Yes, we are talking about outsourcing your school's website management. Not just the design of the website, which is quite common for most schools, but to include the ongoing content updates, proofing, copywriting, graphics, and content additions day in and day out.
The most vital work of a school website is the ongoing upkeep. It might look great when you first get handed a nice looking and intuitive new site, 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 the changes understand best practices for website design or layout? Do they have a good grasp of public relations and how the school website affects your school's reputation and image? Or, is everyone doing their own thing--or maybe doing nothing because no one has the time to take on these extra tasks?
#1 Your School’s Image
Every parent, student, and taxpayer should be able to go to your school websites and see evidence of great things happening within the walls of your schools. They should see what quality their tax dollars or tuition 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 school 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 while improving 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 will 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 and your social media platforms? Yep. It's just good public relations and smart leadership.
#2 Website Management Skillsets
Getting the right skill sets, especially for the areas critical to website management, which include graphic design, copywriting, editing, proofing, public relations, and a solid understanding of website best practices, means requiring much more from typical school personnel who are hired for a completely different set of skills. You also must deal with staff turnover so you will be hiring for those skill sets over and over again.
#3 Saving Money
Outsourcing can save your school money, as compared to paying internal staff to develop and manage a website, especially considering that payroll is the most expensive budget item in any school. It can also provide you with predictable costs--you'll know what to expect each year. A company focused on these specific skillsets 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 immediate cost savings. However, if you receive more for the money spent, you are indeed saving. For example, if you get higher quality, consistency, and reliability while spending no more money, you can still count yourself ahead. If your formerly static and out-of-date website is now informative and inviting, you are way ahead financially and in reputation.
Some schools like the idea of more than one person being able to upload content to their website. Their theory that “many hands make light work,” can quickly become “too many cooks spoil the broth” if some oversight for how and where to post this information isn’t strategically managed. When many people have access to upload content, the tone and the message of the content can vary drastically within your website. Inconsistent messaging, tone, and voice, can hurt your school's image and branding, and you can lose credibility. Especially if you have teachers or staff who like to underline, highlight, and bold text, then use exclamation marks for emphasis. Setting clear expectations and establishing style sheets can help reduce this problem, but one or two people should still review content before it’s uploaded, just to be consistent—and that adds time and money to your website management process.
So while CMS might seem like a perfect website solution you can control, there are a lot of other factors to consider that might not become apparent until you’re hip-deep in website issues. Here at School Webmasters, for example, we have about 30 people dedicated to performing your updates on a daily basis (including graphic updates, ADA website compliance, and quality control). We have our own style sheets so that your content is always edited and consistent. Have a problem or issue? We fix it. We become your professional, personal webmasters. All for a low monthly hosting fee of $149.00 per site). While managing your own CMS might be what others are doing, it may no longer be the wisest use of your staff’s time or skills.
#5 Training Time – recurring expenses
One of the often hidden costs when keeping your website management in-house is that of training. No matter how well designed your CMS system might be, no matter how good the documentation is, training is be required. Anyone who has been requested to provide content will need to be trained—not only on the system you’re using but to include all aspects for keeping your website looking professional and representing your school as you’d like. This means using best practices, having an eye for good design, good grammar and spelling, inviting tone, avoiding passive voice, following a standardized style guide, and much more. And training will be an ongoing cost—with staff changes and refresher courses, it will be at least a yearly project that will take time and money (and possibly resentment by staff who are already wearing too many hats and don’t appreciate being given one more). The more people editing the site, the more the cost in time and budget.
#6 Gaining Commitment
You and your staff are committed to your professions. You’re enthused and motivated. But transferring that enthusiasm to the website means taking time and commitment away from your job to update the website. It’s just not a top priority. Whether it is the IT department or teaching staff assigned the duty, it is not the primary objective for them. There are other duties more important. By outsourcing to someone whose job it is to keep your site current, intuitive, and informative, you get commitment.
#7 Improving Quality
Look next at the quality and service levels you have now against what you would have if 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. No matter how large or small your school is, quality in education matters for everything you touch.
By using your CMS software to allow everyone to post to your site, you are likely to see a decline in the quality, accuracy, and ADA compliance of the site content. But, if you narrow the input to only a few trained staff members, your content will be sparse and your website uninformative. They just won’t have all the knowledge to keep the site current. There is a better choice and you can get the best of both worlds. You can have lots of current and informative content, posted in a manner that keeps the high quality you must maintain. School websites are your primary communications tool and often the first impression people have of your school. So, quality matters.
#8 ADA Website Accessibility Compliance
Website accessibility is a complex and challenging requirement. Your school website is required to meet ADA website accessibility mandates and Section 504 of the rehabilitation act. That means every website update must be completed in such a way as to maintain an ADA compliant website. By outsourcing your website management to professionals, and avoiding the required training you would need to provide to your own school staff, you save money and time as you fulfill ADA accessibility requirements.
#9 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 full-time job. Not many schools or districts have the funds or personnel to manage this in-house. Space, power, and capacity can all be scalable when outsourced. The complexity of managing a website has gotten exponentially more challenging in the past few years. Just watch the nightly news to see who was recently hacked to be reminded of this reality—and those are companies with extensive security in place. Your IT department needs to be focused on their core responsibilities, and this isn’t one of them.
So, take a look at what you are doing now. Is it really what is best for your school and your staff and your patrons? Contact us and let us show you how we can manage this for you and for a lower cost than you can keep it in-house. Is it time to take your website management to the next level? If so, we’ve got your back!
Good questions to ask yourself when considering outsourcing the website’s management:
- What problem are we trying to solve?
- What can outsourcing bring to the table that we can't supply using existing staff?
- What will be the effect on our staff? (Save or cost them time?)
- Do I need someone local or nearby? If so, why would that matter?
- How much control would we lose (or gain) by outsourcing?
- Can we improve our internal customer service by the change?
- Will this require any layoffs or reorganization at our school? (Would that be good or bad?)
- Will website quality suffer or improve by outsourcing?
- Will we be able to integrate with other technology functions?
- Will outsourcing the management save YOUR school money?
Don’t forget to do the math!
Look first at the real costs. Figure everything that it now costs to manage your website in-house. 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 they 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 and to your students' education. 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.