Happy January to all of you!

I’ve had a few instances over the past several weeks that have reminded me of some things that might be useful to share with all of you. Whether you are a small business or non-profit, you undoubtedly have limited resources (read: time and money) for engaging your target audiences (e.g. customers, donors, partners).

Often, we are too busy getting work done to lift our heads up out of the weeds and tell people about what we are doing. Other times, we may have a “What if we…” moment, but we don’t have the skill set in-house to get that idea going. Here are two cheap/free options you may want to pursue.


Upwork is an online freelance web hub. Basically, you hire freelancers for discrete jobs. This may be something simple like converting an image from jpg to svg (vector format). Or modifying an image to remove a background. Or converting a Word form to a fillable PDF form. The joy here is that you can search Upwork’s database of freelancers for the specific skills you want, within a certain price range, with a certain customer satisfaction, and more. You decide how much to spend. You don’t pay until you are happy. Everything is handled via Upwork so there are no shady interactions. I’ve used Upwork freelancers for a variety of projects for which I didn’t have the time or skills and I’ve been quite happy so far. Visit them at https://www.upwork.com/. If you need help finding freelancers, let me know.


I’ve mentioned this before. Mailchimp is a contact management platform (in other words email marketing). You create e-newsletters to engage your audience(s) to take action (buy, donate, sign-up). Mailchimp allows you to configure your website so that every time you post a blog, it automatically gets sent to everyone on your list, automatically gets posted to Facebook, automatically gets posted to Twitter, and more. If you have 2000 or less contacts, IT IS FREE. You really can’t beat this. Of course, nothing is really free. You have to take the time to stop what you are doing and decide to share it with everyone. The best example I have of this is my client Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery (NAHT). Their Executive Director, Dr. George Bellitsos, is excellent at making time to write posts that I post for them on their website. These are configured to automatically get emailed via Mailchimp to their list of contacts and to get automatically posted to their Facebook page. The time he spends on these posts is totally worth it. Here’s why:

  • The posts are formatted to be emailed in a consistent manner. For each email, there is a consistent header and footer. Readers know where to look for the “meat” of the email. (Aside: If you are engaged in email marketing, stop changing your header/fonts/colors with every email. It makes it hard for people on your list to easily read what you are sending. Give your readers’ eyes a rest. Trust me.)
  • The posts are easy to scan. There are defined design elements that highlight subheadings or bullets. They are consistent so the reader can always find them.
  • There is a clear call to action (sign-up, “like” via social media, donate, “share” with others, etc.). These calls are always available.

As an example, the NAHT recently had a “legislative day on the hill” where the Governor signed their proclamation against human trafficking. This was announced on their blog (and therefore via their email newsletter on Mailchimp). They had over 100 people show up in Des Moines for the day on the hill. Incredible. In addition, they’ve been training hotel/motel employees across the state and these trainings are announced via the blog/email. So far, they’ve trained over 75 people. This is a huge impact which took time from Dr. George and a consistent email marketing strategy to achieve.

Of course, I’m also guilty of failing to share what I’m doing too. It’s hard to get beyond your core, day-to-day work to talk to others who might be interested. If you feel you are putting stuff out there and not knowing whether you are reaping benefits, contact me. We can chat about the feedback loop.

A vendor I use for security on my clients’ website just released a blog post that announces that researchers in Belgium discovered a way to break into what we used to think of as “secure” Wi-Fi (aka wireless) networks. They are calling it “KRACK” which is short for Key Reinstallation Attacks.

This affects all modern Wi-Fi equipment, from mobile phones to tablets to workstations, routers, printers and more. This is a big deal and has very widespread security implications.

You can read the full post here:  PSA: Severe Vulnerability in All Wi-Fi Devices  I encourage you to share it widely.

At a high-level, everything you own that uses a wireless network is at risk. Vendors for these devices (Android, Apple, Linksys, Windows, Linux, Amazon, Google, etc.) are all working on patches. They will release these patches ASAP and you should install them ASAP. Please prioritize anything that uses a public wireless network. Here are examples of places you’ll need to update:

  • Desktop workstations
  • Laptops/notebooks
  • Mobile phones
  • Tablets and e-readers that use Wi-Fi
  • Home and office routers
  • Home devices like NEST, Amazon Echo and Google Home
  • Printers, both home and office, that use Wi-Fi
  • Any other device that uses Wi-Fi

Your device should prompt you when a security update is available. Some of your devices will automatically update for you. For routers, you will need to contact your internet service provider, check your manual, or do a Google search on how to update it. Each router is different.

There’s also a growing list on Bleeping Computer’s website that lists updates being released by vendors. You can check this periodically for your affected devices.

In my last post (Google and SSL – What You Need to Know), I gave a brief background on SSL, recent Google changes, and how these changes impact you as a website owner. I’ve been doing research and working with some of you on issues you are seeing with the warnings and error messages certain browsers will show you on your “insecure” sites. If you haven’t seen them yet, here are some examples:

I’m happy to report that I’ve now completed researching the best options for obtaining a stable, affordable, reliable, SSL certificate as well as a fairly easy way to implement them and I’m ready to make my recommendations. One of my tests involved installing SSL on my own website. As opposed to the images above, once SSL is installed your website will look something like this:

In the next week or so, you’ll be getting an email from me with a personal recommendation for your specific situation. In general, here is the approach:

If your site is built on WordPress:

I have decided to migrate all my WordPress sites to Liquid Web’s “Managed WordPress” solution. One of the benefits of this migration is that your migrated site will include the installation of an SSL certificate. The migration will be performed overnight and should not cause any outages. To accommodate for the SSL certificate, I will be charging $50/year. This is far cheaper than competing options of $100/year and up to $250 or $300 per year. I am hopeful that with everyone moving to SSL encryption, it will become standard and the fees will reduce even more over time. I will email you with a schedule and a plan for your input.

If your site is built on Dot Net Nuke:

I would highly recommend you move to a WordPress solution (see above). If not, I can purchase an SSL certificate and install it for you. The cost is $100/year plus installation fees. I will be in touch.

If your site is built on Wix:

Wix announced that they are now supporting SSL (see here). To implement the change, I can log in to your Wix website and update the files accordingly. This should take one or two hours at the most. I will be in touch to verify you want me to do this.

If your site is built on Wild Apricot:

Wild Apricot will allow me to purchase an SSL certificate but they require a fee for them to install it and they won’t let me install it. The best SSL certificate I have found (i.e. easy to install and most affordable) is $50/year. Wild Apricot will charge another $50 to install it and $50 to reinstall each year. Therefore, the additional cost to you would be $100/year going forward. I will bill this as a straight pass-through cost. I will be in touch.

If your site is built on Shopify:

You have no worries! You should already have an SSL certificate installed as part of your Shopify plan.

For everyone else:

Contact me!

As always, I welcome questions and comments.



So you may have heard that Google announced a couple of years ago that in determining search engine rankings, they were going to consider whether a site had an SSL certificate installed. (Or maybe you didn’t hear this… my ears might perk up more than yours at stuff like this.) First, some definitions.

What is an SSL Certificate?

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It basically means that if you have a SSL certificate installed on your web server, it will encrypt the data passed between your web server and your web site visitor’s browser. In the past, this was really only a big issue if your site collected sensitive information such as credit card numbers. For most of my clients, this was not a big deal because all credit card processing is handled by a third party, like PayPal.

How do you know if a site has an SSL Certificate?

You may notice that in some browsers, you’ll see the URL (the address of the site at the top of the browser window) starts with “http://” and sometimes it starts with “https://”. The latter means it has SSL. Lately, browsers will also sometimes show a green padlock icon to indicate that the site has SSL. And some browsers would warn you if you landed on a page where sensitive information was being collected on a site that was not secure (i.e. did not have SSL). This is a good thing. You (and your web site visitors) should not pass sensitive information through a browser that is not encrypted. Again, for most of you, this hasn’t been an issue because all sensitive information was handled by a third party.

Why do I care now?

So back to the opening paragraph. Google announced a few years ago it would start considering whether a site was secure in determining search engine rankings. Well, now Google has gone even further. They announced that this month they will start showing sites with a “Not secure” label in the URL address at the top of their Chrome browser if the site collects sensitive information and isn’t secure. And (here’s the real kicker), eventually (date TBD) it will expand this to show ALL pages with the “Not secure” label in the URL address even if the page doesn’t collect any sensitive information. (You can see pictures of how this will look for a user at this very helpful post: How to Get a Free SSL Certificate (and Why Google is Forcing You To)

While the timeline is not determined on when they will do this, it is definitely in your best interest to be researching now how to get SSL installed on your website, not only to potentially boost search engine rankings (although if everyone has to do it I’m not convinced of a bump in rankings… it’s kind of like if everyone is special then no one is special) and to ensure your website visitors don’t perceive your website as insecure (this is the bigger issue IMO)

What should I do?

I’m writing this post to give you a heads up. I’m in the midst of researching what I think is the best option for my clients. If you have a website on Shopify, Wild Apricot, or Wix, there are other considerations and I’m looking in to those. If you host with someone else, I will give you an opinion on what to do with your host provider. And if you host with me, I’ll have an option to offer once I figure out what I think makes the most sense from a cost and maintenance perspective. As you may have read in the post I linked above, you can get SSL certificates for free. You can also pay up to $250 per year for them. The difference is in the strength of the certificate and the ease of maintenance (e.g. the ones that are free require renewal every three months…royal pain). But the $300 ones provide a much higher level of security than most of my clients need. Regardless, they all require time from a human and the web hosting provider to install, and trying to anticipate what Google is going to do is a lot like herding cats. So this is not a one-stop-quick-fix sort of deal.

More to come! I welcome questions.

Several of my clients use an online membership management tool called Wild Apricot. Wild Apricot essentially automates your membership renewal process freeing up time from your support staff. They also have capabilities for setting up events, blog posts, forums, etc. In my opinion, for a non-profit, they are a little on the pricey side. But they do what they do well.

I thought I’d let you all know about a FREE webinar tomorrow. Wild Apricot does many free webinars and most of them are pretty good. They are succinct and to the point and you can ask questions if you want or just sit back and listen. Tomorrow’s is on attracting the elusive millennials. Many of my clients have had this discussion recently so I thought I’d share about this webinar. I’m hoping to attend if my day goes well! Here’s the info:

World renowned expert on millennials and author of Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now, Sarah Sladek, shows you how successful organizations are attracting millennials.

In this free webinar, you’ll learn:

  • The one thing millennials want before they will join your organization
  • The 4 defining characteristics of millennials that you must address to engage them
  • A simple 30-day process to get the insights your organization needs to attract millennials

This webinar is a rebroadcast from our Membership Growth Online Summit in April. Be sure to join us this Thursday, September 22 at 2:00 PM (ET) to view this webinar. We will be live on chat to answer your questions.

Date: Thursday, September 22nd
Time: 2:00 PM (ET)
Click here to register

All registrants will receive a recording of the webinar.

Some of the most common questions I get from my clients have to do with their brand.

What is it, why do I care, and how do I create one?

First let’s start with some quick definitions:

  • Brand – how you are perceived by your consumers (or members, donors, employees, clients, vendors, etc.)
  • Brand elements – pieces of the brand that tell your story
    • Imagery
    • Colors
    • Fonts
    • Voice
  • Brand consistency – the degree to which all aspects of your consumers’ perceptions are consistent or integrated
    • Does your print marketing match your online marketing?
    • Is the font style used on your website consistent with font style used on your business cards? brochures? mailers?
    • Are your online newsletters an extension of your website in terms of colors, graphics, and voice?

I like to think of an organization’s brand identity (if done well) as something that essentially creates the unique “ah ha” moment for your consumer/member/donor that causes them to take action with you (join, donate, buy, “like”, “share”). If your brand identity conflicts with itself on your various forms of media, you can’t consistently tell a story that encourages that “ah ha” moment. People will be confused.

Here’s an example:


Take a look at the fonts and colors on the left vs. the right. The email on the left gives off a more “discount warehouse” feel with bold and red fonts and yellow “star tags.” The webpage on the right has a more retro, soft palette and style. The layout of the email has images that are offset and tend to be more “in your face.” The webpage has white space and minimalistic images. If I were to look at these two “brands” I would never guess they were from the same company. This would not tell me a story about this company and why I should take action with them and I’d probably just move on.

Here’s another example. If you’ve read other posts about me, you know I like to compete in sprint-distance triathlons. One of my favorites is the Esprit de She in Naperville, a triathlon for women.


Even though the background and font colors are different, you can still see a consistent story here. The images at the top of the email and the webpage bothe have a subtle curving edge, the fonts are minimalistic, there is a lot of white space, important words are bolded making it easy to scan. Both of these are very easy to read and use. Both tell a story about women athletes and encourage the viewer to find out more.

If you want help creating your brand or extending it to other platforms (email marketing, print, business cards, etc.), contact me and let’s talk!

Many of my clients are non-profts and my for-profit clients are mostly small businesses. None of my clients have endless pools of money to spend on their website, email marketing, print marketing, or brand identity in general. Along the years, I’ve compiled several lists of resources I like to use in my work that don’t cost a fortune but can make a hugely positive impact on how an organization is perceived through their online presence. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Mailchimp – online software to send marketing emails and manage contact list sign-up and opt-out automatically; integrates with multiple platforms like WordPress, SalesForce
    • Free for up to 2,000 contacts and 12,000 emails per month
    • Customizable email templates that can be created based on your website design
    • Automatically created sign-up and opt-out forms that can be embedded on your website
    • Ability to schedule emails to be sent in the future
    • Ability to automatically email contacts when you post a new blog to your website
  • Pixabay – free images and videos to use on your website without worrying about copyright infringement
    • I love this because a lot of the imagse are more “natural” looking and not just standard stock photography
    • There are no complicated attributions to make…and the set of images and videos is growing rapidly so it’s easy to find an image that meets your needs quickly
  • Flickr – this was originally built for people to store their photos and is now also used for people to offer their photos for others to use; it is similar to Pixabay (above) but some of the images require attribution so you need to read the fine details
  • Survey Monkey – online survey platform
    • Free for up to 10 questions per survey and 100 responses per survey
    • You can create as many surveys as you want
    • Monthly fees if you have more questions and/or to collect more responses or if your questions require more complex logic
    • I like to use this for quick opinion polls, post-class surveys, etc.
  • Google Analytics – embed a tracking code on your website and track everything about who is visiting your site such as where they live, what device/operating system/browser they use, what keywords they use to find you, what paths they take on your website and where they drop off rather than complete an interaction
    • Free
    • Requires some skill to understand how to set up and interpret the reports
    • Once reports are setup, they can automatically be emailed on a scheduled basis
    • Best results occur when reports are actively monitored and actions are taken to update your website based on the reports
  • Facebook – different from your personal Facebook account, a Facebook page for a business, non-profit, or other organization allows you to post content about your organization and gives people the ability to share it via their social media contacts thus extending your audience
    • Key:  post relevant content
    • Key:  post content regularly (at least once or twice per month)
    • Key:  embed your Facebook feed on your website allowing website visitors to “share” your content and “like” your page, which spreads the word about you for free on social media
    • Other options:  create “events” on Facebook to invite people to your grand opening, fundraising, or other events; upload candid photos about the work your organization is doing in the background to help tell an authentic story
  • PayPal – online payment processor
    • Many clients think this is complicated…it’s not.
    • Quickly and easily accept credit cards anywhere
    • Shoppers/Donors do not need a PayPal account; they can pay via any credit card
    • PayPal has a high-level of trust in the marketplace for online security
    • PayPal provides a free card scanner to use with your mobile devices so you can accept credit cards right on the spot

If you want help setting any of these up, just let me know!

So as you know if you read my bio, I started my career with a job at Accenture. As an alumnus, I am invited to free webcasts on various topics of interest such as research they’ve done, programs they are implementing for their employees, client success stories, etc.

In February, I joined one about their predictions for 2015. It was really very interesting. I especially enjoyed two themes they shared.

“Outcome Economy”

By this they mean that people are less interested in hardware and more interested in outcomes. A favorite quote was

People prefer a 1/4″ hole over a 1/4″ drill bit.

“Workforce Reimagined”

One of the studies quoted was about the speed with which humans vs. machines could weld car pieces together. The surprising result was that if one human and one robot worked together, they were 10 times faster than two humans working together or two machines working together. This human-computer interface, or how humans work with machines, has been a lifelong passion of mine. What makes the computer/machine design more efficient for a human? Or more appealing? Or easier to use?

In website design, this is an ever changing target as technology advances and people’s desired outcomes change. This is what challenges me and what I love about my job!

One of my clients recently said, “Can you make these documents work better? Shelter House of Iowa City uses a tremendous amount of forms to check people in each night to use one of their 70 beds. I am currently in the process of working with them to build a more automated solution. In the meantime, they needed something to make their lives easier. I took their Word documents and created Adobe fillable PDFs. This way, they can type in the information and print it out or save and email it. See Before and After images below.

Why hire an employee when you can hire me only when needed and save a ton of money in the process?

Interested in some great holiday shopping ideas? Check out a few of my clients!

Retail items:

  • Joy Poured Out – buy awesome coffee, benefit one of five non-profits. It’s a win-win!
  • Suzanne Aunan – local artist with paintings, note cards, and ornaments depicting fun scenes around our community