Blog

The Breaking Even Communications Blog - since 2007!

Tech Thursday: Facebook News, Image Issues, Systems and Will Smith

29 January

We cover quite a bit of ground in this week’s Tech Thursday:

    • The new Call-to-Action feature for businesses on Facebook. We just noticed it’s appearance this Monday, and while the options are not incredibly robust (yet), it seems like a pretty useful tool.
    • What to look for if your images aren’t translating well online: Usually, it’s an issue with file size (i.e. trying to make a picture bigger than it actually is), but you may also want to consider the file type and what kind of device it’s going to be viewed on.
    • The increase in videos on Facebook for mobile devices (here’s the article Nicole references in the video). We’re curious- is it just a coincidence since we’re in the same area? Or are other people seeing this, too?
    • 2015: The Year of the Systems. It seems that at the beginning of this year, more business and personal improvement suggestions involve systematizing, well, everything.

If you have any questions or topics for Tech Thursday, give us a shout at www.breakingeveninc.com/contact!

Online Ads 101: Ad Networks

23 January

Our previous posts about online advertising have covered pay per click and display ads. As discussed in those posts, PPC and display ads are different options in terms of types of ads (PPC means you pay when someone clicks your ad and hopefully makes a purchase, display ads offer general awareness and cost per 1000 or so impressions). This week is about ad networks, which offer a convenient method of getting your ad to a publisher. In other words, it’s less about display and more about the transaction between publisher and advertiser.

What is an ad network? An ad network is a solution to supply-demand in the world of online advertising. Ad Networks act as matchmakers that fill in the gaps for those trying to sell ads and those looking to display ads. So, you sell custom llama hats, and this llama farm is looking for advertisements, you have a 83% compatibility match! (Note: this is not literally how ad networks operate, and probably not how matchmaking works, either).

Ad networks, much like matchmakers, come in all shapes and sizes. For instance, some ad networks work specifically within certain niches (i.e. technology, home improvement, outdoor apparel, that sort of thing). Other, much larger networks are more concerned with “blanket coverage” (or, the leave no stone unturned model). There are also, as you may imagine, different options in terms of pricing and the amount of say you have about where your ad goes. Three common types of ad networks include:

Vertical/Representative: With this type of ad network, you’re allowed full control over what website(s) your ad goes on. You also might even be able to choose the position of your ad on any given website (while this sounds exhausting, it could make all the difference in avoiding unfortunate ad placements).
Blind: This is a riskier model, but they’re usually pretty cheap. As the name suggests, you have NO idea where your ad is going. This type of ad network would work for the light of budget, but not the faint of heart.
Targeted: This type of ad network uses data from a person’s browsing history and makes assumptions (age, sex, location, interests) in order to determine which ads to serve. (This article has more information on targeted ad networks and how they work).

Why would anyone be interested in ad networks?

As with anything, there are some pros and cons to explore. Perhaps the best thing about ad networks is that you don’t have to hustle your ad. It eliminates the whole door to door “Hey, can I put my ad in your window?” element to online advertising, which saves a lot of time and energy (and is great for those who hate doing this sort of sales thing in the first place). Working with an ad network may also get you in touch with businesses you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise (i.e. you’re an actor and the ad network is your agent who helps get your foot in the door with big production companies). You also don’t have to haggle over pricing with a publisher, the ad network does all of that for you.

The biggest con to using an ad network is probably the gamble. While you’re likely to save money by sending your ads to a network, you could also end up paying quite a bit. Another potential issue to watch out for is where your ads are actually going. Like I said before, some networks will let you control where your ad gets displayed, other networks won’t. If you like to have control over that sort of thing, then maybe ad networks aren’t the way to go.

 Examples of Ad Networks:

YouTube Partners: If you’re a YouTube sensation, like Dom Mazzetti or Justin Bieber, you can enable your channel for monetization. This means that your video will display relevant ads “either inside or near the video” who will pay you to display on your video(s). Of course, there are some strict rules about what videos are eligible for monetization (the good news is, if you’ve filmed your cat and there is no background music, you  could be in line to make some money). The amount you can make by becoming a YouTube partner depends on the ads that get displayed (which you don’t have any control over, but hey- money!).

YouTube_Partner

 

BlogHer: Another real life example of ad networks in action is BlogHer. As the name suggests, this is primarily geared toward women bloggers, but it isn’t a “no boys allowed” situation. How does it work? Well, BlogHer has a vast network of writers (called Influencers) and certain marketers are encouraged to join in and have their products/services/brand talked about (or maybe just featured in some sort of ad. In the description of their services, BlogHer says: “Our Influencers share your brand with their readers- in the context of their lives.” So, someone might approach BlogHer with a new celebrity product launch or a custom video recipe series, and say “Make this popular” (but more eloquent and professional). BlogHer then connects the product or service with different writers in their network, and away they go.

logo

 

There are hundreds of other ad networks out there, of all sizes, service and variety. Stay tuned next week for a post on Affiliate Ads!

 

Tech Thursday: Online Storage, Toggl, and Beyond

22 January

Happy Tech Thursday!

As promised, we’re adding our new Google Hangout Tech Thursdays to the blog as we go (also, this format is a lot of fun so far)!

This week, we discuss online storage options (so, when the next version of iOS or what have you comes out, you aren’t deleting all your music and pictures off your phone like Kassie). Some options include Dropbox and Google Drive (which we use here at Breaking Even) and iCloud, if you’re only using Mac products. We also had a brief Throwback Thursday moment to Bates’ online storage system, Paris (lots of colleges have something similar).

Productivity and time management are always of interest to us, and we wanted to share our newest tool- Toggl. It makes everyone’s lives easier here, and we thought maybe others could benefit from it, too! (Plus, I just read this interesting piece from Seth Godin on Optimistic Time vs. Honest Time- which is why we love tools like Toggl).

Feel free to send us your questions/ideas for topics- we’d love to have them for next time!

Three Things I’ve Learned from Being Quiet

20 January

Do you ever feel that people are trying to give you a hint?

This past Christmas, my family gave me a couple books (not unusual), and the titles seemed to be a not-so-subtle plea: When Words Matter Most (not sure of the author) and Quiet by Susan Cain. Hmm, I thought, that can’t be a coincidence. My family doesn’t give gifts at random.

I’ve always been quiet- one of my teachers wrote in a college recommendation that I was “painfully shy.” It’s not as if it was news to anyone (least of all myself), and it’s something that I have to work at every day. But, to be honest, I’m just throwing punches in the dark, trying to change my personality and the way I’m fundamentally wired in order to become this “better” thing: an extrovert. It turns out, Quiet is one of the most helpful books I’ve ever read from a personal and professional standpoint.

Quiet explores behavioral, psychological and physiological differences between introverts and extroverts (most of which seems like common knowledge, but there are some interesting . She also makes some important clarifications, for instance being an introvert doesn’t make you shy or sensitive, although you’re more likely to be one or both. This book isn’t about “finding yourself” or “coping with you introversion.” It does offer some insight about different personalities, and, from my point of view, empowers readers to find out what they need. Here’s what I’ve learned so far from being quiet:

Quiet

1. Speaking May Never Get Easier. I’m never going to be comfortable with public or impromptu speaking. And I’m okay with that. That’s not to say I’ll never run a meeting, give a presentation, or do another Tech Thursday video. It just means going about it in a different, more comfortable way. One example: for many of our Tech Thursday videos, if I didn’t mentally or physically have an outline of the subject matter, I blanked out in front of the camera (my brother calls this my “freeze”- rather than fight or flight, I have a third reaction based on the deer in the headlights model). Although I’d grown used to the camera, there was still something short-circuiting in my brain when that little red “Recording” light came on.

Introverted people are more likely to get overstimulated, especially in situations such as public speaking or talk. And, oftentimes, they’ll end up leaving a presentation thinking “Man, I sounded dumb,” or “Oh SNAP, I forgot this one huge point (or five little points)!” As it turns out, that’s not uncommon: “Overarousal interferes with attention and short term memory- key components of the ability to speak on the fly” (126). The key is finding out what does work. This may mean preparation well in advance, a brief meditation beforehand- whatever helps you get in the zone.

2. Finding Your Balance. Some people do their best work alone, some require more stimulation, and others need a mix. There’s a certain level of self-awareness involved here. Personally, I’ve found that although I enjoy having a quiet space to get work done solo, I need to interact with other people (usually, asking Nicole for feedback on something, or collaborating with others on a project). Sometimes it’s going to a Business After Hours. Even though meetings and presentations to a certain extent terrify me, I go back to my quiet desk-space with a new energy that propels whatever I’m working on privately (and I’m fortunate enough to have a job that allows me to do both).

If you’re the type of person who will die of thirst before risking small talk at the water cooler, chances are you aren’t going to do your best work in an office with an open-floor plan and constant drop-ins. However, if you are the guy glued to the water cooler, chances are you aren’t going to want to work in isolation for hours on end. Finding out how you work best could yield some amazing results. Who knows- you could be the next Einstein…

3. It’s not a matter of better vs. worse, good vs. bad, or any of those opposite pairings (which is what I was expecting). For the longest time, I convinced myself that being quiet was “bad” and that I needed to talk more to be a better person. Quiet is a way to determine whether you identify as an introvert, extrovert, or both, without assigning judgement. Everything has strengths and weaknesses. This book was eye-opening for me in terms of playing up my strengths (patience, empathy, listening) in my professional life, and stress less about becoming something I’m not (a toned-down version of Billy Mays, maybe), especially regarding my professional development.

So, if you’re looking for a good read (or want to explore the world of introversion), check out Quiet. Worst case, you learn something you didn’t know before, like what happens to introverted fish in an unfamiliar pond (this isn’t a metaphor- there was literally a fish in a pond study in this book).

And, if you’re not into the idea of committing to a book, Susan Cain gives a TED Talk on “The Power of Introverts” that you can check out, too.

 

Online Ads: Display Ads

16 January

onlineadsdisplayadsSo last week, we discussed PPC (or Pay Per Click) ads. Many networks have these now but the idea is you pay when people click.

But what if you don’t have an online store where people can make a purchase? What if general awareness is what you are after? What if you want the ads you serve up on your site to display depending on what people have been looking at. (Don’t act like you’ve never been freaked out where, after browsing for shoes, you’re on some complete other website and you see an ad for the very shoes you were looking at!)

Display ads started out as banner ads and they were typically wide (you know, like actual banners are). I remember when I too added my first banner ad on top of my Geocities website (if I could remember the URL of my site, I’d so go to the Wayback Machine and get the screenshot but alas, this one will have to do):

If you are also slightly nostalgic for Geocities websites, please visit this lovely blog: http://code.tutsplus.com/articles/top-10-reasons-why-the-closing-of-geocities-is-long-overdue--net-7393

If you are also slightly nostalgic for Geocities websites, please visit this lovely blog: http://code.tutsplus.com/articles/top-10-reasons-why-the-closing-of-geocities-is-long-overdue–net-7393

Got to love the Yahoo Geocities display ad!

Now, display ads are much more comprehensive. They can be videos, animations, pictures, etc. and they can be everywhere on a website, from pop ups to sidebar items.

For display ads, you pay a certain amount of money per 1,000 impressions. (I’m over generalizing clearly.) Up until relatively recently, like the newspapers of today, you put your display ad on a website and hoped people saw it/remembered it, as you paid whether they clicked on it or not. So these ads were being served up to a wide variety of people.

Google, however, has changed all this again with a concept called ‘remarketing’. The idea is displaying these ads to people who have already been to your website. (You setup a way to collect cookies from people who have visited your site, creating what Google calls a ‘remarketing list’.) It’s definitely sneaky but you can see where it would be more effective to display an ad to someone who has been to your site than someone who has never heard of you.

Just for fun, I went to Mashable.com and took a screenshot (I am a 33 year old woman):

My Mashable experience includes a 'website in 3 minutes' post (I've been doing research on a blog post about these 'automatic' website builders) and one for Old Navy (I've been looking for some staple clothing items to fill in gaps in my closet).

My Mashable experience includes a ‘website in 3 minutes’ post (I’ve been doing research on a blog post about these ‘automatic’ website builders) and one for Old Navy (I’ve been looking for some staple clothing items to fill in gaps in my closet).

I asked Kassie for fun to screenshot what she sees when she goes to Mashable.com:
kassiesmashableexperience

The takeaway, besides the fact that Kassie is way more intellectual than I seem to be, is that display ads can now be different for different website visitors. And that’s pretty cool.

So display ads are just another way to do online ads. Many of the sites that have them (like Mashable) are quite large (they have pretty detailed specs for ads for example but since they don’t have pricing, I’m guessing you have to have pretty deep pockets to play with them).

Next week, we’ll talk about a solution to this problem of not having, say, multiple ad agencies and your own sales people to sell ads on your website: ad networks.

More on display advertising on Wikipedia (of course) and Google has documentation on remarketing. If you want someone to set this up for you, our friend Colin at Root Deeper Marketing is a Google certified specialist and could totally do it for you.

Debt Is Not Forever

13 January

Happy woman jumping on blossom meadow. Beautiful day on field.

What I really like about blogs is you make friends you would have never otherwise made. My primary example is British Phil when people ask me for an example but I have also made friends who I’ve never gotten to meet, one of them being Jackie at The Debt Myth. (While Jackie and I have not yet climbed a mountain together, I’m sure we would do something equally epic if we ever met.)

Jackie approached a bunch of us about doing a ‘debt is not forever’ post on our blogs in solidarity this January.

Many of you know I started off my life as a personal finance blogger. I did it to force myself to learn about the topic and since starting in 2007, I’ve learned a lot about making money, spending money, saving money, and giving money. The best and most basic idea I’ve taken away from all this: don’t spend more money than you make and always put some aside.

Not Getting Into Debt In The First Place: A Mixture of Effort and Luck (like most things in life)

For several years, I made $10/hour and had to live on it. To force myself not to go into debt, I had to understand where every penny went. I kept a notebook (this is before I had a cell phone- because, you know, I couldn’t afford one!) and wrote down all my purchases for two months. I saw patterns (buying convenience food at higher prices, noticing I couldn’t walk out of TJ Maxx without buying something, etc.) and changed them. A lot of these habits still stick with me today, and I think that’s mostly a good thing.

While making $10/hour (ever since my first job actually), I’ve also had an IRA and I’ve put $25/week into it no matter what. When I was more ‘flush’ with cash ($11/hour, wohoo), I started to put $25/week into savings. I used the savings three times: twice to keep the business going and once to go to London.

Tower Bridge was really close to where we stayed, and kind of what I was expecting London Bridge to look like.

I know what you’re thinking, what does spending wisely and saving money have to do with debt? Well, not much. But the main reason I was able to put money away for savings and retirement even with my modest salary is I have never had debt. This is for two reasons: 1) my parents paid for my college and 2) I’ve always paid cash for cars. Yes, I am grateful. Yes, I am lucky. But not all things remain the same.

I eventually fell in love. Gamechanger on the life level and on the finance level.

Getting Two People On One Page: Not Easy But Worth It

Derrick is very financially responsible but as a homeowner, he had some debt in a home equity line of credit.

We did Financial Peace University online together (well, most of it anyway!) within the first year of our relationship to make sure we were on the same page with finances. Regardless of how you feel about Dave Ramsey, the modules made us have conversations we would have never had otherwise. And I’d be lying if I said the first 4 months of budgeting weren’t initially painful. But we kept trying. Relationships are about compromise and it takes awhile to get there.

Almost two years later, we still do our monthly budget and pay all our bills. It is painless and takes less than an hour. (So if you are just starting this process and arguing about how much to spend on groceries, take heart, it gets better!) Since we started, we have knocked off the home equity loan entirely while cash flowing our wedding.

Our aversion to debt also dictated a lot about our wedding actually, which I get isn’t romantic but I am super proud of. Part of the reason we chose our venue, decided on a morning wedding with an open bar, etc. was because we had a set amount budgeted for the wedding and didn’t want to go over. It meant parts of it weren’t fancy but I’d say it was a memorable event I’d change very little about if I did it again. We spent on our priorities and either DIYed or let go of a lot of expectations for the rest. (See white bridesmaid dress, $5 thrift store veil, $20 Old Navy flats, and suit Derrick already owned below for examples of budgetary compromise.)

Nicole and Derrick got married and have lots of silly pictures like this to prove it.

I would like to say one thing here. I have never resented Derrick for having debt while I didn’t. Not even once, not even a little. He has gotten on the ‘let’s not have debt’ path without resentment. I give him a lot of credit for that!

So while our debt didn’t even last two years of our life together, I can say I plan on our love being forever.

Onward and Upward

Since we (because it’s not just me anymore) don’t have debt, we are able to do things we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. After working hard these last two years to pay for a wedding, pay off the home equity loan, and save up 4 months of emergency expenses, Derrick now has the chance to be an entrepreneur himself. Because he’s a really talented glass blower, among other things:

derrick-blowing-glass

(Yes, I’ll update his website with a shopping cart for his glass, once he has time to finish all the custom orders he has waiting and can make some inventory!)

All this to say debt is not forever and the best ways to deal with it are 1) little by little and 2) avoiding it when you can. I’ll link to all the other Debt Is Not Forever posts once Jackie makes the list live so you can see that my story is among the many ways to make the journey.

So take heart this new year and know at least one random woman in Maine is rooting for you to get out of and stay out of debt!