Should you consider outsourcing your school's website management?
Yes, we are talking about outsourcing your school's website management. Not just the design of the website, which is quite typical for most schools, but to include the ongoing content updates, proofing, copywriting, graphics, and additions throughout the year.
The most vital work of a school website is the ongoing upkeep. It might look great when you get handed a shell with a nice looking landing page, but what happens a year or two down the road when you've had a variety of people adding, deleting, revising, and reorganizing it? Did those folks making those changes understand best practices for website design or layout? Do they have a good understanding of public relations and how the website affects your school's public image? Or, is everyone doing their own thing--or maybe doing nothing because no one has the time to take on this extra task?
Here are the typical choices that schools currently have in website management:
- Self-contained: the website is designed, managed, and hosted within the school or district. This is either a system designed by someone on your staff or a packaged content management system (CMS) is being hosted on your own servers.
- Hosted off-site, managed in-house: a CMS system is hosted in a datacenter and you pay a monthly or annual fee for the hosting and a license fee for the use of the software to update your website. All updates are managed by your school staff.
- Hosted off- or on-site, managed by a webmaster: the website is designed by a professional graphic designer and updates are made by that designer/programmer (requested updates usually paid for at an hourly rate).
- Outsourced management: To our knowledge, School Webmasters is currently the only company that offers this option so we'll describe this in more detail. We design a custom website based on best practices and our extensive experience with schools and public relations. Professional copywriters craft the content, custom graphics are created to make your website unique and visually and functionally appealing, and then we become your staff by managing all the ongoing updates to your website--day in and day out. This includes collecting information from your staff, proofing, making PR suggestions, and maintaining continuity in service levels. When necessary we even write articles so your websites are always informative.
Weigh the outsourcing benefits against the drawbacks:
People: Getting the right skill sets from your people means that you have to pay more and then deal with turnover. Good people can be hard to keep when your budgets are limited (especially when hiring for skillsets like graphic designers, project managers, copywriters, and public relations savvy folks).
Flexibility and scalable: You get what you need when you need it. If you try to manage in-house you might find that you have to overbuy to deal with possible unknown needs.
Continuity and Disaster preparedness: The requirements of keeping up with the latest software and the redundancy, safety, and backup requirements needed to keep your websites up and running with optimum speed and efficiency can be a fulltime job. Not many schools or districts have the funds to manage this in-house. Space, power, and capacity can all be scalable when outsourced.
Saving money: Most companies can save your school money as compared to paying internal staff to develop and manage a website (payroll is the most expensive budget item in any school). Outsourcing can also provide you with predictable costs--you'll know what it is going to cost you for that year. They can also save money by taking advantage of economies of scale, which you can't do in-house. They must, however, make a profit in order to stay in business and continue to serve you, so depending on what all is included you might not see a huge cost savings and that will depend on what you are receiving in return. If you receive more for the money spent, you are still, in essence, saving money. For example, if you get higher quality and reliability while spending no more money, you can still count yourself ahead.
Loss of flexibility: You must be able to count on your service provider to respond to your needs. With the wrong outsourcing partner you can be limited when needs arise or when you experience growth and need to add functionality.
Long-term viability of your service provider: How long have they been servicing schools? Is their business model likely to remain stable regardless of other influences? Admittedly, nothing is bullet proof, but you can do your due diligence and look at past history and check out the company's overall business strategy and reputation to get a good idea if problems are likely.
Degree of control: Will you get the same response time as you would if it is managed in-house by you or your staff? Is what you are getting going to be managed on a part-time basis (when there is time) or is this the primary function of the company who will be working for you to keep your website in top shape?
Institutional knowledge: No one outside of your school or district can have the experience of past history in your school. But, will not having this knowledge affect the outcome of your website? Can you provide the type of information that will mitigate issues from a lack of institutional knowledge?
Is it for you?
Look first at the real costs. Figure in everything that it now costs to manage your website. This should include: staff time, administrative time, system costs, hosting costs, training time, software/hardware expenses, and the cost of implementing repeatable and effective processes. If you currently have many of your staff doing content updates to your existing website, you need to factor in how much of their time is spend on these tasks. Even if you don't track that time, if they are doing that instead of their mission critical tasks then there is a cost to your school. We've gathered some "typical" data from other schools in the chart below. This might be a good matrix to help you determine what your costs are now.
What it takes
(Per site/per month)
Info Gathering (2 hrs)
Copywriting (1 hr)
Website Content Updates (3 hrs)
Proofing/Editing (30 min)
Graphic/Video Enhancements (.75 hrs)
Monthly Staff Reminders (15 min)
Monthly site review (30 min)
Monthly Hosting (per website)
System Training** ($2500 annually)
$472-543 per mo
$129 per mo
*Averages are based on three hours of updates per website per month. Average hourly staff salaries are estimated at $30 per hour (includes benefit costs).
**System training includes trainer and time spent by each participant (for new staff and new functionality) based on average hourly salaries.
Look next at the quality and service levels you have now against what you would have it you take this to an off-site provider. The goal, besides saving your school or district some money, which cannot be ignored, is whether or not you end up doing a better job with your website than you are doing now. Your website can be a vital part of attracting new students, quality staff, and establishing outstanding communication channels within your community.
Every parent, student, and taxpayer should be able to go to your website and see evidence of the great things happening within the walls of your schools. They should see what quality their tax dollars are buying. It can also save you money when it saves your staff time by providing answers to those commonly requested questions, making forms readily available, letting parents get the information they need quickly and conveniently--just by visiting your website. It can cut down on phone calls to your office. It can buy goodwill by making the job of being an involved parent a bit easier and improve communication. It can help you build the positive and respected image you hope to present to your patrons.
Keep your eye on the ball here--if done right you can not only improve your public image but can attract more students, save money, go green (stop using all that paper to get the job done), improve staff morale, and gain the respect that our educators in this country deserve. All this by making good use of that school website? Yep. It's just good public relations and smart leadership.