E-commerce can be a tricky business.  Depending on what type of e-commerce you plan on doing, your needs for an online store will vary widely.  With everyone from physical business owners going online, to drop-shipping, affiliate selling, and intellectual or electronic products being sold, the demands for any ecommerce store are diverse.  Luckily for Joomla! users, developers have  developed a wide variety of ecommerce platforms and shopping carts that integrate seamlessly with Joomla!, giving you as a site or store owner the versatility needed to make your store a success! 

Virtuemart

VirtuemartVirtuemart is probably the most well-known, and the most used shopping solution for Joomla!.  The fact that it has been around for the longest means that it probably the most stable ecommerce software, as well as being able to provide a wide variety of add-ons, and plugins to help you accomplish just about anything.  Whether it is integration with Quick Books,

An often overlooked side effect of being the oldest is that it has an older look to it.  If you’re looking for a super-simple administration panel or nice interfaces, then Virtuemart may let you down here.  It’s older design seems to turn many people away from it, but what it lacks in style Virtuemart definitely makes up for with power and flexibility.

Virtuemart is situated to handle just about any type of store.  International products, electronic delivery, products with multiple configuration options, you name it, Virtuemart can handle it.

Virtuemart is available for free from Virtuemart.net, although many of its extensions and add-ons may have to be purchased since they are developed and delivered by independent developers.

RedShop

RedShopHere at CNP Integrations we deal with various ecommerce solutions every day.  But in sitting down and looking at each of the solutions that we use most often, RedShop really impressed me.  RedShop offers all the features and power that you can find in other systems like Virtuemart, but without all the complexity.  RedShop seemed to have just about everything a store owner would need.  It can deliver any type of product (physical or electronic), provides multiple payment or shipping options, and has very flexible layouts for the front end.  But that’s where RedShop stops being “typical” and really starts to shine.  With additional features like advanced newsletters and action emails built right into the ecommerce system, very nice SEO/SEF support, and surprisingly nice Customer Support options built right in, RedShop definitely packs a punch for any store.

A RedShop basic version is available for free from RedComponent.com but advanced versions with additional functionality are available for an additional fee.

Rok QuickCart

Rok Quick CartFor users looking for simplicity at its finest, Rok QuickCart answers the call.  The folks from Rockettheme did a great job at creating the basic shopping cart.  Rok QuickCart does the basics, it presents products, as well as their descriptions and images, allows users to add them to their cart, and then checks them out and processes their order … all on the same page!  From the users front end QuickCart couldn’t be simpler.

From an administrator or store owners perspective, QuickCart is just as simple.  QuickCart isn’t meant to handle complex shipping or order options, so if you’re looking for something like that then you might want to check out some of the other options.  But if you’re looking to simply sell products, and collect payment, then QuickCart should be at the top of your list!  It took me less than 5 minutes to install QuickCart and set up two products.

Rok QuickCart is available for free at Rockettheme.com

HikaShop

HikashopA relative newcomer that we’ve been looking at is HikaShop.  It can easily handle the more advanced options of selling products like multiple shipping methods, alternative payment methods, and even some nice basic affiliate tracking. 

But what makes it stand out are the built in analytics.  Easy to see and understand graphs and numbers give you a great sense of what is happening in your store, and any trends that are happening over time.  Most other shopping carts can deliver reports or data, but none offer the flexibility and reporting display like Hikashop.

Like I said, it is new though.  We ran into several bugs, and the integration with other components is limited, but if you’re not using components like social networking solutions, extensive email newsletters, etc.  than HikaShop is a nice, capable, yet light alternative to other ecommerce platforms like Virtuemart.

Hikashop has a free, basic version available at Hikashop.com.  Additional features can be “unlocked” by purchasing advanced memberships.

 

With a wide variety of options and solutions to meet your needs, finding the right one, or, more importantly, choosing the wrong one, can make or break or online business.  What you choose today, can impact the direction your business takes next year.  CNP Integrations has helped clients in just about every business field find the right solutions, and then deploy them successfully to create a custom approach for their business.

Mistake Number One: The Client Thinking that they do not need to be involved in the process

Joomla! CMS for simple sites with prepared contend and well defined design specs on a site that does not change could be handed off to a team to “just build this” but sites with any type of dynamic and changing content requires a very hands on approach from the client to be effective.

Since the shift from  static web sites through the introduction of the dynamic website revolution there is been a battle between where and when a client should be actively involved in the process of developing their site and where they can or should hand off aspects of the development. This is highly contrasted by the size of the budget and diversity of the stakeholders. The client almost always has superior subject matter expertise on their content while the Joomla! CMS support team has theirs in the framework, project execution and technology. We have found that every project is unique in these areas and there is not a one size fits all that works for any project.

The key to determining the success factors for any given Joomla! CMS project is to assess the skill levels, personalities and technical experience of the individuals involved. Then making sure you have the right blend of associated resources and appropriate delegation plan as part of your overall project management process. As a service provider clients come to us www.cnpintegrations.com to help them solve problems through the use of the Joomla! CMS technology platform. Our approach is to assess the gaps and then offer our expertise and talent resources in the areas that will bolster our clients core competencies.

To do this effectively we make sure that our clients are willing to engage in the entire process and that they prepare themselves to continue on a forward thinking learning path. Dynamic technology is a moving target and there will always be growing expectations from the end users of your web portal. If you want to achieve the highest level of success you will have to keep up with trends and be tuned in to the interactions of your users. In the end everybody wins when the client is well informed about how the Joomla! CMS platform can be used the most effectively towards achieving their intended business or communication goals.

On larger projects we typically see a client project lead interacting with committees and stakeholders and then coming back to use with a laundry list often from a perspective of non-technical thinking and more of “I want it to do this…” While often these ideas can be nice to haves they may be impractical to implement as they intend or require changes to their business processes or general way of thinking through the problem. The larger the organization, the more challenging is the change management so you can get caught in the dilemma between cost on the technology side or the organizational change and which will be the best long term or practical solution. Our approach at CNP Integrations is to translate the vision and concepts of the driving business goals and communicate this to the programmers, designers and developers involved. We help clients achieve the requirements within the most cost effective process and yielding the best long term value for their investment.

On smaller projects there is usually a principle in the company or organization that is driving the tasking and they often too are less technical and more of a business manager or visionary. Business owners that take a “hands on” approach often think they can save money by doing things themselves and in some cases this is true but more often than not having a dedicated Joomla pro do the work can save them more. We have seen clients with strong web development skills break stuff that causes many hours of technical support to repair. In the flip side, if the client understands how long it takes to do something through hands on experience with managing content they will have a higher respect for the venders time and input as well as be able to articulate what they want from the vender more effectively.

Of course clients end up at the doorstep of a Joomla! CMS support team like ours www.joomladesignservices.com because they need technical guidance and professional support. While this varies in scope the common denominator is that as a client you must be willing to be an active participant in the process while remaining realistic about where you can contribute the most to the initiative’s success and where you should employ the help and resources of others. You will not always have to do the work but you should understand how it is done and what information is required to effectively execute the project or empower your team. Once everyone involved can “speak a common language” about Joomla! CMS related activities, this will allow you to communicate effectively with and between your entire team and stakeholder’s. It often takes time to evolve the right process and climate for effective collaboration and knowledge sharing but when this is achieved you are likely on a road to success.

The Debate

One of the big debates lately regarding comparisons with Joomla! CMS, Drupal and WordPress is; Which works best for Government web sites? Well there is not really a definitive answer since each of these tools has their place and you should carefully consider the dynamics of the client and use of the system to determine this. However, since we have worked with all three systems and overwhelmingly prefer Joomla! as the solution we most often recommend to our customers, I wanted to share a list of Governments around the world that are committed to using the Joomla! CMS solution. http://docs.joomla.org/Government_Websites_Using_Joomla

This list is still incomplete since it is rather hard to track but it does give a pretty good slice of types of Government organizations using Joomla right now all around the world and I think the pendulum is leaning very heavy towards Joomla as a solution that Government agencies can use with the greatest easy and confidence. With over 7000+ extensions, a global development community and an open source architecture the flexibility and capabilities are simply unmatched.

Getting off the fence

While there are many organizations currently using the Joomla platform there are many still on the fence in exploration phase wondering how they can get started. Moreover, since committing to any new system in a Government agency is often a lengthy process.  Adopters want to make sure this is not only a solid platform but also that it will be around and supported over the lifetime of its intended use. They often wonder how to deploy a Joomla system that meets all of their technical and user specifications and how can they bridge any change management required to roll this out with the best possible stakeholder and user adoption.

All of these elements have been carefully considered by the CNP Integrations team which specializes in building, configuring and maintaining Joomla! CMS solutions. Their business service model is driven around training and empowerment so your organization can maximize your talent while leveraging the solid expertise of the CNP Integrations team as a force multiplier.

Solutions to meet the challenges

CNP Integrations’ JBizPack deployment program and service plus for Government targets specific types of functionality particular for Government agencies and provides an easy to follow success program. JBizPack for Government is in part a bundled service program designed to offer a Joomla! CMS with all of the right components and template designs, support and consulting required for a successful custom deployment. Combined with a comprehensive training plan JBizPack will guarantee your success and deliver superior technology at a fraction of the cost. JBizPack for Government is the best way to get started with building a Joomla! CMS solution and Joomla! CMS is the best platform to future proof your investment.

Review the link above and see what other agencies have done with this platform and keep in mind that CNP Integrations Value Building Methodology can help you get the best value for your technology implementations and training. For information about JBizPack for Government visit: http://www.joomladesignservices.com/jbiz-pack-for-government.html

For more information or a request for proposal contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call: 1508-644-1553 or visit www.cnpintegrations.com or www.cnpsupport.com

 

Joomla CMS for businessJoomla! CMS is the best platform for building your business online!

If you are building a web site for your business it is easy to get excited about all the things that Joomla! CMS can do with its 7000 plus extensions and long list of core features built in. Joomla! CMS is an open source code base offered as a FREE download and relatively easy to install on any web server. There is one of the largest collections of world-class design templates available to build from and quickly brand to your specifications. Since Joomla! CMS is easy to use and offers flexibility to expand over time it is no wonder for the growing popularity of this robust content management system. According to CMS crawler, Joomla! CMS is the top web publishing tool (CMS) in Europe and captures over 2.6 percent of all websites worldwide (http://cmscrawler.com/cmsinfo?cms=Joomla!). Joomla’s only other close contender is Wordpress which has nowhere near the options for practical business use cases.

Sounds incredible! So where do I get started?

“Know what you are building, who you are building it for, what you want out of it and how it will be sustained over time.” You must see the picture in your mind before you can build it and the better your plan the more efficiently you can realize you goals.

Why? You might ask.

Let me start with a brief analogy…

I am a retired musician. Back in the 80’s there was a revolution with digital recording equipment and within a few short years recording systems and sound modules for keyboards that would cost 100’s of thousands of dollars and were very complicated to operate were suddenly in the hands of every aspiring musician or “wanna be”. While this was all very exciting only the folks that really honed their craft were actually able to do anything productive or worth listening to with these new tools. I see this same kind of trend with all of the powerful new web tools and it is important to keep in mind that “just because you can do something does not always mean you should”.

Put together a good Checklist

I have to admit that when I first started working with Joomla I fell into the same trap of trying to use every tool just because I could. When building anything you need to start with a good plan and purpose and avoid distraction. Strategy and tactics are key and have to come before the design and all of this even before you begin to turn on any technology. The first step I recommend is put together a checklist of all that you want to get out of the intended site and identify who it is for, what are the proper calls to action and paths to information that you want users to follow. Then set some priorities since everything has a cost in time and money.

What makes your site unique?

You are going to find there are a lot of things common to any site that you will have on your list such as security, most likely SEO etc. but the unique characteristics and how this site interacts with the end user are the items you want to think most about since there are plenty of options for addressing the common challenges. It is often the elements that make your site unique that will cost you the most or someone else would have done it already and perhaps they have… but how are you going to do it better in that case?

Test and evaluate at the feature level of the components you plan to use.

Once you have a well-defined strategic plan you are going to want to map these features to the options available in the huge collection of features and extensions found with the Joomla! CMS. This is often a time consuming and laborious process but will save you a ton of time and treasure in the long run. For example, let’s say you want a document repository. Well there are several components and each has unique features. You want to make sure these features map to your short term and long term goals. You would not want to take the time to upload hundreds or perhaps thousands of documents and add all of the descriptions to find that you should have chosen the “Other one”. It is well worth the time to install the top contender extensions and test them to see if you have any questions that did not come to mind before.  Sometimes you may not find all of the features you need in an existing extension, so it may come down to which will be the easiest to customize and maintain over time.

Have a good training plan for your stakeholders and contributors

If you or your team are new to Joomla you will want to think about the training requirements for engaging your team effectively and it is important to realize that this will be an ongoing learning track and often a bit of “change management” since you are going to want to get everyone focused on consistent processes for integrating and managing content. If you do not have a “Joomla guru” on your team you should seek a professional service organization to assist you and support your initiatives over time. This can mean not only technical support and training but also traffic building, optimization and emarketing. If you are using your site to generate or manage your business online you will need to respond quickly to a variety of issues over time and always remain proactive about security and maintenance.

Graphic design is different than functional design

Keep in mind that UI and graphic design is a whole process in itself and this too requires a parallel strategy as part of your overall plan but the good news is that Joomla! CMS has one of the largest collections of brand ready template frameworks to either choose from or to use as a baseline for streamlining your design process. It is always helpful to have reference points when dealing with the subjectivity of creative design. One typical approach is to leverage an existing template while you are developing your own creative design. This can save time and if you use a flexible template framework such as those from http://demo.rockettheme.com, you may even be able to just modify graphic elements and save a tone of money. In addition to the actual template you will also have to consider that several extensions may require custom UI design work and you need to ask yourself what images or interactive elements need to be processed or developed. Having visual consistency and quality images with thoughtful colors and graphical treatments can have a significant impact on the appeal of your site. There are several techniques, approaches and processes useful for achieving successful graphic design to compel your users. Best to get good advice here before you spend a lot of time and money.

Have a Joomla Geek build the foundation

So now if you have a plan, perhaps a design concept, you have identified the purpose, the audience and all of the components, your team resources and training is evaluated so now you should be able to move forward with a certain level of efficiency. I typically recommend letting your “Joomla Guru” or service provider to build out the initial framework (often a collaboration between an insider and an service provider) and set the site up with all of the core components and add-ons. This is not done best by committee and there needs to be a single point of contact through this phase of the project.

“Speaking and thinking Joomla”

“Wiring up” any project with several levels of complexity requires a good roadmap and plan but you also have to realize that it is just as easy to get caught up in over planning. Most business plans are designed to guide you in the right direction but if you stick to them in the “letter of the law” with an ever changing environment you will get left behind your competition. Since Joomla allows you to adjust content and design in a real time you have the flexibility to respond quickly to the needs of your business and demands of your audience. To achieve maximum success You will want to find someone that can “think and speak Joomla” and get not only your initial framework build out by them but to have them there to support the process and mentor your team over time. In addition you will want to make sure you have access to a programming team that can help tweak bugs or conflicts since you may be working with code packages from a community of 3rd party developers.

Joomla! CMS integrations, technical support and consulting

This is all pretty straight forward and comes together easy if you make sure you have a good strategic plan, acquire the right talent resources and train your content contributors well. Our web portals offer a lot of training and other resources for developing and implementing successful Joomla! CMS web portals. http://www.cnpsupport.com, http://www.cnpintegrations.com, and http://www.joomladesignservices.com. Our experiences range from large State wide community portal systems to small businesses and organizations in a multitude of industries. We have implemented a wide range of CRB and LMS and Social Networking integrations and custom programming. Our growing collection of training resources covers most of the popular Joomla! CMS related topics and content management components. Let us know if we can be of service and hope these thoughts can help your success with Joomla! CMS.

iStock_000005043397XSmallWith the growth of the Joomla! CMS as a website platform and framework upon which to build robust applications, Webmasters, Site Integrators, and Website Developers are faced with an often daunting array of potential solutions, components, plugins, or hacks to get your site to do just about anything!

One of the most common requests we get is to integrate in some way or another, the aspects of a community. Requirements can vary widely from simply the ability for users to message each other privately, the ability for users to fill out a more robust and expanded profile, or even all the way to creating a lively, self-sustaining community with regular interaction, community involvement, and communication. To answer these requirements with a sustainable and effective solution, we undertake a rather robust process to determine what the goal of the community functions are, the requirements needed for users to interact, and then finally what solution can be used.

The truth is, in web development, one size does NOT fit all. Each site has a unique goal with unique requirements, and what may be an ideal solution for one site is not necessarily the best route for someone else. Determining which solutions to use is a big step in ensuring that your site stays on target, and effectively reaches your audience. When it comes to communities, these differences are magnified since the level of user interaction and time spent on the site grows drastically, so here’s our quick look at what’s out there for communities, and what I see as the best ways to deploy some of them.

Jomsocial: The Social Engine

Social Communities for Joomla!Jomsocial is probably one of the most popular community building tools. As a relative newcomer, Jomsocial has taken over the Joomla! community world dazzling users with its wide array of features and social actions. If you’re looking for an actual community where people connect, talk, share what’s going on in their lives, and generally just “hang out” then Jomsocial is for you! With everything from photo sharing, a personal “wall” making “friends” and connecting in groups, Jomsocial creates a branded atmosphere for people to connect and enjoy themselves.

Community Builder: The Business Engine

Business oriented Communities for Joomla!Creating your own Facebook may not be for everyone, in fact, I’d venture that most sites don’t want to go all the way to a full-blown community like JomSocial. This is where Community Builder comes in. With many of the same features as JomSocial including the availability for User Profiles, Private Messaging, Connections, and Groups, Community Builder still represents a more business oriented community. CB is great for advanced profiles, creating lists for personal or group directories, and presents a bit more of an “official” atmosphere that is great for sites wanting a little more interaction than just having users read content, but don’t need things like live chat, and video sharing.

Anahita: The Newbie

Socail Communities for Joomla!Community Builder and JomSocial are pretty much the pillars of creating interactive communities in Joomla!, but there’s a new one that has caught my eye. Anahita is not necessarily a Joomla! component (when you download it you’ll get an entire Joomla! installation with Anahita already inside it), but rather a community system that leverages the Joomla! framework. It offers many of the same features of JomSocial and Community Builder with a clean, fresh profile, connections, groups, sharing, etc., but takes community collaboration to the next level with the ability to add Group based project management. Anahita will definitely be something to look at for sites looking to have goal-oriented communities.

Wrapping it Up

When it comes to communities, getting the right solutions in place can make or break your site. And determining exactly what your goal is for your users and then what solutions are available to fit those requirements is crucial if your community will grow and expand. Whether it is a social, friendly community, a business oriented website, or even a goal-oriented gathering, Joomla! has great solutions for each. Couple that with the expertise of a Joomla! Development Team like CNP Integrations and you’ll have a sustainable portal to engage your users for years to come!