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The Foundation to Transformation, Part 3

EXPANDING FACULTY AND STAFF ENGAGEMENT

Transparency is vital for success and implementation during organizational change. Including faculty and staff during the brainstorming, planning, and application stages will enable everyone to feel that they served an important part in the institution's transformation. 

In the third and final part of this series, we will explore how to create acceptance and support of new initiatives through individual feedback. Sometimes, there may not be the time, capacity, or ability to engage every single faculty and staff member in person. However, their thoughts and ideas are still important to the process. Three effective ways to build staff rapport is convening stakeholders, hosting focus groups, and using electronic surveys.

CONVENE STAKEHOLDERS

When undertaking work as delicate as an organizational restructure, it is critical to convene the leadership of all stakeholders to build the case, chart the course and share the framework of a timeline. Without this, the organization allows space for the “rumor mill” to thrive and uncertainty to flourish. When doubts begin to set in, the institution is at a risk of losing quality employees. To avoid this type of fiasco, the following communicative steps should be taken: 

            • Meet with the leadership team first. This provides leadership time to process and understand what the change means for them; and how to support the change strategy when it is communicated throughout their teams. 
            • Instruct the leadership team of their responsibilities throughout the forthcoming changes. Also, encourage them not “cosign” on negative remarks. Provide a place or resource for them to go to ask questions and gain clarity when issues arise from their staff. 
            • Send talking points with clear outlines of next steps. Include what the leadership team is able to say right now to all staff and what they should not yet release. When possible, give a timeline of when things are expected to happen, so people can prepare themselves but remain focused on serving students in the meantime. 

FOCUS GROUPS

After the leadership staff has been updated and all staff are informed of the upcoming changes, the college should work to engage the college as a whole. A strategy to brainstorm with diverse perspectives from across the college - without the difficulty of hosting an all college-wide workshop - is through focus groups. 

Focus group sessions involve organized discussions with a select group of individuals to gain information about their views and experiences on a specific topic. When planning a focus group, it is pertinent to have the right people in the room. Swim often advises that focus groups are coordinated with a number of identified stakeholders from each department within the college that the new initiative could potentially impact, or need insight from. 

Focus groups can be used in the exploratory stages of a large-scale transformation to evaluate propositions, develop new ideas or strategies, assess the impact or even generate further avenues for improvement prior to implementation. 

Because focus groups can serve a variety of purposes the role of the moderator is very significant. The group facilitator becomes critical, especially in terms of providing clear explanations of the purpose of the group, helping people feel at ease, and facilitating interaction between group members. They must encourage productive discussion and guide the group in a beneficial direction in order to achieve what the focus group is designed to achieve. 

Swim’s clients who have chosen to participate in focus groups have found the results rewarding, as they accomplished several things: 

              1. They received the necessary feedback from multiple perspectives to continue moving forward with the initiative. 
              2. They promoted inter-departmental collaboration, which enhanced the acceptance of the college’s transformation. 
              3. They empowered participants within the college to feel a sense of ownership in the college’s transformation. 

SURVEYS

It can be difficult to convene all stakeholders in one room, especially when they work at different locations and have students to serve. One way to overcome this is by disseminating electronic surveys. Electronic surveys can provide many different benefits to a college. 

              • Easy way to conduct and disseminate.
              • Affordable mechanism to collect data.
              • Ability to collect candid answers and feedback. 
              • Consolidated method to analyze and generate actionable results. 

This strategy has some limitations, such as removing the benefit of allowing peers in different departments to discuss new insight. However, those limitations may be outweighed by the efficiency in collecting data and feedback. 

A great electronic survey provides the college with clear, reliable, actionable insight to inform your decision-making. The survey should ask a mix of yes/no questions with open-ended questions and allows an institution to collect quantitative data along with qualitative opinions to help from feedback or suggestions. 

While participants may feel freer to express their true thoughts and opinions through anonymous surveys, there is a level of information that will need to be collected for the surveys to be informational enough to deduce recommendations and results. For example, demographics, such as the participant’s department, will need to be collected in order to draw correlations with the responses. 

Leadership engagement, surveys, and focus groups are critical in building staff rapport during times of change and allows each department to recognize that they have an essential role in the institutions' transformation. While speaking with every individual at the institution and collecting one-on-one feedback may not be possible within time constraints, these methods allow for the institution to hear the insight of every member of the community. 


The Foundation to Transformation, Part 2

BRINGING THE COLLEGE TOGETHER

Full transparency is imperative when beginning an initiative of large-scale transformation. As changes are implemented throughout an institution, faculty and staff should be considered as a pivotal part in the process. Change is most effectively introduced when everyone feels that they had a voice in the institution’s transformation.

The second part of this series explores how to generate acceptance and support of new initiatives in a collaborative group setting. This ensures that all members of the college community feel they had an opportunity to be heard and that leadership values their opinions. 

While these engagements can be time-intensive, they will help create a smoother transition as the changes occur. The earlier that faculty and staff can be engaged in the planning process, the more likely they are to be open and embrace the upcoming institutional shift. 

BRINGING THE COLLEGE TOGETHER

One of the best ways to ensure college-wide collaboration and adoption is to engage all faculty and staff by facilitating synergetic workshops. While this can be difficult to achieve due to scheduling, the results of these conversations will launch initiatives forward with full transparency and enhanced cooperation throughout the institution. 

The key to a successful workshop is to focus on the mission that the initiative will support. If the discussion gets too specific, the audience may become defensive or get lost in the details of the changes that are coming, which can distract from the larger conversation. Keeping the conversation mission-oriented will motivate and inspire the audience, as well as draw them back to why they are passionate about their work. 

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS 

Identifying the most effective questions to drive productive conversation is imperative. Facilitating advantageous conversation provides leadership with a great opportunity to collect unique perspectives and high-level experiences during these workshops. 

For example, Swim hosted a workshop with St. Cloud Technical and Community College concentrating on enrollment strategies. Our goal was to conduct a conversation where the group provided feedback on what they felt were institutional barriers that SCTCC created for new and returning students to enroll and re enroll. Instead of asking for specific solutions to increase enrollment, this method allowed leadership to accomplish two things: 

      1. Created self-reflection for the faculty and staff about what the institution could improve upon to enhance the student experience, rather than focusing on how the students could act differently. 
      2. Allowed participants to be on the ground floor of creating the larger solutions, not just specific new processes or projects within their own department. 

During the facilitation, Swim suggests a designated recorder to capture participant responses. The facilitation team will then have the ability to gather this insight from the larger collective and share with the entire college community, so those who could not participate can still be involved. 

This kind of engagement is critical in building staff rapport during times of change and establish a foundation of transparency, collaboration and acceptance. However, these all faculty and staff workshops can be challenging to facilitate due to the extensive time they take to organize and conduct. Another viable option is to engage staff by gathering information through surveys or focus groups. Both will allow the organization to build on the work done by the executive team and move the initiative or project forward. 


executive engagement

The Foundation to Transformation, part 1

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT STARTS AT THE TOP

The implementation of any large scale transformation requires engagement and support from multiple stakeholders throughout your institution. As the vision is cast for institutional change, a case must be made by executive leadership and stakeholders on how it’s done. This case must systematically address the work that’s underway. 

Throughout this process, there is the inevitable “human-side” of transformation and change, where people are uncertain about what this means for them and their role within an institution. Approaching this strategically - with a firm understanding of processes, systems and data - will ensure that the work is done objectively and collaboratively. 

A calculated approach including leadership, stakeholder and user engagement should be applied, and consistently tracked against project timelines and goals. Although directly working with those impacted by the future changes can be challenging, incorporating stakeholder engagement strategies from the onset will ensure a firm foundation for the upcoming transformative work in your institution.

During this three-part blog series, we will share key components to change management as well as the systematic framework approaches to building the foundation for transformational redesign. 

ALIGNING COLLEGE LEADERSHIP

Change can be scary for all levels of an organization. When the transformation of processes and people take place, all levels turn to the executive branch of an institution to “gut check” how serious this work is. If the executive cabinet isn’t aligned in their projected outcome, the importance of the project, or the execution of the approach, then the work is at an extreme risk to fail. 

Although college leadership often works closely together on a regular basis, there can frequently be competing priorities and perceptions as it relates to the departments they oversee. It’s imperative for leaders to have an in-depth understanding of the day-to-day processes that may be affected by a potential organizational change, at every level within the institution. Bringing executives together to understand the perception versus reality of their processes and systems can effectively align the purpose, case, and approach to the work that is ahead. 

EXECUTING AN EXECUTIVE SESSION

Morgan State University is undergoing transformative change to redefine their student experience by reviewing their people, processes, and systems to ensure that the student experience aligns with their values. Through our work of deploying secret students and conducting student focus groups, we have worked with each department individually to identify ways to enhance the entire student onboarding experience. 

As with many of our other partner schools, we knew that a critical next step is for the executive leadership to come together and confer - cross-departmentally and technologically. In our experience, the best way to allow for collaborative conversations without departmental barriers is to facilitate an off-site retreat, away from the daily functions that demand attention. This allows the participants to truly focus on the collaborative work that lies ahead.

Swim structured the day by dividing the retreat into three sessions. Each session delved into a different phase of the re-engineered process with the larger group separated into rotating sub-groups. This allowed peers to receive fresh perspectives on their department processes and insight on potential improvements. Stakeholders explored the impact each proposed change would have on the day-to-day processes and staff responsibilities, as well as the student experience, cross-departmentally in a synergetic discussion. 

After reviewing each part of the re-engineered process, the sub-groups came together to discuss their ideas and suggestions. Ultimately, the exercise enhanced collaboration between the departments and created solutions that could be implemented immediately, as well as defined long-term goals. 

This type of engagement is critical in building a foundation of transparency and collaboration, and the next step is to continue to build that foundation. Following an executive session, it is important to quickly determine action items and how to build on the insight and recommendations to move the initiative forward. Often the next step is engaging the larger college community in a series of workshops, or gathering information through surveys or focus groups. Both will allow the organization to build on the work done by the executive team and move the initiative or project forward. 

 


The Role of Student Affairs in Guided Pathways

Introduction

For Guided Pathways to be successful, some argue, it must be a “faculty driven initiative”. The role of Student Affairs in the institutional redesign toward a Guided Pathways model however cannot be understated. The most effective Student Affairs divisions perpetually design, realign and recalibrate services to meet changing student needs throughout the entire student experience from recruitment to completion. In Understanding the Student Experience through the Loss/Momentum Framework: Clearing the Path to Completion, authors Elisa Rassen, Priyadarshini Chaplot, Davis Jenkins and Rob Johnstone (2013) define the concept of the student experience as a series of interactions between the student and the college. For purposes of mapping a path to completion, the four key phases in the student’s journey represent the “preventing loss, creating momentum” framework. Those phases are:

  • connection (i.e., initial interest through submission of the application),
  • entry (i.e., enrollment through completion of gatekeeper courses),
  • progress (i.e., entry into course of study through completion of 75% of requirements), and
  • completion (i.e., complete course of study through earning credential with labor market value).

Under the framework, students will either gain or lose momentum toward completion, in part based on the interactions they have with the institution, at any of the four identified critical phases. Policies, practices, programs and processes, both within and external to the control of the institution, affect the phases. Throughout these phases, Student Affairs professionals, in a multitude of ways, contribute to preventing student loss through attrition and creating the momentum for students to persist and complete. Three activities colleges should undertake in support of Guided Pathways following the expertise of Student Affairs professionals are implementing proactive advising models, helping students fund their college experience and connecting the pathway to transfer or a job.

Proactive Advising

Many colleges offer a la carte advising models where students can come to a person or department-sponsored event primarily to select courses for subsequent semesters. This presumes students are good at navigating complex bureaucratic systems, know what they do not know, and are sophisticated in engaging in help-seeking behaviors. Proactive advising looks at the student experience in critical junctures, establishes milestone expectations at those junctures for students and the advising system, and provides the student with guidance and support to complete each milestone. Whether advising actions are faculty, professional adviser, or self-directed by the student, actions that are proactive instead of reactive and are strategically integrated as part of a systematic approach can produce positive outcomes for students.

Student Financial Planning

If we know nothing else about today’s community college students from current research, particularly those who are first-generation and are from a low socioeconomic background - we know it is likely that during their educational journey “life” will happen to them.  An unexpected, unplanned occurrence, usually financial in nature, will significantly influence the students’ ability to remain continuously enrolled. Helping students create a financial plan is as important as creating an educational plan. Additionally, informing students of the full array of financial and related support services should life happen, and creating intentional check-ins to monitor students’ progress in the non-academic aspects of their lives will help to reduce the number of students who have to withdraw because of non-academic related matters. Financial Aid and other personal counselors can be very helpful.

Connecting the Pathway to Transfer or Careers

Learner and employer expectations are now converging. Learners and their families understand the consequences of making educational investments in ways not fully considered in the past. Introducing transfer and career opportunities for students as they begin at the college through the onboarding process will add major value for the student experience in helping clarify the path for the student. Moreover, hardwiring conversations and supports about transfer and/or career throughout the experience at critical junctures will likely produce greater levels of college completion and positive post-college outcomes. Student affairs professionals in both the Transfer Services and Career Services areas are uniquely positioned to inform this essential redesign work.

Conclusion

Students want clarity and direction. Engaging students in a pathway that facilitates their personal and professional growth involves the commitment and resources, not only of the faculty, but also of the entire institution. Colleges that leverage the expertise of Student Affairs in implementing proactive advising models, helping students fund their college experience and connecting the pathway to transfer or a job will create environments for students to thrive, complete, and compete.

Dr. Michael A. Baston is the seventh president of Rockland Community College in Suffern, New York. An AACC Pathways Project National Coach and a member of the Inaugural Class of the Aspen Institute Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence, Dr. Baston is a highly regarded student success innovator and thought-leader.   


When your recruiters can’t attend, mobile targeting is key

When your recruiters can’t attend, mobile targeting is key!

Mobile targeting has become a buzz phrase in higher education and is often times over and underutilized as part of a recruitment strategy. Although the word is trendy and is often thrown out by agencies and marketing departments at times with the traditional grassroots and email campaigns have proved effective, there are times and places where geofencing strategies can help any institution in a bind with staffing and/or budget constraints. With advanced GPS-activated technology, mobile targeting creates a hyper-local geo-fences based on the actual latitude and longitude of an address, as well as in application marketing to captured prospects. This means that your recruiting team can appear to be in multiple places and any given time.

For your admissions and marketing professionals, leveraging this tool and understanding how to master it critical to meet your prospects where they are and engage in critical conversations with them. The first step is understanding that there are multiple ways to target via mobile. To increase your chances of success prospect conversion, here aresome must-dos when it comes to mobile audience targeting.

Location Retargeting

Where someone has been, is a major indicator of where they will go. When targeting your prospects based on places they have visited, such as schools, employment offices or open houses not only increases your chances of targeting the right prospects but also increases the opportunity to reach them more than once, like in traditional advertising. For example, a campaign based on the proximity of a community festival or an open house simply can be captured from that event and fed to those prospects for a number of days following the event and you are no longer confined by time and space to feed your message to prospects.

Facebook Custom Audience

Your best prospects are those who are already familiar with your institution and its brand, especially past customers. If your school has a CRM, use that data and load it into Facebook and create segments based on their history, engagement, participation, etc. You can also create lookalike audiences based on consumer attributes. Given that 1 in 4 minutes spent on mobile happens in Facebook’s apps, it is extremely important and valuable for any digital campaign.

Retargeting is Key

Ensuring that people who have visited your site or ads in the past have ongoing engagement with your brand is the job of retargeting. Because they have already “clicked” on an asset of yours in the past, they have shown they are already interested and are prime candidates for your to convert. It is important, however, be careful of fatigue by using various rotations of your ads to ensure they are fresh and appealing to prospects who may see them more than once.


Workforce: The Symbiosis Between Community Colleges and Industry

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce forecasts that total employment is expected to increase from 140 million to 165 million jobs in 2020, and of those jobs, nearly 80% of them will require some form of post-secondary education outside of high school. States such as New York, Florida and Texas have embraced this growing need of stackable credentials and are building a model that puts community colleges at the forefront of solving the workforce gaps within their communities.

In the past, community colleges were stigmatized as a second rate of education - those days are long gone. Throughout the country, community colleges are embraced  as progressive and the pivotal supplier of highly-skilled graduates, and as the chief supplier of “middle-skilled” labor professionals for businesses within their communities.

Hand-in-hand community colleges and businesses provide courses that are built with real positions in mind, ensuring that community colleges are teaching the courses and skill set that directly relate to exactly what is needed for the community. This partnership strengthens both the community and the colleges because it ignites passion in the hearts of students enrolling in the programs as they know a job in that field is within reach.

Rockland Community College in Suffern, New York, has launched a Middle Skills Academy, which is an example of how this type of partnership can provide students the chance to earn a certificate that will help them obtain employment within a consolidated period of time. 

The programs with Middle Skills Academy are designed to teach specific skills in a concentrated time frame so students can start a new career and earn a good salary in less than one year. The programs are structured in such a way that the courses may be transferable as college credit for the student in the future.

“At Rockland Community College, we recognize that there is a high demand to fill 'middle-skills' jobs, which require more education and training than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree,” said Dr. Penny Jennings, executive director of Strategic Initiatives at RCC. “To this end, we are focused on offering programs that fit the needs of employers and workers. We expect great success for students enrolling in our January 2019 inaugural classes.”

Another example of how colleges are adapting to the changing workforce needs of the local community was highlighted in a New York Times story about how Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) uses mobile classrooms for workforce training. Tri-C joins a number of trailer/mobile learning labs being created by community colleges throughout the United States.

The mobile classroom model ensures that the college is meeting the demands of our employers by taking educational programming to the students. Tri-C has embraced this model to enhance its manufacturing, healthcare, and technology offerings.

“Our trailer, which is booked for 47 weeks this year, allows us to take the training to businesses and directly address the region’s manufacturing skills gap,” said William Gary, executive vice president of Workforce, Community and Economic Development at Tri-C. “Employers allow their employees time, and they can walk right out of the plant and into our trailer for an hour, or three hours, to conduct the training right on site.”

Photo credit: Cuyahoga Community Colleges

Community colleges around the country are taking a stand and making concentrated efforts to build their communities, not only through access to education, but through completion on the terms of the student and at the capacity to employ by employers. This symbiotic union among industry, students and community colleges is a magic ingredient for raising a community's ability to build self-sustainable families and brighten futures for generations to come.


Google Amp Email

Google’s AMP Brings Email into the 21st Century

During this year’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages Project) Conference in Amsterdam, Google announced the next step in email for businesses. AMP for Email will transform standard email – which are usually packed with links and redirections – into more dynamic, interactive and engaging tools for communicating with customers. Emails will now be a one-stop experience where a user interacts with content without ever leaving the inbox. For example, users will be able to finalize plans, book vacations, access recipes and much more all without having to go to a different site.

These new features give developers new ways to create interactive actions, complex layouts and templates, and updated content. While AMP for Email is launching on Gmail first, the hope is that it will become the new standard format, and that other email clients will follow suit in allowing similar capabilities to their emails.

Doodle, Booking.com, and Pinterest have already started integrating AMP for Email in communications and have showcased how dynamic emails have simplified and enhanced user interactions.

Doodle heavily uses email to help users quickly find a date and time to meet with multiple people. Before implementing AMP for Email, users had to bounce back and forth from webpage to webpage to make plans and could only make changes on the Doodle site. After using AMP for Email, everything is done straight from the email; polls can be closed, dates can be selected, and plans can be finalized all without leaving Gmail.

Doodle

Booking.com, the online travel site, has used AMP for Email so users can customize their viewing preferences.  Instead of sending mass emails with the same experiences and trips, users can customize what trips are offered and what kind of trip they want to be sent in the future. Users can also manage their email subscription to be sent emails daily, weekly or monthly, which helps reduce the amount of Booking.com emails sent to a spam folder.

Booking

Pinterest uses AMP for Email to allow users to fully create an account within an email instead of redirecting back to the Pinterest page. Users can also save posts and explore other posts all from the comfort of their inbox. Pinterest’s Product Manager, Seth Weisfeld, has found that “less steps equals more engaging consumers, better retained consumers.”

Pinterest

Though AMP for Email is still in beta testing and has not released to the public, developers can sign up to test AMP for Email before it is released nationally later this year. Once available, AMP for Email will not only save time, but also act an opportunity to enhance email’s overall user experience. Marketers won’t be forced to spam customers with email after email, as a confirmation could be generated from the original email. With more access to consumer data, businesses will be able to create a true customer-centric experience and give each customer a personalized email, beyond using the customer’s name on the subject line. AMP for Email will lead the charge in reinventing the stagnant medium of email to a dynamic and actionable service.


Print Ready

Three Tips to Make Your Print Files Take Off

Three Tips to Make Your Print Files Take Off

Preflighting your documents and print files before they go out to the press is essential to alleviating future headaches. It hurts a little inside when the vision you had in mind or even on the computer doesn’t come back the way you hoped. Here are some things to remember...

  1. Is the document in the right color mode for print?

Print pieces need to be in CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black). Make sure that your logos, design elements, and images are converted before exporting, or your deliverables may look different when they are printed than what you intended.

  1. Does your printer need a bleed?

If you want your print design to go from edge-to-edge when it goes to the printer, check to see how much extra space they want you to have to trim down to your desired look. Each printer may be different, but typically the bleed will be between an eighth or a quarter inch extra around all four sides.

  1. Will the printer have your font?

Outlining your text into shapes or sending your printer a flattened piece for printing is an easy to way to ensure typeface consistency and avoid licensing issues if you are using a premium type family that your printer may not have.


Student Experience

The First Step to Enhancing the Student Experience

The First Step to Enhancing the Student Experience

As higher education leaders continue to refine and enhance the student experience, they often enlist the help of agencies like Swim. The most common question that we hear is “Where do I start?” and our answer is usually process mapping.

It doesn’t matter what part of the student life cycle you want to tackle first – process maps help you understand your student’s experience from the first inquiry to graduation day. A good process map will give you a holistic view of the interactions students have with the school, whether it’s through an automated communications or one-on-one conversations.

Last winter, Achieving The Dream and EDUCAUSE asked Swim to facilitate a process-mapping workshop for iPASS recipients. Through our work, we demonstrated how to engage key stakeholders to begin defining the process of student onboarding.

You can read about our key takeaways from working with 36 colleges and universities from across the county here.

Process mapping is one of the many ways that higher education institutions can begin to build a solid foundation of the student experience. However, each college and university is different, so it is important to work with a cross-functional group to build a cohesive process that fits the unique needs of your student body.

A strong process map will support the engagement and communications that are deployed to help students reach their academic goals.


Adobe Max

My Adobe Max Experience

My Adobe Max Experience

A few short weeks ago, I fulfilled a designer’s dream when I attended Adobe MAX conference in Las Vegas. Surrounded by 12,000 like-minded creatives, I felt an overwhelming feeling of community. Participants traveled from across the globe to experience the summit that is Adobe.

The overarching takeaway I experienced from this conference is a solidification of my career as a graphic designer. Traveling halfway across the country meant a lot, not only for Swim, but for me as a young designer. Three days of sessions, hands-on labs, and celebrity keynotes are a lot to soak in, yet I was ready to learn. Here are two of my favorite takeaways from the week:

Building Your Personal Brand

This session really made me think introspectively about how a personal brand can be applied to our team and to our clients as well. Stephen Gates charged the room with powerful examples of establishing a well-defined image. He also spoke about luck and that it does not exist in the workplace. Instead, he claims that luck is the residual of skill. With skill you can seize opportunity, as it appears much more easily. 

Fast and Fearless: Pitching, Prototyping, and Executing in the Enterprise

Two powerful in-house creatives from Wyndham Hotels led the classroom through a day in their lives as Directors of design. Every day they’re up against managing and pitching nearly two dozen different brands that have to still remain under the same umbrella. This session was wonderful to see similar struggles and compromises that arise when trying to mesh brand standards with a sales team’s goals. It must all add up to one cohesive communication. Testing and analyzing data makes for easier pitching. When the idea seemed great, but yours can be backed up with results and is on brand, then you are far more likely to win over the room. 

Adobe MAX has been a high point of both 2017 and my future as a graphic designer. From the lecture sessions that made me think about the future, to the hands-on learning I took straight back to work and applied with the team, I didn’t want it to end. When you love what you do, then you really can’t call it work. 

 


Professional Website Development for Your Business

Professional Website Development for Your Business

When it comes to building an online presence for your business, a professional website is one of the most important items to consider. There are many moving parts when it comes to the development and structure of your website, however getting organized and creating an outline of everything you'll need is a great place to start.

The first thing you should do is explore design inspiration and seek out your competitors. Finding design elements that you feel are fresh and unique can help give your developer a better idea of the direction you would like to go. 

When it comes to content, you want to focus on finding high quality images that will grab your users’ attention and professional copy your users can engage in. If your users love your content, it’s very likely they will visit your website again in the future.

Making sure your website is mobile friendly or responsive is HUGE nowadays. Over 60% of internet users have a smart phone and will most likely access your website from their mobile device. Mobile testing is a very important step to complete before you go live!


Write the Way You Speak

Write the Way You Speak

Tackling any writing project can be overwhelming. People tend to get caught up in structure, verbiage and all the other moving pieces. Forget all of that, at least to start.

I’m not saying add every “like”, “um” and grammar mistake you use in everyday conversations. I’m saying don’t over correct, over think or over professionalize yourself.

Your writing should include common words you are comfortable using in a normal conversation. Everything you write is not a life-changing thesis. Sticking true to your conversational tone will make your writing easier to understand with your audience and less of a task to read.

Yes, your audience should be considered, but you still should not write in a way that is astronomically different from the way you speak naturally. Below is a list to help get you started writing the way you speak:

 

  1. Talk it out

Before you even begin writing, talk your topic out. You can have an actual conversation with someone or if you would prefer to keep to yourself, you can record yourself talking it out and listen from there. Whether you talk to someone or just your phone, be sure to record so you can listen back while you are drafting your content. You might catch key points and flow you didn’t notice before.

  1. Use daily vocabulary

The easier your content is to read, the more readers you will get. That’s what we all want, right? Use the words you use in a normal conversation. There is no need to use outlandish words that your readers need a dictionary to understand your message, like I just did. Keep it simple. Keep it authentic. Simplicity and authenticity will go a lot longer than fancy 10 point scrabble words.

  1. Paint the picture

Your writing is your story. Make it personal. If you are writing the way you talk, remember to make it fun and interesting. When you are explaining something to someone in a normal conversation, odds are you have some sort of story related to why or how this happened. Writing has the potential for this too. Readers are more likely to connect with a story and they are more likely to remember your point when they have a connection to it. Tell your story- you and your readers will appreciate it.

  1. Leave the rule book for the finish line

A rough draft is supposed to be rough. Just write your ideas down. Write the same way they flow into your mind and out of your mouth. If you spend too much time with your head buried in grammar, style and punctuation rules you will drive yourself crazy. After you have your general idea on paper, you can go back and deal with all the silly little commas, active versus passive voice, and all the other grammatical headaches writing comes with.

  1. Edit, edit and edit again

Writing and talking have one key difference: editing. After you write, you MUST edit. One round of edits is almost never enough. The word edit scares the majority of people. They see editing as just completely destroying their hard work, which could not be further from the truth. Editing, yes, is the chance to catch mistakes, but it is also the chance to catch opportunities. After editing, you notice what you can fix with a better sentence or a different piece of information. Bring in fresh eyes like asking a friend to review it. A third party individual who has not seen the content before often provides the best edits.

  1. Read it out loud

After all the rounds of edits are done and the finish line is in sight, pause for a minute and read your content out loud. Reading aloud is a game-changer. Your eyes tend to glaze over typos, weird sentence structures and breaks that do not flow. Your ears catch almost all of them. When you are forced to read out loud you will hear where you struggle to keep the flow and what words don’t fit. This step is ideal for polishing and adding your final touches.

 

Now it’s your turn. Next writing project, try using these quick tips and see what headaches are eliminated and what new creativity you have uncovered.


A Great Relationship Leads to Great Work

A Great Relationship Leads to Great Work

In the advertising and marketing world, many may think that great work leads to a great relationship with clients. Today, we know that this isn’t the case; in fact, a great relationship leads to great work. Building a personal and honest relationship also builds trust between the agency and its clients. Trust leads to greater risks taken by clients, which means great work is created.

How can you build trust in the world of account management? Keep your clients in the loop on all things, good or bad. Come up with solutions to problems they didn’t even know they had. Not only admit your mistakes and responsibilities, but provide solutions for the future. Trust is integral to great relationships and great work.


Relational vs. Transactional Marketing

relational vs. transactional marketing

There are two major ways you can approach the relationships you have with your clients in marketing: as relational or transactional. The differences between relational and transactional marketing are what you focus on. Transactional marketing focuses on making a sale, usually a one-time deal. Relational marketing focuses on building a relationship with all stakeholders for the long-term. Being relational, regardless of what field you’re in, could be the deciding factor for someone to begin or continue business with you. I don’t know about you, but relational marketing sounds way better to me!

build trust

Part of relational marketing includes open and transparent communication. A client will build their trust in you if they feel comfortable asking you tough questions, confident that you’ll give them an honest answer and believe you’re keeping their best interest in mind when making decisions. Even if an issue occurs (which they do happen from time-to-time), a client might be more understanding of the roadblock or delay if you’re truthful with them.

have a positive experience on both sides

You and your client will both enjoy the business relationship if you’re able to relate on a personal (but still professional) level. In transactional marketing, your clients could feel like they’re just another sale, whereas relational marketing will make your clients feel valued – because they are. Your special bonds with your clients will result in a positive experience for both them and you.

gain loyalty

Those positive experiences can then lead to clients wanting to continue their partnership with you for future projects or scopes of work- this is the long-term aspect that we talked about earlier. Also, what’s better for a business than positive word-of-mouth? Your relational marketing will not only help retain current clients, but will also help you gain potential new business from the great words that your clients tell others.

When you practice relational marketing, you care to understand your clients in their entirety. You’ll put in that extra effort to appreciate their values, missions and goals, which will therefore make your clients feel valued. In transactional marketing, there is less trust and loyalty between you and your client.

Relational marketing is so important to us at Swim, that it’s even part of our values:

We pride ourselves on being a digital marketing agency that speaks “human.” We leave the digital marketing jargon in the office and bring our clients straight, honest talk that’s transparent, easy to understand and actionable.


Marketing 101: How to Build your Branding Toolkit

marketing 101: how to build your branding toolkit

On May 30th, Swim hosted our first Digital Marketing Bootcamp in partnership with Working Women of Tampa Bay. Our President, Trimeka Benjamin, explained how to build a branding toolkit to a room full of women entrepreneurs. Your branding toolkit is essential for your business. Here are a few takeaways from the bootcamp that explain why a branding toolkit is so important:

know who you are

Your brand is so much more than just a logo; it’s your promise. Your brand should combine strategy, messaging, emotional appeal and design collateral all into one nice, little package called your branding toolkit. Take the time to sit down and brainstorm exactly what your brand encompasses. Remember, what you come up with doesn’t have to be forever – think about it in terms of the next year or two. Your brand will evolve over time as you gain experience, knowledge and perspective.

listen to others

Of course this is YOUR brand and your baby, but don’t get too selfish with it. When building or evolving your brand, ask peers, strangers and even competitors what they think about the aspects within your branding toolkit. Welcome the respectful advice as a good thing! You might love your tagline or the shade of blue in your logo, but the importance comes when your messaging resonates with potential clients.

reach your audience

Now that you know what resonates with potential clients, discover how you should reach them. Depending on your audience, you might find that digital marketing works best. Create or update your social media presence, SEO, write original blog posts or send email blasts. It may be even more beneficial to attend tradeshows, host workshops or go to events based on your target audience.

share your knowledge

You might know everything in your field, but if other people don’t know that, then you don’t really know everything. Did I lose you? Basically, what I’m trying to say is: share your knowledge (digital, print, in person) and then people will see you as credible and trustworthy in your field.

it’s a marathon, not a sprint

As an overachiever, it’s probably safe to say that after all your hard work you are ready to start seeing results. I don’t blame you, but remember – although this process might take more time than you wish, you will begin to see results if you take the time to make your branding toolkit the right way.

Our Digital Marketing Bootcamp series is a platform for us to contribute to our Sisterhood of Swim initiative. Our goal of Sisterhood of Swim is to support women-led and women-owned businesses in the Tampa Bay area. If you came to this workshop, please comment what you learned or share some of your advice! Our next bootcamp will be at St. Petersburg College, Collaborative Labs on June 29 about Digital Lead Generation. See you there!


Exhibiting at Trade Shows

Brand Awareness: Exhibiting at Trade Shows

Brand Awareness: Exhibiting at Trade Shows

Our last blog post addressed how you can build your brand awareness by volunteering in your community. There are several other ways to increase brand awareness- one of them being exhibiting at trade shows. Exhibiting a booth at a trade show is a great way to establish your brand’s presence within the community. You’ll meet potential new clients, showcase your brand’s personality and also increase your brand recognition and credibility.

Although trade shows can sometimes be a bit rough on your bank account and require a lot of planning, the exposure and clientele you could obtain in return are well worth it. Here’s how you can help boost your brand awareness at trade shows:

marketing

Marketing before the trade show is crucial. Post on social media, purchase an ad for the trade show booklet- anything to put your brand’s name into the mind of the attendees. The best-case scenario is they see your name, do some research and seek your booth out at the trade show. Next case scenario is that when they get to the trade show and see your booth they will remember hearing your name previously. Even if they aren’t in need of your services, they might pass your name along to their peers.

booth design

Your booth is the first thing that people see at a trade show. Depending on the size of the trade show, there could be dozens to hundreds of other booths out there. Make them want to visit your booth. It starts by having a really awesome banner or sign with elements that stand out and are true to your brand guidelines. Branded tablecloths or decorations are of course a plus. Help people understand exactly who you are as a brand. Make your display interactive with a game, raffle, or our personal favorite: candy.

promotional items

Who doesn’t like free stuff? Your promo will help not only draw people to your booth, but will help people remember you after the trade show every time they use your item. Pens or sunglasses are nice, however you’ll get bonus points for items that are different. If your promo items are unique, they might get used more often or will become a talking point. Nothing wrong with a little incentive, right?

takeaway

People came to your table, loved your booth, had a great conversation with you, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean that they will remember everything about your brand. Giving attendees a folder, brochure, business card or even a list of your services with a coupon code is a great takeaway for people to remember who you are!

know your stuff and show your personality

Your knowledge and your team are a huge representation of your brand. Being able to show off your personality while talking face-to-face with potential clients is great way to build your brand awareness. It gives people a chance to ask questions and for them to build trust with your brand.

credibility

Sometimes you’ll see the same individual or organization at various trade shows. When people see your brand pop up multiple times they will start to remember your brand and begin to see you as a more credible business. Besides, they will have a hard time ignoring you if they see you everywhere!

Getting out in the community by exhibiting at trade shows is a hands-on way to build your brand awareness. At Swim, we LOVE going to trade shows. Whether we travel across country to AACC in New Orleans or stay right here in Tampa attending USF Connections, we take every opportunity to get our name out there and remind others of our brand. If you attend trade shows as an exhibitor, prospects will be recalling your brand in no time!


Volunteering in your Community

Brand Awareness: Volunteering in your Community

Brand Awareness: Volunteering in your Community

Being involved in the community by volunteering your time, work or money can make a HUGE difference to an initiative and to people’s lives. Although helping others might be enough motivation to get involved in the community, your involvement also comes along with the added perk of brand awareness for your business. Helping others and increasing recognition of your brand? Sounds like a win-win to me.

Here are a few ways how volunteering can help build your brand awareness.

represent your values

Many businesses have a set of values that represent their brand. Let’s say your brand believes in ecofriendly initiatives. There are probably several organizations with an environmental philanthropy that you could volunteer your time or donate to, while also representing the values that are meaningful to your brand.

increase your positive reputation

Every brand has some sort of reputation, but the goal is to have a good one. When people see your business out in the community, people might start to associate your brand with being well-rounded and supportive of others. That could spark an interest in your brand from an unlikely audience- And who wouldn’t want to associate with individuals or a business that helps others? Besides, word of mouth is arguably one of the most effective (and free) forms of marketing.

spread the excitement

If the budget allows, order promo for your team of volunteers, like a t-shirt or a hat with your logo on it. Not only will your team get into the spirit, but they’ll be repping your brand the whole time for people to see. You can also build anticipation and awareness for the event or fundraiser that you’re participating in by posting on social media before, during, and after. It couldn’t hurt to show off your cool new gear, too. Check ours out at the end of this blog!

establish and strengthen relationships

Doing good for others will bring you closer together with your team and with people in the community. If you’re volunteering at an event, make sure to network and establish connections. This isn’t meant to be salesy or to promote your business. Simply be yourself, while still remembering that you’re representing your brand.

make a lasting impression

The time and money that you put into helping others could make a meaningful difference to the lives of those that you’re volunteering for. People won’t forget your kind actions. Your brand will be remembered in the eyes of those whom you affected.

This blog was inspired by our participation in the Best Buddies Friendship Walk in Tampa last weekend! Best Buddies is an organization dedicated to providing opportunities, ending the stigma, and being a buddy to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). As a team, Swim got involved by raising money for the organization and attending this year’s walk. We had the most amazing time wearing our team hats, posting on social media, and strengthening our relationships, that we didn’t even realize we were building brand awareness for Swim. We were happy to spend our time knowing that we were contributing towards benefiting the lives of those who are a part of the Best Buddies community.


Improving Your Management Skills with Strengths Finder

Improving Your Management Skills with StrengthsFinder

Managing employees in any field or business is rewarding, but can definitely have its challenges. Possibly one of the biggest challenges you might face as a manager is to be able to tailor your managing habits depending on each individual’s strengths. At Swim, we basically live by Strengths Finder 2.0. All new team members get their own book and code to take the online quiz, which we then use to compile the top strengths on an office list as a tool for the individual and the manager to ensure that all strengths are being maximized.

what is Strengths Finder anyways?

Strengths Finder is a “self-help book” that identifies your employees’ top 5 strengths and how they can apply those talents every day at work. This knowledge is beneficial for two main reasons: 1) the employee has self-discovery on his or her natural talents and 2) you can use this information as a manager to focus on each team member’s strengths, rather than ignoring their strengths or focusing on correcting weaknesses (those are big no-no’s).

 

Each Strengths Finder book includes a code for your team member to take a timed test online, which will reveal that person’s top 5 strengths. The book will provide a summary of what each strength means, ideas for action, and how to work with others who have that strength.

how to use your team’s top 5 strengths to make you a better manager:

understand your team and build stronger relationships

Strength Finders provides insight to what talents your team members might have in common with each other and with you. Use this information as a tool to connect in ways you may not connect otherwise. Let’s say you and one of your team members both have the strength “Achiever”- You could help each other succeed by sharing goals or by recognizing the time spent to accomplish a project, for example. This new way of relating to each other could provide the office with a better understanding of their colleagues and how everyone can work together more efficiently.

balance various strengths

If you had an office full of people who all had the same strengths, think of how boring and single-minded your office might be. Appreciate the opportunity that comes with having a range of strengths in the office. If you notice different strengths between your team members, do your best as a manager to make sure those strengths complement each other and provide well-rounded results. Someone who is “Futuristic” could have some really great ideas for a new project or initiative and will have a vision for future success. Ideas are the first step, and having a team member who is an “Activator” can help make sure the futuristic ideas are put into action. The balance of strengths can lead to a great and collaborative outcome.

know how to address different types of team members

When you learn how each team member takes different approaches to the same situation, you’ll get a deeper understanding of the types of management styles that work for them. By learning about each person’s strengths, you can alter how you manage, praise, motivate and give constructive criticism to each individual in a way that they thrive off of. If you are talking to your team about big news in the office, someone with “Input” would be great with providing knowledge, ideas or information immediately to contribute to the discussion. Someone “Strategic” on the other hand, will need some time to think about the situation before offering up ideas. Allow the person with “Input” to share ideas right away and allow the “Strategic” person to have some time before sharing ideas.

appreciate your team’s strengths

Positive reinforcement is so important. If your team feels undervalued or unmotivated, they might produce lower quality work or have negative experiences. Tell a “Relator” that you appreciate their hard work. Give feedback to someone with “Self-Assurance”. Ask an “Includer” for help. Once you understand your team’s strengths, make sure to acknowledge and show appreciation for them. Your team’s confidence and motivation could boost, leading their performance to rise.

Strengths Finder 2.0 is an office necessity (at least in my opinion). It will provide your team members with self-discovery on their strengths and how they can use those strengths every day in a work environment and with their colleagues. As a manager, you will be able to better understand your team, balance their strengths, address team members in a way best for each individual, and be able to better appreciate your team and motivate them. What do you think your top 5 strengths would be?

Whew, that was a lot of the word “strengths”. Tweet us with how many times we said “strengths” in this blog post 🙂


Email Marketing in 2017

Email Marketing in 2017

Email Marketing in 2017

Email marketing may seem a bit outdated when we have so many other social platforms as a means of reaching our audience, but email is not dead. A huge part of digital marketing includes email blasts. Let’s start with the benefits of using email as a form of marketing. I think it’s safe to say that a large majority of your target audience probably has an email address, so you can reach a large group of people quickly and as frequently as you’d like (let’s not go overboard though). Email marketing allows you to easily customize your messages to be more personal. It’s also cost-effective compared to other forms of marketing, easily measurable, and let’s not forget that it’s eco-friendly!

Now let’s think about a few goals for using emails as a form of marketing. First, we want the audience to open the email…baby steps. Now that they’ve opened the email, we want them to actually read the content (or at least look at the cool pictures and graphics). The last goal can be the most difficult to reach- evoking some sort of action from your target audience, like buying a product or signing up for a service.

tips for your email marketing

choose the right topic

Are you sending a welcome email to new subscribers? Are you informing your audience of an upcoming event or a new product? Are you trying to persuade the audience to choose you over a competitor? Focus on one topic per email and make sure the copy and imagery are cohesive with the topic.

have an intriguing subject line

Writing a subject line may sound simple, but it can be more tricky than expected. The subject line is the first thing that people see when they scroll through their emails. If you get the subject line right, your audience will be more likely to open your email.

There are several things to consider:

  • Avoid trigger words or symbols that will kick you to spam
    • “Free”, “Click”, “Guarantee”, $$$, dashes- or slashes/
  • Keep it short and specific
    • 5-7 words
  • Think of your audience
    • Personalize the email to location, age group, and type of client!
  • Stand out
    • Use humor or even leave them on a cliffhanger

don’t forget about preheader text

The preheader text for your email follows the subject and is a short summary of the purpose of your email. A preheader is the subject line’s best friend. They should always be together. This additional information will help the audience decide whether or not they want to open your email. Your preheader can be a continuation of subject, rather than two separate ideas, or it can serve as a teaser, intriguing the audience to open so that they can learn more.

use photos and graphics

Follow your brand guidelines for the colors, typeface, and style of photographs or graphics that are true to your brand. Most people would probably rather get an email with fun images or designs rather than just a bunch of copy. Your use of images and colors could be a deciding factor for if they want to read your email or not, and of course our goal is for them to read!

have a strong Call to Action (CTA)

It’s great if your audience opens and reads your email, but they need to know what steps to take next. Tell them exactly what action you want them to do. Should they buy today to get one month of your services free? Should they RSVP to your upcoming event? Maybe you want them to follow you on social media. Make the CTA clear and easy for your audience so they know what to do next. If you’d like to learn more tips on writing a CTA, read our previous blog post.

test your work

You may have brilliant content or stunning images, but it’s a waste if your audience can’t access them. ALWAYS test your work.

  • Send the email to yourself and check how it looks on your desktop AND on your mobile device.
  • Consider that the email might look different on Gmail than it does on Outlook or another email provider.
  • Make sure that the copy is large enough, easy to read, and that all of the images show.
  • After the email has been sent out, check the analytics to get a good idea of the types of emails your audience opens, the most active time of day for your audience, how long they spend time reading, and what they click on.

Email marketing can help generate leads, boost sales, build brand loyalty, and strengthen relationships. If you’re a developer or if you have one on your team, he or she is probably very familiar with building these types of emails. If you don’t have that luxury, there are several email template builders online that you can use. Once you have all of the elements discussed above, you can send out your email and begin measuring the results!


Call to Action Tips You Should Check Out

Call to Action Tips You Should Check Out

We’ve all seen a Call to Action before.

“Call today to get a free consultation!”

Or, “Visit our website to learn more about our services”.

Call to Actions (CTA) are essential in the digital marketing world. They encourage your audience to act, which ultimately leads to more awareness and potentially more business for your brand. Cha-Ching!

Let’s get started

Basically any platform can and should have a call to action. Pages on a website, social media posts, email blasts, and of course advertisements (print or digital) are all important places to encourage your audience to engage. The possibilities of where to place a CTA and what messaging or copy to use is pretty much endless.

Begin with a verb

We all know that a verb is a word used to describe an action. A “Call to Action” isn’t named that for no reason- beginning a sentence with a verb will provide the audience with guidance for what action to take. You can use works like, “click, learn, start, call, join, buy, etc.” Action words will leave no confusion for what step the audience should be taking next.

Make it personal

Use a first person pronoun in your CTA when appropriate. We want our audience to feel personally connected to your service or product. Using “my” or “me” helps the audience visualize the action to take while providing them with a more personal benefit.

  • e.g. “Create my account” or “Start my free trial”

Keep it brief

Your CTA should be clear, concise, and to the point. Three to five words are key; if you make a CTA much more than that your audience might not bother reading it.

If just the three to five words isn’t enough, you can add a headline to introduce your CTA and provide some additional information. For example, the headline could be “Get 15% off your first order” and the CTA would be “Sign me up!”

Portray a sense of Urgency

We want to persuade the audience to act now rather than later. You can do this with the right wording, like “Start a free trial today” or “Buy now!”

Make it easy

The CTA should be easy to find and visually appealing so that the audience actually wants to act. Bright colors, white space, and good placement are important when considering the design of your CTA. You might end up having way more fun than expected with your CTAs, but try not to go overboard. You don’t want to bombard people with too many things to do or they might get overwhelmed and leave. Like anything, just make sure there is a balance!

We also want the CTA to be easy to understand. You might have an impressive vocabulary, but unfortunately, your CTA isn’t a place to show your skills. Use simple and direct words so that the audience will know exactly what is asked of them.

Provide a benefit

The features that you provide are definitely important, but if the audience can visualize a benefit then they will act. If you offer a free trial, then the audience knows there is no risk to trying your services- that is the benefit. If you ask them to call for more information, the audience will receive the benefit of knowledge about your company or services.

Example Time!

Now that we know some important basics, let’s quickly dissect an impressive CTA from Netflix’s website- “Join free for a month.” Begins with a verb? Is short and sweet? Check and check!

This CTA makes it easy for the audience to act. The button is red so it stands out and matches their logo. It also tells the audience exactly what step to take, which is to click the button to join. The headline and the CTA work together to provide the audience with a benefit for joining. Several actually. The audience can conveniently watch shows and movies anywhere. They can cancel anytime, so it is risk free. They can also get one month free to learn if they enjoy Netflix’s services. Good job, Netflix!

Source: Netflix

Your website or advertisement might be visually striking and well written, but without an effective CTA you may not see the results that you were hoping for. By following some of the simple tips above, you’ll be writing engaging, useful, and creative CTAs in no time!