When is a website not a website?

Could your website be worker harder than it is?

A big part of what I love about the work that I do is that I like pretty things. Simple as that – when I look at a magazine I want to see nice typography, looking at photographs I like clear images, choosing a book by the cover (I know!) means I appreciate a nice layout. And after eighteen years running my website design company, I know how REALLY important an effective, bespoke design is when it comes to customers enjoying a good experience on your website. The question is; is that enough?

Wouldn’t you rather have a website that really earns its keep, takes work off your desk, or frees your staff from mundane tasks? Could a website really do that? So today I’m going to talk to you about when is a website not a website.

Something that I’m often asked is what should I expect from my website? What’s the absolute bare minimum? And it’s very simple as far as I’m concerned. Your website should be something you love, it looks beautiful, it works seamlessly, your customers obviously have a good experience and that then brings in inquiries and sales every single day. If your website’s not doing that, it’s not performing. But on top of that, your website can also be used to help you run your business effectively. For example, we’ve created sites for several charities which have a database built in behind them.

No one ever asks for a database – but when you have a database, it effectively runs your systems for you.

So anything you’re doing on spreadsheets, in word documents, anything you having to calculate manually, it doesn’t have to happen that way – it can all happen online. Which saves you time, money and energy that you can then invest in your business to help it grow. To give one example of this, and how databases can help, is a charity we worked with who support people who are caring for a dependent friend or relative. And they needed to match their volunteers with their service users.

So say you have a service user, it’s Fred and he looks after his wife Vera, they’re both in their late seventies and Vera suffers from Alzheimer’s. Say Fred really wants to go and play golf on Friday afternoon and he would love someone to come and sit with Vera and take care of her, to make sure she’s okay while he’s out.

Sounds simple enough. This charity has a massive book of people who can help Fred – but Vera has loads of cats. So you can’t choose anyone from that database who is allergic to cats, even after taking the time to check that the volunteer is free on the day of the week and time of day required – already time wasted. That narrows it down. Or say the volunteer IS free on a Friday, doesn’t mind cats… but Vera smokes, and they’re asthmatic, That wont work either – and the charity ends up going through their book like this over and over, wasting so much time and effort.

We created a system where they input Fred, Vera, and all of their details – which can drill right down to sensitive information such as which doctor to contact if appropriate, who’s referred them to the charity, etc. Then they input all of their volunteer information – all stored securely with GDPR compliance assured and tracked of course – and instantly see the list of volunteers who match every single criteria that Fred and Vera have, puts them together and bang! Here is the list people who can help. All viable volunteers are then automatically emailed by the system, the first one who clicks “Yes” is recorded and the remaining candidates receive an email immediately which says “Thank you, but you’re no longer required”. Fred then receives an email with a photo to say “This is who’s going to be coming to see you on Friday afternoon”. The day before, that volunteers receives a text or an email reminder to say “Don’t forget you are going to see Vera at this time and this address…” with all of this sensitive information securely delivered.

The volunteer then turns up, has a lovely chat with Vera, Fred goes and plays golf. He’s loving his life.

Immediately after the meeting, everyone automatically receives another email – Fred to ask if he was happy to have this volunteer come again, Volunteer to ask is they are happy to make this a regular thing? If the volunteer says yes and Fred says yes, the system automatically puts it in their diaries and so it goes on.

What this gives a charity is that it not only makes them so much more effective, it saves all of the phone calls or the emails, otherwise made by staff or organisers within the team. Gone is the manual input / going back and forth with their volunteers and their care service users that doesn’t need to happen – it can all be done online.

So that in a nutshell is how databases work. And that’s the sort of system we can build, not just for charities, but also for companies who are managing multiple venues or multiple staff shifts or locations. That is when your website is not a website, when it’s really working for your business, when it’s an extra member of your team.

About the Author: 

Fiona Allman-Treen is an expert in strategic website design and online software systems to enable sustainable growth for business owners and charities globally. An established presenter and devout believer in encouraging entrepreneurship in young people, Fiona founded Hastings-based web agency FAT promotions Ltd in 2001, creating effective websites and online solutions for a portfolio of international and blue chip clients. She also loves classic cars, red wine and plays the ukulele.

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