I loved doing that.

Lucie Bea and Kindra at the Oregon Coast
Lucie and Kindra at the Oregon Coast.

She was Kindra’s dog mostly, one who could lead an athletic junior high girl on a run or make sure I kept a quick pace on a walk. She loved everyone, greeted strangers like a family member, and never showed aggression while walking in our neighborhood.

Her exuberance at seeing us return home from work or school came out in wiggles, her butt moving left to right as she came to greet us in a wild sidestep, that let everyone know it was a joy to see them again … or even for the first time.

Lucie and Alexis at the Southern Oregon Coast
Lucie and our oldest daughter, Alexis, camping at the Oregon coast.

She was the most affectionate dog I’ve ever owned. Sit on the couch and Lucie would curl up next to you. Sneak off for an afternoon nap? Lucie would find you and join in. She was especially affectionate of my daughters’ boyfriends. It didn’t matter how awkward or tall, bring a boy home and Lucie wanted him to be her boyfriend too. She would ask to sit in their laps, all 64 pounds of her, and lick their faces.

One day we were alone in the house and I watched as she stood looking out an upstairs bedroom window intently observing the outdoors. I followed her gaze to see a squirrel. ‘She looks so observant and intelligent,’ I thought. Then I saw a stream of drool bubbling our of her mouth and knew the truth. “Yum, squirrel,” was what was really on her mind.

Needless to say, we kept screens on all the windows. Sometimes they got scratches and holes, which we repaired, but they did keep her from leaping out after a member of the local fauna.

Lucie Bea on a red couch with comforter and pillows
Lucie was soft and loved soft places to rest.

Lucie was blessed with the gift of softness. Her ears, her tummy, her fur … all soft. Kindra loved hugging her, we all did. My husband scratched her ears and nibbled on them too. It was easy to have her sleep in our bed. She would curl up at our feet, keeping them warm. It wasn’t until later in the night when she would migrate up to sleep between us, pushing one or the other of us out with her feet.

One of her joys was dog parks. She enjoyed the chasing and games. I was amazed at her agility the first time I saw her run alongside another dog, jump up on his back and off again landing on her feet and still running, as the front legs of her companion gave way from the weight that had been on his back and he tumbled into a summersault. After witnessing this a time or two, however, I realized this would need to stop. She could have hurt an older or weaker dog and, further, their owners did not approve. A few timeouts and she stopped the acrobatics but continued to enjoy dog parks.

Lucie Bea and Mary Ann Aschenbrenner
Lucie and I enjoying spring.

For the first years of Lucie’s life I was working outside of the home, maintaining and marketing carpooling websites for a local government agency. When our family would all be gone for a long day Lucie sometimes got to go to doggie daycare. At the end of the day when I picked her up I was always advised how Lucie never slowed down, how full of energy she was, and how she would be tired and go right to sleep when we got home. She never did. Sometimes I would buy her a chew toy and she would carry it home in her mouth, her butt sashaying as she walked pulling on the lead.

The years passed and my children grew, left home and went to college. One Christmas season when I was preparing for their return, Lucie came to find me busily cleaning house. She was sick. Her back arched up unable to eat. I took her to Dove Lewis. X-rays revealed bone spurs growing down her back from each vertebra. All the years of wiggling in joy when we returned home or greeting friends had taken their toll.

Lucie opening gifts at Christmas
Lucie enjoyed opening gifts, even if the gift was poop pick-up bags.

She got a lot of attention that Christmas. We lifted her onto the beds and helped her back down. The attention and muscle relaxants helped, and Lucie recovered.

After Kindra graduated from college, traveled, and found employment, Lucie became more my dog. I had changed careers and was working from home now building websites for small business and nonprofits. My office was upstairs and each day as I worked Lucie would join me, lying on the futon couch or alongside the desk at my feet. Often she slept and often she snored. Sometimes a client on the phone would ask, “What is that sawing noise?”  Then we would share a quiet chuckle.

A year ago on the way home from a walk, Lucie began to limp. The vet diagnosed it as a torn ACL. She had laser treatments, medicine to block nerve pain, a steroid to reduce swelling, and another tablet that acted as a hormone replacement. It all worked. Despite “old dog lungs” (that was the vet’s term), arthritis in her hips and back, and, of course, the bone spurs she continued, not as wiggly as she had once been, not as agile, but sill a happy dog.

In September Kindra married in a remote park on a lake in Southern Oregon. Lucie and the groom’s family dog served as ring bearers. Despite the distance dozens of relatives and friends made the trip. The toasts, dinner, and party lasted past dark. When we were getting ready to leave I found Lucie curled in a ball asleep close to the banquet tables.

John Aschenbrenner with Lucie Bea playing in the St. Johns snow
John and Lucie playing in the January snow in St. Johns.

In January, the night of the big snow, she took a walk with my husband and I carefully leaping to catch the loose snowballs John threw out for her. It was a beautiful snow covered night in St. Johns and, while Lucie walked slowly, she seemed to enjoy the beautiful night as much as we did.

Time is a cruel master. Despite our best preparations and precautions, it taxes us all.

The last time she made it up the stairs I had to hold her and help her lie softly just to keep her from collapsing in exhaustion. The last two weeks of her life Lucie needed help to stand. When she was up and outside each step seemed to be painful. She never wined or cried out, but the last few days when she went out I saw tears from her eyes down the furrows of her muzzle. The medication had helped, but it was no longer enough.

In the late winter, we called a vet to our home. Lucie was lying on her bed in our living room. I had spent time in the afternoon talking with her, caressing her soft ears, and enjoying my last moments with her. The end was peaceful. Today she is out in the garden with a new hydrangea growing from the deep grave my husband dug.

Mad River Beach, California.

Since her death, each time I return home and unlock the front door I think, “Lucie, I’m home.” I no longer say the words aloud. I miss her and her sweet generous and joyful spirit.

Lucie Bea, January 21, 2004 to March 17, 2017. Rest in peace, beautiful dog.

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Value of a Tagline: one thing we learn about marketing from Donald Trump

Learning how to write a tagline and leverage its marketing value will help a new business owner start in a successful direction.

When I sit down with a new client to begin designing her or his website, one of the first questions I ask is, “What is your tagline?”

A good tagline sums up a company’s mission and promise and sets it apart from competitors. The tagline is such an important tool in marketing that there are agencies whose one specialty is crafting them.

Most us are not wordsmiths. Whether we are a solo entrepreneurs, artists, or run a small company, we already have enough responsibilities. Writing our company tagline can get overlooked.

This is a big miss. You can learn how to write a tagline. A well-written tagline used consistently will help even a small business rise over their competitors.

Tagline Marketing Lesson 101 From Trump University

Rum, make America great again. Donald Trump knows how to write a tagline
Will Rum make America great again?

This season’s Presidential contest reminds me, particularly on the Republican side, of the value of a tagline.

“Make America Great Again” is, frankly, a great tagline. After all, who doesn’t want to be great? The Trump tagline accomplishes all three of the important qualities of a good tagline: mission, promise, and brand. In four words the Presidential candidate lays out the mission of his campaign, makes a promise to voters, and brands himself as great.

This post is not an endorsement of any candidate. My intention is to encourage small businesses to think about their tagline and provide some guidance in how to write one.

–Mary Ann Aschenbrenner

Logo and Tagline Should Work Together

Nike swoosh with tagline, Just Do It. This is an example of how to write a tagline
The Nike swoosh and tagline are inseparable.

Think of it this way. A logo is the visible representation of a brand. The tagline is the audible representation of a brand. Like the logo, the tagline rarely changes. It is part of the company brand identity.

Large companies will spend millions marketing their logo and tagline. Consider Nike: the swoosh is inseparable from, “Just Do It.” In this case, the tagline implies activity and that Nike is a company of activity. The promise is that their products will make customers fit and active. Nike has done such a masterful job marketing their logo with their tagline that we can’t see one without remembering the other.

This season’s Republican presidential candidate gained status and recognition with free publicity from the media. His early marketing work in the Republican primaries, his volatile and entertaining pronouncements, garnered him millions in free media exposure. All along, at every public opportunity, he repeated his tagline.

As a small entrepreneur we often underestimate our ability to market our ourselves and our businesses. We may not have Nike’s budget or a billionaire’s ego, but we do have a network, a circle of business associates and customers. Each of our customers should know our tagline. Friends should also know our company tagline. They should know our tagline because we repeat it in conversation, on our websites, and on our business cards.

Even on a small scale, even for a small business or artist entrepreneur, a tagline will improve your marketing and help you stay in your customer’s minds.

Waterlink Web Example

Waterlink Web: connecting your customers with you. We can teach you how to write a tagline
The logo and tagline for this website design agency.

My company is an example of a small business using a logo and tagline combination for marketing. Our tagline is, “connecting your customers with you.”

I wrote this tagline because we include onsite search engine optimization in each website we build. Our websites come up in search results for the products and services that our clients build or sell. But, saying all that can leave clients who are unfamiliar with technology confused. The tagline sums it up: connecting your customers with you.

Our company mission is to help businesses grow by connecting our clients with their customers through quality websites. The tagline’s promise is that a website by Waterlink Web can do this.

Both online and in our printed material our tagline is shown with our logo. Our logo is a bridge, an image of connection. In this case it is an artist’s rendering of the St. Johns Bridge in North Portland where Waterlink Web is located.

When people ask me what, I do I include the phrase, “Connecting your customers with you,” as part of the conversation while describing my work. This sets Waterlink Web apart from our competitors who generally list website and marketing services when describing their businesses.

Truth in Taglines

M&M's package
“Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” Really?

Taglines are not always honest, and occasionally we can live with that. As a child I remember wondering why the M&M’s were melting in my hand when the promise was, “melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” The M&M’s tagline may lack veracity, but this Halloween that won’t stop me from buying them for the trick-or-treaters who come to our door.

For business owners (and politicians), however, I recommend you keep your tagline truthful. Only promise what you can deliver.

Our fond memories from childhood will help us forgive M&M’s. Your customer’s memory of your service, products, and attention to detail will only be a pleasant one if those memories meet with the promise of your tagline.[divider_flat]

More Tips on Writing a Tagline

Keep it simple. Three to eight words is plenty. You can add more copy and description on your website or brochures. A short and memorable phrase will stay in your customer’s minds.

Keep it natural. Avoid the soulless version that a marketing committee might write. If it doesn’t feel right to you as the business owner, then it probably isn’t.

When I talk with a new client who doesn’t have a tagline we will begin the process of writing one. My client may not be a wordsmith, but I am. It may take a few days and a series of edits, but at Waterlink Web our clients come away with a website and a tagline. I can help teach you how to write a tagline.

For more tips checkout “10 Tips for a Remarkable Tagline” on the Inc. blog.