The Breaking Even Communications Blog - since 2007!

Tech Thursday: Read it…Later

01 October

You know when you see a cool article go by online and you just can’t read it now? We talk about some of the ways you can save those links for later that aren’t tied to a particular computer/internet device.

Do you have any link-saving techniques that we didn’t talk about?

Any tech/social media related questions you’d like to hear us discuss in future episodes?

Leave a comment and we’ll check it out!

Customizing Templates: Why We Do It

28 September

whywebuildwithtemplatesI hate it when I hear people talk bad about me. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often. In part, I’m sure, is because my friends know my ‘don’t tell me if it’s bad’ policy.

In reality, I’m a pretty sensitive person. But occasionally something does get back to me.

“She just customizes templates.” was actually someone’s idea of disdain for my work.

My response?

Uh, yeah I customize templates. But there’s no ‘just’ about it.

Hear that world? We customize templates! I admit it freely and openly in many blog posts even.

So why do we do this? Thought it may be good to clarify why!

Because templates save us time and, as a result, our customers money.

The whole ‘coding from scratch’ thing sounds pretty noble. Like having an architect custom design your house. Or creating your own recipe. Or building your own computer.

But guess what? Having a framework is helpful. That’s why we buy computers with already existing operating systems and software installed, plans to build our houses, and cookbooks.

Letting people figure out and test something then modifying it for our own uses is something we do in lots of areas in our life, why not websites?

I have actually tried build from scratch.

To the delight of parents of picky eaters everywhere trying to get their kids to try new vegetables, I’ve actually tried hand coding websites before I said ‘No thank you, more sweet potatoes please.’

I have hand coded exactly two HTML sites, neither of which are online anymore. It took long (don’t worry, I don’t charge customers for my learning curves, it was only painful on my end) and the results were lack luster compared to what is available today. So yeah, if I have the option of giving someone something better that I have the ability to do more easily anyway, I’m going to do it.

Because the amount of people who have gotten together and created a template is more than one (in almost all cases).

Kind of like how a composite photograph will always be more attractive than a photo of an individual person, a design worked on by multiple people is going to be better. It just is.

By working in collaboration, you can work out the bugs, get different points of view, and have a much better end product. And that’s what we’re starting with before our team even creates a custom design to go with.

(We even try to work with frameworks that are powerful and well known. If you really want to geek out on the difference between a template and a framework:

Because giving a customer something they can work with means that they are not stuck with us ever.

Because we use a standard system (WordPress and Joomla) and follow the standard rules (creating child themes, putting design customization in the right file location, etc.) other web types can locate where to make changes in my code easily.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever inherited someone’s filing cabinet (when you bought a business or changed jobs) but it’s kind of annoying. A template means we’ve agreed on well labeled folders so when and if that handoff happens, it’s a smooth transition. Thinking of the person coming after you of course isn’t necessary but something I feel is the right thing to do.

And if you hear of a company that uses a ‘custom CMS’ please run for the hills.

Because templates mean when the customer creates new pages, they will look consistent. 

Do you really want to remember that you have to copy the menu on top, make sure the text is 18 point Helvetica and that the standard photo size is 450 pixels. What about headline fonts/colors, link colors, spacing, etc?

Even if you build something ‘from scratch’, you are going to end up making a page template so the site looks consistent as people browse from one page to another.

With templates you can set rules that all pages follow, when a customer creates a new page, I know that it’ll match all the other pages. Rather than restricting a customer to editing only certain elements of a page, I can let them go wild (I mean it is their website) and know it’ll still look pretty good at the end.

So we customize templates. And everyone who works with us gets a custom design that is unique to them. But we think this is a good thing, versus a bad one.

If I thought something was an inferior product, I wouldn’t offer it. Honestly. I live my life by the French proverb “There is no pillow so soft as a clean conscience”, in my business and personal life.

But as a company, I can firmly say we believe the collective wisdom and work involved in templates is a great start to a great website that is unique to each individual, company, or non-profit we work with.

I guess if this is the worst thing I hear about myself, I’m doing ok. But here’s hoping this clarifies why we customize templates versus building from scratch… and why we’ll keep doing this moving forward.

Tech Thursday: Is Email Getting Sexier?

24 September

We’ve already told you that email marketing is cool– sexy, even. What if we told you that it’s about to get sexier? In this episode, we’re taking a look at this article from Fast Company and some interesting ways people are using email marketing!

Have you seen anything new and exciting in the world of email that you want to share? Have an idea for our next Tech Thursday? Leave a comment or send us a message!


Marketing Monday: Run, Eat, Repeat

21 September

A couple years ago, I started following some lady runner-bloggers just for fun. One of these blogs is “Run, Eat, Repeat.” Admittedly hooked by the title (it’s my life story in three words!), this blog has become one of my favorite reading materials. It’s not your average fitness/foodie blog. There’s a cool story about a girl (Monica) who struggled with her relationship with food and exercise (something that I think a lot of people find can relate to), and how running has helped her adopt a healthier, fun lifestyle. Her blog isn’t running-centric or wrapped up in any sort of health-craze. It’s more of a fun lifestyle blog with a focus on health related issues.

Here are some key things that keep me reading:

Quirk. There’s a down-to-earth tone in Monica’s blog posts that make her accessible to readers. She’s hilarious and self-deprecating, always trying new things and sharing them with her followers. She adds a lot of eCards, GIFs, and Real Housewives screen-caps to embellish her posts. We share a very similar sense of humor and would probably get along really well in real life… Some of the titles of previous blog posts include: “The Day I Almost Chopped Off My Toe,” “Do I Look Like Zach Galifianakis or Tori Spelling?”, and “If You Don’t Play Lion King with Your Pets What’s the Point?” Her Instagram is also one of my favorites, and it’s hardly about running. In fact, it’s mainly about coffee, food, and everyday struggles of the modern twenty-something.

An example of a recent blog post.

An example of a recent blog post.

Recipes. What I love about the recipes is that a) they’re pretty healthy and meant to keep you going throughout the day, and b) they’re actually simple. Nine times out of ten, I can whip up one of these concoctions without having to go to the store and get 5 different types of seeds and nuts and several different spices and expensive superfood powders that, let’s face it, I don’t have on hand. This girl knows that, while we all may have fantasies and lofty ambitions about meal preparation, the reality is that snooze buttons exist, late night Netflix binges happen, and driving (back) to the store after a day at work just isn’t going to happen. The recipes she shares are for “the everyday.” They’re boosts of inspiration that are totally attainable and delicious (oh yeah, and healthy).


This is just a sample from her “breakfast” section, mainly because I’m biased and love breakfast more than any other meal.

Running (and working out in general). I started reading this blog because of the running aspect. While the blog is less workout-centric than Hungry Runner Girl (another favorite), Monica does excellent race-recaps, shares her training plans, and isn’t afraid to talk about how hard, awesome, sweaty, rewarding and disgusting running can be at times.

But it’s not all running. I’m a one-dimensional athlete, but reading this blog inspires me to try out some other things. She’s tried a lot in terms of cross-training. These posts are awesome for me, because I tend to hang back until I know what I’m getting into with a new workout. She also encourages readers to join in on challenges, like last winter’s 25 days of Fitness (a 25 day calendar of circuits you can do at home-no running involved). You don’t necessarily have to be a runner to follow this blog. In fact, Monica frequently drops gems throughout her blog/Instagram/wherever just for her non-runner followers. This adds to her overall accessibility. And there’s a lot of inspiration throughout.


Product Reviews. Last summer, I got to learn all about Stichfix through Run, Eat, Repeat. This summer, it was Le Tote (similar to Stitchfix, but with accessories included). Every once in a while, she’ll write up lists like Best Gifts for Foodies, Playlist Ideas, or Favorite Fall Running Gear. She also writes flavor reviews for things like Chobani…and sometimes donuts. She was the one who informed me that Pumpkin Spice M&Ms are a thing this fall (sidenote: I have yet to find any of these for myself, but M&Ms are my all time favorite candy, and anyone who can help me find these will be my new BFF). She has also written a review about laser hair removal, lash extensions, and laser liposuction. It just adds to the idea that she’s willing to try things out and report back to all of us, which I definitely appreciate.


Discounts and Giveaways. This blog is sponsored by a few different companies, but that’s part of the reason why she has giveaways! Race Registration can be a bit steep (especially out in California, where RER is based), but Monica does have discount codes for certain races that she shares. For non-runners or non -racers, she’ll sometimes offer a discount for a gym membership or class. For everyone, she offered a Le Tote Discount Code to the first 10-ish people. She also occasionally writes reviews for products, and as a result, has regular giveaways. There’s been FitBit, Northface, Pro Compression, Starbucks, and Lulu Lemon, to name a few.

Runner or eater, this blog probably has something in it that you will appreciate. Through her work with Run, Eat, Repeat, Monica has proven that she’s funny, hip, and benevolent. Also, I’m completely serious about those Pumpkin Spice M&Ms…

Gift Cards: In Theory, Easy. In Practice…

18 September

I have a funny story to tell you.

This May, my brother was having a tough time after his childhood pet passed away. He lives in Boston, and I wanted to send some sort of condolence his way. The new Mad Max had just started

The gift of the ultimate cinematic experience.

The gift of the ultimate cinematic experience.

playing in theaters, so I found a movie theater close to his apartment, and proceeded to order a gift certificate online. Instead of following through with my original plan of buying a card and having it mailed to his apartment, I decided to go paper-less and ordered a digital certificate, which would get sent directly to his email. He could go to the movies that night, and I’d basically be Sister-of-the-Year. Boom.

Unfortunately, there was some room for user error. Long story short, I ignored the multiple warnings to double check the recipient email address, and now some random person with Gmail has a e-gift certificate to an AMC in Boston. You’re welcome. 

Fast forward a few months, and my dad (successfully) used a similar strategy to order my brother’s birthday present (a gift card to a menswear store in Boston). He was looking for a gift of professional clothing, but didn’t want to be responsible for size, color, or even the article of clothing (maybe Stephen needed a tie and not yet another button down shirt), and it made more sense to get a gift card to a store in Boston rather than in Maine.

These anecdotes prove a few different things: a) that I’m an impulsive shopper, b) that my dad is better than me at online ordering, and c) that my brother gets a lot of email gifts. But let’s take a step back. What role to online gift cards play? In a), online gift cards helped fuel my spur-of-the-moment desire to send comfort to a loved one far away. In b), ordering a gift card online allowed dad to purchase something thoughtful that he was able to research, and remove any sort of responsibility in a clothing related decision making process. In c), my brother, who lives slightly more than a stone’s throw away, is able to receive gifts that he can use where he lives, not where we live. Dad and I didn’t physically have to go into a store in Boston, and it was awesome (well, minus the part where I wasn’t visiting Boston).

From a business and marketing perspective, this got me thinking about online gift cards. Why do people buy them? Why do businesses sell them? Here’s what I came up with:

Why give a gift card online?

Location. Maine to Boston doesn’t necessarily cover a lot of ground, but one of the benefits of purchasing a gift card online is location. Giving a friend in Colorado a gift card to their favorite local burrito place when you live in the Catskills is completely possible now. How cool is that??

Convenience. If my whole gift certificate debacle had been successful, my brother could have gone to see Mad Max. He could have also gone to see Pitch Perfect 2. He could have waited until November. He could have brought a friend or gone alone and bought a ton of popcorn and candy. With a gift card option, the user can cash in when it’s convenient for them. It’s different than buying him two tickets to the 9:00 p.m. Mad Max showing. What if he can’t go then? What if he’s sick, but feels the need to drag himself to the movies because of these tickets? Gift cards take off a lot of pressure from both ends.

Low-Pressure. Remember those old “Oh, you shouldn’t have…you really shouldn’t have” commercials? Well, the cool thing about gift cards (besides being “free money”) is that you take the pressure off yourself. Don’t know someone’s shirt size? Can’t remember his favorite color? With a gift card, you’re putting the ball in the other person’s court. The recipient can go out and get exactly what s/he wants, and it’s all thanks to you!

Should you sell gift cards?

Pretty much all the larger corporations sell gift cards on their website (whether through email, physical mail, or both). However, only 3% of small/local businesses sell their gift cards online. What?!? These businesses may offer gift cards, but you have to physically go into the store to purchase them. Honestly, sometimes I am just feeling a bit lazy and would rather order a gift card online than walk down the street, wait in line, purchase one, and walk back.

Another statistic that might appeal to businesses: 72% of customers will spend more than the value of their card (usually around 20% more). Over 50% of gift card recipients will make multiple trips to completely redeem their gift card, and who knows, they might bring a friend or two to shop with. The bottom line: you’re getting more bodies in the door and more money in the bank. 

Amazon offers gift cards to hundreds of business that are deliverable via email, print, or mail. But, what about the people who would rather purchase from a smaller business?

Amazon offers gift cards to hundreds of business that are deliverable via email, print, or mail. But, what about the people who would rather purchase from a smaller business?

If you do…

The good news: it’s really not that difficult to set up. You’ll need a few different things (we outline them in greater detail in this blog post, so I’m just going to gloss over them here).

First, you need a form that accepts payment and a secure certificate. You’ll also need a way to accept that payment, usually via a third party system. We use Stripe, but Paypal is common. Then, it’s a matter of putting the form on a page on your website, making it pretty, and making sure the instructions are clear. Clear enough that people won’t accidentally send a non-refundable gift card to a rando and still be bitter about it…

Alright, to be honest this was 90% user error.

Alright, to be honest this was 90% user error.

For “extra credit,” mobile friendliness is a huge bonus. Millennials are leading the way with online gift card purchases. Personally, I like the convenience of multi-tasking and if I’m in line at the grocery store, I can kill two birds with one stone by ordering a gift card on my phone while waiting. How’s that for multitasking?

Gift card sales online have been on an upward trend for the past few years, especially for small and mid-sized businesses. They’re easy to set up on your website, and are incredibly convenient for the donors and recipients. People love to shop local when given a chance, trust me! If you have any questions about selling gift cards on your website, feel free to email us or leave a comment on this post. Always happy to help!