5 Steps to Help You Build an ECommerce Store

Your Guide to Starting an Online Business

Whether COVID-19 pushed you to pivot from a brick-and-mortar store to an online environment, or you’ve decided to take the plunge and set up a web-based shop, starting an eCommerce business can be a rewarding venture.

From 2017 to late 2019, approximately 28.1 million Canadians made purchases online. That’s a lot of people who are landing on webpages and whipping out their wallets if they like what they see.

But there’s more to the process than buying a domain name and loading your site with products or services. There are technical aspects to navigate and content to consider.

Do you DIY with a website builder or hire a pro? Should you stick to SEO or focus on paid ads too?

As a small business owner, I’ve helped many clients create successful online companies. So I’m sharing this five-step guide to starting an online business with you to make the process clearer and less stressful.

1) Figure out what you want to sell.

If you’ve already got an established store, this might be a breeze. But if you’re just starting an eCommerce business and are focusing on products, you’ll need to think about what you’ll offer, and where you’ll get it from.

The first thing in figuring out what to sell and in what form is to ensure it’s relevant to today’s consumer. COVID-19 has made consumers much more in tune with their spending habits. Ensure there is a consumer first and foremost who is willing to spend their money for the product you aim to sell.

Next define how you want to sell your products. Here are just a few of the options:

Business-to-consumer (B2C): This is the most common business model, with many different approaches. Basically, you sell to the end user, but there may be a third party acting as a middleman (think Amazon).
Direct-to-consumer (D2C): From design and manufacturing to sales and promotions, the company does everything. Dollar Shave Club is a good example of a D2C business who started small and grew using this model.
Subscription service: Books, clothing, organic produce, baby gear… I could go on and on. Nearly every industry out there has harnessed the power of subscription services to deliver cost and time savings to customers on a regular basis.
Dropshipping: Rather than having to stock a warehouse full of products, when you sell a product on your site, you’re essentially purchasing the item from a third party, who ships it directly to the customer.
2) Buy a domain name.

If you already have a business name, this part could be simple. However, you’re not going to get a short and sweet dot com name unless you lay down big bucks. And you don’t want a domain name that runs five words long or is difficult for customers to remember (or spell).

Ideally, you use your company name like we did, with a dot com-or a dot ca if you’re in Canada. There are a lot of other TDLs (Top Level Domains) to consider such as.net,.co and.org but strive to get the revered.com as your primary domain if at all possible.

3) Build an eCommerce store

From incorporating branding into your layout to loading products/services, there are so many things to consider when you’re starting an eCommerce business, including:

Your shopping cart software. Shopping carts can be built with a variety of coding languages including ASP, PHP, JavaScript and HTML. They can be provided by a 3rd party service provider (such as Shopify) or installed in your WordPress website like WooCommerce to avoid monthly fees. Choosing the best shopping cart software requires a lot of pros and cons analysis of each choice. Many times the choice depends on your needs, your budget and the desired functionality.
The visuals (copy and images). How your store looks and feels to the shopper has a significant impact on whether they will trust making a purchase from you. Moreover, how each of your products are described along with using professional-looking photos can make or break a sale if not done properly.
Installing a Secured Security Layer (SSL) Certificate. This keeps your website secure and is mandatory in today’s online commerce environment. Even Google will favour your site’s search ranking if it detects an SSL installed.
Your shipping model. If you’re selling physical products, you need to decide how they are going to get into the hands of the purchaser. Are you sending customers items directly? Or are you using a third-party? Will you offer free shipping, or ship internationally? Do you want the shipping automatically calculated on checkout or will it be a flat shipping rate?
Your payment gateway. Are you going to accept only credit cards, or debit cards and PayPal too? Will you use a hosted gateway that takes people off your site to pay, then redirects them back, like our client Ripping Vintage Packs? Or is an integrated payment gateway more your style?
This is where it is so worth it to hire a a professional web development company. You won’t have to spend your time Googling “SSL Certificates” or trying to set up shopping cart software.

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READ: 3 eCommerce Challenges & Solutions for Tough Times

To call these “tough times” may be a bit of an understatement to you, or perhaps you’ve pivoted your marketing strategy nicely and aren’t negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

There’s no arguing this pandemic has led to increased internet traffic as people work, socialize, and entertain themselves online.

That’s why I’m sharing 3 eCommerce challenges and solutions to help you maintain and even grow as an entrepreneur during this crisis.

Read more on our website.

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How to Improve Your ECommerce Website

3 Common Problems & Fixes for a Successful Online Store

Last week, I shared 5 Steps to Help You Build an eCommerce Store. In this article, I’m building upon that foundation and showing you how to improve your eCommerce website.

One of the big reasons why now is the prime time to maintain an eCommerce website is that consumers are online more than ever. According to Absolunet’s COVID-19 x eCommerce Report sales have jumped:

+105% in Sporting Goods
+106% in Furniture and Home Decor
+160% in Food and restaurants
+161% in Appliances, Electronics, Building Materials and DIY
Once forced to buy online because of COVID-19, many consumers will continue to do their shopping online, now accustomed to the experience and convenience.
Because your target audience will be spending so much time online, I’m sharing some common problems that often come up and how to improve your eCommerce store:

1. You’re on the wrong platform.

You’ve probably heard about the popular eCommerce website builders that allow you to build and maintain an eCommerce website without any coding or design knowledge. Basically, you drag and drop text and images into a template.

Some of the most popular eCommerce website builders include:

Wix
Squarespace
Shopify
Weebly
Square Online Store
While many non-professionals love to recommend using these DIY site builders, there are some disadvantages to them, including:
Lack of customization. Because there are limits to what you can and can’t do, your site may look fairly generic and be missing the unique touches you can get with a professionally designed site.
Limited sub-navigation. Squarespace, for example, only allows one sub-navigation. So it’s not suitable for bigger websites that need a deeper menu hierarchy.
Non-transferable features. If your business has grown and you need something different, it can be very difficult (and costly) to transfer your site away from popular eCommerce website builders.
Lack of ownership control. With your site being housed on a 3rd party platform, you are technically not the owner of your own data. If you fail to comply with their terms and conditions, even innocently, you could have your site shut down without notice and no way to retrieve your valuable files.
Poor SEO Optimization. Typically drag and drop web page builders create a lot of excess code, which adversely affects the site’s organic reach in search engines. Moreover, some 3rd party builders do not facilitate critical tracking codes needed for proper SEO and SEM analysis.
Hidden Costs. Often the lure of free or low monthly fees is what seems appealing on the surface. However, there’s often a limited number of pages or features available unless you pay more for them.
Sadly, many small business owners who were lured by the free or low price tag find themselves stuck on a platform that just doesn’t work for them and that’s when they turn to us for help. If that’s happened to you, let us know.
With the right professional website develoment company, you’ll get a beautiful and functional online store you can not only be proud of, but will get you the sales you want. It will stand out from the competition and seamlessly reflect your branding-and, it will be able to grow with your business.

***

READ: 5 Steps to Help You Build an eCommerce Store

From 2017 to late 2019, approximately 28.1 million Canadians made purchases online. That’s a lot of people who are landing on webpages and whipping out their wallets if they like what they see.

But there’s more to the process than buying a domain name and loading your site with products or services. There are technical aspects to navigate and content to consider.

Do you DIY with a website builder or hire a pro? Should you stick to SEO or focus on paid ads too?

As a small business owner, I’ve helped many clients create successful online companies. So I’m sharing this five-step guide to starting an online business with you to make the process clearer and less stressful.

Read more on our website.

**

2. Your site isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

Your visitors want to land on an attractive site with an intuitive layout in order to gain their trust that you are a reputable online store.

According to a Kissmetric’s study, 93% of buyers consider visual appearance to be the most important factor when making a purchase!

From your logo to your text font and the imagery used, your web design should stay within your brand guidelines.

And you want to make it as simple as possible for your potential clients to find what you offer. Nobody wants to have to click through pages and pages to find a product or service, or to navigate a complex maze of menu items.

One of our clients, Twisted Toffee, makes it easy for people to get to exactly what they’re looking for in an appealing and engaging way with this simple one-page eCommerce set up.

3. The user experience isn’t the best.

There’s more to the online user experience than making menus easy to navigate (although that’s part of it too). In addition to having an intuitive layout that flows from page to page, you want to also:

1. Strive for perfection when it comes to customer service. Respond to questions and

complaints fast and resolve issues as soon as you can.

Consider using a chatbot, which allows business owners to provide responses and solutions

and even generate leads and sales-24/7 through automated customer service live chat.

2. Make sure you have an informative About Us and Contact Us page so your visitors can learn more about you and get in touch with you anytime they need to. Having your photo (and your team members’ if applicable) on your About Us page can be a warm way to welcome visitors to your site.

I also recommend having your customer service phone number visible on every page of your site. This is a great way to emote the valuable trust you want to gain with your visitors.

3. If you give back to the community in some way or want your clientele to know about something you stand for, let them know to also build trust.

For example, we truly believe in giving back by offering our services as well as financial donations to help support several charities and not-for-profit organizations. That’s why we’ve donated our services and provided reduced-rate sponsorships to a number of local organizations.

We share how we’re socially responsible in our About Us sub-menu.

The more pleasant and seamless you make the user experience, the more leads and sales you’ll get.

Of course, there’s a lot more to starting a web-based business than what I’m able to cover here! You’ll also want to provide your visitors with:

Well written product titles and descriptions
Strong calls to action
Fresh SEO content like blog articles and tips
Video content – especially if they demonstrate the product you’re selling
Relevant social media posts (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram) that attract followers back to your website
Benefit-driven testimonials and product reviews
So this is just part of a bigger marketing strategy you’ll need to consider as you maintain an eCommerce website. Contact us to find out how we can help with all of these things and more.
To your business success,

Susan

Susan Friesen, founder of the award-winning web development and digital marketing firm eVision Media, is a Web Specialist, Business & Marketing Consultant, and Social Media Advisor. She works with entrepreneurs who struggle with having the lack of knowledge, skill and support needed to create their online business presence.

As a result of working with Susan and her team, clients feel confident and relieved knowing their online marketing is in trustworthy and caring hands so they can focus on building their business with peace of mind at having a perfect support system in place to guide them every step of the way.

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Evaluating Marketing Profitability in Your Business

The four elements you need in place for evaluating your marketing profitability are objectives, metrics, analytics and actions, which are inextricably intertwined in evaluating the effectiveness and ROI of marketing activity. With each element in place, you are more able to take corrective action for areas of your marketing that aren’t working well.

For instance, you may wish to evaluate:

Design – how effective is your marketing funnel, what are your conversion rates, what is your lifetime customer value, as these determine how much money you can spend to turn a click into a customer.

Process – how well-controlled is your marketing activity in terms of regularly checking the ROI of time and spend on advertising / promotion.

With web analytics it’s easier than ever now to access robust data across your marketing process, tracking the customer journey from enquiry right through to high-ticket purchases.

At its simplest, marketing success is evaluated via Return on Investment (ROI), but using metrics such as cost per click and sales revenue won’t tell you how well the marketing design itself is working and how it could be improved; it only shows you the output against input.

Dive deeper and there’s a whole array of beautiful data at your fingertips. If you take the time with web, email and social media tracking and analytics, it can be very revealing. For instance, you can identify definitely:

What parts of your website visitors are most/least engaging with (hot
Which offers or opt-in forms and offers are generating the most leads
Where your conversions are good or where you’re losing people
How well your leads are engaging with you and your email messages.
Furthermore, embedding analytics tools such as GoogleAnalytics or Clicktale in your website means you’re able to evaluate your visitor behaviours and customer experience and start to see the story behind the clickthrough rates on your site.
This is critical for understanding where to focus your enhancement actions.

When you know where your best customers are coming from or going next, what they are responding to or engaging with most, you can optimise your marketing / remarketing and reduce your ad spend drastically.

“Every mouse move, hover, scroll, tap and pinch exposes structured behavioral patterns that determine customers’ digital body language.” _ Clicktale

But it’s not enough just to look at the number analytics to evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing strategy and to hazard a guess to which tactics will bring about the biggest enhancements.
Evaluating marketing profitability needs to be more holistic than this. It’s definitely worth spending some time and effort first to clarify your marketing objectives (awareness raising, lead generation, sales, customer satisfaction etc), and then to identify the metrics that best track those objectives.

This way you can focus on long term as well as short term outcomes. For example, lifetime customer value can be evaluated from two completely different viewpoints:

Quantitative based on financial metrics from your ad spend vs sales analytics across the entire customer journey; and
Qualitative based on reputational metrics derived from customer feedback.
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Dr Jay Allyson Dempster is an independent consultant and business mentor helping small business owners with leveraged strategies so they can work smarter not harder. She is Founding Partner/CEO of Belanda Consulting & Education Services, author of Leveraged Consulting in the Digital Age and founder of the iSuccess Business Academy.

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5 Top Advantages of Promotional Tents for Events

Business Can Be Taken To Different Locations

Most companies conduct business and engage with potential customers by means of showrooms. However, the problem is, traditional showrooms are rigid and inflexible. If they want to let more people from other places know about their brand, it is best to rent or purchase a marquee tent, which is available at local event companies.

All they need to do is set up the pop up tent at trade shows, community fairs, markets or wherever their customer base is located. They will have their own space and use customized branding so consumers will remember their business.

Boost Engagement Using a Standout Display

Companies can network and engage with prospects at trade events. However, it can be hard to get the people’s attention when there are lots of other businesses around. Therefore, they need to do something to let their company stand above the rest of the crowd.

They can customize their event tents with colored walls of their choice and canopies. They can also print their branding in full-color text complete with graphics. High quality tents can draw more customers and provide them with an opportunity to market their brand and products.

When businesses participate in trade events on a regular basis, a marquee event tent can help a lot.

Tents are versatile and User-Friendly

A number of the biggest companies join extravagant traveling road shows that feature modified trucks and campers. This can be cost prohibitive for a lot of businesses. On the other hand, a tent can be a versatile and cost-efficient solution that offers most of the several advantages given by a motorized showroom.

Modern tents are not only safe; they are also easy to assemble using uncomplicated tools. Basic marquee tents can be assembled by only a few skilled team members, reducing costs in the long run.

Marquee Tents are Effective for Sponsorship

One of the effective ways to develop a brand is by engaging with a community. When a business entails some sort of sponsorship, it would be a great idea to rent a marquee tent for a single event or invest in a customized one to use for a long time. This can be used in community functions, sports events and local farmer’s markets, to name a few. When businesses are active in their community, using a tent with clear, visible branding can provide people with a shaded area during events.

They can optimize their marketing by means of creative brand exposure at sponsored events.

Promotional Tents Are Cost Effective

To minimize costs while keeping their business lean and agile, companies can rent or buy a commercial/event tent from their local event tent company. A marquee tent allows them to set up wherever they are, when they are hosting an event on their property or heading out on the road.

The features of versatile marquee tents include interchangeable canopies and walls, mounting solutions for decorations and lighting plus connecting structures that can create a bigger complex of tents for projects like trade shows.

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Important Factors to Consider When Creating a Website

Purpose of Creating the Website

When a website is built with a purpose in mind, this will let businesses have clearer goals that will enable them to improve the whole planning process. Website projects have different goals including building traffic and improving communications between a brand and its target audience.

Prior to developing a website, it is crucial to know the exact purpose of the website. Businesses should also know the best way to set goals and create a website that meets this ultimate purpose. These important things to consider will help them create a focus and support the whole project.

Web Design and Layout

The way a website is designed, in terms of UI and UX, psychologically affects the way people respond. There is nothing better than a remarkable online user experience. When a website is being developed, one vital factor to keep in mind is creating an appealing design. Clean, quality designs allow viewers to focus on valuable content displayed and the brand’s essence.

Typography

It is very important to understand the typography fundamentals for a website. Texts that are extremely big or small can have an effect on the viewers’ response to them. Fonts should be given close attention, choosing one that directly draws the target audience without compromise to the brand’s purpose.

Security

A lot of websites fall prey to hackers either because of ignorance or poor maintenance. Any website can become a victim of several threats including malware and viruses, among others, particularly due to the latest advancements in technology and constant updates that make websites open to many, different risks.

Performance and Speed

Even if websites have great content, visitors can be discouraged when they are slow due to functionality errors. An optimized website that functions fast can benefit from the following: increase in returning visitors/customers, higher search result ranking (that has an effect on traffic) plus efficient mobile performance. These should always be considered before building a website to make sure of an overall effective performance.

Target Market

It is also important for businesses to know their target market and customers’ requirements to build a website that addresses their needs. For instance, a website designed for fashion enthusiasts is far more different than a site built for engineering professionals. A clear understanding of the market specifications will give a clearer picture of the web design, colors, style theme, layout, call to action and content strategy.

SEO and Important Plugins

SEO is among the most important aspects of a website. Even with great content and other smooth functionalities, everything will be pointless if SEO is not given importance. Creating a website that has a clean SEO code will make it easier to be visible to the target audience.

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6 Elements of Web Design That Are Crucial to Success

1.Call to Action (CTA)

Customers get encouraged to engage with a business when there are calls to action (CTAs) on its website. For instance, words like “Contact us today” shows that a business wants to build a relationship with its customers. However, businesses should make sure that CTAs are relevant to a visitor’s level of engagement with the company.

When visitors are only starting to learn more about a brand, the company can ask them to subscribe to its email newsletter. On the other hand, loyal customers will probably like to join a brand’s loyalty rewards program. No matter what companies want visitors to do at their site, they should add a call to action on all their web pages.

2.Short Loading Time

Whenever people search information on the web, they like the loading time to be as quick as possible. Otherwise, they will leave the website at once. Testing their website beforehand will allow them to determine loading time problems, which can be addressed in time for the site’s release.

Providing customers with a great user experience will increase customer retention so it is best to evaluate a site’s loading time the moment it has launched. With short loading times, customers get the information they need when they need it. When a website fails to deliver, it will be left behind by competition.

3.Active Blog

An active blog enables customers to remain updated on the company’s events, most recent products and other industry-related info. It is an effective way to stay connected with them, particularly if the things that companies post encourage viewers to engage with their brand.

Updating their blog on a regular basis lets customers know more about their brand’s values and willingness to encourage communication. When they deliver fresh, relevant, engaging content to users, their brand becomes recognized, which makes them an authority in the industry.

4.Clean, SEO-Friendly Code

It is crucial for companies to have a clean, SEO-friendly code when they are creating new web pages or optimizing those that already exist. Improving a site’s code can boost the overall ROI (return on investment).An SEO-friendly code give a clean picture of a site’s content to guide search engine spiders.

WordPress and other CMS services offer plug-ins that can make the process of boosting search engine rankings and cleaning up code easier. Since WordPress does not require much knowledge on coding, it is a viable solution for companies that struggle to drive traffic to their sites.

5.Compatibility with Different Browsers

With the progress of technology comes the steady growth of internet browsers. It can be challenging to keep up with Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari and Firefox, to name a few. In designing a website, it is a must to make sure that a website can be reached from different browsers.

A site should register well on the major browsers as well as the older versions. Ignoring this important step may disregard a big percentage of a company’s customer base. It can bring about unnecessary expenses to a developing business.

6.Navigation

When customers find it hard to navigate a website, they will leave and move on to other sites. To make navigation more appealing and efficient, businesses should review their site and look at it in the eyes of a new visitor. They should only choose sensible navigation streams.

Including a site map is an effective way to allow visitors to navigate more easily and search engines to crawl a site. In addition, streamlining navigation by removing pages that are not needed or do not perform can reduce load time, which in turn improves the quality of a brand’s online presence.

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Should You Go for Mobile Sites or Responsive Sites

According to statistics, using mobile devices to conduct searches online has considerably grown in the last two years. As a matter of fact, about 95% of mobile device users depend on their gadgets to look for local products and/or services. For this reason, businesses have to make sure that their websites register well on all kinds of devices to reach this increasing number of mobile users.

It is but wise for large companies with web presence to create a mobile-friendly website that can be clearly viewed from any device. So, when businesses plan to launch a new website, it is best to choose a responsive web design that is able to adapt to any mobile device.

Incorporated with Social Media

Nowadays, websites are required to be integrated with social media. Due to the latest technology, sharing information is now more convenient therefore; businesses that do not incorporate social media fail to benefit from the so-called modern day word-of-mouth marketing.

Social media paves a way for customers to promote a business’ brand, give reviews and be updated about the latest news on the company. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest make it easy for businesses to distribute their written and visual content like product images and brand videos.

Captcha Tests

Businesses that do not have ready captcha tests receive nothing but spam in their contact forms, website forms and comment sections. Such tests that come in the form of random letters and numbers typed before submission of a web-based form, spell the difference between humans and robots.

Including these short captcha tests in their contact forms will make sure that humans alone are able to utilize their site’s resources, which let them save both time and costs.

Efficient Security

As technology evolves, the latest, more advanced security risks have greater chances of compromising a website’s reputation. These include malware, viruses, malicious apps as well as the dangers posed by hackers. Websites have to prevent security breaches on the front and back ends.

Ecommerce sites and other websites designed to conduct online transactions require extra security measures to secure customer personal details. To reduce the possibility of browser-based risks, businesses should include SSL certificates in their websites.

While this is being developed, it is crucial to go over the security features added to the website’s framework and design. It is important, as well, to conduct security checks on a regular basis or else, hire the services of a provider for the job.

Customer Testimonials

Customer testimonials, just like offsite reviews, can be used to promote businesses. Including customer testimonials on a site will reveal more about a company’s products, services and customer commitment.

When companies have an existing loyal customer base, they can solicit some online reviews. In case these customers provide their recorded testimonials, this is the right time to make branded videos. The more sincere and detailed testimonials provide more chances of drawing new customers.

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Better Academic Outcomes In Small Schools

Small schools have great variety. We learned that we don’t need standardized schools — that kills the soul! In Chicago we saw fabulous small schools that were Afro-centric, schools that focused on phonics, fabulous small schools about whole language, small schools that are using the city as a place to investigate. Why? Because they were small, they were focused and they beat the odds on academic outcomes. Small schools are the single most powerful intervention that we can imagine for young people. And the evidence at high schools was even more powerful, as you’ll see in our report.

Learning Lessons

There are now data from 25 years on big mistakes we make when we’re reforming high schools. The data reveal these myths:

• Myth One: You can reform schools incrementally. Forget it. You never get to where you thought you were going. Despite your anxiety, work the hard issues up front; you cannot work your way into them. You cut too many deals if you ease off and make everybody happy in the beginning. And I see a lot of people doing that. I’ve seen too many schools start out saying we’re going to break big schools into small schools. They keep almost everything the same. And within three years, they end up with a couple of interdisciplinary classes. The bottom of the school — where failure is more evident — is never touched.
• Myth Two: You can keep the same infrastructure. We’re still going to have the principal, the 16 vice principals, all those deans for discipline, the boys’ deans and the girls’ deans. And department heads and counselors that are organized by an alphabet, and then classroom teachers, who are doing the real work. And what we’re going to do now, maybe, is take the department heads and make them the heads of the small schools. Forget it. This is a time for serious conversation. Where I’ve seen it done well, like in New York City, labor unions have been fabulously supportive. Yet, I keep hearing from management how labor won’t go for it, so they’re not willing to push the limits. You can’t keep the same infrastructure.
• Myth Three: You need a separate ninth grade. One lesson is don’t do a ninth grade school – a kind of vertical, horizontal thing. You just create another threshold, and then the students drop out after ninth grade. If you’re going to build a community, it’s nine-12. And you know what, the seniors do not molest the ninth graders. They help them!
• Myth Four: Veteran teachers are cynical. “Old” teachers can’t and won’t do what’s necessary, and their experience equals burnout. We have seen the limit of treating experienced teachers like they are dead wood. A bunch of schools in New York decided to hire young, excited, amazing young people from Brown and Wesleyan. And they’re all really, really smart. But it would have been nice to have some teachers who know something.
• Myth Five: Standards and standardization are the same. Standards are not the same as standardization. Small schools, by their nature, are very interested in being held accountable — which is one of the remarkable things about small schools. The parking lots aren’t empty at 2:00 p.m. Teachers hold each other accountable; they hold the students accountable; parents hold the teachers accountable; and everybody holds the parents accountable. Kids hold themselves accountable. Standards are not the same as being the same.
• Myth Six: Professional development has to happen from the outside. Teachers have an incredible amount of knowledge, if given the space to say what 20 years inside dysfunctional institutions has done to them. A relation between inside and outside expertise is fragile — and powerful.
• Myth Seven: Tokenism will solve the problem. Two more black faces in an AP class just doesn’t do it for me. You can’t just play with the top and color-coat. You’ve got to take on the whole thing. Whole-school reform is the point.
• Myth Eight: One of my worst nightmares is when people turn small schools into tracks. There was a school somewhere in America, where administrators decided that they’d have five small schools inside one previous big-school building. So one school was going to be the Special Ed school; one was going to be the Chapter One school; one was going to be the pregnant and parenting school; and one was going to be the language school, for the Latino kids. And then, one school was going to be the humanities school, to attract the middle-class white kids back to the school. That’s not what anybody ever meant by small schools. That is a fundamental distortion. Small schools are heterogeneous, and commit to figuring out how to bring the genius out in everyone.
• Myth Nine: The illusion that accountability means rules and surveillance of teachers and students. That is not accountability, that is oppression. Accountability comes from relationships and responsibility. That’s what small schools produce. You can’t hide. It’s a group of committed folks.

Accountability requires autonomy. A big mistake is not giving small schools the autonomy that they need to do the work that they need to do. Small school teachers, and parents, and community members are willing to be held accountable. But the only way they can be held accountable is if you give them the autonomy to develop the curriculum, to organize their time, to figure out their assessment system and the ways that they would measure student progress. We could always close down small schools if they don’t work. However, we don’t close down big high schools when they don’t work. Close small schools down if they don’t work, but first, give them time. Let them grow. Don’t make autonomy a gift that some schools can earn. That’s a setup. Make autonomy a beginning condition. Then put people under the light of surveillance if they screw it up. What we do now is put everybody under the light of surveillance, and it chokes them.

What’s Needed Now?

First, I’m very taken by this “metropolitanization” analysis. It’s a good idea, and very useful to document the space of injustice between what’s happening in urban areas and what’s happening just on the other side of the border. In education, we could easily do that. We could track who’s in Special Ed; who’s getting college-eligible courses; who’s in AP classes; what are the post-graduate outcomes; how much teachers get paid; what are the drop-out rates across our cities; and where are the certified teachers. And we could document pretty easily the redlining of public education.

Second, we need a theory of change. I don’t think it’s hard to imagine where we need to go. That’s not the mystery. How to get there is not so clear; and how to get there systemically is less clear. I’m tired of hearing small schools is not a systemic strategy. It could be a systemic strategy if districts figured out how to learn from small schools rather than crush them. So we need a joint strategy of internal-to-districts work, and external advocacy. There are teachers who are quitting because they won’t teach English only. There are teachers who are refusing to place kids in a bottom track. There are parents who are creating freedom schools in the South, and some of that is getting called home schooling. And not all of those people are our enemies. They are asking for inside help and external push. We need the combination of pilots and protests. We need the melding of internal reform and sit-ins. We need to be working both sides. This is what I mean by the politics of urgency.

Third, we need to offer support for teachers and parents and places not yet engaged in reform. Too many of our friends are teaching and working and committed to schools that haven’t yet done the work. What we can’t do is only go to the places where there’s sufficient energy for change or we will lose some of our most dedicated buddies and friends. I know many of us have committed to staying in places that are not “there” yet, and you’re doing God’s work. Thank you all.

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