The Breaking Even Communications Blog - since 2007!

Conducting Your Own Annual Review

30 September

yourownannualreview(I was going to call this a ‘self audit’ but the word ‘audit’ seems to make people nervous and think of taxes!)

I think I can safely say all of us what to have the best life possible. But what we are all liable to do is coast, phone it in, or otherwise, not try to be better as individuals. And by be better, I’m not talking about necessarily losing weight or making more money (though those are fun). I’m talking about setting and regularly evaluating goals.

We’re all good at setting goals. It’s the evaluating part that we have to make ourselves do.

On the most basic level, we can all think of making New Year’s resolutions as an example of us striving to be better. Why don’t they work often? Because we aren’t evaluating ourselves. When was the last time you revisited your new years resolutions, found out why they were or weren’t working, and set new goals?

Businesses are regularly audited financially or otherwise. Employees are regularly evaluated by bosses. Students and professionals in some fields are asked to regularly take tests. Why don’t we evaluate ourselves personally? We should, right?

I’ve read several great resources if you are actually interested in doing this:

Now the thing these three resources have in common is you can do them yourself (other great evaluation tools involve having a team of people or accountability partner you regularly consult with). I don’t want not having someone in mind to stop you from doing this.

They all have a few things all these self evaluations have in common:

A somewhat time consuming initial brainstorming and narrowing process.

The Best Year Ever book has a whole chapter about basically conducting a 3-4 hour goal setting/evaluation workshop with yourself.

Point is, if you think you are going to get out of this in 20 minutes you are wrong. The brainstorming, narrowing, and evaluating are all necessary.

If you are a busy person, this is the step you’ll most want to skip over (myself included here-I have a hard time with anything I perceive as touchy feely and sucking up too many hours) but take the time for the brainstorming, ranking, and personal reflection necessary. You are setting yourself up for success here so let yourself do that!

Personal and business goals are involved.

Whether you are self employed or not, some of your vocational goals intersect with your personal life goals and vice versa. I was surprised to find how many personal things I do, from how I dress to who my friends are, effect my business life. So when you sit down to do this, be prepared to think of your life in a more holistic way than you would in a job evaluation and you’ll get a lot more out of it!

Establishing a way to measure progress that is a) regularly done and b) works for you.

Gretchen Rubin’s chart involves you checking in with your goal daily and simply giving yourself a checkmark (I did this) or not (I did not do this) for each resolution on each day. You might be more numbers oriented (scoring yourself 1 out of 10), you might more list/narrative orientated with a journal. (I work more this way and I have been noticing the months I haven’t written my notes in my little Google Doc on my goals are the months I have slacked.)

Regular check in and actually writing things down is key. So pick a time (daily, weekly, or monthly), find a format that works for you, and schedule it in.

Revisiting, re-evaluating, and preparing for year 2.

If you go into this thinking it’s ever going to be over, it’s probably best not to start. Every piece of literature detailing this personal evaluation process involves following up to the review/evaluation and moving forward (ie the equivalent of the big chunk of time you put in at the beginning being at the end as well, like neat little bookends).

One of my resolutions was to write personalized thank you notes every month to friends and clients as a way to more genuinely keep in touch than simply ‘liking’ their Facebook status. I have found handwriting notes a chore (and if you’ve ever seen my handwriting, you’ll know I struggle to do it neatly) so I have decided instead to stop liking statuses and instead leave engaging comments on peoples’ status updates. It takes more time but it is somewhere between the more thoughtful personal note step and the chore I perceive as writing letters.

Think of this larger evaluation as a very indepth check in and reworking (ie next year’s personal evaluation!)

Dwelling somewhat on the negative.

Most processes involve acknowledging what didn’t go well and why. Among the questions for the self evaluation portion of ‘Your Best Year Yet’ are “How do I limit myself and how can I stop?” and “What were my biggest disappointments?”  This is the WORST part because who likes being wrong or negative? But unless I visit what I failed at, I can’t get better I suppose.

Also these are literally 20% of the whole evaluation process at a maximum so the pain is relatively short lived. Don’t let it stop you!

Do I recommend a self evaluation? I absolutely do. Will you be more accountable to a self appointed board of directors, accountability partner, membership website or some other third party you check in with? I’m sure you will. But a self evaluation is a start of the conversation and can help you decide who to enlist for help, what next project to work on and lots of other things. Now that the whole wedding thing is behind me and we get ready to move into our slower season of work, I plan on doing this process in the next month to get ready for 2015 (doing it around Thanksgiving/Christmas is too chaotic for me- going to get a jump start!)





Holy Crap I’m Married

27 September

This past weekend, I got married. It was really fun.


We decided to do a brunch wedding for several reasons. 1) It meant people had the rest of the day to do something else. 2) Open bar before dark = less ridiculousness. and 3) Who doesn’t love breakfast food?

Between the brunch menu, the historic schoolhouse for the reception, and post and beam church we got married in, the vibe was low key.

We took our photos by the Stone Barn, which is on the corner of Norway Drive and Crooked Road about two miles from our house. It is a beautiful property but what I like best about it is we drive by it everyday which is nice to remember things.


Our service was at a Lutheran church (a church we go to). Our pastor gave a great sermon that included everyone from religious family members to atheist friends. Our friend Geraldine sang a beautiful bilingual solo and our friends Liz and Debby were cantor and musicians respectively.


tablescapes(I have held out for YEARS to see someone look at me like Derrick is doing in that picture. And it was worth the wait.)

My mom (who really ought to be a professional wedding planner) helped organize it all. She ordered table cloths, made cloth napkins (all different fabrics), hunted down silverware, ordered mason jars, made enough jams for everyone to take home as favors (‘spread the love’) and helped me figure out plants for tablescapes. The end result was very cool: homemade but classy.

ellawithprogramsWe had friends decorate the 22 chalkboards at the Schoolhouse (including Kassie) and Derrick’s mom made the wedding cake. A dear friend Julie made our wedding rings. “I think at least once a week how great it is you two found each other.” she says.

Our friend Mike emceed the event and toasts were given by my sister Michelle (maid of honor), Derrick’s best friend Corey (best man), Derrick’s dad and my mom. We then all ate and danced a bit.

Friends came from as far away as England (Phil and Geraldine!), Montreal (Alice, my other bridesmaid), and Portland Oregon (college friends Bailey and Jeremy with their daughter Alex). I couldn’t believe all the people that made an effort to be there.


Overall it was a great day that felt like it was over too quickly. But the food was great, the drinks were strong, the love was felt, and the people around us were amazing. It was nice to look around the whole day and see different people playing roles in the day, right down to niece Ella who took it upon her three year old self to hand out the wedding programs.

I hope everyone had a great time but so long as Derrick and I did (which we definitely did), it was worth all the work to put it on.


Happily ever after? I sure hope so. But I have a feeling no matter what, someone truly amazing has my back. And isn’t that all any of us can really ask for?


Tech Thursday: Slideshows Part II

25 September

As promised, this week we’re delivering part two of the slideshow discussion.

So, you’ve decided that you want a slideshow for your website. There are hundreds of options out there, how do you even begin to choose? One way to narrow down the search is to determine what you want the slideshow to do (should it link to other pages, showcase pages from your blog, or be image-based?). You also want to have an idea about where it will be located on your website (will it drive the homepage, or be an item in a sidebar?).

Do some research before choosing a slideshow, so you aren’t heartbroken later on!

Absurdity in Marketing

23 September

After a weekend of watching ghastly amounts of television, I was struck by the high percentage of ridiculous commercials I endured. We’ve all seen ridiculous commercials- there’s the kind that has you laughing so hard, you get side stitches, the kind that leaves you bewildered and asking “What was that commercial for, anyway?,” and everything in between. The most absurd commercials seem to come out around the holidays, and of course, the Super Bowl.

I remember when the first Geico gecko commercials came out (the “Stop Calling Me!” phase), and they’re still going strong with hilarious ads. Then there’s the E-Commerce baby, although we haven’t seen him in awhile, and many food related commercials including Snickers and Jack Links beef jerky (the ones with Sasquatch).

Why do companies use humor in advertising? According to this article from The Atlantic, our attention is more likely to be held when we perceive something as either a positive (or negative) experience. Most marketers lean towards the positive experience rather than negative, because they’d rather their audience have a positive association with the brand. Humor not only grabs attention, but holds onto it. That being said, there’s a fine line between hilarious and absurd. It’s a risky marketing strategy, and yet companies still use it.

This is one of my favorite Super Bowl commercials, because it combines my favorite candy with my love for this great song (and quite possibly Meatloaf himself).


When we think something is funny, we’re also more likely to share it with others. Sharing includes word of mouth, social media shares, e-mails to friends and/or co-workers- anything that gets the word out. Ridiculous content gets shared more organically (meaning people find the content worthy of sharing with others with no incentive or push from the company that put out the ad).

Doing something absurd helps your brand stand out. By sticking your neck out and doing something different, besides the “same old,” safe, guaranteed to work advertising routine, in many ways you’re demonstrating not only innovation but passion. By doing something risky, you send the message “I believe in my product, and am willing to take this chance on it.”

This is my favorite Geico commercial to date. They’re still using the “15 minutes” bit, and adding the ridiculousness of Pinocchio being a motivational speaker. Full disclosure, I find this commercial way funnier than is probably appropriate. Even just writing a brief blurb about is enough to send me into a delirious fit of giggling. That being said, I am not insured by Geico.


Risk is a larger factor when it comes to absurdity, or humor in general. First, there’s the risk that your ad isolates certain demographics. Some people may not be as receptive to your attempt at humor, so it’s important to consider your target audience, if no one else. Second, there’s always the chance that, hey, you aren’t as funny as you thought, and people don’t respond well (especially if you go the off-color or risque route). Third, if the attempt at humor seems too forced, it isn’t going to be funny.

Another risk is that people who see your funny/absurd/ridiculous ad will be so distracted by the humor, that they pay very little attention to your product. Humor can distract people from the intended purpose of the ad, and then you’re left with a net-zero situation.

If nothing else, avoid creating an ad that is so over-the-top that people don’t understand what you’re marketing. To emphasize this point, I was going to insert a video of an advertisement that was completely strange, and I can’t even tell you the name of the product. There was an aggressive magician wow-ing an inexplicably enthusiastic crowd, and he had some sort of product that (to me) resembled Airborne. I can’t tell you the name of the product. I can’t even tell you if the ad was for the magician guy or for the Airborne-like tablets he was waving around. I even tried Googling this commercial, but clearly was unsuccessful. Moral of the story: this ad was so absurd that it achieved nothing.

Instead, I decided to insert this delightful Starburst commercial. It a) clearly explains what their product is and why it is of value, and b) has a jaunty and ridiculous tune. Success!

This article from Time magazine explains that while funny ads get a lot of laughs and general appreciation, marketers “should use humor as a supplement — not a replacement” for content in any advertisement.

Ride the Yak: Why YikYak is Possibly My New Favorite App

19 September

I’m generally accustomed to being the “in-the-know” person in my circle of peeps (unless we’re talking Twitter or Seinfeld references), but during our recent Boston trip, our friend Matt totally won the “Have you heard about ______?” game. Matt introduced Nicole and I to a little app called Yik Yak. It is AWESOME, and kind of addictive. It follows SnapChat’s model of “leave no trace,” which people seem to find more and more appealing lately.

In hindsight, my brother definitely already tried explaining Yik Yak to me while he was at Bowdoin (college students are the target demographic, and the app is most popular on the East Coast), but, I clearly was only half-listening.

How does Yik Yak work? Yik Yak is more or less the social media love-child of Twitter and Whisper. You can post an update of up to 200 characters, and its completely anonymous. You can’t upload any pictures, so its an all-text app. It also uses your location, so you can only see yaks (“yaks” are to Yik-Yak what tweets are to Twitter) that’ve been sent out within a 5 mile radius. If you’re in a city, there’s a LOT of material coming in throughout the day. If you’re in a more rural area, it’s unfortunately less exciting. Especially when no one else has YikYak.

This is what YikYak looks like from my parents' home in Milbridge.

This is what YikYak looks like from my parents’ home in Milbridge.

As one might imagine, coming back from an introduction to this app in Boston and then traveling back to Trenton/Bar Harbor/Milbridge, Maine was a bit disappointing. We’ve probably seen the same 3 Yaks over the course of the month (most of them from visiting people complaining that no one here uses Yik Yak). I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that this changes in the next month or so, because it’s a great source of mindless amusement.


To interact with others on YikYak, you can upvote, downvote and/or reply to something they’ve written (which also happens anonymously). A neat self-monitoring tool of YikYak is that if a post gets a certain amount of downvotes, it will disappear entirely (so if someone posts something especially inflammatory, other people can downvote it to make it go away). And, as you might imagine, people tend to hide behind the safety of anonymity to say/do some negative things.

The Dark Side:

The intended age for Yik Yak use is 17 and older, but as you can imagine, that doesn’t keep out the younger kids. These kiddos (and the college students, I’d guess) are using it for cyberbullying purposes, and apparently bomb threats. Despite being an anonymous post, there are ways to trace it back to a certain phone when the content is a clear threat to others.

Instead of knocking the app itself, or using our energy to forbid kids to use social media, doesn’t it make more sense to educate them about respecting each other? Just because you CAN be mean to someone (with no consequences) doesn’t mean you should. And there’s really no age limit on that philosophy.


Sad, but true.

Sad, but true.



Tech Thursday: Slideshows (Part I)

18 September

In your internet travels, have you seen a website go by with a slideshow that kind of blew your mind? Or, maybe your own website has a slideshow.

In this week (and next week’s) Tech Thursday, we’re going to talk a bit about slideshows on websites. For now, we’re going to focus on the “Why Should Websites Use Slideshows?” First, slideshows can give little content blasts on your homepage (think of it as a trailer for your website). Second, along those lines, a slideshow can help people navigate to specific pages on your website (i.e. a store that’s having a sale). And, third, slideshows keep your homepage looking fresh. The last thing you want is a stale, hum-drum homepage!

Enjoy, feel free to give us feedback, and stay tuned for Part II next week!