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You know it’s time for a new website, but figuring out HOW you’re going to build your site can be quite the undertaking. Not all websites are alike, and today’s market gives us a wide array of choices, from template-based do-it-yourself options, to hard coded sites to fully customizable sites built on easy-to-manage platforms.

The most important thing to consider when building a site is a content management system, or CMS. Unlike hard coded sites, which require a web developer for every single update to the site, a CMS gives you an administrative platform from which you can make updates and add new content to the site. The level of editing ability you have depends on scope of the CMS, which is why this decision is so critical in choosing a web platform.

To help you cut through the clutter, we’ve broken down three of the most popular CMS platforms, ranging from simple to fully customized, to help you understand what they offer, what they lack and when to use which one.


Squarespace, a DIY website builder featuring a drag-and-drop editor and simple CMS, was founded in 2004 but has recently risen to the top due to aggressive advertising and beautiful site templates. With Squarespace, you begin with your template of choice and use a drag-and-drop editor to add pages, sections and “blocks” to each site page, which can include images, videos, galleries and text. Some basic functionality such as adding metadata and forms is available, but Squarespace is primarily used for small, informational sites that fit well into their collection of template designs.

When to Use It:

  • When what you need is a small, informational site with basic functionality (limited customizations)
  • When launching a simple site quickly is critical
  • When you do not have web knowledge and cannot afford to pay a designer or developer to build a site

Best Features:

  • Good designs for a template-driven builder
  • “Building block” style editor can be used by people with very basic tech knowledge
  • Good SEO; settings allow you to add metadata and URL structure is set up for SEO
  • All sites are mobile-friendly
  • Low cost. You can host site through them for as low as $16, and they integrate with common registrars for easy site launch

What It Lacks:

  • The designs are very templated, and you are locked into the template. You run the risk of your site looking like everyone else’s or not being able to organize content in the way you really want.
  • It’s a very manual, time-consuming process to set up the site, and it can be slightly more cumbersome to add and update content on an ongoing basis.
  • Its drag-and-drop builder, which is the only way to edit your site, can be a little finicky.
  • Advanced features, such as integrations with CRM or email marketing tools are limited and may cost extra.

The bottom line: Squarespace can be an inexpensive option for getting a basic site with limited content and little to no advanced functionality up on the web. Think startups, simple business pages, portfolios or wedding websites – sites that are designed to be temporary or be outgrown. There’s a time and a place for doing it yourself, but understand that someday you will want to rebuild your site on a more versatile, easy-to-use and customizable platform.


Perhaps the most ubiquitous blogging platform, WordPress had turned into a popular CMS for building content sites and websites alike. There are two different versions:, which is a template-based solution hosted on WordPress’s servers, and, which offers a true CMS for designers and developers to build on. One of the most popular features of Wordpress is its plugins, which allow for expanded features and functionality created by a network of users. But are plugins really all they’re cracked up to be? Read on to find out.

When to Use It:

  • When you’re building a blog. WordPress still remains one of the best blogging platforms out there; there’s something to be said for doing what you were designed to do.
  • When if you don’t want to do it yourself, but only want to pay side hustle prices. WordPress is popular among freelancers, so it’s likely you’ll end up on this platform if you work with an independent designer.
  • When flexibility is critical. WordPress is always growing and changing.

Best Features:

  • Open source, meaning that the source code is openly shared and designers and developers are encouraged to build on it and improve it
  • Easy for the user to add text content in the form of posts and pages
  • Plugins – features and functionality built by individuals on the open source platform – allow for a lot of features

What It Lacks:

  • Central control. While the concept of plugins sounds awesome, in real life it means that your site is basically hacked together using code created by multiple people. Plugins often break and you can’t guarantee that whoever built it will manage it.
  • More advanced content management, such as resources, files, media etc. is not as user friendly
  • Customer support. There is no phone number or email to call to get help with WordPress questions – and with so many different developers contributing to the platform, it can be difficult to even figure out where your root issue lies.

The bottom line: WordPress can give you advanced functionality without the premium of building it from scratch. However, there are no guarantees that it will work or that you will be able to get support if it breaks.

TAG Tools

When you want a truly custom solution with unmatched support, going with a proprietary system such as The A Group’s TAG Tools is the way to get exactly what you want out of your site – from beautiful custom design to a CMS that’s built to power your unique needs. TAG Tools is custom built for each organization using modules, meaning you have sections in your admin to control each piece of the site or type of content you want to update (e.g. staff module, news module, blog module, photo module, video module). Designed to offer advanced functionality and to be easily managed by someone with no web experience at all, TAG Tools is extremely versatile and powerful, while offering a beautiful user experience for both the visitors and the admins.

When to Use It:

  • When you need to easily manage advanced site features without web/technical knowledge
  • When you have an organization that produces a lot of dynamic content and needs to update the site regularly
  • When you want it the way you want it (fully customized for your needs and wants)
  • When you want to do more than the basics (integrations and complex, custom solutions don’t scare us)

Best Features:

  • Fully customized – no two sites are alike
  • Module-based for easy content management
  • Can add or create new modules at any time as the organization’s needs grow
  • User permissions allow you to give people in your organization access to as much or as little of the site as you want
  • Mobile-friendly guaranteed
  • Amazing user interface, with gorgeous custom front end designs and a highly visual admin for easy management
  • A team that stands behind it – always available by phone or email to answer questions or discuss new needs

What It Lacks:

  • Call us biased, but TAG Tools is so incredibly customized that the sky truly is the limit. We try to scope out all needs from the start of the project, but as other needs arise, our team is here to find a solution and build anything that’s needed.

The bottom line: Investing in custom solutions can come with a higher price tag but you’ll get unmatched support, long-term savings by managing the site yourself and unmatched, personalized support.

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BONUS ROUND! What exactly is the difference between a blog and a post? A fan and a follower? Here are a few other terms you’re likely familiar with, but are easy to get mixed up. Ahh, clarity!

Blog vs. Blog Post: A blog refers to the website itself – typically an informational site focused on a particular topic or topics, with content appearing in date-driven, diary-style entries. These entries appear chronologically, typically from most recent to oldest. A blog post refers to the individual entry.

Follower vs. Fan vs. Subscriber: While all these terms refer to essentially the same idea – an audience member who has engaged you to receive more information – the channels of information are different for each. “Subscriber” typically refers to someone who has signed up to receive emails, blog updates or other more direct forms of contact. Fans and followers typically refer to social media audiences – “fans” is used to describe people who have liked your Facebook page while “followers” is more commonly used for Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.

Marketing vs. Public Relations: While marketing and public relations certainly fall under the same umbrella, there are key differences between the two – both of which are important for success. Public relations focuses primarily on messaging, reputation management, publicity and media relations. Marketing encompasses a larger suite of services, including branding, design, digital, social media, direct mail, email, advertising, events and other tactics that support sales. Think of PR as reputation and relationships, and marketing as activities that drive revenue.

B2B vs. B2C: B2B stands for “business-to-business” where B2C stands for “business-to-consumer”. These terms refer to the primary type of target audiences your organization reaches: other businesses/gatekeepers or direct consumers. For example, a production or wholesale company that reaches retailers who then distribute products to consumers will invest primarily in B2B marketing; an example of this could be pharmaceutical companies marketing to hospitals and doctors. Organizations that sell product directly to consumers, such as restaurants and retailers, typically engage in B2C marketing.

Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing: Most of the common traditional marketing tactics are categorized as “outbound marketing”, or marketing efforts where you intentionally put your brand out into the world and attempt to start conversations with customers. Think advertising, commercials, mail pieces, etc. Inbound marketing is setting up your brand to be found by potential customers—such as creating great content that can be found online or investing in SEO so you can be found in online searches. Technology has made inbound marketing easier and more effective; marketers love inbound efforts because they are often lower cost, reach more targeted audiences and are easy to measure. But don’t slash your ad budget yet! Both outbound marketing and inbound marketing are critical to discovery, brand awareness, engagement and conversion.

Alright, now you should be up to speed on marketing terminology that you need to know to at least sound like you know what you're talking about. If you missed out on the first round of marketing terms, be sure to check those out here!  

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If you hang around our office for any amount of time, you’re likely to hear lots of jargon thrown around – words that are so much a part of our everyday jobs as marketers that we often forget that they represent a language of our own. Terms like “PPC” and “workflow” and “automation” are so commonplace that we fail to step back and remember that the rest of the world doesn’t get their kicks by measuring lead generation and conversions (yes, we’re a bunch of nerds).

It’s not until the clients we serve have to ask “wait, what exactly are you talking about?” that we get a reality check on just how deep our marketing-ese runs. So in the spirit of understanding, we’re sharing 26 of our favorite terms in our first ever marketing terms glossary that will have you speaking marketing like a pro in no time. More than just a vocab lesson, these are all tools and tactics that really work! So read up and then put them to work – because “results” is a word we can all get behind!

Target Audience: a particular group at which your marketing campaigns are aimed. Target audiences can be defined by demographics (age, location, etc.), interests, behavior, lifestyle, other emotional factors (thoughts, beliefs, etc.) or complex combinations of these qualities. Many brands reach more than one target audience.

Landing Page: a webpage that serves as a point of entry for an audience – typically accessed via an ad or other campaign, and often designed to provide introductory information or capture a lead before sending users to the full website. Unlike a microsite, it is typically part of the main website.

Microsite: a webpage or small website that lives outside of the main company URL/website, typically possessing a unique identity and purpose. These are often used for campaigns, launches, new products or content hubs.

Conversion: when an audience member takes a desired action. What determines conversion depends on the goal of the campaign; this could include actions such as visiting a website, downloading a piece of content, filling out a form or purchasing a product or service.

Website Traffic: the number of visitors to your website in a given time period.

Organic Traffic: website traffic that is generated through a user search on a search engine. This is one of the most desirable forms of traffic because it often represents a new audience discovering your brand through online search.

Paid Traffic: website traffic as a result of paid advertising. For example, someone clicking to your site from a Facebook ad would count as paid traffic.

Direct Traffic: website traffic as a result of someone directly entering your URL into their browser and visiting your site.

Referral Traffic: website traffic as a result of a click or referral from another website.

SEO: stands for “Search Engine Optimization”. This is the process of optimizing the website’s content to be found by search engines, so that people who are searching for information and solutions can more easily find your site – increasing your organic traffic.

SERP: stands for “Search Engine Results Page”. This is the list of results provided by a search engine after a search is made. Being in the first five results on the first SERP page is critical to being found online.

Keyword: a word or phrase that audiences might use to search for relevant topics on search engines.

Impressions: the number of times an ad is delivered to an audience. This typically refers to total impressions and may include multiple views of the ad by the same person. “Unique impressions” refers to the total number of unique people who saw the ad.

CPT: stands for “Cost Per Thousand”. This is a method of pricing digital advertising in which customers purchase impressions in intervals of 1,000.

Open Rate: the percentage of your total list that opens an email.

CTR: stands for “Click-Through Rate”; indicates the percentage of people who clicked on a link. This could be the percentage of people who clicked after viewing an ad or opening an email.

PPC Advertising: stands for “Pay-per-click advertising”, an online model of advertising in which the advertiser pays when an ad is clicked. This is a common format for Google AdWords and Facebook ads.

CPC: stands for “Cost Per Click”. In pay-per-click advertising, this refers to the cost when a user clicks on your ad. CPC can vary by timing, audience and keywords targeted.

Lookalike Audience: a Facebook advertising feature which allows you to upload a list of your current customers and find new audiences that share similar demographics, interests or behaviors.

Lead Generation: the process of initiating consumer interest in a good or service; this can be done through various forms of campaigns, including advertising and content marketing. Strong lead generation campaigns should also be set up for lead capture –collecting contact information of interested consumers so that your brand can continue to market to them until they convert.

Content Marketing: distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action. (definition via The Content Marketing Institute)

Gated Content: content – whether a white paper, article, download, audio or video – that requires a user to fill out a form in order to access it. Though it is typically free, most gated content requires the user to submit at least a name and email address to access it. This is a helpful tool in lead generation.

Premium Content: content that is typically paid or requires a fee to access it. It is more substantial and desirable than free content. This can include e-books, video courses, substantial white papers, etc.

Marketing Automation: using software and technology to automatically post, email, communicate, manage customer relationships, measure and perform other repetitive marketing tasks. Automation reduces the time involved in certain marketing efforts and can result in more personalized communications. Examples of automation could include scheduling social media posts ahead of time or setting up an email to automatically be sent on a customer’s birthday.

Onboarding: the process of welcoming new audiences to an organization and providing them with introductory information, next steps, special offers or other details to help bring them “into the fold”.

Email Workflow: a series of sequential, automated emails triggered by a customer action such as signing up for a list. These are typically used to onboard new leads, cultivate leads, convert leads into customers or follow up with customers.

BONUS! What exactly is the difference between a blog and a post? A fan and a follower? Check back next Tuesday for Part Two of the marketing terms glossary, where we help break down common marketing terms that you might be using the wrong way. 

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Resolutions are fun, aren’t they? Unless you’re giving up carbs and pizza—in that case, resolutions are just plain torture. But for the most part, for a few days we get to live in a fantasy world where, with almost no effort, we feel thinner, healthier, happier, more friendly, loving and well-rested. There’s something about a new calendar that creates motivation. And if you feel that motivation, run with it!  

Yet here’s the painful truth: Resolutions take almost no work upfront, but they require incredible willpower to actually achieve. Apparently less than 10 percent of us have that much willpower. So making resolutions is really just an easy way to get a 90 percent guarantee of feeling guilty in the future. Awesome.

Why do so many people fail?

Failure is almost inevitable, because most new challenges equate to change and change is hard. We tend to choose these crazy, audacious goals with unrealistic expectations. Any change of that size will create a large amount of stress. And here’s some science for you: our bodies are programmed to avoid that stress, so when our major resolution goals become overwhelming and drastically impact our “normal”, our brain tells us it’s easiest to just quit. Why? Because, there are no overtly negative repercussions that jar us out of our comfort zone when we quit. We just sail back into the land of Cheetos and reality television that we vowed never to return to forever and ever amen.

So, let’s have a quick check-in. Does your resolution list look something like this?

“In 2017, I will get more organized, lose more weight, drink more water, exercise daily, become a better leader, be more successful at work, stop snacking at night and begin journaling.”

Wow! In a perfect world, that sounds like an award-winning plan but in reality, it’s WAY too complex and very hard to measure tangibly. 

So how can we set expectations and goals for ourselves that have a much higher rate of success? How can this year be different than every other year? I like to follow the “KISS Method”: keep it simple, stupid. Overarching and strict resolutions are destined to fail, so pick one thing and think small.

Small changes over time will lead to monumental results.

What does “keeping it simple” actually mean, though? “Losing weight” might seem like a simple enough resolution, right? Wrong. Choosing a simple goal means you bite it off in tangible chunks. You make a plan for every step of the way and move forward with the next chunk once each small benchmark is reached.

Fail to plan and you can plan to fail. So take the time to research what it will take to achieve your goals and put some feet to your plan. Chart out your map for success and choose S.M.A.R.T. steps for each goal: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely! 

1. Specific 
Give specific details about what it is you’re hoping to accomplish.

2. Measurable
Give it some metrics so you can analyze your progress: pounds to lose, hours of sleep, ounces of water to drink, etc.

3. Attainable
Make sure it’s actually doable. Start with small benchmarks that, if multiplied over time, will guide you to the long-term goal.

4. Realistic
Is the goal realistic to the course you want your life to run? Traveling the world in a year may seem like what you want to do, but with five kids and a full-time job, maybe planning two trips a year to places you’ve never been is a better idea and still a great resolution!

5. Timely
Make sure you create goals that can be achieved in a reasonable amount of time. Setting a goal that will take years to see a payoff is very easy to quit, isn’t it? Set short-term goals within the scary long-term goal timeline.

Here are some examples of S.M.A.R.T. goals compared to some not-so-smart goals to help you get the hang of this:

Bad: Drink more water.
Good: Drink 8 bottles of water at work (1 bottle per hour).

Bad: Become a better leader.
Good: Listen to one leadership podcast on Tuesdays and Thursdays on my drive to work.

Bad: Lose 150 pounds.
Good: Lose 5 pounds in two weeks.

I guarantee you, that most of you reading this would not argue that those “good” goals are too difficult to achieve.

So long story, short: resolutions don’t have to be miserable and you don’t have to fail. Take another look at your list. Keep it simple and smart. I guarantee you’ll arrive in 2018 with more boxes checked off your list than you did when 2017 came around the corner this year. 

Last week Pete outlined resolutions that every non profit and ministry should have (and keep!) for 2017. Check them out. 

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Here we are once again at the beginning of a new year. I love this time of year and the resolutions that often come along with it. It’s fun and exciting to think of the ways that we can grow throughout the next year. 

There’s something about a new calendar year that creates motivation. It’s seen as the ideal time to begin working on positive changes in our lives, so if you feel that motivation, run with it!

Been eating too many thin mints? Now’s the time to commit to putting that cookie down.

Been fighting with or avoiding your brother-in-law? Now’s a great time to commit to strengthening that relationship.

And not only is it a good time to set some personal goals, but I also believe it’s the ideal time to look at your ministry or non profit and make some much needed changes or commitments to how you’re going to lead or manage the people and resources that have been entrusted to you.

To help get you started, here are five resolutions I think every ministry or non profit leader should consider making.

1. Don't let a fear of taking risks hold you back.

We miss so many moments, large and small, when we aren’t willing to break out of the pattern of least resistance and attempt greater things.

So many of us are simply paralyzed by the thought that we might make a mistake or, even worse, completely fail at a new task or assignment. But the more I live and lead, the more convinced I am that there are worse things than failure.

I think when we get to the end of our lives, most of us will look back with great clarity and understand that regret stings so much more than failure.

I read this quote the other day and loved it…

"Nothing great can happen without risk. So embrace the positive power of risk and it will give you the courage to take on the impossible." – Lou Casale, Head of Communications at Hiscox USA

I hope you’ll take some risks this year and try some new things. As they say, “If you want to achieve things you’ve never achieved, you’ve got to try some things you’ve never tried.”

2. Start a quarterly schedule for evaluating your people.

This is a discipline that if I don’t make public and ask people to hold me accountable to, then it often doesn’t happen with the people I lead or manage.

Your biggest asset is your team. And that’s not just a cliché. They are the ones providing service, leading teams, assimilating volunteers, mailing invoices, managing social media and answering questions (all of which ultimately reflects on you and your organization).

And these people require and deserve something in return: attention.

In 2017, resolve to meet with and evaluate the people you manage and lead.  It doesn’t have to be formal – it can be a lunch or a coffee. But give them feedback and re-affirm your commitment to them. It will go a long way.

3. Focus on humility and authenticity.

I’m very thankful for the ministry God has allowed me to have over the years. I’m grateful for the opportunity to start a few churches, write a few books and help launch a few non profits.  The past two decades have been a whirlwind in so many ways, but as I look back and now look forward to a new year, there’s something I’d really like to focus on this next year.  

When it comes to personal struggles, I am my own worst enemy and often the architect of my suffering. When I look back on the root causes and my self-sabotage, I find that there is a common theme: hubris.

I have a tendency to think that I can do everything on my own and swoop in to save the day when things get rough. This, of course, is a fallacy. I’m as flawed as the next person, and when I let pride get the best of me, I fail spectacularly.

My guess is that many of you as leaders of non profits and ministries often struggle with the same thing. Most leaders do. So let’s make a pact that this year we’re going to begin by saying, “It’s ok not to be ok.” It’s ok not to have all the answers and not be able to fix every problem. It’s ok not to swoop in and save every situation, and it’s ok to ask for help!

4. Take time to celebrate every success, big or small.

In almost any size ministry, it’s easy to feel like you’re always treading water. Leading in ministry is a full-time job, and honoring a milestone or success of any size can be overlooked. However, it’s important to recognize and celebrate your achievements.

In 2017, make a resolution to stop and smell the roses. What’s the point of working non-stop if you can’t take a moment to pat yourself and the rest of your team on the back and give your ministry the recognition it deserves? Identify goals and milestones for every month or quarter, and monitor your progress toward them. When you’ve reached a goal, revel in your success! Take your team out for coffee, bring in balloons and cupcakes or a food truck. Whatever feels celebratory, do it. These small acts bolster spirits and make it easier to continue moving toward larger and more challenging goals.

5. Abandon what’s not working.

This may be the most challenging resolution to implement. Ministry leaders are busy; it can feel difficult enough to stop and assess what’s working, that taking the time to assess what is not working can seem completely impossible. But just because certain processes are in place, doesn’t mean they must be there forever.

Do a full audit, from operations to culture, and identify the components that are not serving your ministry. I like to call this “trimming the fat”. Rid your ministry of inefficient or useless processes or improve a system that doesn’t quite fit. This will give you and your ministry more time to focus on constructive efforts, and reduce stress, conflict, and budget-drain.

So there are a few ideas to get you started. You may think of some others, but I promise if you resolve to do these five things, you’ll have a better and more effective 2017. And go ahead – have a few Thin Mints. You’re human, and by God, they’re delicious. As for getting along with your brother-in-law? Maybe next year.

Check back in next Tuesday when Pete Wilson shares more tips on how to keep the resolutions that you set for 2017. It’s one thing to choose goals, quite another to actually achieve them. 

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Taking the time to rest, really rest, is important for everyone, regardless of what kind of work you do or which industry you’re currently in. That’s why we decided to close our office for an entire week. Our hope is that by closing down, we can give our whole team the chance to unplug completely and fully enjoy the holidays with their loved ones.

But before we go, we wanted to make sure that you’re well prepared for the holidays. Right now many people are trying to figure out where to give their last donation of the year, who to bless with their year-end gift. So are you ready to capture their attention? As a little Christmas gift from us to you, here are some FREE year-end giving graphics for you to use on your organization’s blog or social media channels to inspire your followers to partner with you. OR you can use them for your personal account to motivate your own followers to embrace generosity this season! 

Download Now

We hope you have the most wonderful time of the year as you celebrate this sweet season. Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at The A Group!

The A Group will be closed from December 24 through January 2. We’ll return to the office on January 3, ready to take on the new year!

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Christmas is right around the corner and with it comes flying wrapping paper, a few too many holiday treats and sweet times with loved ones.

But before we turn off the lights and lock the office doors for Christmas break, we want to know one thing… Have you finished your Christmas shopping?

Hey everyone gets busy, especially in December with 264 Christmas parties and festivities to attend. We’re right there with you, scrambling for those last few Christmas gifts. So we thought we’d share some of our ideas with you today by giving you a peak inside our Santa bags. Check out what we’re gifting to our friends and families—you just might find the perfect last-minute gift you need to finish out your holiday shopping.

1. For the memory maker in the family: Polaroid Zip Instant Mobile Printer

2. For the cook who always gets it right: A Greenpan Non Stick Cookware, 10-Piece Fry Pan Set

3. For the organizational freak who holds everything together: The All-New Echo Dot

4. For the friend who promises each year that “this is the year for fitness”: A Fitbit

5. For the green thumb in your family. Or perhaps more appropriately, for the green thumb in your family who just can’t seem to do anything but kill plants: A Smart Garden

6. For the techie who can’t ever stop talking about THE NEXT BIG THING: Virtual Reality Headset

7. For the coffee lover who refuses to drink coffee from the pot anymore: An Aeropress

8. For the curious child who never stops asking questions: What Do Grown-ups Do All Day?

9. For the person you have no idea what to get, but they might like cookies: The Best NY Chocolate Chip Cookies

10. For all the kids (and the adults): Indoor Basketball Hoop

So what gifts do you still need to get? Take some time to finish out your shopping and then you’ll be home free! Remember it’s not the dollar signs that count—it’s the thought behind the gift.

Happy shopping!

P.S. We have a special FREE holiday treat coming your way on Thursday. Make sure you check back then! 

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DTR. Define the relationship. It’s the words we all hate to hear. Cue sweaty hands and pounding hearts.

Before you run off, let me clarify something: we’re just talking about email marketing here today, not those awkward high school conversations that left us all wishing for a hole to disappear into. So come on back. Let’s chat.

You already know that the subscribers on your email list(s) are not all the same. Within your list, you have subscribers in many different stages of their relationship with you, your brand or your company. Yet how many of us actually segment and offer personalized communications to accommodate all of these different levels?

Consider this: you don’t talk your spouse the same way you talk to someone you just met, right? And your best friend of 10 years gets more personal info about your life than the person you meet in line while waiting for coffee, right?

The same should apply to your email subscriber list. Some people have just met you, some have known you for years. And when you talk to each group the same exact way, you’re destined to alienate someone eventually and possibly even offend them.

So friend, have you defined the relationship with your subscribers recently?

If no, the easiest place to start is with a survey. This will help you quickly figure out where people are in your customer/donor/follower cycle and how committed they are to you. Plus, by allowing people to self-select, you can be sure that your lists will contain quality contacts!    

In your survey, ask people how often they’d like to be communicated to: twice a week, once a week, twice a month, monthly, etc. If you have different kinds of communications that you send out (news, resources, stories, etc.), then ask people what type of communications they’d like to receive. You can even ask people how long they’ve known you, what they want most from you, and what kind of industry they work in. These are all bits and pieces of information that can help you communicate smarter to your audience, thus adding more credibility to your name and your offers.

If you can incentivize the survey with a reward, you’ll get even more responses. For instance, enter everyone who completes the survey into a drawing for a free iPad. Or if you have an online store, give away store credit to a few people. Whatever the incentive that you can afford and makes the most sense for your audience, put it into play and watch the submissions roll in. People LOVE free stuff, especially around the holidays.

Once you have your submissions, spend some time analyzing the results. Dive into the data and figure out what people want. Don’t JUST change your overall content strategy, but actually segment the users who responded to start communicating to them smarter. For example, you could segment based on how long people have known you, what type of content they want or what kind of communication frequency they desire from you. And then tailor your content and communication strategy for each segment to make them feel heard and seen.

The people who don’t respond? Send them a reminder email to complete the survey the day before it expires. If they submit a response, segment them accordingly. If they don’t respond, keep them in a separate list and maintain normal communication with them based off your revised content strategy.

Armed with this information, you can start treating your subscribers with a little more respect, thus building trust with them and lengthening their relationship with you. More trust = better, more faithful subscribers = more conversions. It’s that simple.

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I’m in a pretty unique season of my life where for the first time in over 20 years, I’m not currently a pastor in a local church at Christmastime.

As you might imagine, there are some pros and cons to this scenario, but I’ve already found myself approaching this Christmas with a much healthier pace than in past years.

For as fun and festive as the Christmas season is, it can also be downright stressful…especially for those in full-time ministry.

Can I get an amen?

You’re attending parties and buying gifts, hosting family and decorating, cooking and baking, and on top of that you’re somehow planning Christmas outreaches, Christmas Eve services, Christmas musicals and the list goes on and on. If you don’t enter the season with a plan in place to maintain your sanity, the stress can set in fast.

Here are 4 things to start doing now to make the countdown to Christmas as peaceful and joyful as it possibly can be for you and your family.

1. Stand firm when saying “No".

I know, I know. You’re in ministry and your job is serving people and you’re probably a people-pleaser like me, but “no” is going to have to be a part of your vocabulary over the next couple of weeks. You’re going to actually have to turn down requests, invitations and opportunities as they come up. Don’t be afraid to say “no” when you just can’t take on one more Christmas-related responsibility.

It’s okay to decline—and it’s a great way to establish boundaries between you and the noncritical fluff that adds to your already packed calendar.

2. Look for ways to incorporate your family.

One thing I always did with the boys that was a lot of fun was to convert my backstage office into the official “Santa Tracking Station”. I would decorate the room and put a computer back there that was dedicated to the Santa tracking radar that Norad displays every year. We’d spend a lot of time at church during Christmas, as we usually had numerous Christmas Eve services that spanned several days. This gave the kids a fun place to hang out with Dad in between services and it’s a tradition/memory that they’ll never forget.

3. Unplug from social media.

Keeping up with social networks can be a huge time-waster—not to mention a comparison trap—any time of the year. And it can worsen around the holidays.

It’s so tempting to scroll through pictures of your friend’s Christmas services where they are breaking all-time attendance records and that board member’s great ski cabin in Vail, or photos of the brand new SUV your brother surprised his wife with – giant red bow and all. So then you find yourself either getting bitter through comparison or you end up online looking at that ski resort’s website and maybe even looking at a new SUV yourself. None of which are actually adding to the deep joy that comes from internalizing what this season means for all of us.

Because you have so many other things to do around the holidays—and because you need to remember how blessed you are to pastor the church you pastor—consider staying off your social media accounts (or at least limiting your time on them) until January. Trust me. It will all be waiting for you when you get back and the only things you’re going to miss out on is some extra unnecessary stress...and about a thousand pictures of tacky sweater Christmas parties.

4. Reset your expectations.

Let’s be honest. There’s potential for a lot of things to go wrong over the next few weeks. No matter what you’ve told yourself, things are not going to be perfect.

Your family might be a mess.
Your Christmas Eve service might be a mess.
Your staff dynamics might be a mess.
Your end of the year giving might be a mess.

Christmas is a reminder that Jesus isn't afraid of our mess.

The Christmas story is a reminder that Jesus doesn't run from our mess, he runs to it. Jesus didn't come into a perfect world full of perfect people, He came into a broken world, full of broken people so that He could redeem us. And that message is not just for your church attenders: that message is for YOU!

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in all the Christmas clutter that’s not tied directly to Jesus. But Christmas was never meant to be a holiday that stresses us out and overextends us or one based on sales and spending. It was meant for us to pause and remember the quiet, peaceful, humble beginnings of Christ.

And nothing in the birth of Christ speaks of stress or hurriedness or over-scheduling. It’s meant to be a time of calm, of peace, of awe, and of worship. A time to extend grace to those around us and maybe most importantly to ourselves when needed.  

And yes, I know you know this. We all do. And we all say these things to other people a hundred times every year, but I’d like to challenge you to take a look inside and see if you’re really believing that for yourself and for this season. Is it just a combination of words that sound better than they actually feel? An idea that you think can never be applied to you due to your position and commitments during Christmas?

Let’s slow down. Clear your calendar of the clutter. Let’s focus on why we celebrate – hey, maybe amidst the stillness, you even come up with some killer Christmas Eve content as you allow yourself to truly feel the heart of this time and the hope that is Jesus. It tends to inspire.

Got more questions about the Christmas season and how to make the most of this time, regardless of what role you are currently serving in? Submit any questions that you might have to #AskPete and we’ll get back to you! 

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A few weeks ago, I was asked to talk about how I unwind and reveal my perspective on the importance of unwinding. I was so grateful to do this, because I had an opportunity to express one of the biggest challenges that many creative professionals face everyday.

Most professions require you to draw upon career and educated experiences to create a solution for the problem in that moment. You see, most professions are kind of like a high school Algebra class. Let’s say you’ve been assigned to work through problem #14 on page 112. Even though you may not know the answer off the top of your head, you’ve been taught how to solve it. By following and working through those directions, you’ll eventually reach the answer.

Well, now imagine if someone asked you to solve problem #14 on page 112 in three different ways with three different answers and all of the different answers HAD to be correct, useable and provable!

This is what most creative professionals have to do, day in and day out.

My quote that inspired this post was “the best solutions usually hide inside the clearest mind.” When it comes to being a creative problem solver, having a clear mind is very important. Being able to make decisions and suggestions, on behalf of others, requires clarity of thought and focus. 

Everyday I have to look at a problem like “We need more donors” or “We want to grow our impact” or "Our attendance is dropping” and present options that will have these very important effects. I have to be able to see through the eyes of a customer, a donor, a non-profit, etc. I have to present options that address the problem through the eyes of the speaker, or conversely through the eyes of the audience. I have to present options that address the organization’s needs through just the hope of the outcome, or an option that exhibits evidence of the proof of its impact. And, all of these options have to work towards the goal of the client, because you never know which one they will select.

One of my favorite projects that exhibits a solution that utilized an unconventional perspective was the book cover I did for Gary Genard for his book Fearless Speaking. The solution they chose solved the problem of “how to best represent the anxieties of public speaking” by seeing the outcome that was LEAST desired! It worked really well and made people grin along the way!

Here’s a look:

Here at The A Group, we take our work very seriously because we have great compassion for the lives that our clients impact and the role they play in the world. We know that the solutions we present to you today can make an eternal difference for someone tomorrow, and for that reason we commit ourselves to a creative focus that leads to the best recommendations we can make.

So how is your creative process measuring up? Are you working through your problems with a clear mind or are you stuck and confused? I’d love to help. Submit any creative questions you may have and I’ll share more of my experience with you!

I look forward to working with you and helping your organization with a clear mind and effective solutions. 

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Anytime Christmas lands on a Sunday it presents churches with an interesting challenge of staying open or closing for the holiday. Perhaps you’ve already noticed the hot debate surrounding it.

These debates and arguments are nothing new. Historically, Christmas has been an object of debate and controversy by church leaders, and it’s not surprising why. The celebration of Christmas did not originate in the Bible, and many of its customs contain a mixture of non-Christian ideas which evolved from various secular and pagan cultures over a period of centuries.

In fact, Christmas was actually outlawed in colonial New England, from 1649 to 1658, by the Puritans, who cited the "heathenistic traditions" involved in the celebration. It took nearly two centuries for the celebration to gradually gain acceptance in the New World. As you can see, Christmas controversies are nothing new.

So to close or not to close?

First things first, I want to stress that there is no right or wrong answer here. The leadership of every church should have honest conversations about what best serves their particular congregation as well as the community they’re trying to reach.

If I were still pastoring, I can tell you that I would have leaned heavily toward not having a Sunday morning service on Christmas and instead offering Christmas services over several afternoons and nights leading up to Christmas Sunday.

Let’s consider a challenge that most churches face in this debate: It often takes numerous volunteers to park, greet, lead, teach kids classes etc. to create a worship service at an any given church. Even more so at a megachurch; each service requires hundreds. This means hundreds of volunteers leave their families to “work” on Christmas. All this on top of already spending most of their week at the church volunteering for other opportunities like the Christmas Eve services which often span over several nights.

It might seem ridiculous for a church not to offer a service on the holiest of all days, a day where we celebrate the birthday of Jesus who’s at the very center of all we believe. But I think it’s possible to celebrate and honor this most sacred of days without actually gathering for a service in a building.

What if, instead of offering corporate services on Sunday the 25th, churches pre-recorded a family-guided worship experience that streamed all day on Christmas? Churches could encourage their attendees to gather with their families at some point on Christmas day to celebrate and remember what the holiday is really all about. Maybe they could even invite their neighbors over to experience this intimate Christmas message with them.

If your church doesn’t have the production capabilities to execute that sort of plan, another alternative to a Christmas morning service could be to provide some kind of content or devotional for families to read together on Christmas. There are so many options that can cater to the needs of churches of all shapes and sizes outside of a formal church service.

Ultimately, my hope is that church leaders will take some time to think, pray, discuss and figure out how to best serve their church and their community during this Christmas season.

But most importantly, let’s not allow this debate to distract us from the amazing opportunities we’ll all encounter over the coming weeks. This is a unique and special time of year. It is perhaps the single greatest opportunity to talk about Christ during our entire year, giving an open door to explain His birth — His reason for coming into this world, and the hope that it gives every single one of us.

Friends, let’s focus on what’s important—our Savior and His miraculous birth.

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We can’t wait to gather around the table with our family and friends for some turkey and a whole lot of pie. But before we go, we wanted to take a few minutes to share our thankfulness with you.

A few weeks ago, we hit our 15-year anniversary. 15 years! When The A Group first started with just a few people, we never imagined that it would grow into a place serving so many inspiring clients every day. We are so thankful for each one of you, each one of our clients, and each one of our team members. Together, we have accomplished some pretty incredible things, and we can’t wait to see what the next 15 years hold!

Here are just a few things some of our brilliant team members are celebrating this week.

From Chris J., Director of Business Development:
“I am thankful for the Fall season and the cooler weather. I love to spend time with the family outdoors (wife and 2 boys)—especially huddled around the fire pit roasting some marshmallows. Fall makes for an ideal time to have lazy evenings together enjoying each other’s company and talking about life.”

From Lori, Graphic Designer:
I am thankful for those people in my life that have helped and loved me along the way, through times good and bad. For shared memories of loved ones and times past, for a warm, dry, and comfortable place to lay my head at night and for the love of a good dog.

From Diana, COO
“So very thankful for my husband, children, friends and for the team at TAG!!!! They all make each day great!”

From Pete, President:
“I’m thankful for God’s grace which is truly the air I breathe. And I’m thankful for mac and cheese.”

From Alex, Administrative Assistant:
“I am so thankful for my team that I have the opportunity to support each day! J My second family! Oh, and Hunter. I’m thankful for Hunter.”

From Lorena, Marketing Intern:
I am thankful for the hearts of people at The A Group. Being just an intern, I was blown away how welcomed my coworkers made me feel. They valued my opinion and they have treated me as their equal since day one. They helped me grow daily and showed me what we all should strive for in a work environment and for that I will forever be grateful.

We hope you have an incredible time reflecting on all your blessings while spending time with your loved ones.

If you want to share what you’re thankful for, download the graphics below and tag us in your photo. We’d love to hear from you!

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The A Group
320 Seven Springs Way
Suite 100
Brentwood, TN 37027
Phone: (615) 373-6990
Toll-free: (866) 258-4800
Fax: (615) 373-6991
© 2017 The A Group