How much does it cost to Create a Club Website?
Last week, development of the club website templates came to an abrupt stop. Up until then, the primary focus for clubmesh.com had been the development of sophisticated tools for creating club websites, and not a great deal of thought had been given to how much to charge for the services being offered. In an ideal world, it would be great if administrators could provide their clubs with online communities without having to pay for them. After all, clubs can have such a positive influence on their members which, in turn, enriches the lives of many people. Clubs make the world a better place!
Unfortunately though, web servers, domain names, software applications... none of that stuff comes for free. Somewhere down the line, somebody is going to have to pay for them. And there's not just the financial costs either; building the hosting site, keeping it running, developing new features, and offering user support, are all going to put a huge demand on the most valuable commodity of all; time!
How much do club website hosting services cost?
Prior to creating clubmesh.com the lead developer was (and still is) the web developer for the Clwyd Mountaineering Club. To manage its website, the CMC uses a content management system called ExpressionEngine.
The default EE install costs $299.00, a discussion forum costs an additional $99.00, a photo gallery is $49.00, their cheapest support package is $49.00 per month, and you've then got your hosting and domain costs to think of. To set up a basic club website using this system (with one year's hosting and three months support) would cost almost $700.
With clubmesh.com, you don't need to worry about any of that stuff as it's already been taken care of. No ASPX, API or IPN to worry about, just a friendly point and click interface, a sophisticated and pre-configured suite of software tools, a website that is already tailor-made to meet the specific demands of a club, and all of which built upon years of experience as an active club member and web developer.
$700 (£429.34 according to Google) suddenly seems like a reasonable offer, perhaps this would be a good starting point?
I think not; financial gain was never the motivation for volunteering as a web developer for my local club, and neither is it the driving force behind clubmesh.com.
However, if clubmesh.com is going to continue to offer club website hosting services, then logic dictates that it needs to be able to cover its own costs.
At present, running costs include an annual fee to the hosting server, the annual cost of a domain name, some of the software applications which have been purchased have annual fees attached, and whenever online transactions are processed (i.e. your subscription to clubmesh.com, and your individual members' subscription to you) there is cost attached. And even though none of these things is particularly expensive, time on the other hand, well as was already said, time is the most valuable commodity we (don't) have!
How much time is needed to run a club website hosting service?
The Primary Club Hosting Website
First and foremost is the time required to design, build and test the parent site, and it doesn't take a genius to work out that this quite a complex website. Yet although considerable time is required to get things up and running, once it's done, it should keep itself ticking over with little human input. It will require continuous assessment of security vulnerabilities, especially when money is exchanging hands (both between your club website and the hosting service, and between your club website and its members), but this might only amount to a few minutes a week.
Individual Club Websites
As well as monitoring your own individual club websites for security risks, time will be spent improving the services offered by clubmesh.com. This is, after all, a new entity, and it's expected that once things go live, there might be teething problems. Time will therefore be spent rectifying any problems that might arise, and also improving the software based on customer feedback.
In addition to improving customer experience with the existing tools, time will also be spent developing new ones. Although the current suite of services will allow you to run a very successful online community for your club, as new trends emerge, new software will need to be developed to keep up with those trends.
Yet still, all of these things demand only a moderate amount of time. The cost for all of this could be covered by selling advertising space on individual club websites. However, what hasn't yet been mentioned, and it is this that is going to require the most time, is providing user support.
Support and Training for Building a Club Website
Creating a very basic website with a little written content and a few images is a complicated process for the beginner. Creating an interactive club website that accepts recurring membership fees, has an events booking system and an integrated social network… well, suffice to say that clubmesh.com was born of necessity.
Despite the fact that the driving force for clubmesh.com was to simplify the process of creating a club website, managing such a website is still a complicated business, and for this reason, it's likely that its users are going to need support.
How much support is needed though? Should somebody be at beck-and-call, 9:00 to 5:00, Monday to Friday? What, you want evenings too? 24 hours a day? And weekends?!?!
For illustration purposes, let's imagine that clubmesh.com had employed a system support person who could work 24-7, 365 days a year (without a single coffee break), and we paid him a very competitive £25 per hour in thanks for his sacrifice.
24 x 7 x 365 x 25 = … That'll be 219 thousand pounds (or 360 thousand dollars) please… Yes, that’s per year!
Clearly, providing one-to-one support is going to be the largest expense for running the service. Even if 100 clubs were using the service, to cover the costs of providing full time support, each of those clubs would still have to pay over £2,000.00 per year each.
As you can see, measures must be taken to reduce the amount of support required.
How to offer support to clubs without charging £219,000.00 per year?
Telephone / Online Chat
Evidently, it's unlikely that clubmesh.com will be able to provide a 24-7 online chat or telephone service, so other support mechanism need to be put in place.
Support tickets work in much the same way as an email and would enable a club member to engage in dialogue with a clubmesh.com developer. Replies to support tickets would need to be provided in a timely manner, which means that somebody needs to be available to both respond to the queries, and look into the problems being discussed.
It's an improvement on the 24-7 online chat, but it would still require a sizeable time commitment, and an equally sizeable cost.
One option would be to adopt the ExpressionEngine strategy and charge customers a monthly support fee. This would enable customers to purchase support as and when they need it, thus keeping the costs down for those not requiring support.
Another method for reducing support requirements is to adopt a tiered approach.
A Tiered System
A tiered system is a common feature on hosting services which usually adopt the "bronze / silver / gold / platinum" naming convention.
This is advantageous as it enables a club administrator to select the package that best meets the requirements of their club.
The bronze package could be limited to basic features, such as a simple photo album and forum, thereby reducing the amount of support required and perhaps enabling provision of a free service.
The Platinum package on the other hand could offer those tools which are likely to require the most support. These might include the ability to process recurring membership fees and accepting payments for online event bookings.
Although this is an improvement, it is still far from perfect as it is likely that some members will require more/less support than others using the same package. To ensure that club members of one club aren't covering the support costs of another club, a combination of a tiered system and one-time support fees should be adopted.
Ease of use
Obviously, the easier the system is to use, the less need there will be for support. Making it as easy as possible to create and manage a club website is, and always should be, the driving force behind clubmesh.com.
The interface should be intuitive and club administrators should have easy access to documentation.
There should be extensive "How to" documentation, and although it's going to require a considerable time commitment to write up all of this documentation, it's certainly an improvement on the £219,000.00, 24-7, 365 scenario presented above.
Thankfully, clubmesh.com brings together a number of already popular software tools, and as a result, there are already a number of extensive documentation repositories in existence. There should be links in the software interface to provide easy access to this documentation, and where possible, the documentation should be directly embedded.
In addition to embedding documentation into the administration interface, there will also be opportunities to embed training videos. This approach will enable customers to choose the learning materials that best meet their individual learning preferences.
Adopting a tiered approach will be beneficial in this regard as it means that those subscribed to the bronze package will not be paying for documentation and videos produced for tools which are only available in the platinum package.
Although learning materials are undoubtedly a valuable source of information, there are times when direct human contact is far more favourable. One such example would be during the initial setup of a club website. As has been previously noted, clubmesh.com is designed to make it easy to create a club website, nonetheless, security considerations when setting up a payment gateway are a complicated subject. It would be beneficial if a club administrator could have direct human support during this process.
Training workshops seem like a sensible solution to this problem as it means a number of people can attend a workshop at the same time, thereby reducing the costs to hire a trainer, venue, and suitable equipment. Workshops might be held every few months or so in a location that is easily accessible.
In addition to workshops, training could also be offered in the form of webinars (online seminars). The advantage of webinars is that they remove both travel and venue requirements thereby reducing costs.
An occasional training event is still far from an effective support mechanism though as access to support needs to be more readily available.
Support forums are a useful tool for providing short term support as it is likely that many members will have the same queries. By looking through the forums they will be able to find responses already given to the same question.
In addition to this, a forum can be a support network where members of a community help each other. However, as a support forum might lack a community spirit, it is questionable whether experienced members will take the time to respond to others' queries. For this reason, an incentive needs to be put in place which encourages them to do so.
This incentive could be in the form of a points system whereby forum users could award points based on how helpful another forum user is. Once a forum user had accumulated sufficient points, they could be rewarded with a free lifetime membership. A tiered package structure would allow for progressive bronze -> silver -> gold rewards thereby providing more encouragement to contribute to the forums.
A badge system could be developed that displays, next to a user's avatar, how many points they have accumulated and what package they are subscribed to.
How much will it cost to create a club website at clubmesh.com?
Taking all of this into account, although many methods have been identified to help reduce costs, they have not completely removed them. It is apparent then that there needs to be a fee attached to creating a club website with clubmesh.com. This fee is not intended to generate profit, but to ensure the system covers its own costs, the largest of which being related to support.
The bronze package will be offered for free. This package will be limited in functionality but still enable clubs to create effective online communities. It will provide clubs with the opportunity to test the system before considering a paid subscription. Support for bronze subscribers will be limited to workshops, webinars, documentation and forums. The tools offered by the bronze package will be suitable for first time developers and novice users, thereby reducing the amount of support required. This will include, but not be limited to, a club photo gallery, unlimited pages, unlimited forums and an events manager.
Suitable for beginner and intermediate web developers, the silver package will provide all features of the bronze package, but with the addition of event bookings, additional forum tools, access to support tickets, ability to use own domain name, automatic search engine optimisation and more storage space. This service will be charged at £49.99 per year.
The gold package will be suitable for intermediate and experienced web developers. It will have all the features of the silver package, plus a contained social network, an event booking system, advanced forum tools, group creation, extended user profiles, more storage space, and the option for club members to have their own photo albums. The gold package will be available for £99.99 per year.
Suitable for experienced developers only, the platinum package will have all features provided by the gold package, plus unlimited storage space, club member photo albums as standard, and the ability to set up recurring membership fees and accept online payments for event bookings. The platinum package will be offered at £169.99 per year.
Watch this space for a complete account of which features will be included in each package.