Small Business

Your Budget: Go From Cursing to Championing

One of the reasons I love inviting guests to post on this blog is so that they can talk about topics that I probably wouldn’t address myself. And right at the top of that list is budgets! Numbers are something I always struggled with in school (while I excelled in English), so it’s better for both of us that I stick to what I’m good at.

Enter Steve Fredlund. He and I met several months ago in a Facebook Group, and when I saw that one of his areas of focus was budgeting and money management for nonprofits and small businesses, I jumped at the chance to feature his expertise.

I really loved the way Steve talks about “transformational” budgeting in this post, and think it will not only shed some light, but challenge your social impact organization to value money differently in the process.

Your Budget: Go From Cursing to Championing

BUDGET. A 6-letter swear word to many nonprofit leaders and small business owners. It’s about penny-pinching and the restricting of ability to get things done. It’s the mechanism by which a number-crunching, introverted analytic hinders team creativity. Right? 

Yes. Because most of us see it this way, this is precisely what it becomes. Consider how budget discussions and approval are communicated in your organization. For many, it sounds something like, “Well, it’s that exciting time to set the budget again,” or “Sorry, guys and gals, we have to work on the budget,” or “Let’s get the budget stuff done so we can get on to the real stuff we need to talk about.” 

Why You Need to Rethink Budgets

Budget communication both reflects AND creates culture. It gives insight into leadership perspectives on budget, which gives insight into how leaders think about budgeting as a potential tool to move the organization forward. And usually, budget communication is extremely negative or, at minimum, apathetic. But your cash flow is an asset and it is your responsibility to leverage that asset as effectively as possible in support of the overall mission and strategic priorities of your organization. Anything short of that is a suboptimal use of one of your biggest assets, and is a gap in your overall leadership. 

Your finances carry vast amounts of potential energy, just waiting to get released. Your job as a leader is to recognize the full potential energy and release it to maximize achievement of the vision and strategic priorities. I want to encourage you to shift your paradigm about finances—to recognize that great organizations are able to fully release their power and leverage it for success.


3 Budgeting Exercises for Social Impact Organizations

Here are three things you can do to increase the value of your budgeting process, while also changing your perspective about the role of finances in your nonprofit or social enterprise:

  1. Strategy-based budget.  List out all of your major strategies, goals, or initiatives. Then assign each a percentage (totaling 100%) indicating how you WISH all of your available funds were allocated. Do this without regard to your knowledge of the current budget and only consider non-fixed costs. Basically, you are saying, “This is how I wish all of our discretionary spending was allocated.” Then, take this to your finance team and ask them to complete this exercise with the actual spending; have them include a bucket somewhere for the “fixed costs,” and with all remaining expenses, have them allocate out to the same categories you defined. Compare what you find. Eventually, I encourage organizations to create budgets starting first with developing a desired allocation of resources and then building the budget; but for now, this exercise will provide insight into any major disjoints in spending. It will also help you realize how many of your expenses are fixed, to see if there is any way to move spending into discretionary.

  2. Gain outsider perspectives.  An interesting exercise is to give your current budget (or actual spending) to several people unfamiliar with your organization and ask them what they think your vision and priorities based on your budget. You can get tremendous insight from this exercise. This is similar to having new people to come into your building or office and ask what they think your priorities are based on your environment; it creates fascinating discussions.

  3. External research. It’s amazing to me that very few nonprofits and social enterprises have an understanding of how similar organizations are allocating their budgets. I ask, “How does this compare to your competitors?” or “How does this compare to similar nonprofits?” and rarely do they know. Comparing to others can provide great insights, not only for competitive advantage, but to start the conversations about how you could become more effective in your spending.

 There are many more considerations in maximizing your financial investments, and improving the perception of the role of budgeting, but these three are a good start. How you spend your money is more than just a necessary evil. It is as important as the staff you hire, connections you make, and products or services you provide. Every dollar of your revenue is an asset; are you investing it in a way that maximizes your impact or helps you best reach your goals?

Avoid the 5% Rule

When the next budget cycle comes up, consider avoiding the typical process that simply adds 5% to every budget item from last year. This is the central mistake in budgeting for impact; to start with what has been done in the past and making minor tweaks. Using the prior budget to determine the next budget is akin to starting with current policies and procedures to set next year’s strategies.

If you want a transformational budget, then realize that the budget is an “output” and not an “input.”  The budget process starts with what you are ultimately trying to do (your vision, mission, or purpose). From there, you determine your key focus areas for the next one to three years, which leads to your key strategies and, ultimately, to the execution of those strategies. It is from these decisions that the transformational budget emerges. 

Imagine running a nonprofit helping to alleviate the issue of clean water in which 20% of last year’s budget supported efforts in Rwanda and 10% supported Nepal. There are some significant political and world relief changes resulting in far less need for the organization to continue working in Rwanda. Strategically, the organization decides it needs to move staff and facilities to Nepal, but the budget setting is based on last year and the funding to both Rwanda and Nepal is increased slightly, creating a huge disjoint in strategy and funding.

This may be a ridiculous example that would not actually happen in practice, but it’s only ridiculous because of the dramatic nature of the shift. How many smaller shifts are happening every year without the budget reallocation to support it? Many cause-focused organizations know the areas they need to move focus toward, but most use a “last year plus” method for budgeting. The end result will always be a disjoint between impact and financial support.

As a social impact organization, take time to celebrate every dollar coming in. These funds are more than just “money;” they represent the opportunity to have impact. But the ball is now in your court. What are you going to do with that opportunity? The more impact you can have, the more opportunity you will attract; and conversely, the poorer you manage your opportunity, the less opportunity you will have. 


Get Excited About Budgeting

Get excited about strategizing how those funds can be used to maximize impact or profitability. Have leadership discussions that start first with your vision, mission, priorities, and strategies, considering how to optimize movement toward their achievement using your finances. Think less about budget constraints and think more about budget opportunities.

When you have a budget that is lined up with your overall strategies, it generates creativity among each budget manager to truly optimize those funds to carry out their strategies. Further, having a budget aligned with strategies creates peace of mind for leadership (and all stakeholders), knowing that all assets are working together to carry out the desired impact of the organization.

Start seeing budget and finances differently, and you will be on your way to leveraging it most effectively—to maximizing your impact; to achieving your vision.

If I can be of any assistance, feel free to give me a shout at steve@stevefredlund.com or 651.587.5435. You can find out more about me at stevefredlund.com. 


Steve Fredlund

Steve Fredlund, FSA, MBA, SWP has 30 years of experience in Fortune 500 companies in primarily financial and analytical roles, with another 10 years in nonprofit roles including staff, board, founder, executive, and volunteer. He currently does independent consulting, coaching, and speaking focusing on small businesses and nonprofits. Steve helps individuals and organizations clearly define what success means to them, and then figure out how to get there. More information is available at stevefredlund.com.

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Here are three exercises to increase the value of your budgeting process, while also changing your perspective about the role of finances in your nonprofit or social enterprise.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


The Most Useful Tool for Prioritizing Your Goals

Today’s inspiration comes from one of our newest interns here at Signify, Kirsten King. When she approached me about writing a blog post on this topic, I thought it was a terrific idea. I’m a big fan of not only setting goals, but regularly evaluating them.

And one of the biggest hurdles in goal-setting isn’t identifying them, but prioritizing them. After all, you only have so much time, energy, and resources at your disposal. So, you definitely want to ensure that your nonprofit or social enterprise is focused on the right targets.

The exercise Kirsten outlines below is an oldie, but a goodie. It’s also relatively simple. But the beauty is that it will give you a big picture look at your organization, and help you decide which direction to run in. Give it a try, and see your goals come to life.

The Most Useful Tool for Prioritizing Your Goals

Happy (belated) New Year!

So, you’ve established some business goals for this year, and you’re all set to tackle them. You will complete your 2019 To Do List, but it may seem a bit overwhelming right now. Often, you may be wondering where to start, how to prioritize, or where you fit in amongst your competitors and even your donors or customers. If this sounds familiar, then you may need to create or restructure your SWOT analysis.

Creating a current SWOT analysis can help pinpoint what your organization lacks, as well as what it offers. Without this assessment, you may quickly fall behind or feel left out. This could happen if you don’t know what trends are up-and-coming, what other organizations in your field are doing, the growth opportunities that are available, or you may be unable to predict what challenges are yet to come. However, knowing each of these items can give you a distinctive edge, and guide you toward both short- and long-term success.

SWOT Analysis… What’s that?

Now, if you’re wondering, “What’s a SWOT analysis?!”, don’t worry, we’ll jump right into that.  

First, SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This is a genius marketing strategy—even if you’re new to marketing—because it identifies a nonprofit or social enterprises’s internal strengths and weaknesses, while also looking into the opportunities and threats that are occurring outside of the organization. (These factors you have no control over, but you may be able to use them to your advantage 😉. )

Why is a SWOT Analysis Important?

Performing a SWOT analysis can help you determine what new strategies should be implemented and what problems need to be resolved. You don’t want to waste time developing and planning a new strategy, if it doesn’t fit with the current or upcoming trends.

Having this information gives you a better understanding of what needs to be prioritized and where you stand when compared to others like you. Here’s a great video, using Starbucks as an example, if you would like to see a SWOT analysis in action.

Since business, trends, marketing, technology, and even the way you interact with your donors or customers are constantly changing, a SWOT analysis should be performed at least once or twice a year to ensure you are on the right track, or outline any changes that should be made. These can be performed solo, or with a team, board members, or key stakeholders.


Completing Your SWOT Analysis

Okay, let’s build your SWOT analysis! We’ve even created a free template to help you out.

One thing you’ll notice immediately is the simplicity of the layout. Once you dig into the items below, you may be tempted to include a lot of details and notes. But, at its heart, a SWOT analysis is just meant to give you a quick overview. Think of it as your organization at a glance, and use it to help guide you in the right direction.

Strengths are determined by the positive assets that your social impact organization owns. They may be tangible or intangible resources. Since you have control over these assets, strengths can help your organization stand out.

Strengths include:

  • Unique mission or model

  • Land

  • Location

  • Equipment

  • Copyrights/trademarks

  • Employees/volunteers

  • Funding

  • Marketing

  • Customer service

  • Relationships

Weaknesses can be defined as the characteristics of your organization that are unfavorable or may hurt you in some way. These downfalls could potentially hinder your success in both the short- and long-term. Weaknesses may be easily improved with a little more time, effort, and sometimes money.

Weaknesses include:

  • Outdated technology

  • Slow or poor communication (internal and/or external)

  • Poor signage

  • Little to no online presence

  • Unreliable cash flow

  • Lack of systems and processes

  • Cost

  • Low reputation

  • Small team with big workload

  • Low innovation

Opportunities are the external factors that can help your nonprofit or social enterprise thrive. Options here may be one-time or ongoing opportunities, so it’s especially important to note anything with fixed deadlines or limited availability that need to stay top of mind.

Opportunities include:

  • Partnerships and sponsorships

  • Participating in a current or upcoming trend (or event)

  • Government programs

  • Niche target market

  • Increased interest in your cause

  • New technologies

  • Growing population

  • Few competitors

  • New systems or processes

  • High demand

Threats are external factors that you cannot control. These negatives require quick thinking to develop new strategies.

Threats include:

  • Changes in government policies or funding

  • Uncertain economic factors

  • Aggressive competition

  • Unexpected weather

  • Rising costs

  • Increase in competition

  • Change in population

  • Negative media coverage

  • Loss of large donor, partner, or sponsor

  • Taxation

Time to Strategize!

You can start your SWOT analysis by focusing on internal strengths and weaknesses. This should be easier since you know the ins and outs of your organization.

Afterward, you can focus on external factors like your opportunities and threats. This may call for a bit of research and contemplation. But once your SWOT analysis is complete, you should have a better idea on what strategies to prioritize, implement, or refresh.

If done correctly, you’ll be able to use this analysis to create fresh, new ideas for your nonprofit or social enterprise. And remember, the assessment can always be adjusted to meet the current trends and challenges you may face.

Now, with all of this new information, how will you structure your business goals for the year ahead? Have you determined your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats yet? If not, it’s time to brainstorm new strategies that will help you develop or maintain that sustainable advantage!


Kirsten M King Marketing

Hi! I’m Kirsten M. King, and I absolutely love anything dealing with marketing, from advertising to data and everything in-between. I also love to learn and expand my knowledge on current trends and issues.

I’m currently a senior Marketing Major at Georgia State University. And I hope to take my skills and use them towards a career in project management.

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PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

Having this information gives you a better understanding of what needs to be prioritized and where you stand when compared to others like you.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


How to Make Time for Marketing

One of the common complaints I hear from clients is that they have trouble making time for marketing. And I totally get it.

Even as a marketer myself, there are weeks when it’s a struggle for me. We are all busy people, and especially when marketing isn’t a skill you already have, it can be hard to move from good intention to action.

No matter what kind of social impact organization you lead or serve at, I know there are a lot of demands on you. A lot of people need your time. A lot of tasks need your attention. A lot of fires need putting out.

But I’d encourage you to make time for marketing. Why? Well, first of all, you’re already doing it in some capacity. If you have any sort of process for communicating with the people who buy from you or donate to you (like social media, email, and events), you’re a marketer. So, you might as well strive for making it more effective.

Second, as you can see from the statement above, marketing is non-negotiable. Your nonprofit or social enterprise may be sitting pretty right now, but that may not always be the case. So, strengthening your marketing muscle is worth the investment. And, just like getting in shape, you only get stronger with time and practice.

Third, and building what we’ve already talked about, if making time for marketing isn’t a regular practice, you’ll never find extra time for it. Like most everything else, something you don’t deem as a current priority will never beat out “more important” tasks. Unless there’s a crisis. So, do yourself a favor and start easing into the habit now, before you’re forced to find the time in a state of panic.

I’ve got good news, though. There are any number of ways to fit marketing into your busy schedule. Today, I’ll tell you about four of my favorites. I’ll even give you a few tools to help maximize your time, as well as a suggested “bare bones” marketing strategy.

How to Make Time for Marketing

Fitting Marketing Into Your Busy Schedule

One simple Google search will probably give you numerous other tools and ideas for tackling marketing on a weekly or monthly basis, but these are my favorites. I don’t take credit for any of them, and I’ve tried all of them. I also recommend them all on a regular basis because I think each one has a lot of value.

1) Planning Your Week in 15 Minutes - Podcast episode + Workbook

I know it sounds too good to be true, but Steph Crowder has come up with a really great process for planning her weeks. Like a lot of us, she has a schedule that fluctuates constantly, so her system accounts for that. it was a technique she developed because she couldn’t find a planner that fit her needs.

Steph’s method is a variation of the popular “rocks, pebbles, sand” illustration. You look at the immovable “rocks” in your schedule like meetings and appointments, add in the “pebbles” which are important tasks that need to get done, and then finally fill up with “sand” which are less important tasks that should get done but take up time, yet remain flexible. Hint: the “pebbles” are where the magic happens. Click the link to hear her explain the process on her podcast. It’s worth a listen whether you decide this is the right route for you or not.

One of my good friends loves this system, and uses it regularly. The other great thing about it is that you only need a sheet of notebook paper. So, you can grab one of those beautiful $70 planners if you want, but it’s totally up to you!

2) Learn Time Blocking

There are a lot of ways to utilize time blocking, which is one of the reasons I like it. You can block minutes, hours, or even days. But the point of it is to set aside a chunk of time for a specific task—and nothing else.

For example, I typically practice “Marketing Mondays” and “Follow-Up Fridays.” On Mondays, I generally write blog posts, schedule social media, create additional content, and things like that. Fridays are for wrapping up anything I need to get done for Signify before the week ends. This leaves Tuesday through Thursday for meetings and client work.

Structuring my week this way ensures I’m working on my business, not just working in it. I can make progress on moving my own mission forward outside of the deliverables I need to create for clients.

For me, it’s just easiest to have these days set aside rather than rotating them each week. That’s why this method ended up working better for me than Steph’s process. It was one less decision to make, and helped me protect my time better.

You can read more about creating themes for your days and weeks in my guest post for Orange. (I love a good theme!)

However, one of my clients sets aside 10:00 a.m. to noon each day for her marketing and meetings. Another generally works from home, so he comes to the office for focused time to work on marketing and communications. His staff knows that when he’s in his office with the door closed, he needs quiet time to get these things done.

Another extremely popular take on this is the Pomodoro Technique. Not to be confused with the sauce, this method has you work in 25-minute chunks. It’s a very hyper-focused session that can be easily replicated throughout the day. (Short attention span? This may be your best bet.)

If this is a method you’d like to test, I also recommend reading my friend Carey Nieuwhof’s post on creating an energy management list. It’s a terrific reminder to keep in mind when you personally work best, and use that to your advantage.

And if you want to become a super time blocker, look no further than Michael Hyatt. He talks a little about his “ideal week” process in this post, among other places, but he’s one of those people who treats his week like a budget, accounting for every hour. Frankly, it was just too strict for me—but perhaps that’s also part of what accounts for the discrepancy in our incomes. ;)

3) Eat the Frog

Made popular by Brian Tracy, “eat the frog” refers to a quote by Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Tracy breaks it down here, but the gist is to do the thing you don’t want to do first thing so that it’s done and over with. Then you can move on with your day.

If you have a lot of resistance to marketing, this may be a good option for you. You can remove some of the anticipation and anxiety by sheer will.

Another option, of course, is to use this rule for your biggest and/or most important marketing tasks. Once you’ve knocked them out early on, you’ll feel a huge sense of accomplishment no matter what happens during the rest of the day.

4) Get an Accountability Partner

if you’ve been around me or this blog for a while, you already know that I’m a huge fan of having an accountability partner or group of people you stay accountable to, like a mastermind. These people have been so helpful for me, and I think everyone could benefit from this support system.

I talk extensively about accountability partners and masterminds here, but for the purposes of helping you with your marketing, the short answer is that someone else will ask you if you got it done. You might be much less likely to skip it or move it to the back burner if you know someone’s going to be checking up on you.

Which Method is Right?

Trick question! The right answer is the one that works for you. Chose one of these options and stick to it, or try them all on and see what fits best. I most often use #2 and #3 myself, but that doesn’t mean those are the best choice for you.

Tools for Managing Your Time

Here are a few tools that save me some extra time each week, allowing for important tasks like marketing:

  • Acuity Scheduling: How many of us spend too much time scheduling appointments? Answer: almost all of us. Acuity lets me send someone a link to schedule when it’s convenient for them, without all the back-and-forth. (Calendly is another option.)

  • RescueTime: If you are unsure where your time goes each week, this software will track it for you and send you a weekly report.

  • Canva: I love Canva because it allows me to quickly create graphics for my website, blog, and social media. Once you have a template in place, it takes little time to swap out text and photos.

  • Asana: I keep track of all my tasks, as well as assign tasks to my interns using Asana. It even allows you to set up reoccurring tasks, attach files, and make notes and comments.

  • Smarterqueue: Social media should, of course, be social. But with limited time on my hands, I use this incredible tool to schedule and recycle content on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. (I compared 13 different software options here.)


Bare Bones Marketing

Note that this is bare bones marketing, not ideal marketing. But if you just need to find a way to make marketing a part of your regular routine, then here are my suggestions for incorporating it into your week. I’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible, narrowing it to the most important tasks you can knock out in one to two hours per week.

Anything you can do on top of it is highly recommended, but this is a good place to start. These are in no particular order, except for #5, so you can move them around to fit your schedule or preferences.

And guess what? This outline also fits nicely with any of the techniques above!

  • Week 1: Email your tribe - Emailing people is much more effective than social media, so be sure to talk to your audience regularly.

  • Week 2: Meet with a VIP - This could include a large donor or customer that you’re wooing, a key stakeholder already involved in your mission, or a potential sponsor or partner. Don’t wait for these appointments; seek them out.

  • Week 3: Be social - Pop into Facebook groups, post on social media, email people who have fallen off the radar, attend an event, and look for other ways to interact with peers and protentials.

  • Week 4: Create content - If you only have an hour or two at your disposal, then writing a blog post may not be possible, unless it’s a short one. But other doable options in that time frame might include a Facebook Live, “mini blog” on Instagram or Facebook, or time set aside to work on a larger content piece or campaign. You could also include being interviewed for an article or on a podcast here. I’m including this item because it’ll give you new things to talk about and promote on a continual basis to your donors, customers, partners, and fans.

  • Week 5: Your choice - Obviously, not every month has five weeks. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t capitalize on it when you get the chance! Use this week to go the extra mile on one of the above items. Alternatively, this could be an hour you set aside to regularly reflect on how your marketing has gone, and what should improve, continue or change. But I’m a big fan of reflecting more than once a year!



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

There are any number of ways to fit marketing into your busy schedule. Today, I’ll tell you about a few of my favorites. I’ll even give you a few tools to help maximize your time, as well as a suggested “bare bones” marketing strategy.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Wordpress: The Pros and Cons

Last week on the blog, my friend Madison tackled all things Squarespace. As you already know, I’m a fan! But, I also realize that Squarespace doesn’t fit the needs of every nonprofit or social enterprise. So, to present you with another popular option, my friend Alison is here today to give you the pros and cons of WordPress.

Alison Chandler is another immensely talented graphic designer and website builder, and WordPress is her fav. In fact, it’s the only platform she designs in. And, I have to admit, she makes quite the case! So, if you need to review WordPress basics, or are on the hunt for the perfect space to show off your cause, take a gander.

(By the way, you can watch us chat about this post and more on Facebook Live.)

Wordpress: The Pros and Cons

I’m a very meticulous person who makes careful, calculated decisions (even when it comes to what to make for dinner). So, for a big decision like choosing the best website platform, I took my time. After much consideration—and some good and bad dinner choices—I chose WordPress.

In fact, I love WordPress so much that I changed my whole career to work with WordPress websites. But is it ideal for everyone? Maybe not. Today I’m going to talk about the pros and cons of using WordPress so you can figure out if it’s right for your needs. As for dinner, one of my easy-to-make favorites is Garlicky Grilled Tilapia with Couscous.

A few fun facts about Wordpress:

  • WordPress started in 2003 as a simple blogging platform, and has evolved into a website-building platform, which essentially means you can use it to create any kind of site.

  • It is an open source, 100% free project created by hundreds of dedicated volunteers that continually improve the code.

  • WordPress powers almost 30% of the entire web, from free styling hobby blogs to some of the biggest corporations.

  • From bigger names like TED, AMC, and Lollapalooza to local brands like Atlanta’s very own Refugee Coffee Company and the Atlanta Tech Village, there are about 75 million WordPress websites.

  • Because it’s open source, WordPress has one of the most awesome and supportive communities anywhere.

 

PROS

Ready to illuminate your cause? WordPress is brilliant because:

  • Updating content is easy. Whether you want to add new blog posts, incorporate a new donor button, update testimonials, or add new products and services, WordPress has a very user-friendly content management system which enables you to log in, update, and publish.

  • The opportunities are endless. You can create any kind of website with WordPress. Whether you’re creating your first site, an online store, or a landing page for a new social impact organization, it’s super-flexible and integrates with so many add-ons.

  • There are themes galore. WordPress.org has more than 3,000 themes available. Additionally, there are thousands more available independently. So, the theme that suits your needs may very well be available . . . it’s just important to choose carefully.

  • It can grow with you. WordPress is extremely customizable and can grow with you as your organization grows, especially if you’ve created a custom website.

CONS

WordPress may not be the best platform for you because:

  • Themes galore can be limiting and overwhelming. While I’ve included the wide selection of themes as a pro, it can also be a con. The right theme might exist, but it might be difficult and time-consuming to find. And if you’re someone who gets overwhelmed by too many choices (Does the cereal aisle make you want to run and hide?), the array of WordPress themes may be a major con. Fortunately, with WordPress, you have the freedom to create a completely custom website, which can eliminate this issue.

  • Maintenance and updates can require some tech-savviness. To keep your site updated, backed up, and protected from viruses, you’ll need to ensure you stay current and updated to the latest version of WordPress. Honestly, this isn’t unique to WordPress because there is ongoing maintenance associated with any website platform.

 

Tips to Maximize the Pros and Minimize the Cons

If the cons I mentioned don’t scare you, here are a few tips to really leverage the pros of WordPress: 

  • Put strategy first. The most important way to maximize all of the benefits of WordPress is to start with a plan—know what you need before you dive in. Begin by establishing the goals for your website and prioritizing the content. Think about what your users are looking for and what kind of user experience they will expect on your site. Determine what features you need. The most beautiful, easiest-to-update site will do you no good if it isn’t serving the needs of your audience and your organization’s bottom line.

  • If you use a theme, choose wisely. While there are a plethora of themes to choose from, an out-of-the-box theme may limit you, so do your homework. See how often your prospective theme is updated. These updates are important for continued security and functionality. Investigate how customizable the theme is. If you’re not careful, your site will end up looking exactly like the other thousand sites using the same theme. Once you have chosen a theme, I recommend sticking closely to it—things can get tricky when you start customizing an existing theme—especially when it hasn’t been created using best practices.

  • For the most flexibility, opt to build your site from the ground up. Want a website that is totally customized to fit your needs, developed using best practices, and flexible enough to grow with your evolving small business? Hire an expert to build exactly what you need—and you’ll have total freedom and flexibility.

  • If you’re not tech-savvy, hire someone to maintain your site. You can absolutely update the content of your website yourself, but when it comes to the back-end (the stuff you can’t see), it may be best to hire someone. Many web designers, myself included, have packages so you don’t have to worry about web maintenance.  

  • Get involved in the community! The number one thing I love about WordPress is the fun, gracious, and inviting community. When I started using WordPress, I learned through attending meetups, WordCamps, and from people I met along the way. I love to give back by speaking about design at the Atlanta WordCamp. If you start a WordPress website and run into a problem, there are always loads of people willing and able to help. Want to see an example of this awesome community in action? Check out 48 in 48. This amazing initiative mobilizes marketing professionals to build 48 websites for 48 nonprofits in 48 hours. Here’s the site of one local nonprofit that benefitted from this initiative: Fourth Ward Alliance.


Remember, the pros of WordPress can be maximized by having strategy, carefully choosing your theme (or going custom!), keeping the site well-maintained, and getting involved with the community. Your organization may very well be able to handle all of this and build a website on your own.

If not, and you choose to engage outside help, here’s a tip: ensure your chosen designer’s website is well-designed. Like Kristi said in this blog post, Want to Grow Your Business? You Need Help, “before reaching out to an expert, spend time on their website and consider how it resonates with you. If it makes a great first impression, is engaging, and leads you to a clear call to action, you know they can do that for you. “

Choose someone who puts strategy FIRST.


Alison Chandler

Alison Chandler is dedicated to helping mission-driven entrepreneurs attract higher-level clients, make more money, and increase their impact with better brands and websites.

Alison has over 15 years of experience designing for businesses ranging from Fortune 500 corporations, to social entrepreneurs, and everyone in between. She uses that experience, and her MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design, to help business owners create memorable brands and effective websites to help them succeed. 

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WordPress powers almost 30% of the  entire  web, from free styling hobby blogs to some of the biggest corporations. But is it right for you?

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Squarespace: The Pros and Cons

Today’s post comes from my friend, Madison Beaulieu, who is a graphic designer and half of the dynamic duo, Mad + Dusty. She and her hubby created not only my logo and branding, but my website as well.

Madison and Dusty only design in Squarespace, and because I wanted to work with them, I went with SS as well. It’s been a great decision, and if re-branding or launching a new website is on your list for 2019, I’d urge you to take a look at this platform as well.

And to get you started on your research, I’ve asked Madison to review the pros and cons of Squarespace. No website platform is perfect, but there are a lot of features she and I both love about SS, and maybe you will, too. Let us know if you have any questions!

(By the way, you can catch Madison and I talking about this post and more on Facebook Live.)

Squarespace: The Pros and Cons

I first discovered Squarespace while working at a marketing agency. We were investigating more, low cost ways to design websites for nonprofits and causes. Before Squarespace, we’d been using a Wordpress template, but found out that we loved the flexibility and freedom Squarespace allows you to have in the design while still creating quickly.

I then started my own site at home to experiment with it, and fell in love further. It was pretty intuitive to learn, and there are tons of tutorials and helpful articles available online as well.

The first site I designed for a client was for Paint Love, and they have been updating it as needed ever since. It’s been great to see the site evolve and change to fit their needs. Another good, nonprofit example would be Miles4Major because it’s such a beautiful, simple site. And if I remember correctly, that one came together in less than a month!

Squarespace Pros

Effective, Beautiful Sites Fast

If you need a great-looking website fast, Squarespace is the right place to start. It’s is the best “drag and drop” website builder around, and they can be created relatively quickly, especially when working with a designer. And all templates are mobile-ready, meaning they can be viewed just as well on small screens like smartphones and tablets. No pinch and zoom necessary! These features also generally make them less expensive than your typical Wordpress site, which is often made by a designer/developer duo.

Customer Support

One of the reasons I initially fell in love with Squarespace, and stayed for good, is their customer service. I’ve solved many technical issues with their team on chat. Wait times are not too bad, and they are always helpful and kind. I feel so much better designing sites for clients knowing there is an added level of help available after I’ve finished.

Easy Edits and Extensive Resource Library

Another reason I stuck with Squarespace is that it’s fairly easy to edit when the initial frame is built out. Most of my clients are startups, and they rest a bit easier knowing that they have the keys to their web city. They can often make any changes needed on their own without my help. And, when needed, there’s also an extensive resource library with a how-to on just about everything.

Integrations

Squarespace has so many integrations, such as Mailchimp, Acuity Scheduling, SoundCloud, and OpenTable, to name a few. You can even set up your Gmail through Squarespace. Because these are true, approved integrations, everything looks seamless and beautiful. Having all of your tools talk to each other is a #blessing.

Pricing

Squarespace pricing is about what you can expect for a website these days. But here’s a quick rundown on pricing so that we’re on the same page: When you pay for a site, you’re typically paying for hosting and a domain. Squarespace’s pricing is for hosting—basically renting space in servers around the world so that your site will be able to arrive in web browsers everywhere. Domains are like a forwarding address, directing any requests to the right rented space.

Yes, there are “free” hosting options, but honestly the “free” options are doing you more harm than good. At this point, we’ve probably all been to a Wix site and seen the banner announcing, “This site was designed on Wix!” front and center. Or a Wordpress site with clickbait links and ads hiding out. No! Please resist! Get out of there, friend. I promise it’s worth the investment.

If you want to be taken seriously, and especially if you’re trying to sell something or collect donations, you need a professional-looking website—and, yes, that costs a few bucks.

Squarespace Cons

Not Enough Options

In Squarespace, you are limited by templates, yet have an overwhelming amount of options. You do have to design within the template, and this means that initial template choice is a MAJOR part of the web design process. I spend a lot of time working with clients on what functions they need from a site before even talking about what it will look like. Form has to follow function with Squarespace.

Too Many Options

Hopping into Squarespace for the first time can feel like diving into an Olympic-sized pool. Or maybe the ocean. There are a lot of choices to be made once you get in there. If you go in without a plan, you can get lost in options, a whirlpool of minutia. Again, form has to follow function.

Photo-Based Design

Photo-based design should be totally great, right?! Well, if you have the photography to back it up, then yes, it’s a huge perk. But many brands struggle with photography. It’s a little tougher, but not impossible to create a pleasant text-based site. Fortunately, though, Squarespace has recently added a few, text-focused templates as well as an Unsplash integration to make finding free stock photography easier.

Requires (A Little) Training and Web Proficiency

You really do need to watch some videos or do some reading to get the most out of the platform. Every one of my website projects ends with a training session for that very reason.

Once you understand the building blocks of the site, it is pretty easy to navigate, but I’ll admit there can be a learning curve. The best place to go to learn is their Getting Started Guide. Then look into page types, followed by design. And one of my favorite resources is the template comparison chart from Using My Head. I’ve used chart that countless times to nail down the right template for my clients.

Glitches

Squarespace has only improved over the years, but it’s still a web-based editor and has some web-based hiccups. I’ve designed a few pages only to click save and realize that not going to happen. So, save often. And in case you didn’t catch that—save often.

I’ve also noticed that when uploading multiple photos or doing a lot of work in galleries, the upload time can be quite long. Squarespace processes each photo you upload to save space and help with site load time, but that can take a bit more time on the editing side.

To wrap up, if you don’t have a massive amount of content, and are looking for a lower-cost and beautiful way to get your cause on the web, Squarespace all the way! But if you’ll need to have archives of information on your site or will need special functionality, then WordPress might be a better option for you. The best way to know for sure would be to talk with a designer!

Most of us design folk take free introductory meetings. We also want to find out if we’d be a good fit, and you’d get to learn some new stuff—and maybe even get some free advice! Why not take advantage of that? You’ll walk away having learned something, and possibly also gain a great partner moving forward.


KP note: And if you’d like another Squarespace review, check out this podcast episode from Femtrepreneur. They also have a free Squarespace course, or you can catch one the Squarespace webinars as well.

Next week we’ll learn the
pros and cons of Wordpress, so stay tuned!


Madison and Dusty Beaulieu

Mad & Dusty is a creative team for nonprofits and purpose-driven brands. Starting in 2015, Madison and Dusty Beaulieu have worked with over 40 purpose driven organizations to tell important stories through art and design.

Find them online at www.madanddusty.com.



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No platform is perfect, but here’s one website designer’s review of the pros and cons of Squarespace.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.