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Welcoming The Tire Kickers

31 July

herestothetirekickers(I can now publish this blog post because we’ve had more paying customers in 3 weeks than the entire 3 month period before it… but I’ll be honest, the last three months were a dark place that had me questioning my whole freaking life. More below.)

April 1, I opened our new coworking space (which will also be where Breaking Even works from). I bulk bought coffee, rush ordered the rack cards, and cleaned the whole place top to bottom. We had built up the excitement, we began targeting our customers months earlier. We were ready.

And no one came.

Well, that’s not true. A few friends stopped in to drop off goodies and well wishes. But no paying customers came through that day.

We had one paying customer in April.

One.

In classic Nicole fashion, I internally (and slightly outwardly) began panicking. It seemed like everyone had wanted to come by while I was covered in paint or when there was no heat on… and over 125 people came through our open house (nothing like free booze on an otherwise boring April evening!) But where is everyone now that the place actually is looking and functioning like a coworking space? Where were the paying customers?

I had a glass of wine and called my mom. You know, what any adult would do.

Give it time, my Mom said. Others have said.

Despite the fact that 300ish people have come through the space, we have had about 30 total customers. Most people are not customers but they’ve come by to see. I see their eyes go up to the security cameras, down to the fancy desks, around the conference room. They ask me questions, they smile, they leave.

Part of me wants to be the needy girl with the crush. Do you like me? Why not? How can I make you like me more? Don’t you get how cool I am?

I have decided that, starting now, and looking back at the last three months, I need to take a deep breath and appreciate the tire kickers* who have come through Anchorspace. (Please read the very bottom of this post before you decide to be offended.) The people who have stopped in and, while they seem very interested, have not bought a damn thing. And here’s why:

Tire kickers aren’t customers… yet. 

Most people can take a bit of time to be your customers (see our post about sales funnels for further justification). People change jobs, neighborhoods, service providers all the time. So that person who has NEVER bought from you? Let them look at your menu. Let them talk to your staff. Let them get familiar because they may become your customer later. If you are in it for the long game, this tire kicking process won’t frustrate you. I was looking at Anchorspace in a very shortsighted way most of this spring. Not good. “Not yet” is different than “no”, in the way it behaves and the way it feels.

Tire kickers need time. 

A variation on the above point, some industries don’t have much of a lag time between research and purchase. It’s not like you are going to walk around and price 16 ounce beers at all the local establishments before ordering one, for example. But if you’re asking someone to make any decision that is a bit more involved, people are going to need to think on it. They’re going to need to talk to their wife/husband. They’re going to need to run some numbers. Let them. If you have done your research and know your product and market, you can be confident while you wait.

Tire kickers have friends… and talk to other people.

If you run a steak house and the tire kicker is vegetarian, you may not ever get this person as a customer. And that’s ok. That person has carnivore friends who want a big steak on Friday night… and guess where the tire kicker will send them if they had a good interaction with you? Paying customers don’t have to be your only brand ambassadors. I’ll take a paying customer whether they are from the $1000 monthly retainer client or a guy I went to high school with telling his brother to call me.

 

Ticker kickers are online too. 

I have a friend who designed her website tenish years ago. “I don’t want to get leads through my site.” she always tells me when we see each other. That’s fine but what I want to tell her (and everyone who thinks this way) even if you don’t want a gazillion dollar website with all the bells and whistles, your customer feels a lot more comfortable silently kicking tires online than doing it right in front of you. That’s why we take care to put a lot of helpful information on this website. So you can kick our tires until your heart is content without us creepily watching you. The virtual tire kickers can be easier to ignore, since we aren’t shaking their hand but instead seeing them recorded as a visit in Google Analytics. The good with the bad.

Running an online business has shielded me from the tire kickers (since they just lurk on my site). A physical business has made me know them by name.

Anchorspace has given me more anxiety about tire kickers but also it has been more rewarding. I have had things pointed out to me by the slightly skeptical I would have NEVER noticed, and I am thankful for it. I do hope people keep pointing things out and asking questions, even if they aren’t buying because tire kicker feedback is going to make me better.

Here’s to the tire kickers. The mullers. The ‘I’ll be in touch’ smiles. The lookie-loos. Here’s to the individuals I hadn’t gotten to meet in real life until owning a business with a physical location. After some thought, revenue, Mom wisdom, and a glass of wine, I’m here to say I’m sorry I panicked over you. I’m grateful you’re here. Keep kicking, my tires and I are ready.

*I sometimes get in trouble for using words that other people seem to think have a negative connotation. Urban Dictionary tells me ‘tire kicker’ is much more negative a word than I mean for example. For tire kicker, I mean someone who needs to really understand something before the purchase, who needs to ask questions, test things out, waits before buying and may never buy, etc. Here’s hoping this covers my bases from hate mail but if you have a better term for what I am trying to say, please comment below!

Tech Thursday: Where Should I Blog?

30 July

This week, we’re discussing blogging! More specifically, we’ll discuss the “where”- that is, blogging on your own site or someone else’s. There are pros and cons to each option. Tune in to learn more, and as always, feel free to send us suggestions for future videos!

 

Emoji-madness

27 July

Earlier this spring, Instagram decided that it’s users really needed the ability to hashtag their emojis, meaning you can now search for any emoji and see what others have posted (if they use the hashtag, of course). This wasn’t a life-changing moment for me- if anything, I thought it was unnecessary but mildly entertaining…and promptly forgot about it. In my life and work, I have a lackadaisical approach to the emoji and no strong feelings toward them. It turns out, other people don’t necessarily share my lukewarm attitude. Some are convinced that emojis are a plague brought down on language by younger generations, while others believe they enhance our communication, pushing us toward language 2.0. After observing such heated opposition (with my feet still planted firmly in the middle ground), I dug a little deeper into the world of emojis.

The very first thing I learned: there’s actually an emoji dictionary. This is a crowdsourced effort from the World Translation Foundation (yes, WTF). Similar to Wikipedia, the Emoji Dictionary allows others to jump in and contribute where they will. I got sucked into the myriad of definitions and example uses of the current emojis (below is one example, used purely because the Example Use was hysterical to me).

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.00.58 PM

After perusing the dictionary for a tad too long, I had the harrowing realization that I’ve been using emojis based on my own interpretation. What if I’d accidentally been misusing an emoji in a really embarrassing way? Sure, in the grand scheme of the world, emoji misunderstanding isn’t the worst case scenario. In fact, it’s actually pretty common according to this article. Like many others, I assumed the two hands together emoji was more of a prayer, but it’s intended use is to be a high five. As mentioned in the article, the world of emoji hashtags is really one of the only places where you might find a Lamborghini side by side with a prayer for Nepal.

high5prayer

I think it’s fascinating that something as simple as an emoji can be interpreted differently among different people across the world. We all have unique perspectives and experiences, so why would our emoji uses translate similarly?

Speaking of emojis getting lost in translation, another delightful discovery I made was the Emojili app, where you can chat with people using only emojis. Last August, two friends the app as a joke, but it’s shutting down at the end of the month due to lack of funding. I read this hilarious article about one girl’s misadventures with Emojili (so that I could avoid downloading it myself for a couple days pre-shutdown). As if one emoji wasn’t potentially misleading enough, try stringing them together to form a coherent sentence. Last April, a couple decided to spend a month using only emojis to communicate. To be honest, I probably would’ve lasted a week and then broken up with him out of sheer frustration, but I’m happy to report that the couple made it through, and learned a thing or two about what works/doesn’t work in their non-emoji communication style.

So, conversations using too many or only emojis can have semi-disastrous results, but conversations that have one or two may actually help clarify tone according to this article from The Atlantic: “The biggest problem about all electronic communication is that it’s toneless. In the absence of tone, people read negative tone into it.”  In other words, we are a cynical lot and if tone is unclear, we assume the worst. Things get hairy in the professional realm- it’s been observed that the acceptance (or, perhaps more appropriately, “tolerance”) of emojis in the workplace is because of the millennials now entering the workforce (is it just me or does everyone love blaming the millennials lately?). . To me, the “Are emojis work appropriate” question is best answered by a combination of your profession, whether your superiors will frown upon it, and common sense. Sure, emails to your co-workers can probably benefit from the occasional tone-clarifying emoji, but if you’re corresponding with a client, probably not. Again, it all depends. Just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.

This post has really only cracked the surface of what emojis mean, how we use/interpret them, and what their future holds. Academics are studying what emoji use can predict about our personalities, which I’m curious about looking into a bit more. For instance, behavorial studies can even guess what emoji you’re most likely to use based on nationality. Okay, well, maybe just if you’re Canadian...

Free Reading: Why We Give It Away Online

24 July

Three years ago, I wrote a book for National Novel Writing Month. It’s been sitting in Google Drive, and I’ve been wondering what I do with it.

I’ve kind of edited about half of it but I think I’d have the motivation to finish if I knew what next. (I sometimes am paralyzed by choice. Not my best quality.)

The beginning of my terrible novel, sitting in Google Drive, wondering its fate.

The beginning of my terrible novel, sitting in Google Drive, wondering its fate.

Option 1: Do I send it to 50-100 publishers, hoping one will like it enough to rip it apart and await my rewrites?

Option 2: Do I self publish it, making my friends pay $1-$10 for the ‘pleasure’ of reading it, probably making all of a few hundred bucks?

Option 3: Or do I just format it as an ebook and give it away?

I’ve been leaning toward Option 3. Sure, it seems like the least amount of hoops to jump through but it is also the world I know best: the internet is all about giving stuff away. I’ve been writing this blog ‘for free’ since 2007 for example.

I was reading a great article about Why Give Away Your Work For Free. To paraphrase Cory Doctorow, he says people who download the free book wouldn’t have bought the book anyway. Really by giving things away for free he’s increasing his audience. To quote: “My problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity, and free ebooks generate more sales than they displace.”

It actually got me to thinking of something completely different I read from Elizabeth Gilbert (read the photo caption- it’s long like a blog entry). But to paraphrase, basically you can’t make creativity show up and earn you money. You need to give it room to breathe. To quote: “I adore Creativity. I love her. I have devoted my life to her, because she brings me joy. But I do not suggest relying upon her to pay the oil bill. She is not very reliable. Creativity has no idea what the words “oil bill” even mean.”

My whole life the last seven years has been building two businesses, in other words the laser focused pursuit of money. Creativity showed up and I have this kind of terrible, moderately personal 124 page story sitting in my files without a purpose. Do I demand it make me money… or put it out there for free?

(Aside, I get that I should stop calling my novel terrible. But I’m one of those ‘plan for rain, be happy when it doesn’t’ kind of people so I am just managing my own expectations- and yours- by doing that.)

So do I enter into a world of a million rejections? Do I ask my creativity to make me some money now with this novel (which you see doesn’t even have a title but ‘Novel.doc)? Or do I give this novel away in hopes that my ideas will get out there and in turn generate others?

Now I’d be a liar if I said this ‘give it away and get more later’ idea was a writing only idea. Musicians give away albums, companies swag… every industry has a ‘something for free’ component so this idea is far from original.

But somehow reading those two articles in a row made me realize why I wanted to give it away… and the gut instinct wasn’t one of general laziness! If you are similarly on the fence with something you’ve made, let me know if reading those two relatively short posts helps clarify what you should do like it did for me.

(By the way, if you want to read my yet to be titled novel, just leave a comment on here and I’ll make sure you get the information for it.)

 

Ghostwriting: Not Done by Actual Ghosts

17 July

When I was a kid, there was a PBS show called “Ghostwriter” that aired sometime between Reading Rainbow and Kratt’s Kreatures/Arthur. From what I gathered, it was about a group of meddling kids who solved mysteries with the help of a ghost-like orb that communicated by bopping around on a typewriter. In my very literal 5 year old way of thinking, “ghostwriting” was writing done by a ghost, usually in a haunted house (obviously). I also was not an avid viewer of this particular show.

This show frustrated me more than "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" ...have you tried "San Diego"? Sheesh.

This show frustrated me more than “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” …have you tried “San Diego”? Sheesh.

Fast forward a couple decades, and here I am, a ghostwriter- that is, a person whose writes something that gets attributed to someone else (I didn’t become a ghost for this gig, and I already have other plans for my future-ghost-self). Ghostwriting is probably my favorite role at Breaking Even. When my family and friends ask the obligatory “how’s work going” question, this is what I bring up most. In fact, I was in the middle of stacking wood the other night and was randomly struck by the joy ghostwriting brings me, and I thought about the reasons why I enjoy ghostwriting. And that’s the story of how this blog post was conceived. Here’s the slightly more polished version of my yard-work musings:

Why do I like ghostwriting?

It’s like a game of dress up. In order to adapt someone else’s voice, I have to first strip away my own opinions, biases, experiences, etc. It’s important to get in the right head-space-in order to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, you should first take your own off. Once I’ve done that, it’s easy to become almost anyone. Of course, I usually go through older content a client has produced to get a feel for tone, commonly used words or phrases, etc. to get a feel for what this person would typically write, and then tweak based on the assignment (maybe they are hoping to sound more funny and approachable, or are trying to target a different demographic). It’s challenging, but I get to pretend to be someone else for a bit, and it’s kind of amazing.

When I explain this part of the process, people often ask: Doesn’t it feel like you’re selling your soul? Nope. If anything, ghostwriting is fuel for my soul. It’s a unique opportunity to temporarily see the world through another’s eyes. It’s a way to empathize with their experience. Marketing isn’t all about creating the perfect combination of words to get people to buy in. There’s a deeper level of connection involved. Plus, people used to believe the same thing about actors back in the day.

Probably the most common question I get asked is “But don’t you want credit for what you write?” Well, I do get credit- just not in the sense of being able to say a certain article was written by yours truly. The best form of compliment a ghostwriter can receive: “I can’t even tell you wrote this.” Perfect- that’s the point. As this Hubspot article so eloquently puts it: “Your opinion is moot, and therefore should be mute.” I “appear” in these projects for matters concerning structure and organization and crafting a cohesive, interesting piece (generally that’s what the job hinges on).

Who hires ghostwriters, anyway?

So, yes, ghostwriting is fun for us. But, why do businesses hire ghostwriters in the first place? It might be a matter of skill- some people enjoy the running of the business and engaging with customers, but find it difficult to sit down at a computer and write. It could also be a matter of time- there are only so many hours in a day, and blogging/emailing/marketing might occupy a lower space on the to-do list. It’s comforting to know that while you’re out and about working on the “hustle” portion of your business, people like us are taking care of the other stuff (email newsletters, blog posts, etc). Businesses of all shapes and sizes can benefit from ghost writers. Start-ups can use ghost-writers to market for them while focusing energy on other areas of growth and getting into a groove. Established businesses might use ghost writers every now and then when employees have bigger fish to fry and don’t have time to spare, during a busy season or transition period. They may not require it full time, but there’s some peace of mind knowing that resource is there to tag in when you need it.

Other times, it can be helpful to have a ghostwriter act as a liason between a business/person with very specialized, extensive knowledge on a topic and the laymen. When you’re incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about a topic, you sometimes forget that not everyone shares this knowledge, and end up accidentally losing people. Instead, you can dump all this knowledge on a ghostwriter, who will ask follow up questions and do a bit of extra research, and he/she will craft a piece that will inform your customers without overwhelming them. In other words, ghostwriters can serve as translators.

If we went back and time and told 5 year-old me that I’d be a ghostwriter, I’d probably cry and wonder why my ghost wasn’t up to more interesting shenanigans. Present day me loves ghostwriting, and probably wouldn’t mind writing from beyond the grave, either.