April Toney, Component Executive
Technology changes at a rapid pace and with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Illinois Arborist Association (IAA), as well as other companies and organizations, were pushed into uncharted territory. We already knew that our website had deficiencies when viewed on anything but a standard computer monitor, but adding the pressure to move our trainings to a virtual setting required IAA to make a quick transition to a more user-friendly website that worked well on mobile devices too.
Choosing a platform
After reviewing many sites and examining their information architecture/organization and functionality, we decided to stick with our current platform which is WordPress. WordPress is a robust platform that offers versatility and function. Our office staff’s familiarity (having worked with it for the past 10 years), and choosing to stay with it made it much easier as it eliminated the need for additional training. Also, we liked that updating the look going forward would be easy and wouldn’t require hiring an outside firm, which can be costly. Another key benefit of using WordPress is the wide variety of plug-ins available for new features. The most important factor for the Illinois Arborist Association choosing WordPress is the member portal feature, which recognizes our members and gives them discounted pricing and access to their progress in our Advanced Training program.
Challenges of launching
Once we decided on how the site should look, we spent approximately one week working through system issues and user-testing to make sure links and functionality worked as designed. We logged in and out of the member portal making sure it was recognizing members’ status correctly.
As is often the case in projects, quickness and efficiency come at a price. We discovered that while our website re-facing was very affordable, some of the additional plug-ins cost more than we budgeted. As a result, we have adopted a “phase two” list of updates and plug-ins to add to our site as funding becomes available. One example from this list is a repository to host our virtual conferences and events without the need to pay an outside vendor. While COVID-19 has forced the IAA to create more online training, I don’t believe this form of training or meeting will go away since it made our classes possible for those members in remote areas, as well as those with limited time and money. Our recent surveys results reflect that members are enjoying online training both in content and convenience. We are aware that many are eager to gather with their peers again; however, our surveys are showing that they would also keep participating the online events as well.
In hindsight, it would have been very helpful to have a list of all the plugins and their functionality and costs upfront before we began designing. As Steve Jobs said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Henry Ford said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, a faster horse!” Building or redesigning a website is a lot of work and knowing what you want is crucial when you begin planning.