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In our latest Lunch & Learn, our senior strategist, Holly Grenvicz, talked about strategy and read us the endearing children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

If you’ve never read the book, here’s a little recap for you: A generous host invites a traveling mouse in for a cookie. The mouse accepts and asks for a glass of milk to wash down the treat. Noticing the crumbs, the mouse requests a napkin to clean up, which leads to checking the mirror for a milk moustache, and then, seeing that its hair is rather long, asks for a trim, and… Well you get the idea. The story continues on and on until the mouse discovers it’s thirsty from all the endless activity and asks for another glass of milk. And what happens when you give a mouse a glass of milk? Most likely, it’ll also need a cookie.

We all chuckled a little as we thought about marketing processes and how often we all end up needing a proverbial glass of milk to go with our proverbial cookies. So how do we stop that? In the world of marketing, is it possible to avoid being a “mouse” who keeps needing just one.more.thing?

For example, let’s say you’re struggling with brand awareness (not enough eyeballs on your business/non profit), but rather than investing in strategy to solve the issue long-term, you turn to a quick fix and buy a new website. You cross your fingers that people will be more interested.

You see the new site, and you realize that you probably need better SEO to accompany it. So you invest in SEO and to make it worthwhile, you decide to do a pay-per-click campaign. Then you ask for analytics, and when you get your analytics back, you realize that your site traffic didn’t change nearly as much you thought it would.

SO, you might do a brand renovation next and you might buy a new logo. And then you meander into a direct mail piece to announce the new brand… And on and on, until eventually you come full circle and realize that your current website doesn’t actually portray what you REALLY want to say to your audience.

So do you buy another new website or do you finally decide to give strategy a go?

If you want to stop being a mouse, running around, continually chasing just one more task only to end up exhausted and back to square one, you have to invest in strategy.

If you’re not getting enough site users, simply buying a new website won’t solve that issue.
If you have unsatisfied customers, purchasing a Google ad won’t end customer dissatisfaction.
If you lack donors, sending one random direct mail piece will not boost your numbers.

Now, we aren’t saying that those items—like a new site, advertising and direct mail—aren’t important, because they are; we’re saying that if there is no strategic plan driving those items, then they’re nothing but small Band-Aids on gaping wounds. They might help a little bit, but in a few months, you’ll be back in the same position, staring down the same problem.

So what DO you do? Let’s start by redefining marketing.

From now on, think of marketing as tools in your toolbox. In your box you might have your website, advertising, public relations, social media platforms, content, direct mail packages, pay-per-click advertisements, etc. What you do with your tools is your tactical implementation. What you build or create through that implementation is what will achieve your pre-determined goals.

But the most important piece is strategy: Strategy is the plan that outlines organizational goals and then details the steps to reaching them by putting all the tools within your toolbox to use in a meaningful and strategic way. Think of it as the blueprint and the IKEA-style assembly instructions that tell you what tools to use and how to use those tools to make sure you end up building what you intended to build.

An architect never dives into a new project, whether it’s $5,000 or $5 million, without a plan. No one cooks a filet mignon for the first time without researching recipes, finding tips, and then setting up a plan. So why try to solve your business or non profit issues without a plan?

Strategy = your plan.

It is your blueprint, your recipe to success. It’s so simple, yet so many people still skip it. The next time you find yourself facing a marketing need or issue, will you take time to invest in strategy or will you chase after a quick snack and then demand a glass of milk?

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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

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.

WordPress

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: WordPress.com, which is a template-based solution hosted on WordPress’s servers, and WordPress.org, 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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If you haven’t investigated this hot new viral game in the entertainment arena, drop what you’re doing, and check it out NOW.

Pokèmon Go is a real-time, real-life game that sends you on a physical chase to gather iconic pokèmon all over your neighborhood, town, state, and yes, even the world. All this for the purpose of building and strengthening your team to fight against others.

If you've seen (or been confused by) people wandering around aimlessly in your neighborhood, downtown, or near your work area (glued to their phone), they're probably buried deep inside Pokèmon Go world. 

You can download the game from the Apple store or Google Play, where it’s currently ranking number one ahead of Snapchat and Facebook in downloads. That alone should pique your interest.

Here’s Pokèmon Go explained in less than 400 words.

Pokèmon Go is basically a transformation of all previous Pokèmon games into a real life adventure.

People, the world is literally your stage now. Enter stage left: you, the local business or organization.

Because the game uses players’ GPS and is based off of real locations, various elements within the game are a gold mine for local shops and businesses. Those include Pokè Stops and Gyms. Here is the short, dialed down, I-don’t-understand-you-right-now explanation of what’s going on here.

Pokè Stop: People come to Pokè Stops to collect free items within the game. Ca-CHING. All you need to know is that a Pokè Stop automatically increases the number of foot traffic in your area.

Pokè Gym: People come here to battle other people’s teams. Being a Gym or being near a Gym is an even bigger win for you than being near a Pokè Stop. Why? Because more people frequent a Gym (and for longer amounts of time) than a Pokè Stop.

Download the app and see if your shop or storefront might be so lucky as to be a Pokè Stop, a Gym, or, at the least, be located near one. Pokèmon has pre-determined all the Pokè Stops and Gyms ahead of time, so currently there is nothing you can do if you aren’t one or aren’t near one (although there are rumors that this may change in the near future). But in the happy event that you're already location-lucky, here some ways to capitalize on those gamers.

If you are a Gym (or near one):

Everyone gets worn out from gaming, and after people are done fighting other teams at your gym, they’ll either need some cheering up (if they lost) or some celebrating (if they won). Stay up to date on who the winning team is at your gym, and advertise the winners. Offer them a discount on your merchandise, food, or services, and come up with a catchy offer for the losers as well. For instance, if you’re a coffee shop and you also sell food, give the winning team a discount on food to refuel for their next duel, but keep everyone interested by offering half-off coffee to the losers to bounce back from their loss. Find someone on your team who is Pokèmon savvy, and come up with catchy or comical lines for any discounts you might offer. Advertise those discounts on your social media, through a sign outside your shop, and via your email lists. Whatever you’re selling or offering, capitalize on the cluster of people around your shop to draw them into your business. 

If you are a Pokè Stop (or near one):

People will come to you to stock up on Pokèmon freebies. Use creative language to attract people to come inside to claim more “prizes” like discounts on items or even small freebies that you can afford to give away.

But here’s the biggest thing you can do: buy a lure. A lure attracts Pokèmon to the Pokè Stop near you, allowing any trainer in the vicinity to benefit from the influx of Pokèmon. Each lure you buy lasts for 30 minutes and you only pay 100 Pokècoins for it. That’s only $.99!

Advertise the lure on your social media channels and offer a discount in your shop during that half hour as well. Even if only a few players decide to stick around for what you’re selling, that’s still more customers than you had before Pokèmon Go.

The truth is, Pokèmon Go is changing the gaming landscape and you can capitalize on people migrating outdoors at very little cost to your business. Those walking, playing people will get hungry, thirsty and tired. They need a place to catch a breath. Take that opportunity to advertise your business or organization. But here’s the catch—you have to be creative. Engage with the players, know the game, be able to talk about it. Finally create pun-y and catchy advertisements to snag players’ interests. You gotta be cool to get the cool kids. 

You truly have nothing to lose. So why not give it a go? You gotta catch 'em all. 

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Do you ever find yourself leaving the office and remember in a rush of panic that you forgot, yet again, to finish writing your blog post? You are not alone.

Whether it’s updating your organization’s social media, sending out marketing emails, setting up a new workflow, or beginning a campaign, staying on top of the content shuffle can be hard. More times than not, because we all wear so many hats, ideas get lost, deadlines are missed, and content goes unwritten or unpublished.

Cue the hero arriving on the scene. Say hello to the editorial calendar.

Organize, Organize, Organize

Start out small. Try to publish two to four blog posts a month, followed by two emails recapping those blog posts. Aim for updated social media four times a week, and finish off your editorial calendar with one premium content piece/download every three months. Map it out on a calendar and follow those items up with deadlines for writing, editing, graphics, and publishing.

Bonus: Color—coordinate all those items. For example, blue for all blog writing and publishing deadlines, red for all email writing and sending dates, etc. Your eye will quickly get used to the colors and their meanings and know instantly what’s on the plate every day when you walk into the office. It just doesn’t get easier than that.

Organizational Reminder

Instead of just having this wonderful calendar buried somewhere in your laptop notes or scattered throughout another online organizational software, print it out. Tack it up somewhere where you’ll see it every day to remind yourself of the deadlines.

But here’s where you need to take an extra step: share the calendar with your co-workers. If you don’t have a content team, ask someone near you to hold you accountable for those deadlines. If it’s just you, the ticking clock and the growing list of to-do items, you won’t ever get to the deadlines (especially if content strategy is not a high priority endeavor in the organization). Knowing that someone else is aware of the deadlines and will be knocking down your door if dates aren’t met helps to give a little extra boost of (friendly!) motivation to finish items out.

Efficient Scheduling

This is our favorite perk that editorial calendars provide. Last minute items always get added to the already unbearable to-do list, and sometimes (unfortunately) it happens every day. We get it. You can’t plan for that. But you CAN plan around other standardized tasks that you know are coming up. Having an editorial calendar also alerts the rest of your team as to when you will be busy writing, editing, posting, and publishing.

If you never have those items on your schedule, then no one will ever know the time they are stealing from your schedule by demanding your skills for other tasks. Communicate well and often so that your co-workers are looped into the content process.   

Getting Started

An editorial calendar cannot just live on a post-it note at your desk. It can NOT. At the very least, print out an empty calendar from a simple google search and fill it in by hand.

If using anything other than a keyboard seems too menial a task, check to see if your internal organizational software (like Basecamp) already has tools you can utilize to create a makeshift editorial calendar. Here at The A Group, we use the productivity calendar within Hubspot’s CRM, and we love it! If you don’t have anything existing that you can build off of, check out some of our other favorite affordable options:

Trello: It works as a content map with the ability to add multiple users and track all of your progress in real time! Starts at $25/month.

Content DJ: With the ability to optimize content for social platforms, Content DJ is the perfect tool for the content strategy that favors social media. Starts at $29/month per user.

Some other ones to consider include Divvy HQ and CoSchedule.

Friends, organization is right at your fingertips, and it’s begging to be utilized. And the bottom line is: your content shouldn't rule you—you should rule your content.

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We’ve all heard and read the reports and research that Millennials like and want feedback. In fact, Millennials want a stream of constant feedback. But feedback isn’t just for Millennials. It’s for everyone.

Your staff, your coworkers or team members, your donors and constituents—they all need feedback. It is a vital part of communication and if you aren’t giving or receiving feedback on a regular basis, you might be missing out on important information from your stakeholders or opportunities to stretch and grow as an organization. Let’s take a look at why we should give (and get!) feedback, how often you should give (or ask!) for it, and what kind of feedback is appropriate.

Why give feedback?

Feedback allows individuals and organizations a chance to get better at what they do and who they are. It’s that simple! Feedback allows us to grow personally and professionally. And in today’s fast-paced market, whether you are a for profit or non profit organization, if you stop growing, you become outdated and obsolete. Feedback is essential to an organization’s future.

But just as giving feedback is vital, so is receiving it. Particularly for non profits churches and ministries, listening to the feedback and responses of their donors, members and constituents is critical to their success. If your donors are not happy with you, don’t feel that they are being communicated with properly or aren’t being heard, they will stop giving. Listening to them, hearing their feedback and providing them with continuous opportunities to give feedback will allow you to keep moving forward and remain impactful in your ministry. 

What kind of feedback is appropriate?

Feedback can get a bad rap. Most think of feedback as criticism or an attack. In actuality, criticism is just one form of feedback—and one that we don’t advise giving. Now, we aren’t saying that constructive criticism shouldn’t be given, because it certainly should! This is how we stretch and grow as people and as organizations.  But feedback, whether positive or constructive, should always be given (and taken!) with an open mind and a servant’s heart. As a manager or leader, your feedback should encourage your employees to grow in order to meet the challenges before them.

So what kind of feedback should you give?

Constructive criticism: If you aren’t doing your job well, whether that’s serving your team members, clients, donors or advocates, you probably want to know about it so you can fix it, right? Constructive criticism is a necessary component for a healthy, two-way relationship. It shouldn’t be a negative rant or tirade.

Think about product or service reviews that you read online when someone is unhappy with a purchase: “This was a horrible purchase. Biggest waste of money!! Don’t recommend this AT ALL!!!” We see this all the time, but that doesn’t make it right or effective. As a customer and as an organization, think about this type of feedback. There are no specific details about why this product was bad and it doesn’t include any suggestions for improvements. Without constructive criticism and feedback, that individual, ministry or organization will never have an opportunity to get better at what they do. As a manager, leader, team member or even customer, think about how you can provide specific feedback on why something didn’t work and how it can be improved or made better.

Positive affirmation: When was the last time you told your team thank you or sent your donor a handwritten note to tell them how much you appreciate them? Positive affirmation is an important type of feedback—and one that you should absolutely give! It motivates, inspires and builds confidence and affinity for your organization. Don’t forget to take time regularly to affirm your team and constituents about the value they bring to the table, whether it’s their talent and skill set or the valuable contribution they make to your organization on an annual basis through donations, event attendance or purchases. You’ll build greater commitment and cultivate deeper relationships when you make it a point to affirm or express your appreciation for those you serve and serve with.

How often should you give it?

Feedback is often associated with the formal employee review, where both the manager and employee review overall performance and achievements. While we strongly advise that managers and leaders conduct these reviews on an annual basis, feedback should also be given on an ongoing basis. Our Executive Vice President, Diana Marsh says, “Do not let something good or something bad go by without addressing it immediately. Feedback has to be given on an ongoing basis. The annual review should never contain surprises.”

Just as you are conducting annual reviews for your employees and team members and providing that constant stream of feedback we mentioned earlier, you should also be providing feedback and updates on a regular basis to your donors, members ad constituents!

An annual report is one way you can share this type of feedback. This can be in a variety of formats, such as a year end recap video presented to your church members of all the fantastic stories, lives changed or volunteer work from that year. A written annual donor report is a great way to provide feedback specifically to donors on the impact of their dollars These reports typically encapsulate the previous year’s fundraising efforts, including how much was raised, what projects were completed or started because of those funds and how those funds were allocated across the ministry or organization. But just as Millennials prefer constant feedback on their performance, your audience and fans also like to see regular updates on your activities, culture, projects or initiatives.  In addition to an annual or yearly report, provide quarterly print or email newsletters with seasonal information on what’s happening across your organization and social media updates on real-time events or stories.

Now that you’ve given feedback, don’t forget to ask for your customers and followers’ feedback. Did your church members enjoy a particular sermon series? Could your event have been improved? Is your website’s donation page easy to navigate? Is there a way it could be simplified? Want to know what your Facebook or Twitter followers thought about that story you shared? ASK FOR IT. Ask for feedback on your website. Encourage conversations on social media. Call your members, customers, donors and get their input.

Feedback doesn’t have to be scary or saved for annual reviews. And it certainly isn’t exclusive to Millennials! So go ahead. Start giving (and asking for!) feedback from your team and from your audience on a regular basis—we promise you’ll be better for it.

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By now, most of us know what content marketing is and why it’s important. However, content marketing is more than just creating great articles, videos and downloads. The biggest mistake you can make is creating content without a strategy, which includes content planning, content distribution, lead generation and follow up. Here are four common mistakes organizations make and how to fix them:

Mistake #1: Not using an editorial calendar.

As is the case with any marketing tactic, drip marketing will generate fewer results than a long-term, wide-reaching, integrated plan. When it comes to content marketing, it’s critical to approach it with an integrated strategy – at the center of which is an editorial calendar. An editorial calendar, which should be prepared at least every quarter, ensures that you are producing enough content at a consistent frequency, that you utilize a variety of content types and that your subject matter is diverse, informative, valuable and builds upon itself.

Mistake #2: Not using all of your distribution channels effectively.

Many people take the “if you build it, they will come” approach to content marketing, creating beautiful and high-quality pieces of content and then expecting that it will be discovered on its own. But content creation is just the tip of the iceberg; it requires a smart distribution strategy to get that content out into the world and generating leads.

There are three types of content distribution channels: owned, earned and paid.

  • Owned channels are channels you control, such as your website, email lists and social media platforms. Content can always be distributed across these channels, and the goal is to build your audience and following so your owned channels reach more.
  • Earned channels represent free placement in outlets you do not own, such as featured stories in newspapers, magazines and television, social media shares or blogs. You cannot guarantee placement on these channels, but you can develop strong content and relationships to help increase your chances of getting your content here.
  • Paid channels are pay-to-play avenues such as advertorials or pay-per-click ads.

Content distribution should take advantage of all of these channels where possible, to reach the widest pool of potential audiences.

Mistake #3: Not offering premium content.

Creating a single piece of content is not enough to generate significant leads for your business. You must offer enough content to keep users engaged and on your site, and you must utilize content to collect contact information so that you can begin collecting qualified leads and marketing directly to consumers.

The purpose of premium content is to keep readers engaged, offer a next step in interaction with your brand and acquire email addresses that can be used for future marketing. While free content such as a blog post initially draws readers in, premium content is "gated", offering a more in-depth resource in exchange for an email address. Examples of premium content include articles, videos, webcasts, white papers, checklists and kits.

Users on your site should never reach a content “dead end”. While you must offer free content (such as blog posts) as a way to hook readers initially, at some point in their journey, they should be offered a premium resource and enter into your sales cycle.

Mistake #4: Not having a follow up strategy.

Someone downloads your piece of premium content and you collect his or her email address. What next? While you’ve successfully generated a lead, the real work has just begun. Many organizations make the mistake of collecting contact information and then doing nothing with it OR collecting contact information and going right for the sale. In the same way that you would not ask someone to marry you on a first date, you have to give new leads a chance to get to know you, cultivating them into a deeper relationship and knowledge of your organization or business.

Fortunately, marketing automation makes this process simple, easy and effective. Setting up multi-part, automated email series for each piece of premium content you create is an easy way to welcome a new lead, provide additional resources and begin introducing him or her to what your organization does, encouraging further future interaction or setting the stage for your sales team to reach out.

Content marketing is so much more than just developing great content – it’s about strategic distribution, lead generation and follow up to make your content not just a great read, but a great tool for driving sales or engagement. 

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More than 15 years ago, Discover Worship began as a simple way to give music ministries instant and unlimited access to great church music. That led to the build of a rudimentary website that allowed churches to download the songs they had previously received in monthly mailings.

As the marketplace changed even more, Discover Worship tapped The A Group for help with becoming the first all online, subscription-based church music service.

Through that partnership, our team developed an intuitive database to help members search, preview and download the perfect piece from more than 2000 anthems, worship songs, instrumentals, kids’ music, musicals, and video accompaniment tracks. More recently, we upgraded Discover Worship’s store to accommodate the Stripe payment system and created a fresh home page experience for prospective members.

And today, when you check out the Discover Worship site, you can download a free 15-song sampler that includes mp3 demos, tracks, piano/vocal PDF’s, chord and rhythm charts as well as presentation files.

Now more than ever, Discover Worship is helping music ministries save time and money through a hassle-free worship service planning experience. Discover Worship truly is the modern day answer for the stressed out, frazzled worship leader.

What about you? Is your website working effectively for you? Whether it's time for a new site or just time to make some updates, let us take a look and help you figure out how you can improve your online presence. Get a FREE website assessment today! 

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If you’re in the business of marketing, customer service, donor development or relationship management of any type, you may be familiar with customer relationship management software or, as we commonly refer to it, a CRM.

At its simplest form, a CRM system allows businesses to manage business relationships and the data and information associated with them. Some of the most common off-the-shelf CRM software programs include Salesforce, Hubspot, InfusionSoft, and Insightly.

Not a fan of off-the-shelf products? Many for profits and non profits alike use custom-built CRM systems, either headed up by their internal IT guru or in collaboration with a CRM software developer. Whichever route your organization has gone, as new technology and marketing techniques emerge, it’s important to carefully review your system’s capabilities and ask yourself if your CRM is standing in the way of you and your customer. If so, it may be time for you to let go of your old system and upgrade to a new one. 

Here are nine telltale signs that you need a new CRM:

1. Your CRM is a glorified contact database. While CRMs should keep information such as contact information, emails and email history, phone calls and in-person meetings, your CRM should also help you interpret trends and draw insights about your consumers’ behaviors. If it isn’t telling you anything about WHO your customer is, their preferences or their purchase or registration history, you may be missing out on marketing and communications opportunities.

2. Your system doesn’t play nice with ANYTHING else—even you. If you’re finding it difficult to add, input or update data, it may be time to start considering alternatives. On a similar note, if you’re struggling to integrate your system with your website or your contact or RFI forms, we strongly recommend a new system. When you can’t easily integrate other efforts or technologies to your CRM, this can become a barrier to you reaching your audience.

3. Only Jim or Pam knows how to use your CRM. If the guy or gal who built it is the only one who knows how to use or interpret it, it might be time for a new system. It’s critical that your team knows how to use, interpret and navigate your CRM with or without the person who built it. And if you’re paying Jim or Pam to primarily keep up your homebrew system, it’s time to move on. Instead, consider using a system like Salesforce or Hubspot where a professional will not only build it, but they’ll keep it running and maintained, AND they’ll provide troubleshooting support for you.

4. Yes, we can do that, but it’s going to cost you money. If you’re always hearing this answer when asking a question about whether or not your CRM has XYZ feature, it may be time to start researching new software options. We recommend that as you are selecting a CRM, you take a close look at the feature list. If your organization is complex, a short feature list likely won’t cut it. Instead, make a list of the key functions that you utilize in your current system or need in a new one. Keep this list handy as you’re researching CRM alternatives and feature lists. If you don’t see a key function on the feature list, we recommend that you contact the developer to see if it can be built in or cross that software off your list and keep looking.

5. You have a registration system, an email system, a scheduling system and a billing system. But they are all separate from one another. We see this all the time, and we can tell you right now, this is one of the biggest red flags when determining whether it’s time to let go of your CRM. If your organization has systems that need to communicate with one another, but are currently working those functions in silos, it’s time to move on. The problem with siloed systems is that it forces manual exports and imports of information from one to the other to “update” data. Having a one-stop shop for all your information and marketing efforts will not only streamline communications, but it will save your team hours of unnecessary (and may we say painful!) work.

6. You’re using an Excel spreadsheet to track customer contact, demographic and psychographic data. We want to say this with all due respect—if your organization wants to grow and market effectively to your audience, customers and constituents, keeping information in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets as a substitute for a CRM will not cut it. We’re not saying that Excel spreadsheets don’t have a place in data collection—they certainly do! But managing this type of information without a system is too manual. CRMs can help automate and speed up communications and reporting processes. There are many CRM options out there that are cost-effective, user-friendly and offer customizations that can be added as your organization’s needs grow.

7. You’re running reports from multiple systems to find the information you want. We’ve all been there: in this system to get that number. Logout, but now need to login to another system to get different data. Logout of that system and finally, login to one more to get the final piece of the puzzle. Must we say more? If you’re tracking sales, running reports or reviewing analytics, a CRM is essential! Not only will all your data be housed in one system (say goodbye to all those other systems!), you will easily be able to pull reports and key metrics to review performance and determine effectiveness.

8. You don’t have segmentation capabilities. In other words, your organization has several audience segments that need different types of communication and with your current CRM, you are unable to accommodate this. This is a HUGE feature of a CRM and a critical component of a successful content marketing strategy. Without the ability to segment, your organization is forced to blanket market with impersonal mass messages that can leave users feeling disconnected, alienated and even angry. When determining whether your system has this functionality, ask yourself: can I segment my audience into lists based on the data I’ve collected in this system? Be that a behavior (purchased this book), geographical location (all customers in the Southeast) or demographics (parent, teen, donor, etc.). Your system should be collecting this data so that you not only can segment your audience, but you can communicate with them from within that system.

9. Your CRM is standing between you and your customer. We saved the best for last—or in this case, the number one reason to let go of your current CRM and move on.  As an organization, if your CRM is prohibiting you from connecting with your customers, generating new leads or cultivating relationships with potential leads, it’s time to walk away. We know it’s not easy to say goodbye, but we promise you’ll thank us later when you’ve implemented your new system, connected with customer in ways you never thought were possible, automated once tedious tasks and communications, built relationships with key stakeholders and audiences and have increased conversions, registration, sales and more!

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Lunch and Learn is a monthly learning experience where our team dives deeper into a popular marketing or technology topic to continue sharpening our own expertise to stay ahead of trends and changes in the industry. 

For our first Lunch & Learn, we snacked on deli sandwiches and shared our knowledge about the ins and outs of SEO, plus some helpful tips and tricks. Our goal with each Lunch & Learn is to provide recap videos of highlights (keep an eye on our social channels for more!) and an easy-to-use cheat sheet of information that you can quickly implement in your own marketing and technology endeavors. Check it out and start boosting your site traffic today. 

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You probably spend a lot of time on social platforms spreading your message, sending out updates, and posting inspirational quotes. But how much time do you spend actually listening to your followers?

Perhaps even more important than daily updates is the habit of tuning in to what people are talking about and what needs they’re expressing with the goal of tailoring your content to answer those needs and address their concerns.

It’s basic social engagement 101, and there’s no better place to start than with Twitter.

Yes, Twitter. Let’s do this.

Twitter Search

The easiest first step to take is to begin with a simple search in Twitter. It seems obvious, and yet so many people never take advantage of this feature.

Think through the topics you speak on frequently, list them out and then search multiple keywords and hashtag combinations around those topics to see what other people are saying. Note if the talk is positive or negative, if people have questions/concerns about it, or if there simply is no interest about it at all.

If no one is actually engaging with the topics you frequent, re-evaluate your strategies and find something different to talk about, or find a new, more interesting angle to speak about the topic to begin generating interest.

Using Other Tools to Listen

One of our favorite ways to listen on Twitter is by using the social tools in our Hubspot account to monitor activity. You can set up specific threads to listen in on a topic of conversation or a certain hashtag and then monitor that thread for as many days as you want. It gives you quick and easy access to see what people are saying in real time.

Plus, with just five minutes every hour or couple of hours, you can quickly favorite all the relevant tweets, respond to the especially intriguing ones and retweet a few others right from the dashboard. You never actually have to sign into Twitter.

All these actions work to pull users back to your own profile where you should already have a steady update of your own tweets on the topic to maintain your credibility. The goal is for these users to see your thoughts on the trend, and then engage with you further or follow you. This type of listening is especially useful during conferences, trade shows, events and local happenings (or national and international happenings—when it applies and makes sense in conjunction with your brand) because it allows you to reach a specific demographic of people who are ready to engage with an organization or business like you about a pain point or trend.

If you aren’t a Hubspot customer, you can enlist other tools with similar capabilities like Hootsuite and Buffer. It’s an investment worth making.

General Ways to Listen Actively

  • Respond to people’s tweets as much as you can. If your following is smaller, focusing even more attention to responding to and favoriting every single tweet that gets sent your way.
  • Ask questions. If you have followers who consistently tweet at you or favorite your tweets, send them some questions. Start Twitter conversations with them and learn as much as you can from them on what they like about your organization, what they wish they saw more of, what they need, etc. A simple “How can we help you more?” can begin a great learning experience for you both.
  • Host at Twitter talk. Choose a topic most of your audience would be interested in and advertise that you’re hosting a Twitter talk during a specified time. When that time opens, encourage people to tweet questions and let the conversation flow!

Here’s the bottom line: Listening to your audience is always a good venture. And with Twitter’s ease of access and informal engagement, you can quickly engage, teach and learn from your audience.

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Project management is simple, right? Not so fast. Over the past few years, we’ve seen similar challenges pop up in our clients’ projects, so today we’re tackling five problems and giving you the necessary tools to tackle them head on. Check out these five best practices for project management to help you conquer your hiccups and avoid them in the future. 

Problem: You’ve just been handed a very large project. Where do you begin?

Solution: Break it down.

No, we aren’t talking about the dancing kind. We’re talking about breaking it down into bite-sized chunks. Understand all of the parts and pieces at play and determine who will play a role in the execution and implementation of that project or event. And if you need help managing that project or putting that event together, don’t be afraid to ask for it! Even Batman needed Robin from time to time.

Problem: You’ve broken down the project or event into something that’s easier to digest. Now what?

Solution: The project timeline.

The project timeline is the equivalent of a road map in a cross-country adventure. Not only does it tell you where to go, but it helps you estimate when you’ll arrive at your destination. About to launch a marketing initiative or campaign? Putting together your store’s anniversary open-house? Organizing a gathering or event at your church? Create a monthly project timeline with deliverables and milestones listed for each month. These include dates you need to book vendors by, expected inventory arrival, your website launch, RSVP deadlines, or when you need to start distributing print collateral to promote your event, product or service.

This project timeline should be easily accessible (scribbled on a scrap sheet of paper won’t cut it!) so that you can refer back to it when needed.

Problem: Life happened and you missed an important deadline. How do you prevent this?  

Solution: A physical calendar.

We know—it sounds simple and old school, but hear us out! Every day when we step into the office and settle into our chairs, our account managers look up to view a dry erase calendar of the next two months with website launch dates, direct mail drop and in-home dates, meeting reminders… and the list goes on! We don’t want to sound dramatic, but we live and die by these calendars. That’s not to say that we don’t use our Outlook or Gmail calendars to also manage our projects or daily lives, but by using this combination (and governing it with our project timeline!), we have a 360-degree view of a project or event and can plan ahead. And the best part? A fail-safe system that helps prevents us from missing deadlines and ultimately, disappointing our coworkers and clients.

Problem: You have a lot of tasks and to-dos that need to be completed and they’re starting to pile up. How do you restore order to the chaos and catch up?  

Solution: Make a list.

Whether you put pen to paper or open Notes, make a list. List all of the tasks that you need to complete. But don’t stop there. A running list of 30 to-do items will only add fuel to the fire and make you wonder how you can get it all done. Instead, once you’ve made your list, review all of the tasks that you’ve listed and determine what the top three to five are that you need to complete THAT day. Ask yourself the question: What do I HAVE to get done today? What are the items that MUST get completed so the show can go on? Tackle those items first! While you may not cross off 20 items (kudos to you if that’s EVER happened!), you’ll rest easy knowing that you accomplished the most important items pertaining to your project or event.

Don’t have any “must complete” items for that day? Great! Work ahead! You’ll be thankful when you aren’t crunched for time and can be proactive instead of reactive!

Problem: You know you need accountability—for yourself, your team, your clients and constituents. How do you provide it?

Solution: Status reports.

We love status reports. Not only does it help our clients to see what we’ve completed, but it also helps our internal team understand their role in that project, provide a snapshot of what’s pending, what we need approval or feedback on and what’s coming down the pipeline.

Whether you’re communicating internally or externally, a regular report and status of a project or event is critical information to provide. If you’re a church or nonprofit, think about your annual report. You provide this because your donors want to see how you’re stewarding their financial resources. The same is true for your internal team. Wondering what Bob’s workload looks like? Is Jim drafting that email or is Tammy? Did Susie get the programs printed for the gala? Status reports will quickly tell you:

  • Who's handling what
  • If you’re on schedule
  • Utilizing your time wisely
  • If your team (or you!) are being productive (hours put in does not equal tasks completed!)
  • Or if you’re working on a priority item

So the next time you’re handed a project, organizing an event or managing a campaign and are wondering where to start, refer back to some of these best practices and we promise that you’ll feel organized, empowered and ready to execute!

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We have a secret. We love old wives’ tales. Often times you'll see parents cite old wives’ tales, either because they have a love of them, or because they just like anything that would keep a houseful of rowdy kids somewhat in check.

A few along the way have proven to be helpful, but most were just tales… the equivalent of ancient urban legends, passed down from family to family, with a few twists along the way.

Which of these do you think are true?

  • It takes seven years for chewing gum to pass through your digestive system.
  • Hair grows back darker and thicker after it has been shaved.
  • Storing batteries in a refrigerator or freezer will improve their performance.
  • Going swimming less than an hour after eating will cause cramping and drowning.
  • Earthquakes are most likely to happen when the weather is hot and dry.
  • A baby born in-flight is given free airfare for the rest of his/her life.
  • Little Mikey of Life Cereal fame died from eating Pop Rocks and drinking soda pop.
  • Unwary travelers wake in their hotel bathtub full of ice to discover a missing kidney, a phone and a note instructing them to dial 911.

Perhaps the last two tipped you off, but none of the above are true.  In fact, Snopes, the popular website that debunks urban myths, is easily accessible and includes facts to back up the untruth of each of these.

So when data and facts are so easily accessible, why do we continue believing legends and folklore?

Now we would like to give you a few examples of some of our favorite “Non Profit Urban Legends.”  Be honest. Take a moment and note how many you’ve believed.

  • Donors like to give to projects but don’t want to give to general operating support.
  • Donors who support missionaries or missionary staff will stop supporting them if the organization solicits them.
  • Donors get excited when they see detailed information about how the non profit works on the inside
  • Facebook is a great place to share pictures of our non profit having a Monday afternoon team-building exercise.
  • Likes on social media are the equivalent to engagement.
  • People don’t give online.
  • A great way to show good stewardship is to let volunteers create the organization’s website (or outbound communications of any type).
  • Major donors don’t like hearing from our organization unless it’s through their major gift officer.
  • A board member who hates direct mail is the best person to listen to when it comes to deciding how frequently we should send mail to our donors.

Get the idea? None of these are true either. We need to take these with far more grains of salt than the few grains of truth that may be part of the origination of any of these.

Lots of good opportunities are missed because we insist on believing non profit urban legends instead of finding good, empirical data and evidence that tells us a different truth.

No, donors don’t want to see you and your organization having a cookout on Monday. You may get a lot of Facebook likes, but barbeque pictures don’t speak at all to the lives being changed through the dollars your donors provide.  Likes don’t equal engagement, unless someone actually DOES something because of the information you’re providing. 

Ok, that was a two-for-one... BUT, now that a few of the urban legends are debunked, go put your renewed knowledge into action! 

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