Editor’s Note: As an accomplished project manager who’s worked with countless school personnel at countless school districts, Melissa Fowler has narrowed down the three most common questions you might be afraid to ask when building your school website.
One of the biggest hurdles in accomplishing a major project is procrastination. That “put it off until tomorrow” mindset is often driven by fear of the unknown. In many cases, the worry that you won’t know what to do, or have forgotten some key process to accomplish an important task, can create avoidable delays in a major undertaking such as building a school website.
From the start, I emphasize to my clients there is no such thing as a “stupid” question, and they should ask as many times as it takes for me to explain it in a way that’s understandable. However, fear of looking dumb has many people apologizing for needing explanations.
Factor in, too, that many of you involved in the task of building your new website are not technically inclined. And even those who may have the word "technology" somewhere in their job title, the introduction of a new website platform makes no question a dumb question.
How are we supposed to learn if we don’t ask? As a project manager, I actually love getting questions, complex or simple, because they require me to reinforce the information I’ve already learned, as well as research and stay up to date with our processes and products.
As food for thought, and as someone who’s been in your shoes as a former school district employee managing website overhauls, I want to offer you the most critical “bites” of wisdom I’ve gathered on the topic.
1. What am I supposed to do?
If you’re not a very organized or tech-savvy person, this question may seem shameful. However, involvement by both company AND client is a key factor in a successful website launch. Our success is determined by your level of comfort and buy-in with our process, so it’s our duty as your school website developer to make sure you’re involved step-by-step.
Knowing how to land a new school website project from Step A to Step Z isn’t YOUR job. You have your hands full juggling a busy school district and the associated daily responsibilities. So while it’s very helpful when a client is able to dive right in and start working with the new website, we understand it’s not your only priority. The website provider you’re working with shouldn’t expect it to be.
Takeaway: Asking what is needed shows your commitment to holding up your responsibilities on the project, and helps recenter focus on the tasks ahead.
2. Where are we with (any part of the project)?
Sounds simple, right? But you’re afraid it will look like you weren’t paying attention and somehow missed an important responsibility. Or maybe there were pieces that haven’t been completed and you need to follow up with someone who never finished what they were responsible for. So dealing with your new website project once again falls to the bottom of the “to do” pile, and we know that never goes away completely.
Be sure to use the tools at your disposal. At minimum, there should be an online management system that allows you to track your project at a glance. We have a “process checklist” that clients can view at any time to see at what step we are, and we constantly check in via email and occasionally, web meetings.
If those tools don’t provide you with a satisfactory answer, ask! Send an email, ask for a web call, or make notes in the online tool. Nothing slows down momentum more than radio silence. We can’t help you if we don’t know that you’re lost, or have fallen behind on parts of the project.
Your goal and our goal are the same: to produce and launch a gorgeous, accessible website that serves as a showpiece to your district’s accomplishments and provides 24/7 access to information that your publics demand.
Takeaway: It’s not dumb to ask what steps need to be addressed on a project, and what action items remain. You and your school website company are partners, so hold each other accountable.
3. How do I do this?
This is actually the No. 1 question I receive, and most often, with a lot of explanatory preamble.
“I’m sorry I don’t remember from the tutorial, but how do I …..?”
“I know you covered this before, and I should have written it down, but I need to place a picture and what widget do I use?”
“I’m not used to working on our website, this is all new to me.”
Of course it’s new, and consequently, you’re going to have questions. I hope so! With any new process, the best way to learn is to start using it and ask the experts any time you don’t know how to do something. In fact, some of my favorite clients have been those who sent me dozens of emails in a day, explaining things they are doing and asking for refinements or guidance. I know they’re in there, working in the system, learning and figuring things out. My job is to answer those usage questions.
Just like you want your new website to engage your community, I actually relish engaging with my clients. While your provider should be working to empower you to do these things on your own, and if someone tries to make you feel stupid for asking, don’t accept that.
Life is all about constantly learning; that “job” is never done. Reminders and refreshers make the task a lot easier, which is why we have a vast repository of video tutorials and “how to” articles, in addition to our real-time support desk; we want to make it easy for you to learn.
Takeaway: Learning isn’t dumb, memory is finite, and a good website provider welcomes your questions, even if it’s been explained numerous times.
So, don't be afraid to ask. And of course, if you have any questions about this article or any aspect of managing the launch of your school's new website, don't be afraid to ask me. Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melissa is a copywriter, editor, reader, thinker, and motivator who works for Stephens Direct, a marketing agency in Dayton, Ohio. She worked for 12 years in school public relations and digital communications and is a former product manager and project manager with Campus Suite. Reach her via LinkedIn or at email@example.com.