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best of Madison

There are plenty of perks to an office located at the tip of one of Madison’s most vibrant streets: lively entertainment (some professional, some, well…not), fantastic scenery, and more food and drink options that you could ever imagine. Mathematically speaking, Madison no longer holds the title for most restaurants per capita in the United States, but that doesn’t mean that we are lacking in that department by any means. And we’re incredibly fortunate that many of the most spectacular spots in town are conveniently located just steps away from our office doors.

While we love to entertain our AMPED clients and boards at various places, I thought I’d take a moment to find out what we, the people of AMPED, like best in the heart of this sweet city we call home.

FOOD CART – Good Food
Specializing in freshly made, low-carb, (mostly) gluten and grain-free salads, wraps, and soups, Good Food was the landslide winner in this category. You can expect to wait in line upwards of 15 minutes to simply place your lunch order, even on the coldest of Wisconsin winter days. But it seems like everyone can agree that it’s well worth the wait, as Good Food has been repeatedly voted best food cart, not only by AMPED, but by the entire city.

COFFEE – Starbucks at MLK & Main
Coffee plays a pretty significant role in our day-to-day lives at AMPED and some of us can be rather particular when it comes to our daily cup(s) of joe. Some of us exclusively drink it iced, all year long, while others opt for steaming hot or change it up based on the weather. Some like to patronize the local shops, while others go for the consistency (and rewards) offered by the chains. That said, even with another nearby Starbucks in the category, this location reigned supreme. Special shout out to barista Greg, who can even distinguish our Emilys.

QUICK LUNCH – Ian’s Pizza
Maybe it’s the delightful smell of pizza dough tantalizing your nostrils as you walk by each morning, or maybe it’s the laid-back attitude of each Ian’s employee making you feel at home as you walk in the door, but Ian’s has a way of reeling you in, no matter how many times you tell yourself you won’t eat at Ian’s again this week. The really cool thing about Ian’s, is that if you have any willpower at all, you totally don’t have to eat pizza. You can instead opt for one of their salads, or even build your own. Some might even say it’s better than the pizza. That some would not include me.

HAPPY HOUR – The Old Fashioned
It shall remain a mystery whether this was voted the favorite due to the iconic namesake drink, or the divine fried cheese curds (with Tiger sauce, please!), but if you visit the Old Fashioned and leave without sampling both, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.

AFTER WORK OUTING – Concerts On the Square
Affectionately nicknamed COTS, this event is the one that most AMPED employees can always seem to fit into their schedules – even those who work remotely! What’s not to love about a balmy, mid-summer Wednesday night on the Capitol lawn, wining and dining with colleagues (and their families!) you’re happy to call friends?


And because my AMPED colleagues unanimously felt that a category was missing, I had to add one more:

BEST DONUTS – IT’S A TIE!
A Madison staple since 1996, Greenbush Bakery still has what it takes to go neck-and-neck with new kid on the donut block, Dough Baby. It’s always a good day when someone brings Greenbush donuts to share but who can resist a walk to the girl-powered, coconut oil-fried, monthly rotating menu fierceness of Dough Baby?!

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When it comes to Photoshop skills, I like to describe myself as a “seasoned beginner.” With so many ways to accomplish the same effect, I’ve always viewed the software as a conundrum. It’s an easy excuse to say that I never have enough time to learn more. But when it’s crunch time and I need a last-minute graphic, I’m at a loss, with no easy way forward.

Canva is the easy solution. This free, online software describes itself as making “design simple for everyone.” It provides ready-to-use templates for everything from blog banners to business cards. I value their social media templates most; the exact dimensions and layouts for each platform makes it easy to transform marketing campaign graphics from one social media account to another.


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Canva offers preset layouts, as well. If you’d rather create your graphic from scratch, there’s a simple toolbar on the side that contains a variety of font options, images and illustrations. The drag-and-drop editor enables anyone and everyone to use it — even those who aren’t seasoned Photoshop beginners.


Canva 2

Canva prides itself in making design simple, but is it too simple? By simplifying the functions, it limits design possibilities. I’ll admit that there have been times when I was unable to create an effect in Canva that I know is possible in Photoshop. When it comes down to it, online tools like Canva are great for discovering new ideas for graphics and creating quick and simple designs, but if you have a specific design in mind, programs like Photoshop and InDesign will always deliver.

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squarespace stories

If you’ve ever listened to a podcast, chances are you’ve heard of Casper Mattress, Blue Apron or Squarespace, the website design company that built their platform so that anyone can build a beautiful website. Their marketing was effective because I threw them into the mix of solutions to consider when two of my clients needed a quick and simple solution for a few websites. We looked into it and ultimately decided to try it out.

This was my first time working with this platform, so it was an exciting opportunity to learn a new way of building a website. Over the span of one month, I built three websites on Squarespace for two clients: one main association website, and two event websites, here and here.

Here is why Squarespace worked for these specific sites:

1. No integrations – None of the websites I recently built needed to integrate with an association management Sastem (AMS) or a learning management system (LMS). To be honest, I wouldn’t have even considered Squarespace if this wasn’t the case.

2. Limited content – The websites had really limited content, making Squarespace a great solution. At the minimum subscription level, you get 20 pages included in the template you choose. This did not restrict me from making the website I wanted; in fact, we were hoping to specifically make one of the websites more effective by removing excess content and adjusting the layout, so the page limit forced me to strategically layout the website.

3. Simple design – The sites I built needed fairly basic features. They did not need pull in multiple social feeds, include custom coded features or tools, have a blog, differentiate between member/non-member content or include sub-sites for association chapters or events. Again, if these had been requirements, I would not have even considered Squarespace.

4. Cost effective – The lowest subscription comes out at $144 a year (if you pay upfront). This includes 20 pages, mobile optimization, a free custom domain, integrated e-commerce and hosting fees. They do offer another level that allows unlimited pages, promotional pop-ups, and other features for a little more. Depending on your website needs and the designers you work with, sometimes a website redesign can cost upwards of $8,000!

A few notes on why it is not a solution for everyone:
1. Integrations and custom coding – If you have an AMS or require a single sign on for your association to offer member benefits, this is probably not the solution for you. If you have a lot of custom coded tools or features on your website that you would like migrated to a Squarespace site, you might want to do some research and/or contact support to see if that is possible before making the jump.

2. No access to html – I didn’t realize how much I depend on html to make quick changes if things are not formatting properly, until I was unable to. Squarespace does not really function like this, and that was definitely something I had to get used to. Luckily, you can still add blocks of code onto the pages. For example, I like to use tables when laying out our event schedules or listing the board of directors and Squarespace does not have a table block. I ended up entering a code block onto the page and just designing the entire page with html.

3. Limited templates - There aren’t a ton of templates to choose from, so if you have a specific vision for the design of your website, this isn’t the platform for you. You have to take what they give you and build your vision around that.

Here are some cool features about Squarespace:
Permissions – You can assign different administrative roles to users. The site makes it extremely easy to grant and restrict access to anyone. For example, if you just want to give the chair of your website subcommittee access to review the reporting in Squarespace, this is a permission you can easily setup.

Forms – You can easily create customized forms in Squarespace which are built with blocks, just like the pages. We used the form feature so that our attendees could request meeting space during our event.

Block layout – You create your website by simply adding blocks of content. Squarespace makes it easy to add blocks between other blocks and reformat them on the page with drag-and-drop functionality.

Mobile responsive – One of our websites really needed to be upgraded; some of the features were breaking each time we added a new plugin or update, and the site was not mobile responsive. All of the Squarespace sites are mobile responsive and you can edit how the site appears on mobile devices. This ended up being a HUGE upgrade for that client at a reasonable cost.

Support – Squarespace has a great support team available to email or chat any time. I’ve been able to resolve questions through their chat support and felt that they were responsive and attentive.

I really enjoyed learning about Squarespace through this process, but it is not the answer for all website needs. For many, it can a quick and easy solution toward a beautiful website. And if it isn’t a good fit for your association, perhaps it could be a solution for a personal website.

 

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AUDC IIBack in April, my colleague and I traveled to Nashville, Tenn. to attend AUDC 2017 – Abila’s user conference. Several of our clients use Abila’s NetForum product as their association management system (AMS). It was an extremely busy time of the year to be out of the office for the full week, but I am so grateful that we went. We learned a ton, made valuable connections and met face-to-face with our Abila contacts to address some issues we had been experiencing.

Here’s why I’m happy we went and why you should consider going to user conferences for any technology platforms used in your association:

Meet face-to-face with your account managers: Honestly, I would say that this was the most valuable part of the conference for us. We were able to sit down face-to-face with our account manager, product leads and developers to discuss concerns we had over the way some modules in the system worked. It was so much more efficient for them to be able to ask questions and get a better understanding of why something was an issue.

You don’t know what you don’t know: Between the two of us, we have a combined 13 years' experience using NetForum. Does that mean we are pros? We’d like to think so, but we know that isn’t true. The fact is, we are so entrenched in the day-to-day procedures for our clients, we aren’t always immediately aware of updates to the system that create more efficient ways to do things. In fact, we were so excited about one particular item we learned that we spent the next 45 minutes playing around with the feature and immediately sent it back to our colleagues at the office.

Learn from other attendees: We learned so much just by listening to other attendees ask questions — questions that we may not have thought of, but that sparked new ideas for us and our clients.

Network: It was also helpful to attend for the networking aspect of things — finding other people like you or the clients you work with — and expanding your network of peers. On the flip side, it’s also extremely helpful to network with the vendors that attend the conference. The other technology vendors in attendance likely already “play well” with the system, so it’s a good way to narrow down your search for conference apps, abstract management systems, web platforms and more.

We have multiple clients using Abila’s NetForum Pro, and since attending AUDC 2017, they have all implemented at least one specific thing we learned there. By attending, we strengthened our relationships with our Abila contacts, peers, and other technology providers. Definitely worth the trip!

Have you attended a user conference recently? What did you find most valuable?

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It’s hard enough keeping up with association best practices that apply to your day-to-day operations. Now you have to worry about the ever-changing best practices for your website as well. I’ve had a few association professionals ask me, “What should I be doing with my website that I’m not already doing?” Here are the three things I tell them they must be doing in 2017 to keep up to date and get the results they want out of their digital presence.

Social Proofing
Believe it or not, each and every one of us has experienced social proofing at some point in our life. Defined as "the psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation," social proofing is the art of using testimonials and opinions of others to drive consumer behavior.

An example of social proofing would be when you’re looking for somewhere to eat and you hop online to look up reviews. You see two restaurants you’re interested in but one has reviews and the other doesn't. You decide to go to the place with reviews because the restaurant without reviews can’t be any good if it hasn’t been reviewed, right? You’ve taken other peoples' word for it (mind you, complete strangers) and made your purchasing decision. You’ve been social proofed!

Talk with the influential people who are part of your association to participate in testimonials, blogs or even a photo shoot. You can then use this material on your website to show that well-known industry members find your association valuable enough to be members. Add individual or organizational member photos (with their permission of course) to your site to show other potential members which big names are already part of your association.

Responsive Design
We all know that people live and breathe on their mobile devices today. That’s why it’s absolutely necessary to make sure the experience you provide to your website visitors is just as good on a phone or tablet, as it is on a desktop. There’s nothing more frustrating than when you look something up on the internet and you can’t find what you need because the website doesn’t work well with your phone. We’ve all experienced those websites on our phones where you’re constantly trying to zoom in and out on your phone to click those tiny, little links. It’s extremely frustrating!

Many web developers are now using what is called “mobile-first” design practices. This means the website is designed with the smallest screen sizes in mind, working the way up to large screens. This practice ensures that anyone trying to access your website on the go is provided with the best possible experience and, in turn, can see the value your association brings immediately.

Do yourself a favor and put your non-member cap on. Pick up your phone and go to your association’s website. Is it abundantly clear what the benefit of joining your association is? Can you search for resources easily? Are links big enough to click, or do you have to zoom in? Make sure they walk away talking about the content and value your association offers, and not how terrible the mobile version of your site is.

SSL
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is an important way to show visitors that your website is secure. SSL is technology that establishes an encrypted link between a web server (where your website lives) and a browser (the vehicle that gets people there). The encrypted link makes sure that any data passed from the visitor to your site is and will remain private.
SSL creates a pathway for your visitors to search your site, purchase things like memberships or publications and share information safely. You should especially consider it if your website requires login to a members-only portal. The internet is swamped with bots scouring websites for unprotected password pages so they can add unwanted content, or delete it all together.

Getting an SSL is a standard and straight-forward procedure for any IT team. Your association should work with your web developer or the IT person directly to get this set up as soon as possible. This is a great way to build trust with visitors and show them that you’re aware of the potential dangers of sharing data. It’s just one more way to show them you care about them and their valuable financial and personal data.

 

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