Foster Coburn is the mind behind Unleashed Productions, Inc., specializing in web design and graphics solutions. You can find Unleashed Productions on Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube. Connect with Foster on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.
Tell us about yourself. Who are you? Where are you based?
I grew up in Kansas City and went to college at the University of Kansas. While I left that area in the 80s, it is still deeply embedded in me. I am a diehard fan of my Kansas Jayhawks and was thrilled to see my Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs win recent championships.
My career took off as an author as I wrote a total of 13 books on the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite. Along with the books came magazine articles, seminars, conferences and boot camps where I trained thousands of CorelDRAW users over a period of more than 20 years.
In today’s world, many companies don’t really have a single base. Officially my company has always been based in the Phoenix area though our clients have come from all corners of the world. My personal base is in Loreto, Mexico or wherever I happen to be on a given day.
What’s the elevator pitch for your business? Describe what you do.
I work with individuals and small businesses to help them build or improve their online presence so that it engages visitors, delivers sales and exceeds their goals.
What inspired you to start your business? How did you get started?
After I graduated college, I worked briefly for a software company. The job and the company didn’t last very long. It was then I decided to start my own business doing graphic design. A couple of years later I saw an ad on Compuserve looking for CorelDRAW authors that led to my first book contract. From there, the business took off.
At a CorelDRAW seminar in 1995, an attendee said we should have a website. I distinctly remember saying that wasn’t going to happen. Three months later, we had our first site. It wasn’t much longer before we helped other companies build their sites.
After 20 years focusing primarily on CorelDRAW, the company switched our focus to WordPress. Our own site had grown to thousands of pages and was rebuilt as several separate WordPress sites. Over the years we learned best (and worst) practices for websites and that helps us guide our clients to the best possible site for their needs.
Who’s your ideal client?
Most small businesses can’t afford to have a full-time webmaster on their staff. We want to be the webmaster as if we are part of their company. It is up to the business to define their desired outcome and we will work with them to achieve and even exceed that goal.
The ideal partnership allows the client to spend their time on their business while I work on their online presence. As they know their own business best, they’ll provide me with powerful content to use on the site. I’ll take the content they provide and tweak it into a finished product that truly showcases their business.
What kind of projects do you like working on?
My favorite projects are ecommerce because the sales generated easily show the success of the site. In my own business I’ve sold physical products, digital products and subscriptions. With this variety of products, I’ve dealt with all the logistics involved in payments and fulfillment. My own experiences allow me to give clients advice on the best methods to sell and deliver their products.
What kind of projects do you not like working on?
I don’t think there is a project I don’t like as much as clients who expect me to be a mind reader. Their input of content and ideas is extremely important. Without their input, it is difficult to deliver what they desire.
What are the most common problems you help your clients with?
When I first talk with some clients, they know they want a website and don’t really know what they should include. My initial role is to help them define their vision and what content I’ll need them to provide.
There is also confusion about different elements of the process. We’ll go over the need for a good domain name, finding the right hosting plan, design elements to include (and to avoid) as well as setting goals to measure the site’s success.
What is the number-one problem? The client purchased a domain name at some time in the past, but they don’t know which domain registrar or how to login to the registrar account. I can help them figure out the registrar, and then they will have to resolve the login process. Sometimes this presents a significant delay to the site. I have one site that was finished three years ago but it still is not live because the client doesn’t know how to log in to connect the domain name.
Walk us through your project process from start to finish.
Every site will need a domain, hosting, a WordPress theme and potentially some plugins. While there may be free or very low cost options, I try to convince clients it is worth the investment to make the right choices for each. A slow host can kill even the best sites which makes the extra investment worthwhile.
Before I get started, I want to get as much information from the client as possible. What are sites or even elements of sites that they really like? How about sites that they really dislike? What are your goals for the site? Do you have a color palette, logo and other branding I’ll need to follow? With some clients, I’ll need to try to talk them out of a site element that may be harmful to their site’s performance.
Those are the basics. Then we’ll need to decide what pages are required and what content will be used on each of those pages. Often I’ll suggest several layouts that I think would be a good fit and we’ll try to use one of those layouts as a guide.
At various stages throughout the build I’ll ask for input from the client. Are they seeing what they want on both desktop and mobile browsers? It could be that I’m missing some important content and I can give them the specific location where it will be placed on the page.
For ecommerce sites, we have more questions to answer. What types of payments will you accept? How will you fulfill your orders? How will you promote the products? Will you offer sales or coupons? Do you have awesome photos of your products? Those certainly aren’t all the questions, but the goal is to make sure the experience will be the best possible for visitors so that they will purchase the products and/or services available.
The short answer is that I want to know as much as possible about what the client wants so that I can deliver a site that makes them proud and one that is beneficial to their business.
What advice do you have for folks who are trying to take their business online?
I’ve already described many of the things I’d want from someone to build a site for them. Make sure you have all that information so that the process of building a site is as smooth as possible.
As you plan your own site, look at other businesses in your niche. What are they doing that you can emulate in your business? Also look at businesses in other niches to see if there are good ideas you can use for yourself. Find one of your most tech-challenged friends and ask them to look at those businesses online. Watch their struggles so that you can provide something that even the least technically inclined person can navigate.
What advice do you have for folks who are thinking about starting their own business?
None of us know what the future will bring and 2020 has shown us that uncertainty all too well. So if you have the desire to start a business, don’t hold onto that dream for some unknown time in the future. Start the process now before life changes and you lose your chance. The road may be bumpy, but a great plan and hard work will allow you to live your dream.
Anything else you’d like to share or promote?
First, I’d love to show off two of my own ecommerce sites. I’m very proud of the design of each of them and maybe the products would be of interest to readers. First is Vehicle Templates Unleashed (https://vehicle-templates-unleashed.com) which offers blank vehicle templates for those who will be designing vehicle wraps. If readers want to play with some templates for free, we even offer a free subscription.
Next is Seamless Textures Unleashed (https://seamless-textures-unleashed.com) offering thousands of seamless bitmap patterns that can be used in almost all design software as well as on Web sites.
I definitely love working on ecommerce both for myself and for clients. During the pandemic, I’ve been working on putting together my knowledge in an ecommerce course I will offer at some point in the future. Since it is something I work on between projects, I don’t have a timeframe for its launch though I’ll certainly announce it on my sites when it is ready.
For those who don’t already follow me on social media or subscribe to my email lists, now would be a good time to do that so you don’t miss out on future news.