4 Ways to Manage Tight Tech Budgets

1. Don’t put money into your website

Okay, lemme explain. Of course you should invest in your website. You should build something beautiful that you’re proud of and, most of all, appeals to your target audiences. But 9 times out of 10, you can do that with a small initial investment by building it on WordPress for tens of dollars or on Drupal for a few thousand dollars. If you’re spending tens or hundreds of thousands, you need to ask yourself why. You likely have some other digital investment that needs the money more than your marketing site, like your knowledge base, community portal, ecommerce app, mobile platform, sales tool, or campaign engine.

We know you need that website to prove that you are a real business. But you don’t need to spend a lot to dress up your “About Us” page. You should spend as little as possible getting your site up and running and focus on the things that are core to your business.

2. Do put money into a multi-channel marketing and communications plan

Your audiences are all over the web. But they are not checking your website regularly, nor are they browsing while they are there. We know this is a huge generality, but unless you’re running nytimes.com, we’re probably right. All target audiences—your target audience—is a group of busy people with a lot on their minds. If they make it to your website at all, it’s to look up something specific or to complete a single transaction. They want to pay a parking ticket (like the City of Boston), check the runtime of tonight’s performance (like the American Repertory Theater), or see who was late this morning (like YearUp).

Your content needs to be where they are on Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Vimeo. You’ll need a clear engagement strategy and content to get you there. Look for money in your marketing and communications budget rather than relying on your technology budget exclusively. Filming and posting how-to videos on Vimeo explaining the newest features available in your mobile app requires both technical know-how and marketing savvy. This puts you in a gray area between your tech and marketing budgets, and you should take advantage of that.

3. Do put money into data-driven apps

Your mission-critical offering is where the real money should go. Whether you are attracting grade-schoolers to your summer theater program or measuring pollution rates in the Charles River, you need a technology solution to register those kids and gather those data, respectively. These core business applications should be your primary investment, and they should be tested and iterated frequently to improve their usefulness, usability, and desirability. You don’t want future thespians registering at another theater because it was too hard to sign up for yours. And you don’t want your volunteers wasting precious hours figuring out how to capture and send the data you need.

4. Do gather as much data as possible

Google Analytics for small businesses is free. Sign yourself up, and have your tech guy get it running asap. The more consumer insights you can gather, the more you know where to spend your money. This applies to internal as well as customer-facing solutions. For instance, a client of ours used their GA account to track usage of their intranet and discovered that entire sections of the site were unused. That allowed us to ask targeted questions to figure out why no one was using those pages. (They were labeled poorly and appeared on a part of the page that users were ignoring.) In this case, we were able to make minor adjustments that vastly improved employee efficiency thanks to a few simple numbers from Google Analytics.

If you don’t have Google Analytics set up, we recommend a quick round of usability testing. As few as six users for half an hour each can tell you a lot about how people are using your sites and apps now and how they want to be using them in the future.

Bonus-tip: Yes, it does need to be mobile

If you’re wondering if your site or app needs to be mobile, the answer is, Yes. If you’re wondering if you need a native app or a responsive solution, the answer is, It depends. It depends entirely on your audiences and your offering. If you are selling tickets to performances and registering students for workshops, go responsive. If you are in the field gathering data, build a device-specific app that syncs back at the office. If your target audiences are using their own phones and tablets while on a network, you might need native apps for both iOS and Android (unless you’re serving doctors. Then you only need iOS apps.).

We always recommend you consult your analytics and do some simple research to understand where best to spend your money before making an investment of this kind. Spending a little up front can save you a lot down the road.

This post is part of Black Pepper’s series answering commonly asked questions about technology and web user experience for non-profits and like-minded organizations.