Do your web sales make money?

Does your Association Software support sales and if so does it pay?

Marketing Manager:  Just think!  We may sell 500 extra units if we just create the right bundling, pricing, or discount structure!  We increase revenue by $5,000!

Software Developer:  Cost of the software modifications, testing, documentation, implementation will only be $10,000!

After 30 plus years in the business of designing association software, I can’t even count the many times I have heard the above conversation only to have the organization move forward with the software modification.  I’ve also watched software become so complex in trying to figure out all the marketing, pricing, and discounting rules that an association just can’t live without, that the performance of that software becomes terrible and itself discourages sales.  In essence, the order entry system needs to look at every product in the order and compare every combination of those products and quantities to determine what the price should be.

What’s more, I’ve worked with organizations where one department is requesting a process that will determine the mix of requested breakout sessions that will result in the highest revenue (cost to the member) while another part of the same organization will insist that the system always calculate the lowest price all within the same order.

You may think I’m making this up but as a “retired” software developer, I can tell you that some of us try to talk people out of these things and ultimately make money implementing them.  Each time a new rule is added to the old set, the cost of yet another rule escalates both in required testing and client frustration as they try to understand how all the rules ultimately relate.

Add one more thing….  If you look at inexpensive commercial packages and services to sell products, the main things preventing their use are all of these very custom rules.  If the rules were simpler, you could deal with much of your order entry through Amazon or other services and thus outsource a lot of the internal pain.  Simplify the system and save money.  You may save much more than you think you may gain.

What I’m advocating here is a real cost-benefit analysis that includes all the costs of these schemes and not just the perceived increase in revenue.

Think about a couple of issues:

  • You are selling T-Shirts or other branded items.  Do you make much money on them?  Do you want people to wear them as a fashion statement or as free advertising for your organization?  Maybe giving them away for free would ultimately create more revenue for your organization.
  • You want to make membership valuable and not give away your proprietary knowledge for free.  Many inexpensive software packages can restrict sales of members-only products simply by only allowing purchase from members-only pages.  There doesn’t need to be separate pricing rules at all.
  • You sell products to members at a cheaper price than to non-members.  Perhaps you can even do this type of thing without different pricing by offering something else to members.   Rewards programs, coupons for future purchases, or even downright cash refunds to members may be a cheaper way to go.  “Rewards points” like “airline miles” work partially because a member’s  organization may pay the original price while the individual takes personal benefit of the reward.

Many pricing schemes are already supported by standard software but real analysis needs to be done that goes beyond the perceived increase in revenue derived from the structure.  Bottom line is that your organization should benefit from the sale of products and not your software developer!

AMS Website Collaboration – or is that really a blog

A Blog as Association Software

Originally, I thought what I needed was a Wiki where the association’s members would all contribute to the creation of a body of technical information about the sailboats in question.  I was thinking about Wikipedia, of course, as the model.  I ultimately didn’t find that a wiki was the solution.  Though a wiki plugin for WordPress exists, it failed the requirement of having a global search along with standard posts.  Furthermore, as I canvassed the membership, I wasn’t finding a lot of people willing to get the wiki topics started but lots of continued participation in a Yahoo Groups list-serve where topics typically started as questions from one member to others.

So, mind-shift kicks in again. Why not have a blog where posts can be entered by and commented on by any member but not by John-Q Public?  This actually works easily and really facilitates the global search concept.  A site can be created where there can be a technical article that can either be edited by other members or perhaps just commented on by other members.  I think at least initially, I will allow only comments on the article rather than total anarchy that allows people to correct other people’s work.  Then, I can act as moderator to decide whether or not the new information in the comments should be incorporated into the basic article.

For a site like this which concentrates on technical information on a product that has been produced over a long period of time, this is particularly important given that changes have been made in the Catalina 380 series of sailboats over the years that can make a big difference to the advice that may be given in the article itself.  For instance, some of the boats had Westerbeke auxiliary diesel engines while later models used Yanmar engines and within those there were two different engine models.  If someone has heat exchanger problems, it is important to know which engine you are talking about before accepting someone else’s advice.

This then raises an interesting issue of whether the website has become much the same thing as a Yahoo Groups list-serve where questions go out to the membership and those questions are answered by email from other members.  Where I see the difference is that our experience with the list-serve is that there may be a great many responses that may or may not have much relevance to the original topic.  Responses may also morph into invitations to come sail in some particular region.  Trying to find specific information becomes difficult simply because there is so much junk to wade through.  A moderated blog approach could make the content cleaner and easier to work with and thus more useful to the membership.  What I have found after a couple of months of experience with the site, is that I move selected topics from the list-serve to the website when I think there is value to having such information stored historically in a way that can be easily searched.

So we won’t have a Wiki on this site but can successfully establish a collaborative environment for members to both learn and teach.  Not bad!

Has anyone out there solved the problem in the same way or have you found a better approach?

Is Blog Software Website Software?

One important thing I learned in a recent project to create a website for a small non-profit is that a blog is very similar to a website whose main objective is to share a knowledge base.  When I started, I was thinking about websites as a group of pages, each with a different topic.  In fact, I started the project by trying to recreate their old site in a new technology – bad idea.  I needed a mental shift to realize that blog software was already most of the way there.

The scenario I wanted was that there would be a welcome page with some way to get to additional technical information.  Users would need the ability to search for what they want since there would be too many articles for anyone to wade through even by title.  Ideally, there would be a way to categorize things and make those categories obvious so someone could see articles about specific high level subjects without having to search for specific terms.  Conceivably, the result of a category pull would be more efficient than a full text search given that the original author would have purposefully categorized the article in a specific way.

The mental shift here is that this is really the exact thing that a blog is, particularly since you can, at least with WordPress, define a static home page and a separate page for “discussions”.  The articles become different categorized posts where the same page is displaying information stored in a database which then makes full-text search simple.

Yes, I still have a few static pages but only because one might expect to have specific menu items that lead to specific information, i.e. contact information, officers lists, association bylaws, etc.  In general, though, almost anything in this type of site can be done through a typical “post”.

As for menu structures, WordPress already supports this as do other blogging software packages.  They need them to differentiate the discussion pages from the typical “About” page to describe the blogger.

So, it looks like blogging software can be used to create reasonable web-sites.  Makes me smile.

What do you think?

How close are we to websites for the masses?

Is it possible to create a website for little cost and without having to be a programmer?  If you are looking for association software for a small association, is it realistic to do it yourself?  Evidently, yes.

Having come from an environment where putting up a new website was expensive and understood by only fairly senior technical folks, I was a little surprised to see how much is available on the web to allow people to create their own websites without much technical knowledge at all.  This is not what I expected to find and proves how insular you can be when focused on just a specific segment of the market.

To review, my objectives for the new website for the Catalina380 International Association were the following:

  • Create members only site to share technical information about Catalina380 series sailboats.
  • Provide excellent full text search capability to easily find the information needed.
  • Work with an environment that a non-technical person could manage easily.
  • Create the site with little outlay in cash and only a small outline for hosting.

There are a number of ways to achieve the objectives.  There are even many web sites that will support the effort and provide free (or almost free) hosting for your site.  Initially, I was looking at DotNetNuke community edition since I already had experience with DotNetNuke professional version but my investigation of DNN at the basic level didn’t pan out.  Simple non-technical maintenance and cost ruled DNN out.  So then I looked at Drupal and then at WordPress.  I finally settled on WordPress given the wide availability and support.

What I found was the following:

  1. WordPress is open-source and very well supported in the community so you can do a lot without spending much money.  As with other open-source software, there are “premium” themes and plugins available for specific purposes if you are willing to pay for it.
  2. You can log into www.wordpress.com and actually create a free account, visible to the public if you want it to, or just an account through which you can learn the environment.  The have a rule that you can only use their own supported plugins and this ultimately became too restrictive for my project.
  3.  If you want to have your own domain, they will create one for you to make it look much more sophisticated than just www.wordpress.com/yourname.  You can have www.yourname.com assuming it isn’t already used.
  4. If you then want to graduate to something more sophisticated, you can log into www.wordpress.org where there are many plugins that can be added to enhance the site but then you will need hosting for the site.

More about WordPress and this project as I get further into everything.  Right now, it is all looking good.

Bottom line is that there are a number of ways that anyone can have their own website or blog and not spend much, if any, money in the process.

The Project – Association Software

Catalina380 International Association

One of the first things I learned after “retiring” from TMA Resources, Inc. was that there are a lot of organizations that need help that didn’t have the resources to do what our company did so well.  What’s more, there are a lot more reasonable approaches to association software than those taken by the mainstream companies I know so well.

The Catalina380 International Association asked if I could create for them a new website.  I am a member of the organization so the assumption was that this would be a volunteer activity.  Furthermore, there wasn’t really a budget to speak of.  New website with interesting requirements and for free – good if you can get it!

The association has several hundred members around the world who all own a specific series of sailboats manufactured by Catalina Yachts.  Sailors are known for doing their own maintenance and customizing their boats in very creative ways.  This particular association is very active as a social media organization with at least a dozen questions and responses going out to the entire group each day as part of their presence in a Yahoo Groups site.  They participate with other Catalina associations and contribute technical articles to Mainsheet Magazine.

When I began the project, I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to do based on my long history doing association software.  What I find most interesting is that what I finally did was nothing like what I originally thought of doing.

After analyzing the requirements of the organization, I realized that the primary requirement was a website containing a large knowledge base of searchable technical information including 15 years of Mainsheet articles plus hundreds of other less formal articles, project plans, photos, external links, and directories.  Beyond that, the requirements included:

  • Selective members-only access to full information to help drive the value of membership
  • Ability for members to add to and comment on anything on the site
  • Ease of maintenance so the next webmaster could take over with a minimum of effort.

So, there it is — collaborative contemporary website with membership capabilities that could be managed by non-technical people and put up with little cost.   Read on….