Digital transformation consulting can sound daunting, and there are many articles that make it sound way more complicated than what it should be. At its core – it’s changing how organizations use digital to optimize how they work. It’s improving how they communicate to their customers at every touchpoint – from their site to their email communications. It’s improving how they use marketing automation and CRM to scale. It’s taking a data-driven approach to competition, so you can learn what makes them tick, so franky – you can do it better.
It’s examining how people and processes relate to technology, and ensuring user adoption is at the forefront. The below provides a brief checklist on finding the best consulting firm possible.
Ideas are easy, implementation is hard – and your digital transformation consulting team should do both.
Nobody wants to spend heaps of funds to only get a loosely coupled PowerPoint deck that’s full of digital technology recommendations without any plan of actually implementing what’s possible. Strategy is imperative, but strategy alone doesn’t spark change. We’ve heard many horror stories when months were spent on strategy, and there was no actual ‘doing’. Strategy consulting is great, but it’s implementing what’s found during discovery that’s going to transform your employee and customer experiences.
They should be at the intersection of KPIs and employee delight.
Your KPIs should be defined, measurable and obtainable. Any digital transformation strategy should have these clearly outlined and tracked at every major milestone. However, what’s often missed is understanding the mundane and tedious tasks that diminish overall employee satisfaction. Understanding what’s needed at different levels of the organization is not just a nice-to-have, it’s mission critical. Happier employees lead to a more productive workspace. It’s using digital to augment how you work.
Keep your business model at the forefront.
Proper consulting services either have experience in your particular vertical, or they have the skills to quickly learn the ins and outs of what makes your business tick. They should come to the table with ways to get more qualified leads and ways to deepen relationships with existing customers.
Know your competition as well as they know you.
There are numerous KPIs that can be explored using a wealth of different tools and technology. For example, gain a solid understanding of their domain authority, know their backlink/ off-page SEO strategy, understand what content is positively impacting their search rankings, and much more. By starting at the industry-level, and drilling down into the needed detail – a proper digital transformation strategy will be inclusive of doing what’s making your competition effective, except doing it way better.
You wake up in the morning, and perhaps you grab your phone from your nightstand (because heaven forbid a phone be too far away from us!), and you comb through your emails. You see one from your friend that has a link to a website of cats playing pianos. You click on it, but you can’t experience anything because you’re experiencing blindness, or perhaps deafness. Your morning is totally ruined because your friends were able to enjoy Muffin the Cat playing Beethoven’s finest piano sonata. But – you’re left in the cold due to poor web accessibility.
Now let’s take it up a notch.
Imagine going into a meeting. You’re up for a promotion, but you need to do some competitor analysis that involves going to their websites (amongst others) and doing your own digital recon. Your colleague is able to seamlessly do so, but – you can’t, because you may have learning difficulties or challenges that prevent you from experiencing the web just like your peers. So you lose the promotion, all due to issues that could have been addressed with proper web accessibility.
Web accessibility is causing a greater divide in what’s now a basic right: access to digital information.
Similar to my post around PCI Compliance, I’ll give you a brief history of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
W3C: “Hi, we’re W3C, and we stand for the World Wide Web Consortium, and it’s the year 1994. We’re a group of smart people that set standards for the interwebs. So instead of having a zillion types of image types, we’ve decided the main web image types will be stuff like . JPG, PNG, and of course. GIF files, so you can watch monkeys riding on top of turtles on an endless loop.”
Internet: ” It’s now 1999, and I’m now totally -inaccessible for so many people. It doesn’t make sense that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has set standards for restaurants and stores to be accessible for those with physical challenges, but I’m not accessible for this same group of people. I’m so sad about this, and I’m going to eat my feelings.”
W3C: “Fear not, dear Internet! Let’s set a group of standards called WCAG, that sets guiding content for the web. We’ll call this WCAG 1.0, because it sounds fancy, and super technical, and even though we’ll explain it in a way that nobody can understand – our hearts are in the right place. Eventually, we’ll replace this with WCAG 2.0 in 2008, which will be the basis of how things are today.elines in place for those developing and design st-forward 10 years later, WCAG 2.0 still reigns as the set of web accessibility standards.
So what is WCAG 2.0 and what does this really mean?
The guidelines are set into four main buckets:
This is structuring your content so it can be accessed in different ways. For example, if you have an image of a duck. There should also be some language around the duck that describes the duck is a duck. This also makes it much easier for screen readers (software that literally reads the content to a person who may have low- or no-vision) so they can experience the web.
Your site should be navigable without ever using a mouse, and only using the keyboard (e.g. hitting the tab button to different elements and then hitting ‘enter’ should get you where you need to go). Oh, and don’t do anything jerkish like have any content that could produce seizures. There are no winners in that situation!
This is somewhat the common sense one. For starters – if you have a button called “About”, and then user clicks on it, and you have a herd of unicorns flying across the homepage – that’s unpredictable behavior. Don’t design/ build a site like that. Your mother raised you better than that.
Also, don’t be weird with your text: don’t use a bunch of acronyms, jargon, or language that only a few people know. (I’m now having anxiety-ridden flashbacks to my first day as an Accenture intern…)
Lastly – be clear on your instructions, and if there’s a mistake – be clear on how to fix it. For example, say you forget to fill out a field on a form, and you click submit. Imagine a message that only says “Form not complete”, vs. one that says “Please fill out your Last Name” with a red box around the Last Name field.
Don’t code your site in gibberish, because browsers don’t understand gibberish (or Pig Latin, or Klingon, for that matter). Use modern, clean code that browsers can understand, as well as parsing to know what’s what. A machine should be able to go through your code on your site, and know where there are sections, and if those sections contain sections, and so on. If there’s a form – it should be evident by how the code is structured. This guideline is a bit far reaching, IMHO. By using a CMS such as Joomla, WordPress or Drupal – these will fundamentally help web compatibility.
Now we’ve set a bit of ground work, why should you care about WCAG 2.0?
For one – you’re a nice person, and nice people want social and equal opportunity for all. It’s what’s right. With so much of everything being digital, it’s important we level the playing field as much as we can. And two – it’s the law.
What are we doing about WCAG 2.0?
Oh, so glad you asked! We’ve heard more and more from organizations of all sizes that web accessibility has become an absolute “must” for them. We’ve taken several steps on our own site for accessibility, and will be doing more each week. I’m also committing to write a blog post each day covering different accessibility guidelines to explain in a way that people can understand.
The official WCAG guidelines for web accessibility aren’t that… accessible. That needs to change, and we’re here to try to make a positive difference.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them down below, or by contacting us here.
Today, there are many charity watch organizations providing information on nonprofits – and you can count on prospective donors to use them. But who are they and how are their charity ratings composed? This article covers 4 of the well-known ones: Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, Guidestar, and GreatNonprofits. Each provides valuable information to philanthropists looking to make a financial contribution to a charity. Here’s a basic primer on each:
Charity Navigator is one of the largest and oldest evaluators of charities. The organization was founded by Pat Dugan, an entrepreneurial philanthropist who had been giving to a well-respected – but ultimately, financially flawed – 501c3. He realized that, at the time, it was difficult for donors to understand where their donations were really going. He established a nonprofit to provide a free, easy-to-understand, 4-star rating system based on Charity Navigator’s reviewers using formulas with data from the charity’s tax filings with the IRS. The idea was to make it an unbiased evaluation and strictly about the numbers – providing facts on a charity’s financial health, not just emotional claims – making it about “intelligent giving”. How and where the donations are spent is a big part of this analysis:
what is being spent on programs;
fundraising costs; and
“fundraising efficiency” – how much do you spend to bring in a $1 of donation?
In 2011, the criteria expanded to include “Accountability and Transparency” of the charity. This is information extracted from a charity’s IRS Form 990 and information on your website (governance; independent audits; etc.). The focus is around the charity’s obligation and willingness to expose their business practices to the public – the good, the bad and the truly ugly — and your responsiveness in answering the public’s questions about those practices.
In 2013, they added a third dimension into the mix: “Results Reporting”. It is just what it sounds like – for dollars invested what were the results of your programs and services? Since not all charities currently collect or provide that data, Charity Navigator isn’t including it in the scoring yet, though does make what data they do have today available for informational purposes. Once they have collected this information from all the charities they review (goal date: 2016), this will become another piece of the formula that is used to analyze and report on each charity.
Who do they evaluate? Realizing that there are millions of charities, they focus their evaluations on 501c3 organizations which meet all the following criteria:
are required to file a Form 990 (not 990-PF’s so no family foundations)
bring in more than $1,000,000 per year total revenue in most recent fiscal year with more than $500,000 coming from individual givers (not including fees from services or government grants)
provide 7 years of Forms 990 to Charity Navigator to evaluate
are US-based charities registered with the IRS, though scope of charity work can be international
who actively solicit donations (so if zero dollars spent on fundraising, not eligible to be reviewed)
Charity Navigator wants donors to follow their own “philanthropic passion”, so they don’t discriminate what types of charities are reviewed, as long as each meets the above criteria.
They currently rate approximately 8,000 charities on their website and over 7 million people have visited the site to-date to learn more about those organizations. The ratings and underlying data for a nonprofit are available online and free to the public. They are well respected for many reasons, especially for the fact that they are transparent and forthcoming about their own organization’s business practices and financials. To learn more about Charity Navigator, please visit: http://www.charitynavigator.org/
Self-described “charity watchdogs”, CharityWatch was initially founded as the American Institute of Philanthropy. Their mission is to help donors make informed decisions – getting below the surface of self-reported finances to what is really going on with donations made to charities – maximizing the effectiveness of every dollar contributed to a cause. Ultimately, they want Americans to give to charities who use the money wisely and do more good in the world.
Their approach is researching and investigating in order to evaluate how efficiently nonprofits are run and donor dollars spent. It is not strictly about the “financial ratio”, but what lies underneath including identifying any holes in the reporting and what funds they are holding in reserve. The President of the organization, Daniel Borochoff, has an MBA and degree in accounting and experience on Wall Street as an analyst, and well understands the complexity of finances in the nonprofit world. He and his team use their skills to dissect the financials on the 600 or so charities they analyze. They look at:
And if they have any questions or detect potential gaps, they directly quiz the nonprofit.
CharityWatch evaluates social welfare advocacy groups and religious charities which aren’t always eligible to be evaluated by other charity rating organizations. Some examples of these types of organizations could include: ACLU; League of Women Voters; NARAL; Human Rights Campaign; Sierra Club; and, the Salvation Army.
The rating system is an easy-to-understand grading system (“A+” through “F”). To provide more insight on certain organizations, they provide two ratings. Specifically, the formula for that organization may have one element — such as a large amount of dollars in reserve or in an endowment for a long period of time – skewing their total score, so CharityWatch presents the score without that element in the formula to give donors more insight. The scores are available to approximately 9,000+ “members” who pay a small fee every year to receive the “Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report” multiple times per year, though they do publish the “top charities” (those with A’s & B’s) list for the general public on their website.
As in any industry, whistle blowers are not universally loved, but are respected for exposing questionable activities. CharityWatch is that organization for the nonprofit world and is focused on worthy charities receiving donations to make the world a better place. To learn more about CharityWatch, please visit: http://www.charitywatch.org/
Another well-respected and established organization providing information to enable better giving, GuideStar is a little different than the other organizations. It has a similar mission of encouraging better giving through information, but provides transparency into the numbers in a “neutral” way. This is a “just the facts” kind of approach, gathering and sharing the information on all 1.8 million IRS-registered nonprofit organizations. The goal is to provide as much information as they can so that a donor can make his or her own determination of where to donate money. The elements provided on each nonprofit can include:
Verification of registration with the IRS
Financial data: Annual Revenue and Expenses, including IRS Forms 990 and independent audit reports
Impact Summary: from the nonprofit
Individual reviews from those who’ve volunteered information on the nonprofit either directly through GuideStar or through the partner organization, GreatNonprofits (more on this organization later)
This information can then be used by both the nonprofit to encourage prospective donors, and, by donors to best determine who should get their money. Most information is available free online to website visitors. Additional information, plus data in downloadable formats, are available by subscription.
GuideStar has established itself as a “go-to” for many commercial businesses and foundations when they want to quickly get information on a nonprofit. For example, Google’s giving arm – Google Grants – uses the GuideStar list to verify the existence and registration status of each nonprofit applying for a grant worth $120,000 per year of free Adwords advertising. Because of this reliance by grantmakers, it is important to nonprofits to insure their information is up-to-date and as complete as possible in the GuideStar database. To learn more about GuideStar, please visit: http://www2.guidestar.org/Home.aspx
One of the newest charity ratings organizations in the mix, GreatNonprofits, has quickly grown to be one of the leaders in ratings and reviews of nonprofits. With over 3 million site visitors and 13 million visits to-date, the impact potential on giving is great. The difference from some of the other sites is that these are first-person stories and reviews of nonprofits (over 40k added in 2014 alone). These are the insights made by volunteers, program participants, clients, donors and others who interact with your nonprofit. Reviews can be posted via multiple ways, including by text message (“SMS”). This is social media at work informing decisions for donors.
GreatNonprofits was founded with the idea to be to nonprofits what Zagat is to restaurants – helping highlight the great work of the best charities. These nonprofits may be grassroots, local organizations or some of the largest providing services nationally or internationally – their impact can be felt and reported on through GreatNonprofits. A nonprofit can establish a free profile page on the site and let their constituents, clients, donors, volunteers – and others who care about them – know about the page and those folks can contribute reviews. Your nonprofit can use the profile page as a way to highlight what is happening at the organization, linking it to your own website, Facebook page or other social media sites, soliciting support and donations.
GreatNonprofits has partnered with several organizations to share reviews collected, including GuideStar (as noted above), JustGive and GlobalGiving. GreatNonprofits provides a megaphone for the voices telling the stories of the impact you deliver to them. To learn more about GreatNonprofits, please visit: http://www.about.greatnonprofits.org/
All of these organizations are focused on encouraging donations to nonprofits doing their best work to improve our world. Do you need some help making your fundraising and marketing communications efforts more effective and cost-effective?
The question I get most often about CRM systems for business-to-business sales teams is:
“Which CRM is the best one?”
My answer is always “It depends”. Not what you want to hear, right? But it’s true. There are many good customer relationship management (CRM) systems out there. Which one will work for you depends on these 4 things:
1. It was created for your type of B2B sale.
Each CRM is designed with a specific type of sales approach / set of needs in mind. One built for an inbound/order taking sale – where there is one buyer and potentially a one-call close – is not going to support most complex B-to-B sales processes. There just won’t be any way to connect, track or manage the multiple people and decision-making steps across time that is required to bring in that type of deal. Conversely, if you have that inside sales team working with short sales cycles and single points of contact, you don’t want them wasting time working through or around many screens built to support an enterprise sales process just to place a single order or create a lead.
2. How the software will integrate into your other business processes and/or systems.
One of the things software should do for you is to streamline your business processes and reduce lost opportunity time. If your sales rep has to close out the deal in one system, only to turn around and input some of the same information into another system to place the order – you’ve just lost valuable sales time while increasing the likelihood of errors in your order fulfillment system. Same thing at beginning of process – lead gen to pipeline – one integrated approach, with the least amount of “manual” connections can help reduce time and cost of your sales process. And since you can only manage what you measure, you must be able to see into your processes with good reporting and business intelligence analytics.
3. Cost to license, implement and/or support the system.
The software that best fits your organization also has to fit your budget – being both effective and cost-effective for you. And software licensing is only one aspect – what it will cost you to move from what you are doing now to a new system will require investments in both dollars and your time. There will also be the learning curve for your folks – during which it’ll take them longer to do what they have done in the past in a brand new way. There will also be some form of ongoing maintenance – either from your own internal experts on the CRM or someone outside that you’ve contracted to play that role. You’ll want to factor in all of these elements into identifying the true cost of your new CRM.
4. Which system your B2B sales team will actually use.
Yes, they may be required to use the new system as part of their job description – but left to their own devices, most sales reps would be happy to just work from their smartphone – calling, texting and emailing with their prospects and clients. They put info into a CRM system because they must – not because they think it will help him or her do their job. We hire sales people because they are “goal-oriented” – they do the process steps of documenting what they are doing because management tells them they won’t get paid if the deal isn’t in the system. Many times CRM systems are bought with the marketer and/or management’s view of processes – what info can it store for segmentation/ lead generation; what types of reports or oversight into deals does it provide, etc. The difficult part is that typically it is the individual contributor from sales who has the knowledge about the prospect and process – you just have to make it easy enough for that person to interact with the system and transfer what is in his or her brain into the database.
Take your time picking a system and use what you know about the these 4 elements for your evaluation process.The cost of a good fit is an investment that will pay for itself with insight and more effective sales processes. The cost of a bad fit can cost you more than money and time – it can cost you prospects, clients and talented sales people.
When we’re working on any branding projects, one of the most important, yet difficult tasks, is coming up with a solid mission statement. It’s the one-liner that sums up what an organization is and what they mean to the world around them. Here are a few of our do’s and don’t on the perfect mission statement for your organization.
Three Tips for Your Best Mission Statement
Tip 1 – Have it be relatable, conversant, and easy to understand
Casper’s mission statement (if you aren’t aware, Casper makes super amazing pillows, and their service is top-notch): “Great sleep, made simple”
Compared with Barnes & Noble: “To operate the best omni-channel specialty retail business in America, helping both our customers and booksellers reach their aspirations, while being a credit to the communities we serve.”
The first is great; it’s memorable, and you know exactly what they’re communicating. The second; the moment you start talking about ‘omni-channel’, you’ve alienated your customers. They’re simply talking to themselves and not their customers.
Tip 2 – It should be concise
It won’t be relatable if people don’t even read it. Keep it short, sweet and to the point. We have two examples below:
Kickstarter: To help bring creative projects to life.
Compared with the Art Institute of Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago collects, preserves, and interprets works of art of the highest quality, representing the world’s diverse artistic traditions, for the inspiration and education of the public and in accordance with our profession’s highest ethical standards and practices.
Which one are you most likely to remember of the two?
Tip 3 – It should be the truth
It’s one statement that sums up who you are as an organization. People are smart. If your mission statement isn’t accurate, they’ll see right through it, and will assume your products are bad and your services are poor. While Audi’s mission statement is something different, their tagline is “Truth in Engineering.” It was later found that their top leadership knew and endorsed them falsifying their emissions test. Not cool, Audi.
10 Examples of the Best Mission Statements
To be Earth’s most customer-centric company where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online
Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.
The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.
To help bring creative projects to life.
To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
The U.S. Fund for UNICEF fights for the survival and development of the world’s most vulnerable children and protects their basic human rights.
To work in partnership with member stations to create a more informed public – one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.
The aquarium’s mission is to spark compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world.
To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…To create value and make a difference.
We save people money so they can live better
Our Mission Statement…
We aren’t anywhere close to the size or complexity of the organizations listed above, but since this article is around mission statement, we’ll share ours:
We connect people and technology to help make the world a better place to live, work and play.
If you don’t have an extremely solid understanding of what PCI Compliance is, and you take credit cards in any way, then I beg you to read this article in its entirety. It’ll be the best 5 minutes of your week. Now that I’ve set the expectations high, let’s get on with it…
What the serious heck is PCI Compliance and PCI DSS?
PCI compliance is a phrase fairly unknown to most people, but a phrase that can send chills down the back of those familiar with e-commerce. Why? Because it can be super-scary, and I’m here to make you feel a bit better about it.
PCI Compliance, or Payment Card Industry Compliance is born out of something called PCI DSS (Data Security Standards). There’s a lengthy history of PCI DSS, but I’ve summed it up for our wonderful readers with a very simple dialogue, as follows:
Internet: “It’s 2006, and OMG, so many people are using credit cards to make online purchases with me!”
Bad people in the world: “Wow, it’s 2006 and so many people are using their credit cards online. I can totally steal the credit card information super easily and make fraudulent purchases at places you’d never shop.”
Smart techy people: “We need to form a governing body, and set some rules set in place to stop the bad people from doing bad things to people with poor taste in where they shop. Ok, let’s start PCI DSS, and it’ll be a list of things that companies must do to protect consumers from said bad people.”
And then, my friends: PCI DSS was born.
Should you care about PCI Compliance and PCC DSS?
Yes. If you’re a business owner taking payment, then this article is meant for you. If you’re a consumer, then you should also know if a company is PCI Compliant.
Why business owners should really, really care?
If your transactions are hitting your server in any way, you’re liable. If there’s a breach, you can be fined from $5,000 to $500,000 per month.
What Can You Do about PCI Compliance and PCC DSS?
There are a few options. If you’re looking to read through hundreds of pages PCI DSS guidelines, then have at it. However, since the interwebs are filled with such glorious e-commerce platforms, they can take the heavy lifting and let you do what you’re good at: selling goods and services. Many e-commerce platforms have likely invested millions to make their platforms as secure as possible.
Let’s go over some basic terminology to ensure we’re cruising down the same boat.
E-commerce package: This is what sells your products. This may or may not be part of your main website.
Merchant’s web server: Where your e-commerce is hosted. If using a package such as Shopify or the likes, this is most likely also your web server.
Payment Gateway: This is what connects the e-commerce package to the banks. Think of the payment gateway as the super gossipy kid in class that’s passing notes back and forth to everyone.
Settlement Bank: This is where your funds get settled (aka your bank).
So someone buys a Grumpy Cat t-shirt off your site (E-commerce package), it goes through the payment gateway, your payment gateway chats with the e-commerce platform (which may or may not be part of your site) and eventually – into your bank account. Within that process, it could also hit the merchant web server. In that case, you’d be totally open for PCI DSS scrutiny.
We good? Cool. Let’s go on…
So instead of using an e-commerce platform *and* a payment gateway that hits your own servers, you can use a fully hosted solution (which lives on their servers – their liability). Anytime you’re evaluating anything that accepts payments, be sure you ask about this aspect in writing.
“Are you 100% fully PCI Compliant?”
Surprisingly, many vendors will start to dance and avoid the question. If they do this – run, don’t walk – run away. We’ve had conversations with extremely well-known form services that “leave it up to the customer to handle PCI compliance.”
Some e-commerce platforms are fully compliant, and take pride (as they should) in it. For example, Shopify boasts full compliancy, however it’s also important to ensure any payment gateways they work with also claim the same. This is imperative. On the other hand, BigCommerce seems to be a bit more vague with their statement: “BigCommerce takes care of the vast majority of the steps toward PCI compliance for any customer on our platform.” (via https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/pci-compliance/). *As a disclaimer – we don’t get any kickbacks or anything from Shopify: we just really like them.
If you take a look at the two links above, you’ll see a really noticeable difference: Shopify is quite straightforward about it. “Yes, Shopify is certified Level 1 PCI DSS compliant. This compliance extends to all online stores powered by Shopify,” says their site. This, compared to BigCommerce, is very different. BigCommerce’s explanation seems to go on and on, and dancing around the fact a bit.
These are the red flags to look for. BigCommerce may be PCI DSS compliant, but it’s a bit difficult to tell.
In general, when the payment is hosted elsewhere (say PayPal), it’s safer to know they’re compliant. However, with PayPal’s “on page” payment solution (e.g. Payflow), where the transaction is made on your site (e.g. www.myshop.com/payment) vs. (www.paypal.com), PCI compliance once again becomes a major issue.
The same red flags go for anything that receives payment; online forms, event registrations, you name it. These are questions you should be asking yourself, your IT team, your app vendors (e.g. Shopify, Wufoo, etc).
The best takeaways I hope you receive from this article are:
– Ensure you know what PCI Compliance/ PCI DSS is. – Understand the right questions to ask. – Understand the red flags. – If red flag – then run!
If you have any questions on e-commerce, we have a lovely team that’s happy to help. Just give us a shout here.
I’ve got to admit it. I’ve been in technology product and services marketing for a looooong time. Since faxing AS-400 query software product announcements was considered the height of “hi-tech.” So when I run into former colleagues or meet other marketers who are of a similar vintage, they ask me if we can grab coffee to discuss how I made the leap from being a traditional marketer to being a “digital marketer.” They want to know how to make that career change themselves, because invariably, they need to job hunt or find new clients. If what I have learned along the way can help others – especially other women in technology market – always happy to share. So let’s grab coffee and talk…
An Evolution Not a Career Change
I didn’t plan to be a “digital marketer” – I just took the opportunities presented along the way to add to my skill set to be able to leverage the latest marketing channels and tools. When websites became commercially viable tools for supporting my direct mail efforts in the early 90’s, I learned enough about how they worked to utilize them as the place to direct my mail audiences. And once I got them to the site, then gave them a reason to provide their information – or pick up the phone (more common then) – to connect with the sales team. Then it became all about email marketing… then banner ads and ppc… then social… then… you get the idea. I was a relatively “early adopter” on testing and incorporating new approaches into my marketing mix, especially for lead generation marketing.
And throughout the process, kept up on databases – especially the flavors now known as “CRM” (Customer or Constituent Relationship Manager), the ones geared for keeping track of the people relevant to your organization and the transactions/ activities around them. Nothing beats a good centralized source of information about those folks (people and organizations) and their history with your organization that allows you to easily analyze, segment and target your communications effectively and cost-effectively. You can’t measure what you don’t manage – and you do have to measure to be good at this job.
How did I add to my skill sets? Any way I could. When my employer offered me the chance to take a class or attend a seminar (on their dime), I participated, even if I didn’t have a clue how I might use the knowledge at the time. When my friends talked about the work they did – especially the technical aspects – I listened, asked questions and jotted down references to books, articles, or other resources that they recommended. Some of the material I tackled myself – for some I only read the reviews, abstracts or synopses of that work. For some of the reading, it was so technical, I had to reference the “Dummies Guide” type of versions. And many times, I was able to either borrow the materials from a library – or put the word out with my close friends (who are way smarter and more technically savvy than I am) if they had a copy I could borrow.
Over the past decade, working in the entrepreneurial space, I’ve been using no- or low-cost approaches. Researching online to grab reading material and videos to learn from scratch, help clarify or add nuance to topical areas – especially on where/how my audiences are consuming their information (which social media platform, etc.), a specific software (like a Salesforce CRM) or a marketing/advertising platform (Google’s Adwords come to mind). And for tech itself, I’ve tested, trialed or use a live instance of it, leveraging the self-study materials that invariably accompany it. Don’t be shy about taking advantage of a free trial for a piece of software – nothing beats getting your hands in it with the handy on-board knowledge base and/or videos that typically accompany them. Just be kind to the poor sales person who are only doing their job when they reach out to try to sell it to you – let them down nicely with a “Appreciate you touching base with me. I’m just trying to learn your great stuff for my own education, so please don’t waste your valuable sales time on me.”
Need to reconnect with live human beings while doing all this? Check out a regional user group or meetup for the technology or topic area that you find of interest. It is a great way to hear speakers share their knowledge and have conversations with other folks who are usually more than happy to share their ideas. I you are job hunting, you may also hear about organizations who are looking to hire or contract for just this skill set. If there is any cost at all to attend, it is typically minimal (in the case of a meetup, many times it is just the price of coffee or a drink at the restaurant where they are meeting).
What about “formal training” – certification courses and/or graduate-level degrees? I’m not going to bad mouth these. I’m just going to say, “it depends.” If you feel more comfortable in a classroom setting or want to do a crash-course/ “bootcamp” type of training on a specific topic – and the provider of the course is reputable and cost not exorbitant – I might consider it. If it is just to have someone to study with, don’t waste your money; reach out to another friend in similar situation and suggest you be “study buddies.” Even if she lives in another place, you can always study together using Skype, Facetime or just chat on Facebook (and if you don’t know how to use one or more of these, please search on Google!)
Digital Marketing is Marketing
You may be thinking at this point that if you haven’t already started down this path, it is too late – NOT TRUE! Some things have changed but the core elements are still in demand:
Understanding your audiences: Who are these people and why they might care about what you are trying to market. The difference lies in where you find them and approaches or platforms for reaching effectively. Depending on the type of sale (B2B or B2C), product/ service being sold and what it does for the audience continues to be what drives people and organizations to buy. You just have to have a clear understanding of them.
Messages resonating: This is the why part – targeting done well – and you know this stuff. What may feel alien are the constraints – and opportunities – of the delivery mechanisms. Those delivery mechanism choices offer a wider range, as short and sweet as bursts of text on Twitter; collectible as a group of favorites pinned on Pinterest; or, as expansive as a vibrant video channel on YouTube. Find your people where they hang out and provide content in a way they want it. There are just more places to find people than what we did before – but otherwise, it is the same story retold for a new day.
Your overall professional skills: Understanding how to put together a communications plan and execute it effectively to achieve your organization’s goals is still the key. What has changed is the “how” – you’ll want to leverage tools that help implement and automate the roll-out of the specific elements of your plan – and the time-frames. Everything just happens quicker now. Digital material can be faster to create (though in some ways, more challenging to do well), out the door and generating deals in the time it used take to get something to the printer and mailshop.
Digital marketing is just today’s marketing – utilizing the current tools that happen to be available.
So Where Do You Start?
Begin with the end in mind. Where are you looking to find work? Each industry and organization has specific needs. What kinds of marketing roles are you interested in? Those roles have specific skill requirements. Look at the digital footprint in relation to the organization: site, social, etc., as well as, their job postings (search online) and profiles of current employees (LinkedIn, of course) to see what their skill sets/ jobs include. Pulling this information together can help you assess what they are looking for in a marketing type. Compare against your knowledge base and then just begin to fill in the gaps. You don’t have to be perfect at it yet. You do need to know what you don’t know and be actively learning.
As Women in Technology, Where Do We End Up?
Wherever we want to be! I’m never going to be a computer programmer or developer – but I don’t need to be. I’m accomplished woman in tech who applies her skills to communications (and data – but that’s a story for another day). One of the wonderful things I’ve found is that by staying engaged by learning about the newest marketing tools and techniques, pairing that with my overall business and marketing experience, allows me to add value – and be found valuable – by my colleagues and clients. So keep learning – and enjoy the journey!
How many customer relationship management (CRM) systems are there out there for B2B sales? More than you’ll care to count – which can be daunting if you are trying to answer the question “Which CRM is the best one?” As I said in the first article in this series, the answer truly depends on your specific needs. First things to consider are the size, type and complexity of your organization, including the complexity of your sales in terms of products, channels, processes and people. I’m using three general categories paired with some of the well-known software systems to help give you a starting point in determining where to start looking for YOUR business-to-business sales system.
Hubspot sweet spot: entrepreneurial companies with singular product/sales process
Are you an entrepreneurial company with sales being driven inbound from your marketing efforts or a single product line/channel sale? Something like a Hubspot – which even has a pared-down free version – may be a great fit to start you off. As a young company, you have straightforward needs, primarily launching a central database for your company that is fast to get up and going, easy to use – and not detrimental to your bottom-line.
Focus on finding a lightweight CRM that can contain your info, manage your sales process and keep you connected to your prospects and clients. Other CRM tools that fall into this category include Pipedrive and Capsule. Check out their free trials, along with at least one other member of your team (preferably a sales rep type), and just pick the one you both like. You aren’t stuck forever with it. As you grow and evolve your organization, you can always migrate to something more sophisticated, if/when needed.
Where something like an SAP is warranted: global companies with a multitude of… everything
This is the other end of the spectrum. If you are a Fortune 100, multinational company with many channels, a myriad of sales teams/models and intertwined, intricate (dare we say, potentially Byzantine) requirements? Nothing short of a systemic reinvention with something like an SAP may be just the thing – but it comes with an equivalent seismic expenditure of time, money and emotional energy to make it happen.
Typically, you’ll have started down this path through your operational team leveraging SAP’s intrepid ERP and financial systems to support that end of the business. If your sales organization has the complexities I described above, it can make a lot of sense to use SAP’s omni-channel CRM elements. But before you just decide to take this “path of least resistance,” realize it will still be a complicated transition process. If your organization has grown over time and acquisition, you may have multiple sources of sales data in multiple structures that need to be transformed and transitioned. Getting the data right is the difference between having a customer relationship system you can count on; and one that is a technological waste of time and money.
You’ll also need to plan for the normal “rep resistance to change” – CRM is what they do to make sure they get paid, not something they love to do – so plan accordingly (more on how to address this in final article in series – to come). And all this will need to happen without clients’ orders and services being affected – a tall order. And if you aren’t sure that SAP’s CRM is truly the best fit, look at some of the other options available. Today’s CRM systems are built to be more flexible to connect with existing systems, including ERPs and accounting systems.
Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics – a fit for you?
This is the category where most businesses are going to find themselves. You have complex sales and business processes – hunters, farmers, individual contributors and teams, alliances and/or alternate distribution channels – plus you need to interconnect with your other systems and functions to make your processes relatively seamless (more on this in next article). There are a great selection of tools out there that can support your efforts – including some of the bigger names in B2B CRM: Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics. Each has varying levels of license/flavor types, but what makes them useful for the majority of organizations is that they are both flexible and adaptable. You can configure and customize without necessarily writing custom code – but with all the horsepower you need to support complex B2B sales cycles. Each of them also have a plethora of add-on products from partner organizations who have developed native functionality on their respective platforms. Again, no need to custom code, which insures your software is easy to update and maintain without breaking.
One of the major things about both these products are their capabilities around securing/parsing access to your data. All CRM systems offer some type of security, but these workhorses allow you to be specific in how you carve out user’s access, down to the specific records, types of information and individual fields. PCI compliance is, of course, the minimum for handling data – but if your business also needs to be HIPAA compliant, either of these databases can be incorporated into your environment. The software itself isn’t necessarily compliant – you still have to do the configuration, etc. to meet the requirements – but each are flexible enough to adapt to your specific needs.
Wrap-up and next steps
At this point, you may be a little overwhelmed and wondering “Where do I start?!?”. Start by assessing your own organization. Do you see your organization in one of the groups above? Check out the demos of the products (they all have videos with corresponding case studies/ documents on their sites). You can also “try before you buy” with most of them. See yourself in more than one of the groups? Look at the Salesforce/ Microsoft Dynamics-type of offerings. Their flexibility can help you bridge the gaps between where you are today and where you are going.
And next in the series, we’ll look more closely at integrating your B2B CRM with your other existing (or planned for) systems.
You’ve worked hard building your brand, but does your brand accurately reflect who you are and what you do? Personally – I use the cocktail party litmus test. When someone asks where I work, do I cringe when saying the name? For quite awhile, the answer was a resounding “yes.”
We’re freshly rebranded – with the process top of mind.
I started SocialRaise back in 2008 as a social fundraising platform, so the name made sense. However, throughout the years we’ve taken an agency approach solving problems for clients by concentrating on digital marketing, technology development, CRM and BI.
In 2008, the name worked – in 2017, not so much. We just relaunched the company as Monday Loves You (more on that below).
What about you? When is it time for your company to rebrand?
Below are 5 quick indicators that you may be ready for a rebranding:
Your name is antiquated: Remember the days when the phrase “information superhighway” seemed edgy and cool? Some names age well – some don’t. We felt our name was outdated, and needed something new. Try thinking of a name that can be timeless, avoiding the risk of it becoming moldy. A good name has a long shelf life.
Your name doesn’t represent who you are: Every time SocialRaise was mentioned, we had to follow up with a disclaimer about how the genesis was social fundraising, but now we’ve grown and evolved. Instead, we wanted a name that invoked optimism and reflected how we work vs. what we do. Monday Loves You is vague, however it’s also extremely malleable. It’s optimistic, and alludes to a positive start to each week.
Your name doesn’stand out from the crowd: One of the most challenging parts of our rebranding was finding something that stood out. There are names that *you* think are unique, however the domain name is taken, or even more frustrating – the domain name is available, but there may be some conflicts in the trademark. If there’s anything similar in the marketplace – or could be potentially confusing to the public – you may run into conflicts down the line in using that name. I highly suggest utilizing the skills of a trademark attorney. The fees could range between $500-$1000, but you’ll save much more in the long-run.
Your visual branding doesn’t work: Design aesthetic can change at the pace of technology. We were actually ok with our logo, but our site and portfolio needed a complete overhaul. Ask the question to yourself: does your digital presence accurately reflect who you are? Nothing is more detrimental than having a top-notch business with a lackluster digital presence. If yours doesn’t well represent you, time to update.
Your name doesn’t have a solid story behind it. A name should have something special behind it. If it’s something unique, people will be curious to understand more. Why Monday Loves You? It’s quirky, fun, while invoking a sense of optimism. Growing up, every Monday, my mom would wake me up for school. She would say, “Monday loves you and so do I. So get up, get ready, and make today count.” Own your uniqueness, and have it be part of your story. Your name should reflect who you are – and provide positive feelings to your potential clients.
In summary, building a brand is tough. You put a lot of money and sweat equity to build a name with solid SEO – and more importantly – a wonderful reputation. Rebranding isn’t an easy decision, but it was vital to the future of our business – and it may be to your business as well.
To keep your funding active, Google Ad Grants recipients are required to do a bit more management of their AdWords accounts. Our previous article, AdWords Changes to Google for Nonprofits: Overview reviewed the new requirements that were implemented on January 1, 2018. In this article, we review each and explain them in greater detail, providing step-by-step instructions and screenshots for the average user to effectively assess and update your own account.
We’ll also mention, we prefer to work in the AdWords original screens vs. their new Beta version which often is a little buggy (the Beta version has the black nav bar and left side menu).
To change from the Beta version to the original screens, click on the “wrench” icon in the upper right corner of your Beta dashboard and click “Return to previous AdWords“.
I. Maintain a 5% minimum average Click Through Rate (CTR).
Google will disable accounts that fall below a 5% CTR for more than two months.
A ratio showing how often people who see your ad end up clicking it, Click Through Rate (CTR) is used to gauge how well your keywords and ads are performing. CTR is the number of clicks that your ad receives divided by the number of times your ad is shown: clicks ÷ impressions = CTR. Each of your ads and keywords have their own CTRs that you can see listed in your account.
If your account falls below a 5% CTR for more than 2 months, it will be disabled. Don’t panic; it’s important to distinguish here that “disabled” is not the same as “deactivated.” When an account is disabled it isn’t running, but the account is still activated – meaning the grant is still in place. However the account owner will need to make the fixes and then telephone Google AdWords Support at (866) 246-6453, to “enable” the account to run again.
If you aren’t already, you’ll want to monitor your account’s CTR average closely and keep it above 5% with audience-focused, mission-focused content.
Follow the steps below to find your CTR percentages and pause campaigns with low scores until you can assess the issue.
1. Access the Campaigns screen by clicking the Campaigns tab. Here you will see a full list of all your campaigns. Look at the bottom of the CTR column and you’ll see the overall average for the account.
2. Determine which of your campaigns have the lowest CTR averages. On the Campaigns screen, click the CTR Column. This will sort your campaigns by their CTR percentages in ascending or descending order.
3. Investigate which campaigns are performing lower than 5% CTR. After identifying your campaigns with the lowest CTR percentages, dig deeper into each to discover what is bringing that number down by clicking the campaign – we’ll discuss what to look for more in the sections below.
4. To ensure the culprit campaign doesn’t pull down your CTR average, pause the campaign, ad group or ad until you are able to make the necessary fixes.
5. To pause a campaign, or even an ad group or ad, click the arrow next to the green button on the left side. In the drop down menu click PAUSED. That campaign will no longer be a drain on your CTR account average while it is paused.
II. Each campaign must have two ad groups and two active ads in each.
Google’s updated policy mandates campaigns consist of at least two ads groups with two ads running in each.
Ad groups versus ads
An ad group is the level between campaign and ad. It contains one or more ads which target a shared set of keywords. You set a bid, or price, to be used when an ad groups’ keywords trigger an ad to appear.
All campaigns in your nonprofit’s AdWords account must now possess at least two active ad groups, which must contain related keywords in at minimum of two active ads.
Locating your ad groups and ads
To find if your campaigns have at least two ad groups and two ads, follow the steps below.
1. Access the Campaigns screen by clicking the Campaigns tab. Here you will see a full list of all your campaigns.
2. Click on each individual campaign and check if you have at least two ad groups inside the campaign.
3. Then, click on each individual ad group to ensure you have at least two enabled ads within each ad group. The green button shows if an ad is enabled or active. If you have 2 ads, but only one is enabled, you will need to build or “Enable” another ad.
III. Remove keywords with a quality score below 3.
Keywords with a score of 1 or 2 will no longer be acceptable by AdWords.
Add Quality Score metrics to your screen
In order to see your keyword quality scores, you’ll first need to add the Quality Score column to your stats screen. If you do not see the Quality Score column in your keyword screen follow the steps below. If you do have Quality Score metrics on your keywords screen skip to number 7 below.
1. Begin by selecting the Keywords tab located in the top row of your screen.
2. Next, click the Columns tab. A drop down menu will appear.
3. From the Columns tab menu, click Modify Columns.
4. On the right hand side of your screen underneath the section titled Select Metrics, click Quality Score.
5. Click the blackened arrows to the right of Qual. Score.
6. Click the Apply button at the bottom to save. Quality score stats will now appear in your dashboard.
After you have completed the steps above to add the quality score stats to your dashboard, you will need to pause all keywords with a score below 3.
7. Scroll through the Quality Score column as shown in the screenshot above and pause any 1/10 and 2/10 scores. Remember, to pause a keyword click the arrow next to the green dot to the left of the word/phrase and click PAUSE from the drop down menu.
IV. Ensure at least two active site link extensions.
Google’s updated policy mandates all nonprofit grantees have a minimum of two site link extensions active in their account.
What are site link extensions?
Site link extensions are additional URLs that show in ads providing a visitor with other links to learn more information about your organization or ad content. Ad Grants updated program policies require you now keep two of these active in your AdWords account at all the times.
Site link extensions can be implemented at the account level, but it is wise to implement site links at the campaign or ad group levels as well. It gives users options in the hopes that if one link doesn’t hook them, maybe another will.
Where to find site link extensions
To see your active site links, all you need to do is select the Ad Extensions tab located at the top of your AdWords dashboard. Your site link extensions will be listed under that tab. You can also find Ad Extension in your Ad Group screen. You will need to see at least 2 site link extensions to meet the new requirement.
To create a site link extension, first think about what page on your website you want to promote.
1. From the Campaigns tab, click the Ad Extensions tab.
2. You’ll see a list of the ad extensions for your account in the Sitelink column as shown in this screenshot. If there are less than 2 approved links then you’ll need to create a new extension.
3. To create a new ad extension click the red +EXTENSION button. You’ll see a grey box appear.
4. Click the +New Site Link button to create a new link.
5. Once you click the +New Site Link button you’ll see a white box popup.
6. Complete the form with the site link title, URL to the page you want to promote and a 2 line description for what visitors will find at this link. If you want to run your site link for a specific period of time fill-in those dates. The advanced options is for conversion tracking – we’ll cover that in a different article.
7. Click SAVE.
8. You have added a new site link to your account.
You can also add site links to the Campaign and Ad Group levels, which is wise to do using this same process within the campaign and ad group screens.
V. Implement Geo-targeting.
Nonprofit account managers are now required to implement geo-targeting location criteria in their campaigns.
This policy change is designed to bring you a better pool of results. Most nonprofit’s serve defined markets in regards to geography. If your organization exclusively advocates for youth in Chicago for example, then advertising in Idaho is probably a poor use of resources.
Setting location targets
Follow the steps below to implement geo-targeting.
1. Click the Settings tab.
2. Next, click the Locations sub-tab below. You will now be able to see your current geo-targeting spots.
3. To add a new location, simply click the + Locations Button.
VI. Lift your $2 bid cap with Maximize Conversions.
This is an opportunity – not a requirement. Google’s updated policy allows grantees who don’t want to be restricted to the $2 bid cap, the option to change to Maximize Conversions bid strategy.
About Maximize Conversions
Historically, nonprofits have had a bidding cap of $2.00 for keywords. If your nonprofit doesn’t mind that bid cap, you don’t need to do anything.
For those nonprofits who desire the freedom to bid on words over $2 Maximize Conversions bid strategy is your solution.
Maximize Conversions automatically sets bids to help get the most conversions from your campaign, while spending your budget. It uses advanced machine learning to automatically optimize bids and offers auction-time bidding capabilities that tailor bids for each and every auction.
Setting up conversion tracking
To utilize Maximize Conversions bid strategy, you’ll first need to set-up conversion tracking tools and know what conversions or actions you want to track. You can read more about Conversion Tracking Tools here, but for this example let’s assume we are tracking engagement on a web page:
1. From the main navigation click on Tools.
2. From the drop down menu click on Conversions.
3. On the Conversions screen as shown below, click on the red +Conversions button to add a new conversion.
4. Choose the type of conversion you want to set-up. For this example we’ll assume you want to track conversion activity on a web page. In that case you would choose Website and click the Select button.
5. Complete the questions on the following page with answers appropriate to your conversion.
6. Once the form is completed, copy the embed code and click Done. The embed code is everything that is within the box.
7. Log into the administrative control panel for your website. Find the page you want to track for conversions and paste the code anywhere into the HTML Editor screen for that page. Then Save the page. We would advise not pasting it within a slide show, if you have one on your web page.
8. To see your conversion set-up, go to your AdWords account under Tools and choose Conversions again from the drop down menu.
Next Step: Implementing Maximize Conversions
Once you have initiated your selected conversion tracking tools, follow the steps below to enable maximize conversions. You can set the bid strategy for your campaigns.
1. From your AdWords Campaign dashboard, click the Settings tab. A drop down menu will appear.
2. From the Settings tab, select the All Settings sub-tab.
3. Scroll down the All Settings page to Bid Strategy.
4. Mid-way down the page next to the Bid Strategy click Edit, then click the words “Change Bid Strategy” appearing in blue. A drop down menu will appear.
5. From this menu, select Maximize Conversions.
6. Click the Save button. Maximize Conversions is now enabled for your campaign.
Once you get 30 conversions within a 30 day period then the tools will begin to collect your data. It will often take about 6 weeks for the system to learn your account and optimize itself to gather real data.
To check back on your conversion data you will click the Tools tab again and Conversions from the drop down screen.
VII. Remove branded keywords you don’t own.
Google’s updated policy now requires all keywords in an AdWords account must “reflect your organization’s primary mission,” “be relevant to the goods or services offered,” and “be specific enough to provide a good experience for the user seeing your ads.”
You cannot bid on words you do not own. So, unless you are Facebook, you can’t bid on the keyword Facebook. This may impact accounts that use competitor keywords as part of their strategy.
To see your list of keywords:
1. Click the Campaign tab at the top of the nav bar.
2. Then, click the Keywords tab. Your keywords are listed in the first column. Scroll through this list and pause any branded keywords you do not own.
3. To pause a keyword, click the green dot next to the word. Click PAUSE from the drop down.
VIII. No more single keywords for nonprofit accounts.
While there is a small list of exception words with their new policy, Google is encouraging the selection of keywords which focus directly on your target audiences or descriptions of words which relate to your organization specifically.
For example, rather than using the word “store,” users will now need to clarify the type of store more specifically like “resale store” or “consignment store Palm Beach.” This is known as creating “long-tailed” keywords. While it may seem extremely tedious, there is immense value in being precise with your keywords. You may see fewer clicks, but the traffic who is clicking is likely to be better quality.
Always attempt to generate word combinations which magnify what is unique about your nonprofit’s mission and audience. This also applies to the various match types used in AdWords keywords like broad match, phrase match and exact match.
To see your list of keywords:
1. Click the Keywords tab from the Campaign screen.
2. Your keywords are in the first column.
3. Scroll through these keywords and for now pause any single word keywords until you can do some keyword research using the Keyword Planner. To pause a keyword click the green dot next to the word and click PAUSE from the drop down menu.
Keyword planner tool
A tool to help you get ideas for keywords is the Keyword Planner. The directions below explain how to access the Keyword Planner from your account.
1. From your AdWords dashboard, click the Tools tab. A drop down menu will appear.
2. From the Tools tab menu, select Keyword Planner.
3. Keyword planning tool features will now be displayed on your screen. To start with the keyword planner, put in any single keywords you just paused. Add more relevant keywords to the list and the tool will help to recommend others you may want to consider. The objective is to build more of a description around your single word keywords.
We took a lot of care in making this guide because we believe empowering good organizations to do good things is the best way to make the world a better place.
In the words of George Eliot … “what do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?“
Hopefully these instructions make life a little less difficult for you. In that spirit, we’ve also created a short video series to walk you through these updates, along with other musings on our blog.
If you are a 501c3 nonprofit organization and you are not aware of the $120,000 Google Adwords for Nonprofits grant, then let us know and we’ll walk you through how to apply.
Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) is a fancy, tech-ridden phrase that means something quite simple. It helps you organize your people and run a more-efficient organization.
It allows scenarios such as:
If one person attends a bunch of events, but doesn’t give any donations, then you know to ask for donations to him differently.
If someone clicks several of your emails, but doesn’t come to any of your events, maybe you’ll want call her with a personal invitation.
Your Executive Director can log into a CRM and see a personalized dashboard of all of this week’s donations versus to the same time last year.
You can break down the “silos” – development, programs/services and volunteers – and better understand how an individual or family truly relates to your organization.
You may want to automate your volunteer recruitment and scheduling.
Or possibly manage your members better.
It ties your donors, volunteers, staff, board members and constituents under one roof.
CiviCRM certainly has a polarizing set of pros and cons. CiviCRM is an add-on CRM that’s available to organizations running their site on either Drupal or Joomla content management systems. It’s community is tight-knit and there’s an active forum around troubleshooting and issues. It now has a global community in 20+ languages with 15,000 users.
I love that CiviCRM is seamlessly integrated with an organization’s website (assuming if they are on either Joomla and Drupal, and more recently; WordPress). Tight integration with a CRM can be terribly time-consuming and pricing. CiviCRM is installed within a few seconds and configuration can start taking place.
There are no licensing fees, so you can add users for no additional costs.
Easy to customize. Since CiviCRM’s code is open-source (e.g. not proprietary to the software company), it’s really straightforward to customize to fit exactly how you want it to perform.
Smart community of people. We’ve been on the Civi forums, and its members are usually quick and eager to respond and help an organization out. It’s quite refreshing.
The functionality, while may take a day or two learning curve, is fairly straightforward once you get the gist of things.
Some hosts have difficulty with the automatic installation process, so that can turn some people away from the get-go (there’s an easy way around this that only takes a couple minutes).
No licensing fees does not mean it’s free. CiviCRM usually does require some technology expertise to set it up within the site, and configure it to best fit the organization.
Still seems a bit buggy. Like many open-source systems, there are bugs. It’s a big system, so locating the issue can be cumbersome for some developers.
It’s dependent on a site’s site on if they can use it or not. While this is a pro, this is also a con. If someone wants to use CiviCRM, it’s best that they are running either Drupal or Joomla (which are both really solid systems in my very humble opinion). However, if they aren’t running one of these systems, they won’t be able to run CiviCRM either (which is a bummer).
Their user interface could use a nice makeover.
Bottom line: Solid CRM and there’s no licensing fees. Great integration with content management systems (Joomla, Drupal or WordPress) but also be prepared to have someone with some technical skills available to do the setup and maintenance for you. Most likely, a tech-savvy person on your staff or volunteer roster could handle this.
Salesforce for Nonprofits (Salesforce Foundation)
Salesforce, ah Salesforce.
Salesforce has been the reigning champion of the the customer relationship management world for a long time (like, a really long time). They serve Fortune 100 brands and continue to be super-innovative with where they’re taking the product. Every now and then, you have one of those “is it too good to be true” moments, and the answer usually affirms that. However, in this case, Salesforce offers a heck of a deal that every nonprofit should look into. They offer 10 free licenses a month of their Enterprise package (that’s worth $1250 a month, y’all) for nonprofits. *picks jaw off the floor*.
We’ve done several Salesforce projects, and have some good pros and cons, so let’s get to it.
The functionality is top-notch, and they’ve tailored their Enterprise edition to be specific to nonprofits (a la their Nonprofit Starter Pack). This is now a world that consists of Donations, Volunteers and Constituents versus the for-profit Sales, Employees and Leads.
It’s free. Well, for at least the first 10 people. There’s a massive discount for licenses after that.
Well-supported community. The community for Salesforce is massive (I’ll even get it a Massive with a capital M).
Some amazing free extensions (which the non-free ones are part of our list of Cons). For example, let’s take the Volunteer Management component (check out the super smart folks at http://djhconsulting.com/volunteers-for-salesforce/ for more info. It’s totally free and these guys are amazing at support. The mastermind behind DJH, David Habib, did such a great job, he’s now a senior member of the Foundation development team.
Salesforce is standalone, so you can integrate it with whatever technology you want, and it’s not site-dependent as CiviCRM is.
The power. Salesforce can do about whatever you want it to do, however that doesn’t mean that doesn’t come without a bit of customization or configuration (we define customization as code you need to add or change, while configuration is just changing the buttons and levers on the Salesforce app). Sorry… I’m getting derailed.
The interesting thing about Salesforce is that it’s pros has it’s coinciding cons. The first is that since the Nonprofit Edition is something that’s evolved from the for-profit world, it can be evident that this is the case, though version 3 of the NonProfit Starter Pack is moving it in the right direction.
Some extensions are expensive. Before embarking on Salesforce, know exactly what you want it to do and outline if any other technology is needed to make that work. For example, take your iPhone. Your iPhone calls, takes notes, sends texts, plays music and also allows you to shoot Angry Birds across your screen. All of this is base functionality. Now, if you want your phone to also play Monopoly, then you need to buy that app for a couple bucks. The issue with Salesforce extensions (or “apps”) is that many of them are pricey that could cost nonprofits several hundred bucks a month. It’s totally possible to do Salesforce without any of the extensions, but ensure this is covered in your initial analysis.
It’s complex. Salesforce is a huge system, and configuring it for an organization takes industry knowledge or a pretty steep learning curve. Migrating from an existing CRM such as Blackbaud could even be more complex. Salesforce is super-flexible, but that also causes the associated complexity.
In my opinion, there still isn’t stellar donation functionality that integrates with Salesforce for Nonprofits. There are some decent players, but nothing that’s hitting the ball out of the park for a price nonprofits can afford. StayClassy’s donation functionality rocks (I personally love it!), however to get their Salesforce integration is going to cost you a serious pretty penny.
Bottom line: Awesome functionality. Extremely powerful. If you go this route, ensure you have a solid discovery/ analysis before embarking this route, and get a partner that can walk you through the strategy and development of this to really use the system for what it can truly do.
So, we just started using Infusionsoft ourselves, and it’s pretty cool and I’ve been telling all of my friends about it (our dinner parties just sound super exciting, eh?). It’s not specifically tailored for the nonprofit world like Salesforce for Nonprofit or CiviCRM, but it’s built so the application can be tailored around processes, and those processes can be either nonprofit or for-profit specific. Many organizations wouldn’t think to consider Infusionsoft, but we’ve been happy with it, and wanted to include it with a list of pros and cons.
So… here we go.
Infusionsoft is just as much about automation as it is about CRM. You can automate the communication things that can be handled by technology, which frees your staff to the things that can’t be automated by technology (like telling our office dog to stop chewing on the conference table, like she’s doing right now). They have a nifty drag n’ drop editor that you can create your forms, then upon form submission to create a task in the CRM, and then send the form submitter an email, and then wait 3 days later to send another email. I’m not doing it justice here, but it’s cool.
The ramp-up training. So there’s a mandatory training session, which we didn’t like. We think we’re savvy enough people to learn on our own, but the training was solid and was super-helpful.
The Campaign Builder. This, my friends, is what makes Infusionsoft pretty great. Not only is it intuitive, but it forces process onto your organization. You can setup an entire campaign of getting someone on your mailing list, and then sending a donation email to them 2 weeks later, and even processing the payment. It’s an end-to-end solution all under one roof.
Indicators. Say you have a potential volunteer that’s opened up 3 emails, attended 2 events, but hasn’t committed his service quite yet. There’s solid indicators that allow you to tag and rank who’s close to becoming part of your organization so you can follow-up accordingly.
It’s pretty and the user experience is great. You’re going to spend a lot of time in a system, so it’s important that it’s easy (and if you’re nerdy, even fun!) to use.
Pricey. Yes, we do think it’s worth every penny, but it’s not cheap. Their fees for small businesses or nonprofits would require a good amount of research if this is the best option.
As mentioned above, the ramp-up training is mandatory. While it was great, we’d prefer the option to opt-in or opt-out.
Internal notifications aren’t customizable. So for example, say someone donations $25, you get an email which then creates a task for your Fundraising/ Development manager to call the donor in a week. All of those emails are branded with Infusionsoft. Granted, the customer-facing emails are branded, but organizations are proud of their brands and it should flow internally as well as externally.
Complexity. Many reviews around the interwebs complain of its complexity. While we haven’t experienced that, it does seem to be a recurring theme.
No free trial (at least we couldn’t find one). I think trying before buying with software is important, and they don’t easily allow this.
This is a techie, but custom fields are a tad wonky. We really like the ability to customize fields and put them in any layout. For example, on a constituent record, I will want to see if the donor prefers to donate online or via check, and I’d want to see this information on the main constituent page. Infusionsoft requires all custom fields go on one tab of the record, so it becomes this hodgepodge garage sale of data fields.
Bottom Line: Perfect for small-business and would also be a stellar system for nonprofits. Not cheap, but when used and configured correctly, it’s evident that the system will save time/ resources by intelligently automating processes and donations. This system is perfect for a nonprofit that’s ready to start busting at the seams, and needs the technology to support it.
*As a footnote, I reached out to Infusionsoft asking if they had any special deals for nonprofits. While they don’t have anything specific for nonprofits, he did say that if you contact him, they’ll work with nonprofits on pricing and if they’re referred by us. For referrals, you get $500 and then we get $500. We’ll take our $500 and donate it back to you, so you’ll get quite a bit off from the get-go. Shoot Brigham an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Insightly probably isn’t the first system that comes to mind when evaluating nonprofit CRM. But, it’s one of the most widely-used CRMs out there and can easily be used for the nonprofit world. I think many people silo tech into for-profit and nonprofit, but any good system can be adjusted for a different organization or process.
The simplicity. Insightly does a great job on focusing on the features that’s important to users and bringing those to the forefront.
It’s pretty. Of all the CRMs out there, I prefer the look and feel of Insightly. It’s evident they have some smart user experience designers over there. *applauds*
Really great Google integration. If you’re using Google apps and Google Mail, their integration with it is simple and top-notch.
The price. Insightly is free for limited functionality, and $7/ user for the main set of functionality. Yes, the other options above are free, but this option wouldn’t require any help from an outside source, so you’d save some cash there.
Their free trial. I love that you can get a solid feel for Insightly through their free trial. It’s such an easy setup that you’ll know if it works for you after a couple days.
Their integration with MailChimp. So I have a bit of a technology crush on Mailchimp. It’s a great company, and Insightly integrates with them extremely well.
It difficult to customize. While the core Insightly is great, it may be a challenge for it to be fully tailored solution for your organization.
It lacks end-to-end. If you’re wanting something to manage *everything*, so the volunteers, donations, staff, etc, then Insightly isn’t for you. If you’re wanting a system to handle your contacts/ constituents in a fast and clean manner, then Insightly is one to check out.
Their social monitoring seemed… off. During our evaluation of it, the CRM didn’t pull the contacts social accounts directly into their record. We were either doing it incorrectly or it wasn’t working. Either way, it should be intuitive and easy.
Bottom Line: For Insightly, our recommendation is to simply give it a whirl. It’s cheap, easy-to-use and it has a nice free trial. It won’t be a good solution for donation integration, but it’ll allow you to manage and organize your constituents really well.
Well, I’ve written this article on 4 cups of coffee and in 60 minutes. I hope this provides some insight on things to look for on 4 solid, yet very different, systems that are either nonprofit CRMs or just some amazing CRMs that can be easily used for nonprofits. Is there a clear winner? Not at all. They are all different and are best used for different organizations. The value is picking the right one.
So do you use any of these systems? Good experience or things you want to see improved? Let us know in the comments below.
There’s a delicious plethora of open source CRM systems out in the wild. In this article, we take a look at a few, and give some pros, cons and things to think about for each. To begin a comparison, let’s start with SugarCRM, VTiger and CRMery.
First, what is open source CRM?
Open source means the code (all the stuff that makes software work) is openly available for users to modify and adapt. There are quite a few of caveats that go along with this, and you can read more about that here. But, for the sake of this article, it means the code is modifiable. While a vast majority of open source CRM systems are free, open source doesn’t always necessarily mean free.
Let’s first take a look at SugarCRM
Ah, SugarCRM. It used to be the creme de la creme of open source CRM. It had a community edition that was built from talented developers all over the world, and became a viable option to Salesforce. SugarCRM has an enterprise edition as well that was hosted by Sugar with some additional functionality, however the SugarCRM Community Edition was available as open source.
You could download and install it on your own server (needed an Apache setup, with the wiggly-bits of Linux, MySQL and PHP), however the process was uber-straightforward. Not exactly plug n’ play, but those with a decent techie-hat could do it in 20 minutes or so.
What I love about SugarCRM: Number one is its flexibility. There are some CRMs that are built with some main use-cases in mind, but doesn’t necessarily adapt for organizations that need a good amount of flexibility. SugarCRM’s Studio Builder is really nifty. It has a drag n’ drop interface to easily customize different screens, and amazing access control to provide access for some users, but constricting other users to a tailored view.
The reporting dashboards are also a huge plus. Every user can have a different view that’s specifically built for him or her.
The development community for SugarCRM was also extremely large with several key components offered at no-cost.
Oh, and SugarCRM Community Edition is… err… was free.
Which brings me to:
What I don’t love about SugarCRM: SugarCRM, like a dagger to my tender, wounded heart, stopped supporting its own Community Edition and reinforced its dedication to the paid, enterprise edition. This makes me weep. Why? Thousands of super-smart developers gave their time, money and energy devoted to an open source CRM project. Somewhat out of the blue, Sugar announced that it was no longer going to be around.
BUT… WAIT THERE’S MORE!
Another develop company bridged SugarCRM’s Community Edition and is continuing to develop on it under another open source CRM project called SuiteCRM with a download here. It’s great to see this project continue!
Let’s first take a look at SugarCRM
VTiger is another open source CRM application that’s built from some code used in SugarCRM (I should mention, that SugarCRM *has* really provided tons of benefit to the open source world). VTiger’s interface is simple, but it doesn’t represent the user interface that today’s 2015 users are beginning to be accustomed to (flat design, etc) so there are some basic UI improvements that can be made.
But anyways… let’s move on. VTiger has really cool tools that make it easy for users to opt-in for certain marketing offers, and the information becomes populated into the CRM. Sure – this is a fairly common element of any CRM, but VTiger’s experience makes it a breeze.
VTiger’s project management feature is also well-developed and easy to use. In many systems, the CRM project management feature tends to be a bit overlooked or an afterthought. With VTiger, I feel like it’s part of the forefront of their thinking (which I truly appreciate).
VTiger’s development community doesn’t seem to be as active as what Sugar’s used to be, however I think if they can make some key user interface updates to make it more current, then this system would be really beneficial to those looking for a good CRM.
Now let’s look at CRMery.
Many people won’t recognize CRMery (and for full disclosure, we have no connection with the company besides the fact that we kinda love it). CRMery is a component to be purchased and seamlessly connected in the Joomla CMS (content managment system) backend. The good thing is that it assumes the similar look and feel as the site itself since it’s sharing the same design (the same global CSS files for the techie-nerds out there). So for user adoption, this is a huge win.
The design trumps the other CRMs on this list. It’s clean, it’s functional, and it’s evident that the user experience was placed smack in the middle of the CRM design and development.
The learning curve is a breeze, and it’s easy to customize fields for different forms or other calls-to-action.
One of the biggest cons of CRMery is the new-ness of it all. From what I gather, it’s developed and supported by a small shop (I’ve chatted with the lead developer, and he’s awesome) so there’s always a risk of implementing a CRM that may eventually not be developed or supported any longer. I really hope to see this CRM grow, as it has a ton of promise.
So there’s 3 different open source CRMs. We’re looking to do a comparison on some others. Are there any CRMs that you would like to see us compare? Any thoughts about the systems reviewed above? Please let us know in the comments below.
Though it can sometimes seem like a lot of work around soliciting an individual donation, they are typically quite informal acquisition processes, you:
• Approach the potential donor; • Engage in discussion/provide some information; and, • Ask!
You quickly know whether you’ve got the donation—and even if they say “no”, you can sometimes win them back with additional conversation and/or data.
Wouldn’t it be nice if getting and managing a grant was that easy?
Most foundations, corporations and government entities have imposed a rigid structure to their grant processes, which require a series of documents to be completed and submitted for approvals within a specific format, timeframe, and, in order. Even after winning a grant, there are typically narrowly defined reporting requirements. Many opportunities for things to go astray, missing a deadline—and losing out on the chance to gain that much needed money.
Salesforce can help you improve your chances by assisting your Development team in keeping on track and checking off all the “to-do’s” appropriately.
You can leverage the “Contracts” functionality in Salesforce, just rename to “Grants.” This is functionality that has been developed by Salesforce to manage contract processes and with a few additional fields and workflow, can keep your team on track. Here’s an example of one that has been updated:
A combination of repurposing existing fields with adding new ones, plus a little “workflow” (automated steps to send reminders, etc.) makes the process much smoother.
Setting up the workflow to send you the alert when it is time for something to happen is quite straightforward—you create the rule telling Salesforce which field to keep an eye on for you, in this case the due date for the initial grant application:
You’ll be walked through the process and give instructions for what happens based on the information in that field, including—who gets alerted, when they get alerted:
By using an email template you’ve already created that includes the relevant information—and a reminder to get all the signatures required—the workflow rule sends the responsible person an alert 15 days before:
That internal notification will also be automatically documented in the Grant record. You can also easily update your ED on the status of any grant process, without having to dig through folders or call staff for info.
Ultimately, your team has less anxiety and risk around the process—because Salesforce.com has that covered–and they can focus their efforts on creating the best content to win that grant.
It is in the plan this year – FINALLY – to replace your current mishmash of information sources with a new Nonprofit Constituent Relationship Management (Nonprofit CRM) system. It can provide the process improvement to better support your nonprofit or non-governmental organization. No more cobbling together pieces of information from various databases,spreadsheets and individual people’s recollections in order to get a complete picture of what has been happening. You may even have picked out the software you want. Maybe you are taking advantage of the Salesforce Foundation’s free licenses for Nonprofit Starter Pack (NPSP) or NGO Connect available through the Salesforce.com “Power of Us” program for nonprofits—or at least checking out the possibilities for replacing your current legacy donor database with something that is more efficient and cost-effective. Something that will empower your development team; enable better volunteer management; and, create a coherent, 365 degree view of the people who make your goals possible: supporters, partners and staff.
Now what should you do?
Start thinking about WHAT you need to accomplish with your new system – and realize that the HOW of day-to-day life for you and your team will change greatly. It will be a good thing eventually, but be warned – there can be tears along the way! Change isn’t easy and you’ll be interrupting your team’s set patterns of work. There is no such thing as major change without a learning curve and preparing for it can help. As a leader at your organization, you’ll be responsible for change management and for insuring new CRM user adoption by your team is complete.
First think about how things work today.
Many times folks focus on how they currently do things, forgetting – or never realizing – that often existing processes have grown up around the gaps in their current technology systems or connectivity.
If they can stand back and look at it, most people find that many of their current “systems” are really a set of disconnected, old technologies each individually transmitting clumps of information to a human being. The technology doesn’t connect and your person must manually combine those different clump of information with their own or other person’s knowledge in order to accomplish the job. This “system” is really a bad manual process which is time consuming and has great potential for errors.
Unfortunately, no matter how ugly or manual the process, it can be scary to let go of what you know. Sometimes the person had to build his or her own workaround process in order to do their job successfully — and have been doing it the same way for many years. Remind your reticent Development Director or Programs Manager about what it took to pull together the information you needed to apply for that recent grant or comply with reporting requirements. Help them stand back and think about WHAT they are trying to accomplish and what could make them more successful:
Which information they could really use about donors, volunteers or grantors
When do they need the information in order to achieve goals and how quickly they need it when requested
Who also needs to easily access the information and use it either regularly or on an ad hoc basis
Which processes would be more effective if automated
Help those individuals understand about the opportunity to automate tasks – including the ones they may dislike intensely or waste their limited time. Some examples of what automated workflow and reporting can do:
Enable each member of your team to quickly access needed reports, activities, and tasks to manage their day through their personalized dashboard
Automatically calculate, roll-up and report on important measures, including donation statistics, with specialized reports geared for specific department heads, the Executive Director, the Board or for compliance reporting to foundations or regulators
Move a grant proposal through the internal review and approval process with system-generated reminders and routing, including built-in oversight to reduce the need to manually “chase” approvals for a grant application with an impending deadline
Acknowledge all donations immediately for the donor’s tax purposes – and alert the Development Director and/or the Executive Director if the amount hits a specific threshold or is from a major or high value donor to insure they get personal attention
Enable online program or event registration which immediately populates the participant’s information in your system and automatically provides the participant with an email acknowledgement and other documents or information – no need to have a staff member or volunteer have to interpret someone’s handwriting on a form and manually enter the information into the database – reducing errors and time to process
Most importantly, help your team focus on WHAT is important – your mission, goals and what needs to be accomplished every day – and what these changes can mean to the important people and organizations involved:
Better supporting your constituents
Facilitating the recruitment and retaining of volunteers
Improving the nurturing of donors
Complying with regulations and funder requirements
Increasing staff’s available time to connect with donors, volunteers and program participants – the kinds of work which can’t be accomplished by technology
A nonprofit CRM system is a financial and time investment for your entire organization. If you and your team start with the “What” instead of the current “How”, your CRM implementation will be smoother and increase the likelihood of adoption. The better the adoption, the higher the ROI. Ultimately, if your team understands you consider them at the center of “what” is important in this process, there will be less tears along the way (especially yours) when you change the current “how” to be more effective with your new CRM in place!
What has your experience been in past with new system implementations–lots of tears or smiles? Something in between?
Long a staple in the business-to-business sales world, CRM systems are databases created to hold information about people relevant to your organization. Whether you are a business, government agency or nonprofit/NGO, people inside and outside your organization drive your success. CRM is the way you can manage relationships and measure success.
What is CRM? A Definition of Customer Relationship Management and Constituent Relationship Management
In the commercial business world, they are typically referred to as “Customer Relationship Management” systems. In the public sector or nonprofit/NGO realm, you may hear the term “Constituent Relationship Management” used instead to show the focus on service vs. revenue.
Typically geared to be a single source of information about the people who are connected to your organization – either directly or indirectly. The people could include: – customers or program participants – staff, volunteers, or Board members – investors, funders or donors – vendors, service providers or partners
CRM systems track activities for these people, including: – Transactions and interactions: donations, products purchased, customer service or customer support interactions – Time spent on: volunteer hours, development or service interaction, sales cycle length – Communications documentation: dates, time and content of emails, phone calls or letters – Participation in: events, marketing campaigns, sales or service processes
In the business world, there is typically a heavy focus on measuring and managing sales deals and effectiveness — improving the ROI on sales and marketing expenses. For nonprofits, the focus is on donor management, volunteer management, services enablement and program improvement. Typically, a CRM system replaces or connects existing legacy systems. In a commercial environment, this could include integrating or replacing outdated: – Sales Force Automation (SFA) systems – Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems – Customer Service Representative (CSR) databases
In the nonprofit world, it is typically replacing an entire suite of older, disconnected or “silo’d” systems: – Donor Management System – Volunteer Database/Spreadsheets – Program Management Package – Mailing Lists living in an Email Distribution System
The idea behind a CRM is to create a central command system that interconnects the information you need to drive your entire organization.
One of the common questions we get from clients (and potential clients) revolve around website security; what are the dangers, and what things can be done to minimize risk. For the sake of this article, we’ll focus on two CMS (content management systems) – Joomla and WordPress – and things you can do within 24 hours to tighten security and minimize risk for a more secure web.
Tip 1: Be selective of the plugins
Thumbing through extensions (in Joomla speak) or plugins (for WordPress) can be like being stuck in the Mall of America for years. Like shopping for a toothbrush, there are hundreds of options that do similar things. Need functionality for a slideshow – there are thousands of options. Pick one that:
Relies on 1-click updates (e.g. you don’t need to manually install each time). However, you don’t want something that automatically installs, as this may break your site.
Has auto-notifications when an update is ready.
Has a long track history of reviews.
Has a developer-backed team that’s committed to providing updates/ patches when they become readily available.
Tip 2: Keep number of plugins at a minimum
Do you really need that weather plugin that tells your users that it’s raining outside their office window? No, you don’t. Do you need a plugin that auto-plays music? Not unless you really loathe your users. Keep your plugins tight and essential. The more you have, the more you’ll need to manage and keep updated.
Tip 3: Stay updated for a secure web
With Tip 1 and 2 stated above, the number one reason of site attacks/ malware is due to an outdated CMS or its extensions/ plugins. If you cannot manage this, then find someone who is. Otherwise, you’re asking for a hack – and there are no winners in that situation!
Tip 4: Site level backups
So there are a few different types of backups, which we’ll get into during this article. The first is site-level backups. This is when a backup is made and stored directly on the site (say in a “backups” folder located in your site’s file directory). For Joomla, Akeeba Backup is tremendous. For WordPress, go with Jetpack.
In addition to on-site backups, the two tools listed above will also allow remote backups (e.g. placing the backup on 3rd party storage such as Dropbox).
Tip 5: Server/ Cpanel backups
So if your site is compromised, having an on-site backup may not do the trick. Therefore, always have Cpanel/ Plesk backups (you don’t need to know what these are, per se, but simply ask the question of your hosting provider, and ensure these are in place. I’d recommend rolling backups on a 3-daily, weekly, and monthly level. Again – you don’t need to know the details; but you need to know the questions to ask for a more secure web.
Tip 6: Server image backups
This is when your host will take a snapshot of the entire server, and place the copy on an entirely different server. This is good for catastrophic events, and is somewhat of a last resort.
I write about fun things, and other times I write about super-nerdy and technical things. Today, I thought it would be valuable to create a quick list of “musts” (at least IMHO) for anyone that has that crazy/ nagging idea that keeps them up at night. Otherwise, known as the thought of starting their own company.
So let’s get on with it…
1) You’ll never be your own boss in your start up company.
Somewhat typical scenario on a Saturday evening…
Me: [Pours another glass of red] Person: “So what kind of stuff do you do for work?” Me: “Oh, I run a digital agency in Ravenswood.” (that’s a northside neighborhood in Chicago for y’all not living in Chicago…) Person: “OMG, like totes OMG, you’re so lucky to be your own boss!” Me: [Pours another glass of red]
The above scenario happens on a weekly basis (including the wine part), and couldn’t be further from the truth.
Every client is your boss. Not just the hiring person – but literally every single person on the client team.
It’s not a bad thing, it’s just the truth. If you’re dealing with a project that has 30 people from the client side – then you have 30 bosses. Combine that across a couple hundred projects – and it can be slightly intimidating. Every client, every point of interaction from the people that you’re building things for – they’re your boss.
Being your own boss is fictitious.
The local, independent coffeeshop owner has her patrons. An up and coming niche author has her readers. Bill Gates had his Board. The President has his constituents.
Regardless if you’re on a local or national stage – nobody is their own boss. Ever.
2) Know your startup company more than anything else in life.
This may seem obvious, but there are a lot of people with a strong love and affinity for something amazing. Someone may love dogs, so opening a doggie day care may seem (and may be!) an amazing idea. However, a passion for something only goes so far. Has that person worked at a doggie day care? Do they know the demand in that area? How many people in that area are Googling for doggie day care services? What’s the profit margins for every single product in that store? What’s the employee turnover in that sector? What kind of insurance is required? The list could go on and on.
It comes down to one thing: understanding the minutiae of everything. There’s a point where you can hire smarter people than you to take on certain tasks, but on Day One – you need to be prepared for everything.
3) Be really, really resourceful.
Understand what you’re great at and do it yourself. Understand what you’re good at, and learn to be great at it. Understand what you’re really terrible at, and find the most economical way to make it happen.
The lowest rated skill as of this posting is the ability to be resourceful.
With a plethora of online learning tools (Lynda.com is a fantastic one!), it’s much easier to learn new skills and fill in any gaps.
When thinking of starting a company, if you have more “cannots” than “cans”, then starting a new company may not be the best endeavor to pursue. There’s almost *always* a place to begin, and slowly build to something bigger than yourself.
Especially in the digital world – there are talented designers/ developers in our on-demand economy that would love to work on a challenging project.
4) Have clear expectations.
My first year in business, I think I made around $12,000 in revenue. I launched a digital platform for music teachers, and figured customers will swarm in like tourists leaving a cruise ship in Barbados. Yeah, yeah – I read all of the “it’s not a build it, and they will come” sort of thing. But either my over-optimism or ignorance (or a healthy mix of the two) didn’t prepare me for what would come.
The most important thing is setting mental expectations, and don’t give up. Sure – it’s cliche, but nothing rings more true. Nothing amazing comes easy.
5) 60% Digital marketing, 30% CRM, 10% Website.
We hear this question a lot for anyone starting a new company: “I’m wanting to start a new (insert company or nonprofit). I have (insert budget here). What do I spend it on?”
There’s usually a roundabout answer, but here’s a lovingly blunt one:
-Spend the least amount on a site. On Day One – it just really needs to explain who you are, what you do, have great content, and ways to convert visitors to qualified leads.
-Spend a bit more (but not a ton) on a CRM (customer relationship management system) to track engagement and communication with prospects or customers. There’s a ton of easy systems to get up and running quickly (we use Active Campaign, and they’re pretty awesome) – you can always upgrade later, if/when needed.
-Spend most of your budget on digital marketing (aka getting people to your site). There’s a *lot* that goes into this, and not really in the spirit of this article. Site development is part of digital marketing, technically – but hopefully you get my point.
6) 18 hour work days is a thing in your startup company.
Yup – I’ve read the “work smarter, not longer.” It’s not true. Expect 16 hour days, and even 24 hour days with food and bio breaks, especially in the first year or two. Those hours will dwindle as you grow, but it’s inevitable there’s going to be a lot of sweat equity that goes into crafting your dream. I agree in “work smarter”, but at the beginning, it needs to be “work smarter, and work longer.”
7) Listen to the market and quickly react.
You can do all the market research and develop a product or service accordingly, and then you’re going to realize that you got a lot of things right. And… a lot of things wrong. Leave the ego at the door, and constantly adjust based upon what you’re hearing, and how people are using your product or service.
We started out as a platform for music teachers. Then, a lot of music nonprofits came to us needing help with using digital to raise a lot of money. We created a spin-off of the music platform into a nonprofit platform that combined social networking and fundraising (before Kickstarter). That evolved to being a full-service digital agency.
In 2009, I never planned for any of this, but instead – went where the current took us.
8) Start surrounding yourself with people that make you better
Know your strengths, and capitalize on them. Know your weaknesses, and find good people to fill those roles. Never hire anyone that isn’t smarter than you.
9) Look into coworking.
While we have a fun, lofty office space that allows dogs (and my 2 year old Golden Retriever comes to the office daily), there were many, many days and nights working from a small desk in a 1 bedroom Chicago apartment. The days bled into nights, the coffee slowly transitioned to wine, and 16 hours would go by realizing I’m still in my pajamas. This thing called human interaction would go by the wayside, and it can take its toll.
Depending on where you’re at, coworking is a huge thing, and it’s only becoming bigger. For a monthly fee, you can surround yourself with like-minded professionals starting a company.
Simply bouncing ideas around goes a long way.
In college, think of how much you learned inside the classroom vs. the ‘real world’ college experiences. Going into coworking is like leaving your tiny dorm and surrounding yourself with peers that encourage each other and help push your start up company to the next level.
If your area doesn’t allow coworking, check out local ads for people looking to share their office space.
It beats Starbucks, and your clothes won’t perpetually smell like coffee.
10) It’s competitive. Be nice (and hopefully that’s yourself).
There are zillions of digital agencies out there. While most would disagree with me, I think the supply outmatches the demand. The market has also been flooded with agencies that are focused on the technology itself vs. using it to solve a big business problem. But alas, there are still an abundance of players in this market.
When a potential customer is looking at two different companies to work with, and both companies are equal in terms of talent, timeline and cost, the thing that’s going to separate the two will be personality. Be nice, be willing, and always want to make your customers the best they can be.
What are your tips for anyone looking to embark on their own startup company? Let us know in the comments below!
Cassie Dennis from Monday Loves You tells us about the impact of salary history disclosure for woman in technology in a recent article published by Women Employed.
How I Missed Out on Over $350,000 Working In Technology
It’s been a weird and windy road since my 11-year-old-self lost a chess match to an IBM 360 in 1970. Let me be upfront about this — my degree is in psychology; I work in marketing; and, I wasn’t born at a time when tech was in the mainstream — yet I’ve had a long career working in technology and technology-driven roles.
The short answer: I said YES whenever someone asked me “can you figure out how to use this thing?!?”
It wasn’t always pretty, but I did learn how to use, configure, test, assemble and sell a variety of tech over the years, finding my niche in the software world by enabling people to solve problems with statistics, analytics, reporting and CRM.
The long answer reveals my icy patches, detours, and mudslides — from having a lucrative software sales territory I’d built from the ground up stripped from me and gifted to a male colleague because he had a family to support, to being promoted into a middle management position where I had the same responsibilities as my colleagues but a salary about 15 per cent less than theirs. Losing that sales territory prompted me to change pathways — taking me from an individual contributor role into management, which was ultimately a good thing . However, making less than my management colleagues in that one job was not a blip but a persistent drag on my earnings potential not only in that company but for the next 20 years of my career.