Whether you already have a website or are creating a new one from scratch: Make sure that if a potential client looked at your website, they could find all the information they need to answer these questions:
- Who are you?
- Who do you serve?
- What do you do?
- When can they access your services?
- Where are you?
- Why should they use your services?
- How much do your programs cost?
- How do they sign up?
- Optional: what do your clients say about your services?
Don’t assume anyone knows the answer to any of these questions! Be explicit.
I’m going to give some examples of each of these items. If I was looking for family services, here are the things I would want to see if I were a potential client.
Who are you?
Somewhere on your site, describe you / your staff. Who would I interact with as a client? What is that person’s training and experience? It’s great if you can include pictures – it helps me connect with you. If you’re in parent services of any sort (childbirth educator, parent educator, preschool teacher, doula, etc.) I like to know whether you’re a parent or not. If you are, it helps tell me that you’ve BEEN THERE, which is reassuring to me. If you’re not a parent yourself, then I want to know more about your other background and experience and what you have learned by working with parents.
If you have multiple staff members I might encounter, help me understand what each of their roles is. (For example, at my toddler classes, the parent educator (me) and the children’s teachers are often in the same room, doing similar tasks, but I explain to students on the first day that I am primarily responsible for the parents – parent education and the administration of the class, and the teacher is primarily responsible for the children and for planning children’s activities.)
Who do you serve?
Give me the basics: ages served (for children’s classes), gender, who comes to class (parent and child? Parent only? Child only? Expectant mama only or mama and partner? Don’t assume I know who is supposed to come to programs like this!
Think of the diversity of families you might serve. Make sure the pictures on your site reflect that diversity. And make sure the words do too! I want to know if “people like me” are welcome there. For a childbirth class, can single women come? Women with female partners? For a prenatal baby care class: are only pregnant families welcome? What about adopting families? For a parent-child class, is it moms-and-kids only, or can dad come? Can grandma or nanny bring the child? For a preschool, are you OK with me bringing my non-English speaking child? How about my not-really-potty-trained child? If you’re a church, can I bring my not-always-quiet toddler to services? What will I do if he is disruptive?
Think of all the clients you might serve. Think which ones would wonder and worry about whether they would be welcomed. Let them know they would be!
For many services, it also helps me to know how many people you serve. For example, if you run a preschool, I would like to know how many students you have in a class and what the teacher to student ratios are.
What do you do?
Explain what you do. Don’t assume that readers know how things work. For example, even in Seattle, you can’t assume a pregnant mama knows what you mean when you say you provide “doula services” and you can’t assume she’ll look elsewhere for the definition. Just define it on your site! Same thing with cooperative preschool. Or drop-in breastfeeding support. Or “RE classes” at a church.
It’s intimidating for me to contact you and ask you “so, what is it you do” because I don’t want to feel stupid… I might just decide not to contact you rather than face that. So be really clear… Tell me what I can expect from you!
An example: if you run a preschool, I’d love to know what a typical day looks like. How is the schedule divided up between free play, structured group time, outdoor play, and so on? What kinds of activities will my child do? Don’t use jargon and do tell me how kids benefit from each activity. Don’t say “dramatic play”, say “puppets, kitchen area, dress-up.” Don’t just say “blocks”, say “blocks allow kids to explore mathematical concepts of shapes and sizes, physics concepts like gravity, and social skills like negotiating with other children what their vision is for their collaborative building project.” And in addition to telling me about activities, it’s even better if you show me pictures!!
You may also include a summary of the philosophy of your program. Continuing our preschool example: Why do you do things the way you do? Will my child have fun and will it prepare them for the future? Why is play-based better than academic preschool? How does parent involvement benefit kids? Why will I, as a parent, love the experience? Get me excited – make me realize that there’s nothing better out there!
When can they access your services?
If you teach classes, list class times. And not just start time – always include end times too! If you do occasional workshops, but you don’t have the next one scheduled yet, at least say “we typically hold two per year, one in March or April, and one in October or November.” If you have a phone hotline, say what hours I could expect to reach a human, and also tell me what happens at other hours. (Can I call you at 3 am and leave you a voice mail and expect a call back in the morning?) If you do home visits or private classes, are they only available during business hours? Weekends? If you provide a service that is only available limited times, could you tell me what services I could use at other times if I need them? (For example, if you run a drop-in breastfeeding group on Mondays, and I NEED one on a Thursday or Friday, I’d love it if you could tell me where to look.)
Where are you?
If your services are based in a classroom or other facility, give the address. It may be helpful if you also give the neighborhood somewhere on the site. (For example, on the home page, you might say “in the Eastgate neighborhood of Bellevue” and on your contact page, you have the full address.) Consider whether you need to give directions. Most people use a GPS / smart phone to navigate to addresses these days, so check whether those are accurate for your site. Those directions will only take them to the front door of your building: what do they need to know when they get there? Where to park? For big buildings (like hospitals), which door would they go in? How would they find the classroom? If possible, include photos of your site. Photos really help give potential clients a much better sense of what their experience would be like and help it seem less intimidating to imagine going to this new place.
It may be helpful to include the names of other cities or facilities on your webpage. For example, if your clients come from multiple cities, it’s OK to say “serving families from X, Y, and Z” so if someone searched for “services in Z”, they’d find you. If you teach childbirth classes in the community, it would be well worth it to say “Classes are appropriate for those birthing at home, Mary’s birthing center, St. Bob hospital, and Hometown Memorial hospital” so that people who search for “birth class Hometown” will find you.
If your services have you come to the client (e.g. for home-based lactation visits, or doula services) then be sure to give a sense of what areas you serve. Again, this might be city names, and could also be names of facilities you work in.
Always make sure that your city and state appear somewhere on the site. If you’re called Puget Sound lactation consultants, then yes, people who live in Puget Sound will know you’re local. But people elsewhere in the country who pull up your site by accident will be mystified. Go ahead and throw the name of your city and state somewhere to make it easier on them.
Why should they use your services?
Do you believe in what you do?
Do you think your services make a difference in the lives of the people you serve?
If so, please tell me that!!
For profit companies usually do a good job of marketing their products and telling you why they are fabulous must-have items that will help you have a happier life. But non-profits often are so “turned off” by all those sales jobs that many shudder at the word “marketing” and use terms like “outreach” to describe their blandly informative websites. When I suggest “selling” the benefits of their program, I have had non-profit managers tell me “for profit companies do that, WE don’t do that.” Why not? Now, I’m not saying you follow the lead of the slickest and smarmiest advertisers. I am saying: Know what makes your services special. Know why your work matters. And tell people that with pride.
How much do your programs cost?
Please don’t hide the costs from me. I want to know up-front how much something costs. I’m not likely to pursue something that won’t tell me the cost, as I figure it must be really expensive. Or, on the other hand, if you’re a non-profit that doesn’t mention fees anywhere on your site, your potential clients may come to you thinking that you are a free service, and be quite disappointed when they find out you’re not!
If you’re worried that people will think it’s too expensive and be scared off, then make sure you tell them why it’s worth it. Compare it to other things they spend money on (this is why public radio pledge drives say things like “for the cost of one latte per month…” or “a pledge that’s less than you pay for your monthly cable bill”). And if you have scholarships or discounts available, say so.
Be clear about your fees. I found that when looking at preschools, some gave hourly costs, some monthly, some quarterly, some yearly. It was very hard to compare apples to apples. When you give a dollar amount, say what period of time that covers: “$XX per month.” If you’re a good deal compared to your “competition”, feel free to tell me that. “Other preschools cost anywhere from $10 – 25 per hour. Our coop is $9.50 per hour.”
If there are any additional fees, please be upfront about those too. And if I need to contribute in non-monetary ways, I need to know that. So, coop preschools can talk about being cheaper, but also need to say “parents will be expected to work in the classroom N times per month.” (Please give me some examples of what that work would be like, so I can decide if it’s something I’m up to doing. It can sound intimidating or hard, until you tell me a sample job is sitting at the art table helping kids with craft projects.)
How do they learn more?
If you offer open houses, tours, class visits, complementary consultations, free class sessions, or anything else that allows me to check out your program without a financial or long-term schedule commitment, be sure to tell me that.
How do they sign up?
Make sure your website has a clear call to action. If you’ve done a good job with the content, when I finish reading it, I should be excited about your program. I should be thinking: I want this now! How do I sign up?
Tell me, is there space available? How far in advance do I sign up? What’s the process for signing up? Can I sign up online? Right now? With my credit card?
Online registration challenges many non-profits. But, I think it is becoming more and more essential. I am older than most of the parents that I serve, and so I know they can only be more technology focused than I am – I am used to buying my movie and theatre tickets online, ordering my groceries on an app on my cell phone, booking a hotel from my tablet. If I’m reading about your program on my cell phone while my kid plays in the park, I might just register online right then if you make it easy for me. But if you tell me the only way for me to register for your program is to print out a form and mail it in with a check, you’ve greatly reduced the chance I will use your services! And if I have to call during business hours, honestly, that makes it even less likely. (My daughters are 21 and 17 – the upcoming generation of young adults – they will go to great lengths to avoid making a phone call and I think that’s common for most of their peers.)
There are ways to set online registration up, either by using existing systems (we use Thriva by Active Network to register for classes at one of my jobs; I have used EventBrite and Brown Paper Tickets for events. There are plenty more out there – some easier to set up, some harder, some free, some charging $3 – 5 per registration) or you can set up your own online forms and process payment through PayPal. Search online for ideas, or ask other organizations what they have done.
If you just can’t manage online registration, at least make it as easy for me as possible!
What do other people say about your program?
I think that testimonials are very powerful. Quotes from review sites are good too. And survey results from your class evaluations also tell me that people like me benefited from your services, and I would too. Try to find a way to incorporate these things on your site.
Note: if you don’t feel comfortable “selling yourself” under the “why should they use your services” section, you can use other peoples’ words (i.e. testimonials) to do that.
Where do you start?
If you don’t have a website, first write out the answers to these questions, and then figure out the structure of the website from there. That way you know you’ve covered the key points before getting distracted by the details.
If you already have a website, pick one of these questions. Then put yourselves inside the head of a potential client who knows nothing at all about your services, and very little about your field. Would they find the answers to that question on your site? How many clicks would it take them to find that answer? And will they be willing to click that many times? Make it easy on them to find all the basics!