Episode 42 – How to drive results in your approach to web projects

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Episode 42 – How to drive results in your approach to web projects


My guest on the show today is Bo SimmonsBo leads Cool Blue’s business development and client strategy practice as chief executive officer, combining business acumen with best practices in information architecture, design and usability to deliver award-winning results for customers. Apart from Cool Blue, Bo maintains an active presence in the industry, from serving as judge on interactive awards panels and attending usability conferences.

Highlights from this Conversation

  1. What has worked well for you?
    • Strategy, design, and development
    • Strategy – where do you want to go to get the outcomes you want?
      • Ready, fire, aim – people often overlook the step of strategy
    • People think they know what they want, but they don’t look inward to really understand what they need.
    • Ask: What problems do we want to solve here? What are the opportunities here?
    • Take a customer-centered approach. To be customer centered you have to get out of your own way.
  2. What hasn’t worked well that we can learn from?
    • Leadership involvement on the client’s end
    • Commitment to planning
    • Sticking with the plan/resistance to scope creep.
    • Is the leadership brought in to the project?
    • The leadership must set the stage for successful outcomes
    • Commitment to planning
    • Plan before you look for the pretty picture
    • This can help to inform the team on if the project will be a success for them
    • Stick with the original plan
    • Don’t go after new, shiny things
    • Small changes in the organization don’t mandate a huge revamp to the website project
  3. What are you excited about?
    • More personal experiences on websites like social media

Interview Transcript

Adam: [00:00:03] Hi and welcome to the Good People Good Marketing podcast, a podcast about nonprofit digital marketing and how to make it better so that good people at good organizations can have good marketing as well. I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways Eight, a digital marketing agency that specializes in nonprofit work and 48in48, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for forty-eight nonprofits in forty-eight hours.


[00:00:26] My guest today is Bo Simmons from Cool Blue. Bo leads Cool Blue’s Business Development and Client Strategy Practice, as Chief Executive Officer, combining business acumen with best practices in information, architecture, design and usability to deliver award-winning results for customers. Apart from Cool Blue, Bo maintains an active presence in the industry from serving as a judge in interactive award panels and attending usability conferences. Bo, thanks for joining me on the podcast.


Bo: [00:00:55] Thanks for having me, Adam.


Adam: [00:00:56] This is going to be really fun. I’ve known you for a really long time and really respected your opinion, especially related to websites. I think you’ve been very instrumental in a lot of my thinking in this industry and really appreciate it. So I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.


Bo: [00:01:11] Well, thanks. I do have, maybe I’ve earned my stripes over the years. We started in 1997, so we celebrated our twentieth year last year.


Adam: [00:01:22] Man, that is impressive. I love that. Wow! Well, hopefully, I can make it that far as well. I’m working towards it, for sure.


Bo: [00:01:30] Oh you’ll go well past me.


Adam: [00:01:34] Well, I’m working hard and time will be the deciding factor on that.


[00:01:39] So we’re going to mix it up just a little bit today, for our listeners and we’re not talking necessarily about the broad topic of digital marketing. Instead, we’re talking about how to drive results in your approach to web projects and that’s something that Bo is particularly passionate about. And so I’m going to ask these questions from the nonprofit website project perspective, rather than the broader digital marketing perspective. So I’m really excited to hear what you have to say. So question number one, tell us what works well as we approach website projects for nonprofits?


Bo: [00:02:14] Sure. We’ve worked with a mix of clients, both some larger nonprofits and some higher education, some large publicly traded companies and some smaller entrepreneurial clients. And so over twenty years, I’ve really seen one thing that kind of shines through and early in our days as a digital agency, we always talked about, the idea of strategy, design, and development. Strategy meaning, having some kind of concept about where you were trying to go and with the ends designed correctly, to get the kind of outcomes you wanted. We find that there’s always a re-occurring problem in the old acronym of ready, fire, aim. That people are often sort of not getting the results they want because they overlook a really important step. And I say that nonprofits and really all of our clients often feel that they know what they want but they really often don’t look hard inward and find out what they need.


[00:03:34] So I think there’s a difference between knowing what they want and really knowing what they need and it takes a bit of, I think you have to kind of get out of your own way sometimes to find that out. You’ll relate to this Adam. For me in our industry, wants a lot of times become the shiny objects…


Adam [00:03:59] Right.


Bo [00:04:00] …back in the day it was the, I need a scrolling red banner that runs across the front of the website. I need a flash intro that shows everybody my logo for five seconds and pulses. And (unclear 00:03:16)…


Adam: [00:04:17] Oh my gosh! so many good memories.


Bo [00:04:19] Yes, well, and we still get some questions that approach that, maybe not quite as…


Adam [00:04:27] Right.


Bo [00:04:28] …crazy as that. But they believe that they want to put a particular, they want to force a user into a particular thing that they want to be shown instead of really thinking about the needs and thinking, looking at their business subjectively or their nonprofit objectively and saying, what kind of problems do we want to solve here? How could we…


Adam [00:04:55] Right.


Bo [00:04:56] …create some opportunities?. What’s going to be good for the business, is it about more donors for nonprofits? Is it about having a better information of what the nonprofit’s mission is?. Is it assisting maybe members that are part of a curated constituency with a little bit more particular information?. And all those things head towards a customer-centered approach and…


Adam [00:05:30] Right.


Bo [00:05:31] … to think customer-centered, you really have to get out of your own way.


[00:05:35] So that’s, I think that’s what’s been working for us.


Adam [00:05:39] I love that. To think customer-centered, you have to get out of your own way. I could not agree with you more. We put together marketing materials and we always want to do, we always want to push our stuff and push our thing and talk about our thing and never really think about, what does the customer really want from us? what are we going to give them that matters?


Bo [00:05:59] That’s right. And we’ll talk about it maybe in a second but I think there’s some key ingredients. But if you’re gonna have a successful outcome, why would you want to do a web project that wasn’t geared towards success. And I think…


Adam [00:06:15] Right.


Bo [00:06:16] …when I phrase it that way, everybody says, well sure, of course, we want something to come out of this but a lot of times people skip that step and they start talking about what the design looks like, instead of saying, well really goals here. We want our nonprofit visitors to know more about our mission. We want them to have a clear and easy way to donate and if they donate we want them to know what that was going towards and how they can become a larger part of the mission…


Adam [00:06:51] Yeah.


Bo [00:06:51] …and so if you’re defining those goals, oftentimes you can think the next logical step is, could we measure that and a lot of that is measurable. That is the cool thing about the web.


[00:07:04] The old acronym, the old saying about advertising is 90% of my advertising isn’t working I just can’t figure out what the 10% that is working. And with the web…


Adam [00:07:19] Right.


Bo [00:07:20] …I think you have that opportunity to measure this. So if you were talking about actual visitation to the website, you can measure increased visitation, you can measure increased time on site. There’s free Google analytics that most people have on their website. So…


Adam [00:07:38] Right.


Bo [00:07:39] …defining the goals, defining what you want to happen. And this is usually more of a big picture rather than microscopic things that you want. But a big plan, the outcomes you want and the things that you could measure around that, really important. And then I think because everybody wants more than they can get in the time frame and budget that they have. What’s really important, prioritizing what really is important and maybe what is attainable to do and then thinking about what you can do on an ongoing basis to enhance the site or build (unclear 00:08:25).


Adam [00:08:22] Nice, I love that. Yeah, this is fantastic and I love your approach for this. So now the next step of this conversation, of course, is tell us something that has not worked well that we can learn from. I’m sure in the twenty years you’ve seen several projects that maybe didn’t work as well as they should have.


Bo [00:08:44] Well, let me point out three things that I think are the kind of big things that go into this and we can say on a positive note if these are all happening things are going well. But yeah, a lot of times these are the things that go off the rails so to speak.


Adam [00:09:04] Right.


[00:09:05] So one and I think this applies to small businesses, larger businesses, nonprofits, higher education. Really the range of people that might want to do something with their website. Is there executives or are there leadership in the organization that are aware of the project and behind the project?. Does the project or…


Adam [00:09:35] (unclear 00:09:35]


Bo [00:09:35] …the idea have sponsorship?.


Adam [00:09:38] Right.


Bo [00:09:39] And a lot of times we hear yes, but we find that that’s really a tacit sponsorship…


Adam [00:09:45] Right.

Bo [00:09:45] …and I think what doesn’t, where things have gone wrong is when budgets are created, the idea that we’re going to update the website or rebuild the website or roll out a new website goes forward and it’s delegated down to the areas of the site or, excuse me, the areas of the organization that may be responsible for the website on an ongoing basis but the leadership doesn’t come in and say this is really what’s important to us, growing…


Adam [00:10:24] Right.


Bo [00:10:25] …the membership, growing the awareness. It’s up to the leadership to set the stage for what successful outcomes could be. And I think delegating that down too far in the organization often yields really bad results. So number one is there some kind of, at least in the initial ongoing early planning days. Is there some leadership sponsoring the project and involved in it?.


Adam [00:10:58] Right, man that’s fantastic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done website projects. We’ve gotten almost to the end, the leadership takes a look at it at the very very very end of the process and then it’s like nope, we’ve got to change…


[00:11:12] …this this this this this this this and this and then they end up paying for more or less a second website because they weren’t involved in the first place.


Bo [00:11:18] And they missed the opportunity to really, I think to lead and teach that staff that’s going to be involved in it, what’s important and…


Adam [00:11:31] Right.


Bo [00:11:31] …how to see that. So it’s really, it’s a costly miss, it’s an inefficient way to do it and it’s frustrating for agencies like Sideways Eight and Cool Blue and our folks in our teams and it’s really a little bit demoralizing to the people inside the organization, to all of a sudden, work very hard on something and kind of get it out of the ground and then somebody says, well that’s wrong, you didn’t do this this and this and…


Adam [00:12:06] Right.


Bo [00:12:08] …let’s be, honest with each other. Sometimes this this and this is, or are not necessarily the greatest ideas that come up at the last (unclear 00:12:21).


Adam [00:12:19] That’s true.


Bo [00:12:20] But that’s back to the idea if the project or the endeavor had some leadership participation early on, a lot of times you can uncover those or you could shape the idea that they wanted a particular thing. It was important to them and you can figure out how to fit that in. So it…


Adam [00:12:42] Right.


Bo [00:12:42] …really is, I think kind of up to it. And my second point would be simply making sure that the leadership and the team is committed to some planning.


[00:12:56] Again, you’ve experienced this a lot of times where we’re working on the whiteboard, we’re trying to draw what a page layout might be, we may make what’s called a wireframe and everybody looks at that and says: “When am I going to see the pretty picture?” So…


Adam [00:13:17] Right.


Bo [00:13:18] …I think it’s important for everybody to commit to the planning phase, just like if you were building a house or doing a home renovation, an expansive home renovation. A lot of times you’re going to have an architectural set of plans, you wouldn’t just start work with no idea of where the kitchen counter was going or how you were going to rearrange the bathroom. Everybody needs a little bit of plan to really be efficient and to work smart and to work out the problems. Well, planning and architecture is all about that figure it out moment and it can help really inform the organization and the leadership and the teams involved. “Hey, did we overshoot here? Did we think too big and too grandiose relative to the timeline and the budget that we’ve got for this?” And there’s no harm in the planning phase in over thinking it a little but there may be a need to reel that back in and say: “This is what we’re going to do in phase one and this is the foundation we’re going to build. And yeah, it would be great to have x y and z but we know that’s going to be an add-on and we’re going to think about how those would enter the picture later on.”


Adam [00:14:40] Right.


Bo [00:14:45] So I think that commitment to planning has that byproduct.


Adam [00:14:47] Yeah, I love that.


[00:14:48] And you got a third thing too, right?


Bo [00:14:49] Yeah, the last thing I would say is, and these are all feeling pretty basic, but a lot of times people just can’t stick with the idea of executing the plan they create. There’s an idea that something has changed and therefore we must change this project and we must revamp everything and…


Adam [00:15:12] Right.


Bo [00:15:12] …in rare situations, I’ve seen that the business or the organization has changed, the nonprofit something, the mission has evolved or expanded and it may be important to do that. But by and large that you don’t need to throw every monkey wrench into the plan. People believe because websites are not printed like a brochure that the nature of it is: “We must change it constantly, we must fiddle with it,” and the idea is yeah, it should be changed in terms of, the content should stay fresh and you should have your new postings and you shouldn’t have old news in there. But it’s really risky to projects to just constantly try to evolve it while you’re building it. It would be the same as…


Adam [00:16:14] Right.


Bo [00:16:14] …trying to build a car or build a house and coming up with all these new crazy ideas and all of a sudden everybody’s running into each other and that happens in the digital space too. So I would say, those are the kind of, for me the three big things are is their leadership involved in the project and are they sponsoring it and helping make sure that the vision is down early in the planning phase?. Are they preaching to and has everybody bought into a commitment to planning and then can we stick to what the plan is and execute on that. So those are my big three.


Adam [00:16:56] Wow!. Yeah, I love that. Man that is, I think you need to write a white paper on that maybe or something. There’s a lot of really, really good information there and I can’t agree with you any more emphatically than I am right now. So then, continuing with the theme of nonprofit website projects. Is there anything, in particular, you’re excited about?


Bo [00:17:21] I think, as we’ve seen social media roll out and we’ve realized more personal experiences can happen for people in the way they interact with things like social media. I think there’s going to be by and large an ability for nonprofits to really make their mission more tangible and more personal for individual people, and that might, special…


Adam [00:17:49] Right.


Bo [00:17:50] …sections of the website. I’m visioning a little here and thinking without the limits of time and budget and things that we all face. Nonprofits and for-profit businesses. But I think as is the mission can become more personalized to individual people, for a nonprofit there may be sections to the website, and this is already happening in many spheres where many nonprofits, where things like the breast walk, other things where you can have a personal area of the website, you can raise funds, you can talk about what it means for you, you can maybe have personalized content. And so I think that continues to grow.


Adam [00:18:38] Right.


Bo [00:18:38] We’re really a very young industry in terms of turning on and unlocking digital solutions.


[00:18:48] And I think if you think about the largest organizations and the things they’re trying to do, how that can percolate down to the many special nonprofits that maybe aren’t as large or aren’t as national as some of the leaders.


Adam [00:18:06] Right. Wow!. I love that. Yeah, more personalized experience on the web. I do think that is going to grow significantly in our industry in the very near future and it’s something to look out for, for sure.


Bo [00:19:17] And I think also we’re ten years into the real mobile revolution. If you look at kind of the advent of the iPhone being the start of that, I think that’s, for me that’s when I had my “Aha!” moment, when somebody’s first in my organization got an iPhone and I was touching it in the first month they had it and looking at a website on it, going well this is completely usable…


Adam [00:19:45] Right.


Bo [00:19:46] …and having that “Aha!” moment. And then realizing more and more, we needed to create the experience through responsive design that makes the mobile experience much better on a phone.


Adam [00:19:59] Right.


Bo [00:19:59] And I think what excites me about nonprofits if you get out of the way of let’s make these cool personal experiences where everybody has a login and we just talk about foundational elements. Many nonprofits have not, just have not gotten to a good mobile experience yet.


Adam [00:20:21] Right.


Bo [00:20:23] And I’m constantly amazed at how many large organizations have really crummy mobile experience (unclear 00:20:34).


Adam [00:20:30] Yeah that’s true.


Bo [00:20:31] I had a little identity theft scare the other day and I was on, I think it’s identitytheft.gov, which is the Government’s answer to this.


Adam [00:20:43] Right.


Bo [00:20:43] And it’s completely non-mobile friendly. I was just shocked that they could do that in this age.


Adam [00:20:52] Well the Government just doesn’t care, right?. (unclear 00:21:00) do whatever they want.


Bo [00:20:58] Yeah, I maybe actually, I may be misquoting that, it may not be identitytheft.org but it was a large site like that and I was just amazed…


Adam [00:21:07] That’s (unclear 00:21:12).


Bo [00:21:07] …at how it wasn’t equipped to handle mobile. And for nonprofits, in particular, their mission, communication of who they are and their mission is so important. And so if you just think about the fact that Google doesn’t really, is going to penalize somebody over who has a mobile-friendly site, over someone who doesn’t. It becomes important for nonprofits to play in the sphere of organic search results.


Adam [00:21:42] Yeah.


Bo [00:21:42] And so you need mobile friendly, right out of the gate. So I’m always excited about mobile and I think it’s just an important area that a lot of people still need to work hard on.


Adam [00:21:53] Yeah, I totally agree and like you said, the more mobile friendly you are, the more Google likes you in the search results and they penalize people that are not mobile friendly. So…


Bo [00:21:01] (unclear 00:21:06).


Adam [00:21:02] …let me see if I can recap a little bit of our conversation here, to have a good takeaway for our listeners and then you can share your final thoughts with us. So, we framed this conversation around how nonprofits can drive results for better nonprofit web projects, in particular, what are nonprofit website projects in particular. And within that you started with strategy. So strategy is particularly important, strategy is where, you said that a lot of them do ready, fire, aim which I completely agree with and I put this one in bold. You said people think they know want but they don’t look inward and really understand what they really need. And that’s where that strategy comes in, where they can really understand…


Bo [00:22:43] That’s right.


Adam [00:22:44] …what they need. You also said, ask questions like what problems do we have that we want to solve?. And what opportunities do we have here? which I think are also questions that get overlooked in the process. You mentioned to take a customer-centered approach and to be customer centered you have to get out of your own way.


[00:23:02] For question two in terms of what has not worked well, you outlined three things in particular which is that you’ve got to have, every nonprofit has to have leadership involvement on their end from the beginning of the project, they’ve got to be bought-in at the opening stage and walked through the product at every stage in order to be successful and have successful outcomes in the long run. The next one was commitment to planning. So really commit to planning and really planning well, so plan before you look for the pretty picture. I think that was the quote that I got from you there, which was fantastic. And this can help to inform the team of whether or not the project will be a success because like you said, during the planning phase new things will come up and you’ll begin to realize: “Oh well, maybe we need to think about it this way,” and that’s what’s really going to determine if it’s going to be a successful project or not.


[00:23:51] And then the third thing was stick with the original plan, just because small changes in the organization happen, that doesn’t necessarily mandate a huge revamp of an entire website project. And so it’s best to come up with the plan, have strategy behind the plan and then stick with the plan all the way through to completion, don’t get distracted by new and shiny objects. And under what you’re excited about, you mentioned just more personal experiences like social media, some more personal web experiences in particular and how important mobile is for nonprofits, both in terms of telling their story and also in terms of ranking well for your Google ranking. Did I miss anything there?.


Bo [00:24:32] No, it actually sounded even better when you read it back to me. So, I’m delighted to hear that. And?


Adam [00:24:38] That’s the goal. Well, that’s good. Well, do you have any final thoughts you want to share with the audience?.


Bo [00:24:45] No, I’ve enjoyed participating. We’ve enjoyed a long and beneficial relationship, knowing each other over the years. And we wish you well with 48in48 and Sideways Eight. And I know you’ll continue to grow the business.


Adam [00:25:04] That’s my goal. I’m going to grow the business and grow the nonprofit at the same time. It’s been an interesting challenge but a fun one that I’m willing to tackle. So, Bo, I’m really honored to have you on the podcast, it really means a lot to me. Appreciate your friendship. Thanks for coming out and we’re going to is again, let’s definitely put another one on the books, maybe for six months from now.


Bo [00:25:23} Love to do it again. Thanks…


Adam [00:25:25] (unclear 00:25:25).


Bo [00:25:25} …so much Adam. Good…


Adam [00:25:26] (unclear 00:25:26).


Bo [00:25:26] …talking to you.


Adam [00:25:27] Yeah you too, thanks, Bo.


Adam [00:25:29] Thanks for listening to the Good People Good Marketing podcast. To get more resources about nonprofit digital marketing, make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com where you can find more podcasts, blogs and other fun resources.


[00:25:40] Also if you want to find me, Adam, your host, you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog at adamjwalker.com, where I blog about leadership, productivity, habit building and the craziness of having five kids. Thanks for listening and tune in next time.


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