I’m in my eighth year writing for AuctioneerTech. Over that time, I’ve proclaimed a correct solution for many things – the best Android podcast app, the best note taking and document management system, the perfect backup solution, the best network storage solution, the correct professional email signature, the best way to brand your company on the Internet and even the best way to roll cables. I’ve even written a series about writing an RFP for building a new, accessible website for an auction firm – even though it was eight years ago, most of it still holds up today.
Today, I’m going to address websites for state auctioneer associations. Auction Zip has historically hosted many – if not the majority of – state websites. However, as Auction Zip becomes more difficult to work with, many associations are left wondering how to transition to a new website that provides membership listings and auction calendaring functions without paying a firm to develop one from scratch.
I have extensive experience with association websites, having served on the NAA’s Technology Committee years ago when we designed the last auction calendar. I’ve also served on the Kansas Auctioneers Association’s Technology Committee since 2010 when we built our own website and have managed it since. I believe our current solution in Kansas is the right answer for most, if not all, state associations.
I know there are vendors in the auction industry who either specialize in or offer this service free to associations. I applaud them for providing this service, because while it’s valuable to the associations who haven’t had many other options until now, it must be a huge headache that’s both thankless and unprofitable. However, there’s no reason now that an association can’t own its web presence.
Let’s first look at the requirements. While these will vary from state to state, I think it’s safe to say that most would like to have a web presence that fits the following criteria.
- Modern, responsive layout that looks good on any device
- Auction calendar that displays member auctions
- Member list that shows a profile or at least contact information for each member
- Listing of upcoming association events
- News and event recaps
- Payment mechanism for dues and event registration
- Complete control of content by the association without relying on a third party
While these criteria make the project seem challenging, there are modular solutions that, when tied together, make for a simple, elegant solution.
In order to solve the last, most important bullet in the list above, we’ll start with a content management system. Using a CMS ensures that anyone in the association has the ability to add or change the content on the website. We’ll select WordPress, since WordPress is as easy as it gets – if a board member or executive director can check email and use Microsoft Word, he’s got enough skills to handle WordPress. While stats vary, WordPress runs more than 25% of all websites on the Internet, and has greater than 50% market share among those websites that use a known CMS. If it’s good enough for Disney, CNN, TechCrunch, Vogue – you get the picture…it’s good enough for an association website.
I’m not advocating that the association set it up. It’s good to have a vendor on your side who can deal with installation and configuration. Finding a local firm will ensure that you have face-to-face support when you need it, and should help keep costs down and your money local compared to national design companies. All said and done, you should be able to find someone who can help you select a modern theme and get it up and running for fewer than a couple hundred dollars. Maintenance costs and domain registration should be under $50 per year.
Now that we have a good looking theme running on WordPress, we’ve satisfied most of the requirements listed above. We have a place where anyone in our association with permission can post pictures, news and events that looks great on all devices.
Because WordPress is open source and runs so many of the world’s websites, there are a ton of plugins available that are either free or inexpensive. Membership management is crucial to an association website that has the goal of facing the public. There are several plugins available that serve this function, but the KAA selected Connections Pro. It lets us house our membership database on our website, so that anyone on our membership committee can see who is and who isn’t a member without having to contact our executive director. It does a great job displaying profiles for each member, and my favorite feature is Siteshot, which shows a thumbnail image of the members’ websites next to their profiles.
While there are exceptions, most auctioneer associations want to provide a calendar to the membership where members can post auction listings. This requirement is what has historically limited the ability of an association to build a website itself. Developing an auction calendar isn’t easy or cheap, so they were limited to vendors such as Auction Zip and Auction Services. While those providers can serve the need, Global Auction Guide Media Group has released a WordPress plugin for its free auction calendar, Auction Guy.
Auction Guy is the largest calendar of auctions in North America that I’ve seen. Using the WordPress plugin allows an association to have its members’ auctions show on the association’s website without having to handle the headache of auction calendar management. The association simply tells Auction Guy which auctioneers are members and gives the members the link to add the auctions. Auction Guy has the vast majority of auctions already in its database, so it’s rare that a member will ever even have to manually add auctions.
I know there are other auction calendaring plugins, and I have experience with all that I’m aware of. Some are difficult or confusing to use. Some don’t allow formatting or restrict the ability to list complete descriptions and pictures of each item with direct links back to the members’ websites. Some actually charge the auctioneers, which should be an immediate red flag for an association. Auction Guy is the best looking, most customizable and easiest-to-use WordPress calendaring plugin – and did I mention it’s free to the association and the members?
I’m a member of several associations, and dealing with the hassle of paper registration forms for conventions and dues renewal is a headache, not to mention the stress involved in writing a credit card number on a PDF that I’m getting ready to email. An association needs a payment processing solution that can handle traditional in-person physical credit card payments as well as website integration that doesn’t involve PCI compliance or handling secure transactions on the association’s website. There are myriad Internet payment options, but we’ve recently begun to implement Flint at the KAA. It doesn’t require any physical hardware – simply use the camera on your phone to take pictures of the credit card and it processes the transaction. It’s cheaper than TSYS, easier than Stripe and will integrate with our website and with QuickBooks. We’ll be implementing it in Kansas in the next few weeks.
State auctioneer associations should own and operate their websites. Turning that responsibility over in its entirety to a third party introduces friction for the board of directors and the membership. Building a site from scratch is cost prohibitive and unnecessary. The right answer is using WordPress and a few third-party products to provide complete functionality for the public and benefits to the membership.