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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Local Dermatologist’s discovery helps recovery of bruised skin

Local dermatologist Dr. Jeffrey Parks was frustrated by the number of his patients affected by benign purpura, a form of bruising that affects the hands, arms and legs. Because there was no known treatment available—Dr. Park’s concern for his patients prompted the development of a topically-applied balm that helps bruised skin quickly recover to a healthy appearance.

BruiseCare® Treatment Balm is now available on the market—providing a much needed solution to those afflicted with this skin condition. When applied directly to bruises, 73% of the patients tested showed clear improvements in skin appearance as compared to non-treated bruised skin in seven days!

You or someone you know likely suffers from this form of unsightly bruising. It’s worsened by the aging process, years of sun exposure, and is often an unwanted side effect of blood thinners, steroids, and other prescription drugs. This is a common condition in Central Florida due to the age of the population and the climate. In fact, Dr. Parks estimates that at least 15% of his patients are afflicted with purpura bruising.

The company Dr. Parks co-founded, SkinHealth Technology LLC, is based in Ormond Beach. It researches and produces highly effective topically-applied formulas. Although BruiseCare® remains its flagship treatment, the SkinHealth line now offers seven different items addressing diverse conditions like acne and vitamin D deficiency. The entire line is available at Dr. Jeffrey Park’s offices located in Ormond Beach and Palm Coast or at

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Palm Coast, FL Utility System Revenue Bonds Downgraded

Dual-headquartered in New York and London, and with 50 offices worldwide, Fitch Ratings is a global rating agency (similar to S&P or Moody's). Fitch Ratings downgraded the following Palm Coast, FL utility system revenue bonds, and stating that "the Rating Outlook is Stable:"
Approx. $132 million,
series 2003 and 2007,
downgraded to A+ from AA-.
The downgrade indicates that the bonds are no longer considered "High Grade - High Quality" but one step down, "Upper Medium Grade."

  • The downgrade on the city of Palm Coast, FL's utility system (the system) revenue bonds to 'A+' from 'AA-' reflects system's very low debt service coverage margins in fiscal 2010 and expectations for below-average financial metrics and liquidity for the near to intermediate term.
  • Despite these financial challenges, the system maintains good overall capacity and has a manageable capital plan that is somewhat fluid as portions of the plan are related to future customer growth; although if growth occurs, additional debt is expected.
  • The system remains highly leveraged, largely a result of its debt-financed acquisition in 2003.
  • The economy remains limited, and continues to show persistently high rates of unemployment.
  • The mostly residential customer base is stable despite the still soft economy and housing market.
  • Rates are currently affordable.
  • Legal provisions are below average and include a rate covenant requiring just 110% coverage of debt service from net revenues, or 105% coverage from net revenues plus 120% coverage including connection fees. The additional bonds test has similar requirements.

  • The system's ability to balance its rate affordability with its high debt costs and capital needs.
  • Further declines in system liquidity may lead to lower overall financial flexibility and could cause additional downward rating pressure.

  • The bonds are secured by a pledge of the net revenues of the system plus pledged connection fees.

Palm Coast (the city) is located along the Atlantic coast in northeastern Florida's Flagler County, approximately 40 miles north of Daytona Beach and 25 miles south of St. Augustine. The city has an estimated population of 75,000, which accounts for approximately 79% of the total county population in 2010. During the past decade, the city was part of one of the nation's fastest growing metropolitan areas with a population that more than doubled since the time of its incorporation in December 1999. However, since the start of the recession, growth has abated, and the downturn in the local economy and housing market has been especially noteworthy. Palm Coast's unemployment rate is still high at 15.4% as of January 2011 (the latest BLS data available).

The system provides services to a mostly residential customer base of 36,000 water, and 35,000 sewer accounts as of 2010. The service area encompasses the city and a portion of unincorporated Flagler County. Water is pumped from the Surficial and Floridan aquifers and treated at one of three city-owned treatment plants. The water treatment plants have a combined 12 million gallons per day (mgd) of treatment capacity, which is more than sufficient to meet the system's average daily demand in 2010 of 7.3 mgd. The consumptive use permit, issued by the St. Johns Water Management District, expires in 2015; however, the city is in the process of requesting an increase in the current allocation to 11 mgd, and believes the modified permit will soon be available. While the current water supply is expected to be sufficient to meet intermediate demand, the system is developing additional well sites for future supply, and is studying the potential for participation in a regional desalination facility.

The wastewater utility is a collection, treatment, and disposal system. The sole wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), with a current capacity of 6.8 mgd, treats the system's average daily flow of 5 mgd for 100% re-use for golf-course and other irrigation. The plant can be expanded to accommodate up to 9.1 mgd. Because the primary method of effluent disposal is for re-use and irrigation purposes, the city does not anticipate significant capital or other costs related to the pending mandates to lower nutrient levels for effluent discharged into local surface water bodies. The current WWTP permit expires in 2012. Management will begin preparing the renewal application within the next couple of months, and does not anticipate any delays and/or additional requirements for the extension of the permit. Construction of a second wastewater treatment facility is currently on hold until demand increases and the additional capacity is needed. The new plant, once completed, will increase capacity by another 2 mgd.

System financial performance has fluctuated. After the city raised rates in 2007 (for fiscal 2009) by 12.5%, operating revenues increased by 13.5% from the previous year. However, the system's financial profile has weakened since that time as growth in operating and debt service expenses have outpaced the growth in revenues in 2010. Annual debt service coverage for the bonds in fiscal 2008 was good at 1.75 times (x), and still satisfactory in fiscal 2009 at 1.56x including connection fees. When excluding such fees, coverage was roughly 1.4x in both years. When including subordinate lien loans, all-in debt service coverage was slim but acceptable at 1.2x and 1.1x in 2008 and 2009, respectively. For fiscal 2010, the city council approved annual CPI-adjusted rate increases, which Fitch views positively; however, rates actually declined slightly as a result of a decline in the CPI. For fiscal 2010, a rise in annual debt service (by roughly $1 million), a slight rise in O&M expense, and stagnant revenues led to much narrower debt service coverage of 1.3x on the senior bonds (including available connection fees), and just 1.05x on an all-in basis for the year. Significant improvement in the current financial profile may need to be accompanied by large rate increases. While the city has implemented a large rate increase in the recent past, it has yet to indicate it will adopt rate increases above the automatic CPI-adjusted levels over the next few years. In addition, while rates are currently affordable and generally competitive with those of neighboring systems, rate flexibility is tempered by the still sluggish local economic conditions, only average income and wealth levels, and a high number of retiree-aged residents.

Pro forma financial projections provided by the city show the system demonstrating better financial results than recorded in fiscal 2010. Revenue assumptions include inflation-adjusted rate increases (of 3% annually) through 2015 and additional customer growth of roughly 2% annually, which Fitch believes to be somewhat optimistic. The forecast also includes conservative assumptions for rising debt service costs and O&M expenses (projected at 6% annually); a rise in debt service beginning in 2013 related to additional borrowing for the construction of the second WWTP (and related mains and lines) appears unlikely to begin for at least several more years. With these assumptions, net revenues (impact fees are not included) are expected to improve senior debt service coverage to 1.6x by 2012, and to 1.9x through the rest of the forecast. Coverage on an all-in basis is expected to be a minimum of 1.2x which is considered satisfactory. At fiscal end 2010, the system had $5.8 million in unrestricted cash and investments, equivalent to 125 days of operations. After replacing the surety policies for the debt service reserve funds with cash in fiscal 2011 with a combination of cash and prior bond proceeds, liquidity is projected to be even lower by the end of the fiscal year.

The system's debt profile is above average, which is partially offset by a very low average age of plant. Debt per customer is over $2,200, which is roughly similar to the median level of $2,300 for systems rated in the 'A' category. Debt to net plant assets is also high at 100%. Debt amortization is average, which will leave these ratios elevated for some time. The average customer bill of $59 for combined service assuming 5,000 gallons of use is presently affordable at roughly 1.5% of median household income.

In addition to the sources of information identified in the 'U.S. Revenue-Supported Rating Criteria', dated 8 Oct. 2010, this action was additionally informed by information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, IHS Global Insight, and LoanPerformance, Inc.

Source: Based on Fitch Press Release from Business Wire | March 30, 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

Flagler County Airport Seeks Airplane Accident Video Footage

The Flagler County Airport is requesting any member of the public that has video footage of the aircraft accident that occurred on Saturday afternoon at the Wings Over Flagler Fly-In to contact the Airport Director, Roy Sieger at 386-437-0401. Video is being requested by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to assist in investigating the crash.

The Palm Coast Blog previously posted the following video (courtesy of Palm Coast resident Rudly R.) showing the immediate aftermath of the accident in a prior article on the Airplane Crash in Palm Coast during the the second annual Wings Over Flagler event on March 26th, 2011:

If you have a video of the plane crash during the show, you can contact the airport director, or submit your video and eye-witness notes here.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Plane Crash/Accident at Palm Coast Air Show: Wings over Flagler

There was a fatal accident at the popular Wings Over Flagler Warplane and Air Acrobatics Show in Palm Coast today. The second annual "Wings Over Flagler" Aerobatics show was taking place Saturday and Sunday, on March 26 and 27, 2011 at the Flagler County Airport.

According to one eyewitness, four planes were flying in formation, with two of the planes conducting (and have just completed) a "heart" shape, when the plane went down.  Reportedly hundreds were watching.  The accident happened about 4:30 PM on Saturday, March 26th.  FlaglerLive reported that it was a "single-engine Yak 52 plane" crashed.

The Pilot, Bill Walker, known as “Wild Bill” has reportedly died in the accident.

Here is the video footage of the immediate aftermath from an eye-witness, courtesy of the Palm Coast, Flagler County resident, Rudly R:  

Have you eye-witnessed the accident? Please comment below or visit Palm Coast facebook page for comments.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pictures of Biggest Moon Rising in Flagler County!

The biggest moon put on a wonderful show for those in Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, and the Hammock.  It is said that there were at least a thousand people viewing the biggest moon of the last18 years rising right on the beach!  These wonderful pictures of the biggest moon rising in Flagler County are copyrighted by, and courtesy of Glenn K.

Enjoy the beauty of the biggest moon and the Flagler Count Beaches - March 19, 2011:

eBooks and eReaders: The School Library Solution

Remember going to the library as a kid?  I was never a big reader but I liked the library.  It was a powerful place to step into to.  Granted I love a Google search, but I still like sifting through books for answers or delving into a good story that launches me onto an amazing adventure.  Libraries in schools and in communities are very important places.  They make books accessible to students and communities.  Something we often take for granted, but shouldn't.  There are many places in this world that still limit what is accessible to people.  

Libraries face a lot of barriers in terms of keeping a selection available.  Budgets don't always allow for space to house the books, replacing worn out copies, providing multiple copies, so forth and so on.  eBooks and eReaders are opening up amazing new avenues to break many of those barriers down.  Schools are starting to see this, but unfortunately a model of what that really looks like is not always available right now.  It's more like a puzzle where all the pieces are there . . . we just need to put the puzzle together.  Some schools are approaching this in great ways though and libraries are the best place to start.  The best approach in my opinion is  . . . "Lend the library" by lending preloaded ereaders. It's actually pretty simple to do today with huge advantages.  Let's take a look:
    • Create "blocks" of 6 ereaders to an account
    • Use a generic designated email address for each "block" of 6 which will serve as the username on the service
    • Purchase ebooks on one and "sync" to the rest easily or simply sign onto the account for each "block" and make the purchase online and "sync" out to each device.
    • "Syncing" doesn't require hooking up to a computer either.  It's done right over the air using a WiFi connection.
  • Security and required credit cards are protected by enabling purchase password protection.  In fact, the credit card information is not accessible at all on the ereaders themselves.
  • Lending and tracking devices can be easily done through the serial numbers on the devices.
  • Access to even more books is expanded a great deal.  There are tons of 'public domain' ebooks which are often free.  PDF versions of ebooks can be manually loaded on to the ereaders.  So forth and so on.  
  • Students do not have to worry about internet access at home.  Once the ebooks are downloaded, they are on the device and do not require a signal to read them.  
  • eBooks don't wear out.  Yes, ereaders can break but since backups are always kept through companies like Barnes and Noble, once you replace the ereader and sign onto the account . . . all the ebooks come right back.  (Any manually loaded PDF's would have to be manually put back on which is often simple enough to do).
  • Schools could also create designated sets of ereaders for professional development books for educators to borrow using the same methods.  
  • Students can customize the text with resizeable text.  Students with vision impairments that need larger print . . . they got it in every ebook.
  • Libraries get more for less.  Even with the classics any library would be hard-pressed to find 6 exact copies of any title for free.  In the ebook world they can find pretty much every classic and easily get 6 copies exactly the same for free.  When it comes to regular books, the savings is huge and here's why:
    • We'll use a popular Young Reader's author, Mike Lupica, and his title "Travelling Team".  
    • As a paperback (which often wear out much quicker) the cost would be about $7.91 for each copy.  If you purchased 12, that would equal $94.92
    • As an ebook with 2 "blocks" of 6 ereaders, you purchase 2 copies at $6.99 each which becomes 12 copies.  So your total cost now for 12 copies of that title is $13.98 for a savings of $80.94.  And that's just one title.  
Note I didn't speak to textbooks here.  eTextbooks for schools really isn't there yet.  It's an entirely different publishing world and the books are much more complex to create the best educational reading experience.  eInk style ereaders can not accomodate these type of publications adequately.  Emerging tablets will be the way to go eventually with textbooks in my opinion.  

These are exciting new avenues, but they are difficult for many to "see" because they are vastly different from what we are used to.  Packaging up a library of books and lending that out to someone has never been a rational thought before.  In the ebook and ereader world it is possible and with huge benefits.  Buying one book and getting 5 additional copies never existed.  Now it does.  A library suffering physical damage that destroys the books is extremely difficult to rebuild and restock.  An ereader that is damaged and replaced can easily have all the books back on it in a matter of minutes by simply signing back onto the account.  Now if someone could just make that car that folds up into a briefcase like the Jetsons . . . 

What are your questions or thoughts?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Email Me, Facebook Me, Tweet Me . . . What??!!!: Managing Multiple Contact Avenues

Most people today have multiple ways to be contacted.  We have multiple email addresses (personal and work), Facebook accounts, multiple phones (home, work, cell); and it can get confusing how to manage it all.  In fact, it can become so difficult that messages can often go missed.  In essence, we have all these great tools to be contacted and we miss more than we receive.  So you need to have the tools for keeping the tools organized.  For example, between my father-in-law (who lives with us) and I we have a great number of household tools.  Most are his and he is extremely handy.  One thing I love is the fact that he is pretty well organized with this as well and we set up peg board in our garage to organize the tools so we can easily find what we need when we need it.  When it comes to messaging, we need to do the same.  

In the business world we have to be careful with some of the advice too regarding messaging.  Some is geared towards a more personal level and speaks a lot to minimizing checking messages because they are a distraction.  The bottom-line is that the messages are business and the business should not be considered a distraction.  For example, my wife is in real estate.   Real estate pros are contacted through multiple avenues which often become alerts to the email box.  The difference between responding now or hours later can literally be losing the business as the person contacts someone else.  It's not even an option not to be on top of messages coming in and waiting until the evening.  

Let's take a look at managing these multiple contact avenues:

The email box as the "catch all".  

Email is probably the thing most of us check often.  Most will check their email several times a day.  I know I do.  Therefore I want an email box that is organized, easily accessible, and kept neat.  I chose Google's Gmail because I am big user of Google products and find them to be very powerful and easy to set up for managing multiple things coming into.  I use the Gmail  service to also receive and send email from multiple accounts and incoming messages from each account are labelled as such.  This way I quickly know the reason I am receiving the message.  I haven't used it much, but I can also receive email notifications of transcribed and recorded voicemails from my Google Voice phone number (we'll get into this next).  Brighthouse just added voicemail to email/text as well for their phone customers and this is a great feature.  Again, my wife's office line in the house is a Brighthouse phone.  So when she gets a voicemail on that phone she gets an email with a transcription of the message and an attached audio file to listen in her email box which she can pull up on her mobile phone.  This reduces forwarding phones, reduces interruptions from forwarding, and improves efficiencies.

The important thing to managing a very active email box is to delete that which you have no need for and check your email at least 3 times per day.  I "star" or "flag" important emails that I may need later on and then delete them once the task is completed associated with the message.  I also have gotten away from 'subscribing' to things like news alerts.  These can pile up and cause confusion.  I do have a couple but they are the cap and I won't add more.  It is a very select few because they are often information I want daily.

Handling multiple phone numbers in one

One thing I love about Google is the great tech tools they provide.  Some are so amazing that they become confusing.  Google Voice is one of those for me and many others, but it still a great tool.  Google Voice is a free service that provides users with one Google-provided phone number that acts as a catch-all and routing system for multiple phone numbers.  So instead of having to give out several phone numbers, you can give out one which in turn can be used to route calls to several different numbers.

Routing is an amazing feature in this system.  You can assign calls to be routed to particular numbers by contact or group of contacts.  Or you can set it up to go straight to voicemail for "unknown callers".  This way you can set all of your contacts in your family and friends groups to go to your cell or home, and all of your business contacts to go directly to your work number.  

The voicemail service is amazing.  Whenever a caller leaves a voicemail on the service, the message is immediately transcribed (and very well I might add) and attached to the recording.  You can set the service to email or text you the transcription and recording.  And it's extremely quick.  

You can use the service to make phone calls through smart phones as VOIP with the Google Voice app.  Watch your data usage if you are on limited data usage plans.  

Facebook me, Tweet it, etc.

In getting into social networking more and more for my wife's business plus my own stuff; I quickly found myself getting frustrated with flipping through a ton of tabs in browsers and doing several different logins.  I found the solutions in some great new services designed for handling multiple accounts.  Some of these are Hootsuite,Tweetdeck, and Tweetcaster.

Hootsuite is my favorite for my PC and Tweetcaster for my phone, but I do like the Hootsuite mobile app too and have both on there.  Hootsuite does a great job allowing individuals and teams to set up multiple Twitter, Facebook, and Facebook Pages, etc. accounts all in one spot.  Each account is tabulated and the various sections of each service are then in custom columns.  It very easy to share things out on one or many social networks at one time.  Plus it keep the social streams very organized and easy to view.  

Tweetcaster (from Handmark) is a great mobile app that has similar features to Hootsuite for your phone.  It has a great user interface like Hootsuite and ties in great with sharing things from other apps such as news stories.  

What are your thoughts?  What challenges do you face with all these contact tools today?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Heard the Roof Shaking in Flagler County this morning?

Here is the official announcement/release from Flagler County Emergency Management:

At approximately 9:30am this morning the Flagler County 911 Center received calls from residents of rumbling, trembling, or minor shaking of the ground from Palm Coast and Bunnell. Some reports indicated the sensations were felt, while others reported hearing booming sounds. 

Emergency Management verified through the United States Geological Survey, the National Weather Service, and the Florida Division of Emergency Management there were no known reports or activities capable of causing this incident. Possible military off-shore activities may have caused these sensations. 

There is no damage or injuries as a result and therefore no further actions required. 

Emergency Management continues to investigate and future updates will be posted to

Monday, March 14, 2011

Creating A Great Facebook Page For Your Business Or Organization

The Palm Coast Home Show Facebook Page
Facebook is obviously a huge attraction for individuals to connect and socialize with others.  It has also become a powerful way for businesses and organizations to connect with customers and their communities.  Does it replace your existing website?  I don't agree with that notion.  Rather the Facebook page is an excellent supplement to your existing website allowing you to interact and share with others that is often limited on traditional websites.

So how do you create a Facebook page?  Pretty simple actually:

  1. Click here to register and start building your page
  2. Design and upload your profile image.  Profile images can be 200 x 600 pixels which allows you to create an attractive image with business or organization information.  After uploading your profile image, click the 'Edit Thumbnail' link and select the area of your image you want to display in your 'fan' base's Facebook feed.
  3. Add your business or organization's information including contact information, website link, and an overview of who you are.
  4. Assign your administrators.  You can have multiple administrators for a page which allows several people to contribute and engage visitors.  
  5. Tell people about your page.  Once you get 25 'Likes' of your page you can assign a unique username which makes your link  The username should be your business or organization's name.
Now your page is built, what do you post there?  This is where you can get creative and have a lot of fun.  Some great things to post on your page are:
  1. Links to your blog posts
  2. Links to relevant news articles (scroll through images to find the most relevant and attractive image to display)
  3. Upload photos/video from company or organization events
  4. Engage visitors by asking questions and input
The Office Divvy Facebook Page
I prefer using Hootsuite which allows for finding content online and easily sharing the information on the Facebook page and/or multiple Twitter accounts at one time.  

We have some great local Facebook pages as well for you to 'Like' and keep updated on local happenings.  Here's a few:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Why eBooks Matter: Opening Up New Opportunities For Authors and Groups

eBooks are a big focus and there are a ton of positives going on.  eBooks not only provide great advantages for individual readers and authors, they are opening up a variety of new avenues for new business models and new revenue opportunities for groups like non-profit organizations.  Let's take a look at some of the differences in print publishing and ebook publishing and how you can capitalize on the ebook opportunity.

Distribution Made Easy

In the print publishing world there is often several "hands" involved.  The publisher, the distributor, and the bookseller all have a role and each get a percentage of the sale.  Since costs of warehousing, shipping, and returnability agreements can be significant; getting a book on shelves in a store can be difficult for new or one-time authors/groups. This process can be lengthy as well sometimes taking months.

In the ebook world, costs are minimal.  Therefore companies selling ebooks can provide services which allow you to upload your ebook and make it available for readers to download.  The time from upload to being available for purchase is reduced to hours.  The quoted average turn around times is about 72 hours which can be less.  When I recently uploaded my ebook, "The Connected Church: A Tech Guide For Church Leaders and Parishioners", to Barnes and Noble's Pubit the ebook was available within 24 hours.  It was less than 48 hours with Amazon's Kindle Direct.

Reaching More Readers In One Shot

As most authors will tell you, there is always the tough job of bustling around to get their book on shelves within stores and trying to get books sold.  This is often contained to local booksellers.  In the ebook world, readers have access to the book where ever they are.  Once the ebook is uploaded readers using ereaders or ereader apps can easily find and download your ebook to their device of choice (i.e. PC/Mac, iPad/Tablet, iPhone, Android phone, Blackberry, etc.).  Rather than spending large amounts of time getting the book on shelves, you can focus more time on telling people your ebook is available.

With ereaders and ereader apps on mobiles devices, readers are carrying entire book distribution systems and book stores right in their hand.  Readers can easily find books, make a decision to buy, and download direct to the device.  Within minutes they are reading the book.

Self Publishing Without the Costs

Even with more self-publishing print options available today such as print-on-demand through companies like iUniverse or Xlibris, there are still upfront costs and no guarantees that the book will actually hit the shelves in stores.  Due to distribution costs there are often low percentage payouts which requires a large number of sales just to break even.

In the ebook world there is no upfront costs.  Pubit!, Kindle Direct, Smashwords, etc. are free services.  In addition the author sets the price and can provide the book at the price they feel is appropriate.  Payouts percentages within this model average 65% to 70% to the author/publisher which are unheard of rates in the publishing and bookselling worlds.  Let's look at an example as a possibility and do the math:

$2.99 ebook x 65% = $1.94 per sale.  1,000 ebooks sold x $1.94 = $1,940

Opening Up New Opportunities

This is where it takes a little thinking "out of box" to see some amazing new opportunities for not only individuals, but also groups.  Let's take the most common example, the group cookbook.  Churches and other groups such as Flagler County's Friends of the Library have produced cookbooks in print.   They could take that same book and publish it as an ebook offering great new opportunities to reach more buyers without cost and higher payout possibilities.  This same concept can be applied to Churches creating a collection of faith stories from members of their community.  Schools and educators could use this new avenue as an educational and fundraising opportunity by creating a book as a class/school project.  Students can write and publish their own books as a project for class.  The possibilities are real and seemingless endless right now.

Book publishing then . . .

Book publishing now . . .

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Chance for Palm Coast's Entrepreneurial Men...

...okay not exactly for all Palm Coast Men, but all men (nationally) who wanted to be an entrepreneur and are looking for that break:  Dockers is running a contest to encourage men to realize their entrepreneurial dreams!  One winner will receive $100,000 cash —generally enough (and sometimes more than enough) to start a business plus one year's worth of dockers khakis!

Here's the Docker's video announcing the contest and the rules:

Entries must be in by March 15th, and here's what you do to enter:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Holy Web: Making The Most of Your Church Website

The Connected Church eBook
The internet and devices do two primary things for most people today . . . share information and social uses.  These are also two vital functions within Church communities as well.  Unfortunately, many Churches do not use technology effectively or at all to open new avenues to maximize communications.  When you look at most church websites, they are often used similar to a Yellow Pages ad.  Basically they exist to say, "Hey we're here."  The approach is wrong.

Unlike businesses, the ad/marketing component really isn't necessary for a church website.  Search engine exposure has very little significance, because the church website should be heavily focused on conveying information and automating administrative tasks.  The church website should function as extension of your church office providing all of the same services with enhancements.  When done correctly, the website can also serve to dramatically reduce costs as well.  For example, if your church is printing quite a bit of forms from your office.  You can provide those same forms for download accessible via your website allowing members to download and print the forms themselves reducing your printing and/or mailing costs and providing more convenience to your members.  Lets take a look at the primary components for a Church website:

Communication of Information

Members of church communities primarily meet only a few times each week.  Getting information to them can be a real challenge and in most cases is primarily done through flyers, bulletins, bulletin boards, and other various print.  By adding your communications onto the website, you can open up powerful new avenues to your community.  Schedules can be posted via online calendars accessible 24/7 to the community at large and can also be created to be ministry specific.  Announcements can be added to your front page keeping members informed of important items occurring or coming up.

Directory of Contacts

The directory page for administrative contacts and ministry leader contacts keeps your community better informed as to who to contact.  This should also include email addresses.  Email is a common form of communication for most people today.  It is also a powerful means to reduce mailing and/or faxing costs.  If you are faxing quite a bit . . . stop it and start attaching documents via email.

Online Forms

Moving your forms online allows access by your community 24/7 and also provides an easy access point for administrators to print on demand rather than printing many copies to have on-hand.  Some forms such as a registration form may be able to be automated that is filled out online and ties in with your database software via a simple approval process.  For example, the new member fills in all of the information online and an approval email is sent to a designated administrative person.  Once approved, the information is dropped directly into your database. Check with your database provider in regards to this.

Online Calendars and Schedules

Most churches have a lot of things going on.  Events, ministry schedules, so forth and so on.  Many of these are volunteers with full-time jobs and busy personal lives.  So using multiple online calendars for specific groups allows you to create hub for participants to go to and get the information they need.  Services like Google Calendars allows you to attach documents within an event allowing you to get a great deal of information for the participant all in one spot.  For example, if your choir is provided with sheet music you can attach that to the practice schedule for them to print when accessing the event on your choir calendar.  If a event is offsite, you can add in the address which provides the viewer with a means to easily get directions and mapping.  Likewise, you reduce your workload dramatically from an administrative standpoint by creating an enter-once-use-everywhere type of scenario.  Once you enter he item, you can print from there if you want or simply direct others to consult the online calendar for information.

Making the website easily updated

I'm a big fan of online template-based websites for churches as opposed to creation via software on a computer and uploading.  The template-based online systems such as Google Sites or allow you a very inexpensive option and an easy means for multiple people to assist in updates from any internet connected computer.  This also allows for changes in volunteers over time if volunteers move or are unable to assist any longer.  Embedded calendars also allow for having volunteers or administrators update schedules which in turn update your website and they need to know nothing about websites at all.

If you are not maximizing your website for your Church, give it a second look.  If members aren't utilizing the services you placed there . . . give them a nudge.  Online calendars and scheduling is a great way to motivate your members to go to your website.  Refer to it often for various information they need.  Within a short period of time, they'll be going there first.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Marketing Success: There Is No Recipe

I'm a horrible cook, baker, or anything done in the kitchen.  Well, I can clean a mean dish.  But other than that the kitchen is not the place for me.  You can give me the simplest recipe and the end result will be something neither remotely close to what the recipe picture looks like or edible for others to eat.  Why is that?  Mostly is because I have very little interest.  My heart isn't into it.

When it comes to marketing success, so many look for this step-by-step recipe type of approach.  The "recipe" they are looking for is what tasks to accomplish.  What social networking site(s) to sign up for.  What blog service to use.  What online ad service to use.  So forth and so on.  Sure I can tell them my opinion of which to use, but even if I do . . . they probably will see very little success.  This is because are approaching things from a "what to do" standpoint and not a "why I am doing it" standpoint.  There is no heart put into the marketing.  It's approached as a task only.

Also, there is this notion that on can quickly attract a large amount of attention in a very short period of time.  Yes, Charlie Sheen recently attracted an astonishing 1 million Twitter followers in 24 hours.  First of all, he's Charlie Sheen.  He's an established name that was getting a ton of media attention prior to his announcement that he was now on Twitter.  The real truth is that 99.9% of success will NOT happen over night.  It will take many many long nights of hard work.  My wife's website gets thousands of visitors each month now.  The website has been out for a few years, and up until the last year it got a handful or so visitors each month and did little to convert anything.  It took several years to build up a presence, continually looking at various data, making strategic decisions, building up presence, and seeing reactions.  In addition, it was something we were very passionate about and sought to create a spot that provide valuable services to visitors.  We get great feedback and great traffic now.

Amanda Hocking is another great example of success from the heart.  This young woman wrote several books over the years.  She submitted them to publishers and was rejected time and time again.  She's no different than any other author out there.  J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" was rejected quite a few times prior to be picked up.  Anyway, Ms. Hocking decided to utilize self-publishing ebook options available today and continued with her blogging she enjoyed doing.  She has a passion for writing.  What has been the result?  As reported . . . about 100,000 ebooks sold in December and about 900,000 sold over the last 10 months.  Her ebooks are priced around $2.99 each.  Authors usually see about 65% to 70% payouts in this type of publishing.  Do the math.  But guess what . . . it wasn't about the money for her.  Just like a great cook, she wants to write her books and serve them to others to enjoy consuming.

So what is a real recipe for success in marketing?

  1. Have real purpose and passion about the product or service you are putting the message out about first.  
  2. Know your customer base, where they are, and deliver real benefit(s) to them.
  3. Keep at it and listen to feedback.
  4. Don't be afraid to try something new.
  5. Never be satisfied or get too full of yourself.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Brighthouse Takes One From The Google Voice Playbook: Enhanced Voicemail

Enhanced Voicemail From Brighthouse
If you are a Brighthouse subscriber in the area you might have noticed they are offering some great new service enhancements to their cable, internet, and phone products.  I was excited to see their most recent addition being Enhanced Voicemail which adds in email and/or text messaging of new voicemails to your Brighthouse phone.  Not only can you listen to the voicemail right within the email itself, it is transcribed as well!  And the transcription is pretty darn good.

This might sound familiar to some of you . . . Google Voice has offered this for some time now.  For the personal home phone user this is a cool convenience, and for the professional user . . . this can be a huge time saver.  For example, our Brighthouse phone line in our house is actually my wife's business line.  She had a couple of options when out.

  1. Forward calls to her cell phone
  2. To retrieve voicemails, she had to listen to each on the phone and write notes.  
  3. Easy Gadget can be used for listening to messages on her laptop but she had to be on that machine and connected to the internet.  
This new voicemail option makes it so so can easily manage her voicemails by seeing the text of the message while out and about on her cell phone as well as listening to the message if the transcription seems confusing.  A much more productive and efficient means of managing voicemails in a timely manner.  Plus with the voicemail being saved as an audio file attached to the email, it can be easily forwarded to others to hear if need be.  

How could they make it even better?  One would be the option to not store the voicemail on their service if forwarded in this manner.  Currently, you have to go and manually delete the message from your phone even if forwarded.  The second would be a linking of contacts to keep them in sync especially if you are using Google Contacts which is easier to link to.  Third would be an Easy Gadget app for mobile phones to manage voicemails.

All in all it's a great addition to their service and definitely beneficial for the persoanl and professional user.

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