Saving all templates to files quickly in ExpressionEngine

Ok, lets just put this on the table, I absolutely hate the ExpressionEngine template editor. I fully understand why it is there and it can come in handy in very rare circumstances, but I'm always surprised when I see a large site not saving templates as files. I am working on a site right now that has over 600 templates and over 350 custom fields. The client is high profile and has significant traffic so in the midst of doing a lot of clean up and re-organizing, I'm also having to do many maintenance and template updates.  They were extremely pleased with the fact that we have cut most of the maintenance and template update time in half by being able to access actual files and not having to click around in the template manager.

So, if you need to quickly save all of your templates as files and have access to the database, here's what you do:

  • Set your Global Template preferences to allow you to save templates as files ( Design > Templates > Global Preferences )
  • Run this query:
    UPDATE exp_templates SET `save_template_file` = 'y';

    You can always throw a WHERE statement in there if you want to limit by site (WHERE `site_id` = x) or template group (WHERE `group_id` = x).
  • Navigate to Design > Templates > Synchronize Templates and all of your database templates should now be in your template location as specified in Global Preferences.

One last note, I have noticed some inconsistencies within EE as to when the flat files sync with the database. It seems like some do it when you visit the template manager and some do it when you actually save and upload the file, but I haven't nailed down an exact version number.

Going Old School with Marketing: Presence

Great people? Check! Flawless process? Check! Ok, so you should be set, right? Maybe not. Think about the bigger picture for a minute. What is it you're trying to accomplish with your online presence? Not to be confused with presents, which are great (feel free to send us some, we're partial to chocolate and gadgets), but we're not talking about that here. If you put a lot of thought into selecting your people and establishing your process, this question should already be answered.

First thing to do, is think about your company's mission and goals. It's important that your presence is an extension of your current business, not it's own alien entity. The more confusing your message is, the more customers are likely to not trust the content. As with everything else, your presence doesn't need to be convoluted or dictated by a 100 page style guide, but something simple in writing is a great foundation.

Next, you want to outline your objectives for the site. Maybe you're trying to fund raise more effectively, build an online community, launch a new product, or just make the world a better place. The clearer your objectives, the easier it will be to map out your project and establish your plan. Once you've outlined the objectives for your presence, you can prioritize their importance.

Finally, it's time to find the best tools that will help you accomplish your objectives. If your main goal is improving customer service, focus on the user experience and implementing the tools needed to provide that service. Worrying about a blog probably isn't really relevant in this case. This is where working with a professional will go a long way. It's the consultant's job to be up to date on all the newest technologies and be able to recommend the best and most cost effective solutions for your project.

When it comes to your online presence, being consistent is key. Stay on track with your company's mission and goals. Spend some time at the beginning really mapping out where you want to be and what you're trying to accomplish. Don't be in a rush to just throw something up because you feel like you're missing out by not having a blog/twitter account or whatever that latest thing may be. Think carefully about the design, the user experience, and focus on infrastructure. In the end it will pay huge dividends, and make all the effort you put into the process and people worth it.

Going Old School with Marketing: Process

So now that you have the right people in place, you want to start thinking about your process.  One of the biggest complaints we hear from clients is, "We have a facebook page, but nobody ever updates it."  From end users we hear, "I tweeted about ABC Widget company and they responded three weeks later!"  These tools are only useful when used consistently and correctly!  So establish a good process, one that is reasonable to follow, and get that great person on it.

What's that you say?  You missed the blog on selecting the best people for the role?  Go back and read part 1 of this series, then come on back and we'll talk about process.

Having a well defined process is crucial to managing any relationship in your business, online or otherwise.  Customers like to know what to expect when they engage you, and your employees will thank you for clearly defining their duties.   Here are a few things to consider when mapping out your process:

Frequency- How often does your information need to be updated?  You may want to update your blog on a weekly basis, but your facebook page only needs monthly updates, and your Twitter account is used daily.
SLAs or TATs- Service Level Agreements or Turn Around Times should be established for all points of contact.  How long does the employee have to respond to a request from a customer?  Again, this may vary depending on how the contact is made.
Quality Control- Ensure the process is working and don't be afraid to make adjustments as needed, things change.  Otherwise, why even bother with a process in the first place, right?  

Establish rules from the start and stick to them.  You'll thank yourself in the long run.  And don't forget to check in next week when we conclude our three part series with a discussion about presence.

Going Old School with Marketing: People

Online marketing is the hot topic these days, with agencies shouting to tell you how they can get you set up with Twitter, Facebook, Four Square and the rest.  For some companies, the rush to keep up with the latest trends has them overlooking some of the basics that are crucial to successfully market your product or service.  Don't get me wrong, it is important to integrate these trends into your overall strategy, but make sure that foundation is solid first.  

Now I won't bore you with the four P's of the traditional marketing mix, but I will toss three other P's at you.  People, Process and Presence.  In this first installment, I will focus on the People.  

Get the right people into the right roles!  You wouldn't have your finance manager answer customer service calls, would you?  So why put that new intern in charge of your online presence?  Trust me, it happens.  So who should manage your Twitter account?  It depends on your goal.  If you are trying to promote a new product or get name recognition for your company, it might be your marketing communications teammate.  If your main goal is to respond quickly to customer service issues, then a customer service manager should do the job.  Use the same idea when selecting the person to write your blog or monitor your Facebook page.

Most importantly though, make sure the person you select is interested in the task, understands the technology, and knows what they should and shouldn't say.  This person should be a brand champion, passionate about your company and someone you want the public to see.  Sure he can make your technologies run smoothly, but maybe the IT guy isn't the right person to be relaying your company's message.

Successful companies will agree that people are their most valuable asset.  Whether they choose to call them employees, teammates, associates, or even Googlers, great people are what makes them run.  So get your great people into those roles and let them shine.

Stayed tuned for part 2, all about how to ensure your process works.

Detour is now Detour Pro!

Detour is City Zen's first public add-on developed for Expression Engine.  The idea was to create an add-on that would allow users to quickly and easily add 301 and 302 redirects without the hassle of an .htaccess file.  What started as a simple exercise in testing the Expression Engine add-on waters quickly grew into an exciting endeavor into commercial add-on development.

I'm sure some of you will be surprised that I have taken down the old free version of Detour so I wanted to offer an explaination as to why I made this choice.  As anyone that has developed software knows, there is a wonderful feeling knowing that people are using your code to solve problems.  When I released Detour, I didn't really expect much and was pleasantly surprised by the number of reponses I got both saying thank you and requesting support.  Realistically, I don't mind helping people out as long as I have the time, what I didn't have time for was actually refactoring some of the code behind Detour.

As time went on and I received more really good feature requests, I decided it was time to convert it from a basic extension to a module with features such as wildcards, wildcard and segment replacement, start date, expiration date, filtering of current detours, etc.  The main reason I decided to discontinue the free version isn't about anything more than the fact that the codebase has changed so much, I don't have time to maintain both versions. 

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions.  Don't forget to check out Detour Pro here!

City Zen Supports the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through the Nation’s Triathlon

Running your own business comes with a lot of misconceptions both internally and externally.  You tend to give off a vibe that you can take vacation time whenever you want, wear pajamas to work and take Friday's off to work on personal projects.  People seem to think that you have some special power that allows you to not have to commute to work and still make enough money to keep your lights on.  The sad reality is that most small business owners work way too much, rarely go on vacation without their macbook and generally just don't get enough exercise.  This was the case with me so I decided that I would start running back in January of this year.

Running is simple enough, you put on a pair of shoes, walk outside and hit it.  No gym memberships and no driving to the gym only to stare at all of the equipment with no clue what to do with it. For me running is a great start, break or end to my day.  It gets my blood pumping and lets me think through problems outside of my office environment.  Running not only benefits my health, it also has helped me find more balance between my business life and family life.

While training for my first half marathon (PF Changs Rock n Roll San Diego), I decided to sign up with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training to do the 5th Annual Nation's Triathlon.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into but I was certainly concerned to say the least.  It was 17 weeks of training, six days a week split between running, cycling and swimming and I hadn't been on a bike in awhile and the last attempt I made at swimming quickly ended after a measly 75 meters.  The schedule was definitely tough to manage but I'm fortunate that I am "the boss" and I can make my work schedule work around my training schedule.  In the beginning it was a shock to my system but as my body acclimated to a more rigorous training schedule my mind seem to follow.  I found that I was more productive and efficient with work and had finally struck that balance between work, family and exercise that I had been missing for years.

Team in Training is a wonderful organization in which they train you for an event and in return you raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).  Collectively we raised over $3 million dollars for LLS and had over 700 participants in the triathlon.  As a small business owner, I decided to do donation matching up to $500 to help raise money and to also take an opportunity to give back to a program I strongly believe in.  It really made a lot of difference while training to think about the people I was doing this for and the fact that they didn't have the choice to run a triathlon but I did and I was doing it for them. 

When you run a small business, it's easy to loose sight of what life is all about.  You tend to work too many hours, focus too much on P&L statements and not focus enough on your family and health.  Participating in the Nation's Triathlon, both physically and financially, gave me a wonderful opportunity to realize just how lucky I am to have a wonderful, healthy family and know that my business helped a wonderful charity.  As a business we will continue to give back to charity and our community and as for me personally, I plan to keep training and participating in events to keep me in shape enough to keep up with my two year old.