If you direct the online marketing of a local chapter of a larger association or an individual franchise, you might have the opportunity to buy into a website system that gives you a basic website with some customization options for your particular chapter or franchise. If you do not already have a standalone website, our recommendation is almost always, yes, buy into the existing website system, at least initially for a quick start to your online marketing. As long as there are others like you using the system, you will benefit from the research, strategy and refinement that have taken place until now. You might decide later to move on to your own more customized solution, but buying (renting, usually) into the system is a big head start.

Now, we make the above suggestion under the assumption that the available chapter website option is reasonably functional and easy enough to manage and maintain using a web-based administration login. As web developers, we have been on both sides of this equation. Currently, we run two national website systems:

For the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils, we run local council websites such as www.laepc.org. For Sparklewash, a national cleaning and restoration company, we run franchisee websites such as www.sparklewashofcuyahoga.com. Each participating chapter or franchisee gets a nice design that is appropriate for their audiences, and some customization options. Estate planning councils can choose between eight overall design templates and color schemes. Power washing franchises can upload their own before-and-after photos.

It is important that we, as web developers, are engaged to help solve problems for individual site administrators and continue the development of requested features. For example, we recently added a function for council administrators to view some basic website statistics that are derived from Google Analytics and displayed in graphical form in their admin login area. These two projects have continually grown in popularity, help to market the local affiliates of a national organization, and also raise funds to continue development…a win-win-win scenario.

On the other side, we also support local chapters in their use of other national website systems. What? Why would web developers be needed to help chapter administrators use a web-based management system? One we help with is particularly quirky, only allowing logins using the FireFox browser, and occasionally locking the editor out of the home page. The last time that happened, the national support technician asked why we locked the home page editing. Huh? “Why is our client using this clunky system?” is a better question.

For other local affiliates, we design and run independent websites because they need a unique look or additional functionality not offered in the website system. Two examples are the Harvard Business School of Northeastern Ohio at www.hbs-neo.org, which has an innovative members-only networking feature, and Sparklewash by Cutting Edge at www.sparklewashbyce.com, which has unique content and search optimization features.

We would be glad to help you evaluate the merits of a website system you have an opportunity to use. Most importantly, talk to other chapter administrators who can give you an honest assessment from their perspective. But remember that everyone has a different set of expectations and abilities, so get opinions from a few administrators.