Never Fear Budget Busters Again

Even the very best laid plans can run into unforeseen problems. The causes can range anywhere from an indecisive decision-maker to a natural disaster that takes the office out of commission for a while. Whatever the reason, any online course, website or other online is subject to delays and changes. We at Talance do our best to estimate and build systems to prevent hold-ups, but no one can tell the future. Sometimes things just cost more.

If you’re smart and allow that things you can’t imagine might happen, you can help your deadlines and decision stay as close to budget as possible. (It also helps to spend your money on the most valuable features.) At the very least, follow these tips to make sure budget surprises don’t catch you unawares.

Pad your budget

First of all, pad your budget from the get-go. We provide our clients with a quote before a project begins, but we can’t imagine every change that could happen. We always advise our clients to set aside 15-25% of the total estimated cost to account for unforeseen events or upgrades.

Relax your schedule

You may never miss an appointment, but that doesn’t mean that everyone on your team is so careful with deadlines. Plus, holidays have a way of popping up and skewing schedules. Pad them out. Allow for more time than you thing something might take. We try to finish projects a month before the drop-dead date arrives.

Present a unified front

Be organized and unified with your decisions. If you’re faced with a decision on design or content, make sure everyone in your organization agrees before you tell your web company. Poll everyone you need to and sign off on that decision in advance. Every time you change your mind costs time, and time costs money.

Sock some away

Put away enough money for the end of a project. Starting on an online project is not where it ends. They have a life beyond launch. Budget for recurring fees, web hosting, maintenance or subscription plans. Look further out to the next six months to a year so you can afford upgrades to technology, content and design in the future.

Most of these points involve being realistic and organized. Open communication and firm decision can remove the fear factor from web projects and help your bottom line stay in the black.

Simple Tip for Attracting Attention

How many times have you been in a restaurant or bar with a TV in one corner that keeps snagging your eye? It’s a human response to follow movement, and video is a proven attention-getter.

If you want to call attention to something on your website, you can apply the same techniques through video. Thanks to services like YouTube and Vimeo, it’s pretty easy too.

Think of who your visitors are and create a simple video that appeals to them in just 30 seconds or a minute in length. See how traffic changes on your website before and after you add a video.

Keep experimenting until you find what works with your audience. Check out this video from ReadWriteWeb on NPR’s experiments with social media.

NPR’s experiments with social media from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

10 Trust-Building Tricks: What Non-Profits Can Learn from E-Commerce

Then why do so many non-profiteers forget these same requirements when it comes to their own websites? If sites like Amazon or Dell or eBay were run the way many nonprofit websites are, they’d be out of business as soon as you can say “customer loyalty.”

Double-standards don’t work with online visitors. Whether someone is looking to spend $10 on a Mother’s Day gift or give you $10 for your next fundraising effort, they’re still looking for a positive experience. They’re looking for the right kind of feedback and ease of use. They want what we all expect when it comes to a welcoming and comfortable online experience.

Here are e-commerce some ideas you can apply to your website – no matter if you’re selling products or simply trying to gain an online following:

1.Easy to find contact information

Shoppers like to know that they’re dealing with real people at a real company when they’re handing over a check or credit card information. They want to have a phone number in case something goes wrong with shipping. They want the assurance that someone is there to help if they need it. Lack of contact information – or hard-to-find contact information – can erode trust and make people less likely to have a transaction with you, whether you’re accepting dues, donations or sign-ups for your next event.

Non-profit fix

Make sure your contact information is on every page of the website in an easy-to-see spot. Some of the most common spots are at the top of the page in the header or on the bottom of the page in the footer. Also make sure you provide multiple ways for people to reach you, including your physical address, a phone number, an e-mail address and a contact form. The more you can give adds to the level of trust.

2.Prompt and friendly feedback

As soon a shopper clicks that Submit button and authorizes money or personal information to transfer to someone else, they like a little assurance. Asking for feedback as soon as a person has acted on something (they call this “conversion” in the biz), also allows an e-commerce company to learn from the experience. Successful sites give chances for feedback immediately.

Non-profit fix

Ask for feedback immediately upon accepting some kind of information from your visitor – as soon as they sign up for a newsletter or send you a donation. You might create a quick survey asking for feedback on their experience. Ask them how easy it was for them to find what they were looking for, if they have ideas for improvement or if anything stood out as particularly good or bad about the process.

3.Clear Navigation

Take a look at some of the most popular shopping sites, and study their navigation. Even Amazon, which sells just about anything you can imagine, has a fairly simple and pared down navigation. Successful e-commerce sites make it easy to find items with well-named categories. Each category is also populated with items – no orphan categories allowed.

Non-profit fix

Think about what you want your visitors to accomplish when they come to your site, and shape your navigation accordingly. Remembering that people read from left to right, put the most important item on the farthest left navigation item. Make sure you don’t repeat items within navigation, and make sure each menu item leads somewhere. No “coming soon” pages!

4.Effective search

If a shopper is looking for barbeque tongs, they’ll often just type “barbeque tongs” into a search box to find them. It can be much easier than navigating through menu systems, especially if those are complex menu systems.

Non-profit fix

Make sure your content management system has a built-in search engine that delivers the most helpful search results. Your visitors should be able to enter keywords and find any applicable content that matches those keywords. It’s even better if you can guide your visitors through categorized searches, if you have a website with heavy content.

5.Detailed product information

Shoppers like to know what they’re buying. They like detailed shopping information, including prices, sizes, specifications and pictures. The more information available makes people more comfortable with parting with their money or personal information.

Non-profit fix

Every time you ask for a transaction from your visitors – money or signing a petition or any kind of interaction – provide them with as much information as possible. If you’re collecting money for the next youth trip, show pictures of the last trip and give an itinerary. If you’re trying to save endangered tigers, provide numbers of wild tigers and details of how any funds will be spent.

6.Clean Checkout Process

The last thing e-commerce sites want to stand between a shopper and their purchase is a clumsy checkout process. They do everything they can to make it smooth and involving as few steps as possible. The more steps between deciding to pay and actually paying equals more opportunities for abandoned shopping carts.

Non-profit fix

Make it easy to accept donations or sign-up forms. Once someone chooses to give you money, let them review their order, enter their billing information and check any additional fees on the same page. It also helps is your shopping cart or submission form are completely integrated into your website – it pays not to use a third-party service for this. If you must include other pages, make sure they’re short and match your site exactly.

7.Dependable Customer Service

The best shopping sites take pride in their customer service. They make it easy for customers to find contact information (see above) and also get in touch if they need more involved help. They also make privacy policies, return policies, shipping rates and FAQs easy to find from every page. Well served customers are happy customers, but there’s also a practical use for these good practices. The more information they provide to shoppers up front, the fewer questions they have to answer.

Non-profit fix

Copy these same pricniples, and you’ll have a happy constituency. Have a special address or system you can use for support, and present a phone number for people who prefer not to use technology. Create an FAQ that addresses the most commonly asked questions that come in. If you’re collecting personal information, make it clear what you’ll do with that information in a privacy policy.

8.Multiple Payment Options

The best sites are open to accepting your money any way you care to give it: credit card, check or PayPal. They’re also open to people who have cards other than Visa or MasterCard, by accepting AmEx and Discover.

Non-profit fix

If you’re accepting money, provide as many payment options as possible to help the money flow in. You can subscribe to a payment service that allows all the major credit cards, and also provide the option of sending in electronic or paper checks. PayPal is useful, because that opens up the choices your donors have for paying.

9.Prevalent Store Policies

The best online stores make it clear what their return and shipping policies are, and lay out their other store rules. Many simply put it in an FAQ or page with links to more detailed pages.

Non-profit fix

If you have terms and conditions or privacy policies, make it easy to find. Spell out exactly what you do with private information. Tell your visitors how you might be interacting with them (newsletters, Facebook, etc.). Informed visitors are much more likely to be happy about making transactions with you.

10.History and Credibility

One of the reasons so many people feel safe about buying from Amazon is that they know so much about them. They know the company’s history, they know Jeff Bezos is a nice guy and how he built it. They also know that history includes years testimonials from happy customers. That’s what sets a fly-by-night company from one people feel comfortable doing business with.

Non-profit fix

Tell your story. If you’ve been around for awhile, talk about your beginnings. Even if you’re new, you probably have individuals with a positive history who work for you – tell their history. Also demonstrate the good work you’ve done in the past. Show how you’ve used funds and the positive impact your organization has made. Tell your visitors why it makes sense for them to trust you, and they will.

5 Ways To Supercharge Your Event Listings

Online calendars are an effective and affordable way to improve attendance at your events and generally promote what you do. Zip them up with calendars, directions and sign-up forms, and you’ll have even better attendance. Here are a few tips to help you create your best-ever listings.

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Full Attendance at an Event

1.Add a map.

If your event is in a physical place, a map answers questions about location before they’re asked. Google Maps makes it dead easy to embed an interactive map into the event detail page, and makes it easy for your attendees to find driving directions. Use the Link feature on Google Maps to find the website code you need to include the map.

As a helpful addition, add any site-specific directions, such as, “Second door on the right,” or “Parking permitted in Lot A on Sundays.”

2.Link to sign-up forms.

It should be dead easy for registrants to sign up for your event as soon as they learn about it. Create direct links to your registration form with a call-to-action button: “Register now!” If you don’t accept online registration (and you should!), at least provide a downloadable signup form in PDF format with mailing directions.

3.Write a full listing.

Brevity has its merits, but it’s helpful to create as complete a listing as possible on the event page. Include goals of the events, dates and times, speaker information – as much information as you anticipate people asking.

4.Add pictures.

Include visual interest with pictures of the event location, speaker headshots or pictures of people enjoying previous similar events.

5.Let attendees add the event to their calendar.

Many online calendars (including Drupal) let you provide events in a downloadable format, such as ICAL or ICS. Attendees can then save the event to their Outlook or other calendar program. They’ll have a hard time forgetting your event if it’s on their own schedule.

[Image: Flickr user shinyai]

3 Musts of Non-Profit Website Marketing

There’s a prejudice in the non-profit world against marketers. They’re often thought of as “slick” (not my word – a direct quote), slimy and very, very expensive.

The truth is, a marketer should look just like you, whether you’re slick or a slob. If you’ve decided you want a website, you’ve got to tap into your inner marketer to make it a success. Suppress your shudders when you hear words like “strategy” and “metrics” and “target audience” – instead learn what it means to be your own website marketer, and your site will be better.

You don’t have to enroll in classes at Sloan to apply a few elementary marketing skills (although it can’t hurt, if you have the time and budget). Bone up on these few areas, and you’ll be in a much better position to be using your website as a tool that works for you rather than an annoying necessity.

1. SEO

Have a basic understanding of how SEO (Search Engine Optimization) works. The good news is as long as you apply a little common sense, your search engine standing will improve. Write in natural language, make sure you use sensible page titles and include the words that best describe what you do, otherwise known as “keywords.”

This is a great article on understanding the basics of SEO.

2. Social Media Basics

Even if you’re not on board with compulsive Twitter updates, realize that social media is a useful tool for reaching a target audience. Spend some time looking for the social networks that your audience uses. Participate often, and give your fans and followers ample opportunities to communicate with you.

Check out this list for how to get started with social networking.

3. Copywriting

Think about how much time you spend reading when you’re on a website (pretty much all of it, right), and then think about how much thought you give to the copy. With most non-profits, there’s a discord.

Learn about writing for the web, and pepper your site with calls to action. The care you take will pay off when it comes to communicating a clear message.

Copyblogger gives loads of good advice with content-based marketing.

Pace Yourself

Marketing is a job that never ends. The best way to accomplish it is to nibble away bit by bit on a regular basis. Make a schedule for yourself, and devote yourself regularly to different marketing tasks.

If want a little help, try out 52 Website Marketing and Promotion Tips, which gives you one easy thing to do per week.

52 Web Promotion & Marketing Tips

It’s the gift that keeps on giving: a new online marketing and promotion tip every week. As part of our year-long birthday festivities, we’re celebrating by giving away a new e-newsletter.

52 Web Marketing & Promotion Tips helps you energize your website with a piece of actionable advice delivered directly to your inbox every week, so you can keep your site fresh and vibrant. From writing and link building to best practices and strategy, we’ll help you reach your website goals in for the whole year.

One short and sweet tip each week, all year long. What could be easier?

Click here to subscribe before you get behind!