About Us

Our Newest Project: Selling Local Gift Certificates Online With Gift MDI

We all know ‘buying local’ is a great idea. More money stays in the community. We have access to goods and services we wouldn’t have otherwise. We have vibrant downtown centers. New people relocate because they have options to make money. It is a win-win.

But most of us need a little push to do this, and it often boils down to a matter of modern day convenience. It wouldn’t surprise you to learn that organizations with online donations get more donations or volunteer participation increases with the ability for volunteers to sign up online… so how can we make ‘buying local’ something more people can do online?

Option 1: Build every local business an online shopping cart. Not only is this overkill/expensive but some businesses don’t want to maintain an online cart, which involves shipping orders, making sure the stock is up-to-date, etc. Also this option doesn’t consider service businesses like restaurants or cleaning services.
Option 2: Have a database of information of where you can purchase different kinds of goods/services in a community. I don’t mind paying an extra $20 for a raincoat at a local shop. I do mind spending an hour long lunch break shopping for one only to spend half my time going to stores that don’t carry rain coats. This ‘here’s what you got locally’ information would either be a ridiculous-to-program website or involve some very knowledgeable people being available at regular intervals to take phone calls. In other words, not ideal.
Option 3: Sell local gift certificates/gift cards online for businesses.  

It seemed obvious to me that selling local gift certificates seemed not only the best place to start but also an area where most businesses are missing out on potential revenue. Gift certificates are oftentimes never redeemed or, when they are, the customer spends more than the certificate amount. (Think about it, you get a $50 restaurant gift certificate and you are totally going to order the $8 cake versus leaving $3 unredeemed on the certificate, am I right?) In my own experience, I have given away 5 Anchorspace scholarships as silent auction items in the past two years and ZERO people have come in to redeem them.

We know that:

  • Gift certificates are the most requested item on holiday wish lists, so we know people like to get them.
  • Gift certificates create additional revenue for a business, and since they are never claimed or people purchase above and beyond a majority of the time, they are worth more than face value.
  • Gift certificates are easy to send, meaning shipping costs are non-existent.
  • Paper goods besides gift certificates also work with this model.

So all we had to do was build a super fast, mobile friendly, easy to use website where people could buy local gift certificates online. 

Enter Gift MDI, a website I have been building (with a lot of help from my colleague Dr. Eric York) over the past six months. Eric was the design brain (though I had lots of opinions) and I was the sales/marketing person talking to business owners about this very new idea.

We launched with 14 businesses last Saturday night, and we had our first sale Sunday! If you are a business on MDI and want to be on the site, just contact us.

Our model is simple:

  1. Businesses make more money without more hassle selling gift certificates. If businesses didn’t have gift certificates made, we made them. If people didn’t have an idea of what they could do, we helped them figure it out.
  2. Customers can personalize their experience by sending gift certificates to different people from the same cart and by adding personal messages and greeting cards.
  3. Affiliates can earn money generating sales, decreasing our overall marketing budget and increasing buy in, online and off.
  4. We make our money by taking a percentage of sales, so as not to penalize businesses doing lots of small transactions with a per certificate charge and so as not to penalize businesses with no sales with a monthly charge. You only pay for this marketing when it works.
  5. Once we have our business model down, we take this concept to other communities. This site would be super expensive to replicate, but what is really needed is local community connection and knowledge.

Our goal, besides Gift MDI being our working prototype, is to put $100,000 into the local economy by May 28, 2018 with this website.

I know it’s ambitious but I think we can do it as a community. Sure, it’s a great mix of my customer service, web development, sales, and community development skills but I think it’s something communities need just about everywhere.

If you see this concept as interesting and live locally, please let me know if you’d like to be involved. We’re very open to feedback and participation as this is brand new. I want people to see how vibrant and diverse our local economy is!
If you see this concept as interesting and don’t live locally, please get in touch and we can help get it to yours. 

Thanks to everyone who has supported the effort so far. It is an ambitious project and we are just beginning! Visit GiftMDI.com to buy local and online (yes, you can do both now).

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

BEC Year In Review 2015

For our year in review, a bit of fun and wisdom from each of us.

John Swinconeck

Something I Think Everyone Should See

I’m sharing with you this photo I took of boxes of Gronk Flakes Cereal. Launched in 2012, these frosted cornflakes endorsed by the Patriot’s Rob Gronkowsi appeared at my local Hannaford supermarket during the Pat’s most recent Superbowl victory. I’m not a very big sports fan, but the look of sheer delight on the NFL’s favorite tight end on the box indicates a level of joy that I can only hope to one day achieve. Plus, a portion of Gronk Flakes sales goes to charity.

gronk flakesSomething I Think Everyone Should Read

My choice for reading is kind of unusual: Wikipedia’s On This Day. Click on today’s date and you get brought to a timeline of interesting events. This is great fun for history buffs who wish they hadn’t slept through Introduction to Western Civilization in 11th grade. It’s the most educational time-waster on the web.

Something I Did That I Was Proud Of

After more than a decade of shunning Windows, I’ve learned to embrace Windows 10, and I’ve gotten pretty darn good at it.

Something Someone Else Did That Made Me Proud

My daughter took her first steps recently. She is well on her way to world domination.

What I Am Looking Forward To In 2016

I’m looking forward to the end of the 2016 presidential race.

Kassandra Strout

Something I Think Everyone Should See
This a shot of the view from the beach in front of my parents’ house, on my brother’s birthday this year. It was a good weekend.
Something I Think Everyone Should Read
“Come Spring” by Ben Ames Williams. It’s the story of how a small town in Midcoast Maine was founded during the American Revolution. There’s family drama, war, and romance (all the good stuff). No matter how long and difficult the winter is, we all hold on to the hope that things will turn around come spring (…get it??)
Something I Did That I Was Proud Of
Besides driving around New England with my skis in my car until May (which I see as some sort of weird accomplishment), I finally bit the bullet and put some of my more personal writing online.
Something Someone Else Did That Made Me Proud
My mom not only ran her first 5k this year, but ran 3 total. Boom!
What I Am Looking Forward To In 2016
Looking forward to in 2016: Running my first ever Boston Marathon in April!

Nicole Ouellette

Something I Think Everyone Should See

Here’s the thing with this photo I took: it’s not very good but there are two things I like about it:

1) it was taken during Derrick and my ‘Bold Coast’ camping trip in eastern Maine this summer which was awesome (and I can’t seem to find any more pictures of this trip at the moment because I ‘organized’ them early this fall so you know what that means) and
2) It shows how much you can improve a picture if you know someone like Jennifer Booher. (Top is before Jennifer, bottom is after and, honestly, a much more accurate view of what it was like that day!)

In 2015, I have become a much more confident phone picture taker in a general way. Now that I know I can tune the photos a bit, I can concentrate on composition a little (or a lot) more. We’re working with Jennifer on an online course to come out in 2016, stay tuned! (Sign up for our email list if you actually want notifications of these sort of things.)

Here's the thing with this photo: it's not very good but 1) it was taken during Derrick and my 'Bold Coast' camping trip in eastern Maine this summer and 2) It shows how much you can improve a picture if you know someone like Jennifer Booher. After her class, I am a much more confident phone picture taker.

Something I Think Everyone Should Read
Habits are a powerful thing and knowing what motivates you is the key to getting yourself unstuck. As someone very into self help and personal reflection, my results really blew my mind and allowed me to be more successful in the latter part of 2015.

Something I Did That I Was Proud Of

I opened a second business, Anchorspace, trying to give my community a beautiful, fun, and productive place to work from. I have made a lot of personal sacrifices to do this (including getting my first ever loan) and while its success is still uncertain, I’ve resolved that regardless of outcome, I am glad I’ve done this.

Something Someone Else Did That Made Me Proud

My mom sold the family business. My brother-in-law was honest enough to say he would prefer sales to management and my mother cared enough to go through a hard year of negotiating and creating a smooth transition to new ownership, preserving jobs in the community including my brother-in-law’s position. This is the smoothest, most upbeat transition I’ve seen and should I ever be in this position with my business, I hope to emulate the grace and wisdom with which my mom handled it.

What I Am Looking Forward To In 2016
Businesswise, I am looking forward to growing the podcast I have with my landlord and creating other more ‘passive’ revenue streams so we can have more fun and help more people at the same time.
Personally, I’m getting rid of 365 things again and keeping a gratitude journal so when this blog post comes around next year, I can have a plethora of things to pick from.
Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

So long, and thanks for all the ‘tunes


Dear Apple,

We had a good thing going — and I sincerely thought that you felt for me with the same undying love that I felt for you. It’s taken me a couple of years since we stopped seeing each other exclusively for me to cut through the haze of denial. But now I see the truth. You don’t feel for me the same as I felt for you. It’s OK, Apple. I realize, now that it’s time for me to start seeing other digital music players.

Fifteen or so years ago, in addition to being THE way to playback and organize my MP3s, iTunes served as a gateway for the iPod. My first was the third-generation, white and silver 15 gig iPod. And, just like that, my music was everywhere with me.

You have to understand that in the early ’00s, this was a rare and new phenomenon. Most of us were either jamming out to mix tapes or, if we were truly on the edge, were able to make a mix CD full of MP3s. But the idea of carrying around a music library with you, well, that was pretty shagadelic, if I may dust off a catchphrase of the era. Especially if you were a music lover. And I was certainly a music lover.

So along comes the landmark iTunes music store, offering a cheap alternative to Napster and other file-sharing sites of the era of questionable virtue. Now we can buy new, cool music legitimately. Of course, Apple really didn’t make money off that. But the store was a pretty cool way to drum up sales of iPods. And it worked too, especially after it was made compatible with Windows PCs.

Apple made being a music geek incredibly cool with a slick advertising campaign, and it seemed that earbuds began springing out of nearly everyone’s head.

So how did we come to this?

Personally, I blame the iPhone, its bastard offspring the iPod Touch, and the touchscreen interface. Because now you can do so much more — watch video, play a stupid games and post pics of every meal you’ve ever eaten to Instagram — on your portable device. Apple had a lot more gateways to its devices than just a stupid ol’ music player.

I also blame the rise of streaming services, which has skyrocketed in popularity as paid music downloads are going the way of CD sales.

Today, Apple’s music app is less about having a decent way to organize, play and shuffle all of your music. It’s now become dominated by ways to stream, buy and share.

With every iPod/iPhone update (and good lord there are a lot of them), the straight-up interface for playing music that resembled your dad’s hifi rack stereo components became more and more distant.

Apple’s music app doesn’t know what it is, and iTunes itself has morphed into some unholy media hub that’s less a digital jukebox and more of a “Game of Thrones” injection system.

Sadly, there are few alternatives to iTunes and the Music app, although Ecoute is a cheap alternative and as my primary music player on my iPhone, and I’ll likely start experimenting with I’m looking at Swinsian.

My new hope is to find my old monochrome iPod—the one that was built around music.

Until then, Apple, I’ll treasure our memories. I hope you find everything you’re looking for.


Ghostwriting: Not Done by Actual Ghosts

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.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Anchorspace: Business 2.0

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 1.43.16 PM

I wasn’t going to write anything on here, until my mom ran into one of our clients.

“Hey, tell Nicole congratulations on her new business… but who’s going to take care of my website now?”

So this is a blog post to say

1) We are opening another business called Anchorspace (a Bar Harbor based coworking space)
2) I am grateful for all the help I’ve gotten getting this started and open for April 1
3) This will have no effect on Breaking Even except our office location.

A bit of background: I (Nicole) have been wanting a coworking location to start in Bar Harbor for literally years.

First I tried talking to ‘rich’ people (well, people who seemed richer than me) about it, telling them I would be the first tenant and recruit others.

Then I joined a few community organizations to try to get it started. The economic development opportunities, the creative use of space, the year round business support, it seemed like a dream project. It got very politely shot down. But everyone agreed it was a good idea before moving on.

And you know that moment you have, when you look around a room, and realize you HAVE it? That you feel called (and yes, I mean in an almost religious way) to do something that may not mean huge piles of cash but would be amazing for all involved? A rush of adrenaline goes through you and suddenly all the colors in the room seem brighter and there is no one in the world that has the clarity that you have right in that moment? I had that about a coworking space in Bar Harbor. And so I started, in actual earnest, about a year ago.

First, I had to talk to people.

I had to talk to community members to make sure there was actual interest and this wasn’t some weird crazy idea. I was met with nothing but support.

In case this was just people being nice (did I mention I am a pretty pragmatic person?), we put out an anonymous survey and spent part of last summer conducting a feasibility study. People will not only enthusiastic but willing to pay money, even though they didn’t know who was even behind it. Coworking spaces in other locations gave us great insights and a better start than we would have got otherwise. Even better.

I had to talk to potential landlords to make sure I could afford a space that could generate enough revenue to cover its costs. Nina St. Germain is a friend and sometimes client got the vision right away. She is leaving money on the table to do this since where we are in the world, she could rent the space by the week and make way more than I’ll be paying her monthly. For that, and several other things that have happened so far, she gets my undying loyalty.

I had to talk to my team to make sure that if I did start this second business and it took me away from Breaking Even at times that we could still handle our workload. They not only understood but all pitched in. Leslie used her skills to revamp our logo. John wrote a press release and WABI came to do a story on us. (See us on television here.) Kassie has taken on an increased workload the last two months as I run around spending time on things I never thought I’d spend time doing. Breaking Even may be the first tenant of Anchorspace but in a very personal way, they are behind this. Just that group conviction has made doing this worth it.

I talked to my CEI business counselor, who is still a little skeptical. (I appreciate being challenged. The quickest way to learn nothing is to just have everyone just agree with you all the time.) She told me to work on letters of interest and we have some in hand now. I also have a 3 years of cash projections and was able to get a commercial loan thanks to her advice.

And I had to talk to my husband since now, mere months after our wedding, he is financially and otherwise on board with this plan. We haven’t been on a honeymoon. Our house isn’t finished yet. And he didn’t even hesitate. “I know this is going to work.” (Full disclosure: I would have hesitated if he came to me with an idea. That’s why I appreciate I am married to someone better than me.)

So we’re opening April 1. Chairs and conference table are in, desks (adjustable stand to sit desks- made in the USA!) got shipped this morning and arrive next week. LLC is set up. 10,000 square feet of wallpaper has been painted over. Cameras have been installed in every room and at the entrance to ensure everyone’s (and everyone’s stuff’s) safety. Internet gets hooked up Wednesday. Sign plans have been submitted. We’ve run an Indiegogo campaign that raised some money but really helped us get the word out. Around 50 people have walked through the space, seeing if they could picture themselves there and are mulling over if Anchorspace will be their home. The MDIYWCA has stepped forward to sponsor the conference room, making a commitment to start and grow women-owned businesses in Bar Harbor. We have insurance. We are getting donations of items needed from the community and have a list we’re updating on our website we get to keep crossing things off of.

The website is here if you want to learn more about the venture: www.anchorspace.com If you want an ‘insider look’ the weekly email newsletter is a good place to get it.

This is the last time I plan to mention it on the Breaking Even blog but I did need to let people know Breaking Even is not going belly up. We just have a lot of energy and now seems a perfect time for this dream to finally become a reality, for me and for the community.

We can still do your website or online marketing, we’ll just be doing it from a slightly different location. And should you decide to come work with us for the day, we’d love to have you over.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Tech Thursday: All about Coworking

Thanks to Old Man Winter, Nicole hosts this Tech Thursday solo. This also means that she is holding down the fort in the office solo, while Kassie works from home. This setup leads us to this week’s topic: Coworking spaces!

Coworking allows people to rent office space that they may not otherwise be able to afford (usually small businesses, startups and freelancers). It’s a way for likeminded professionals to get together and gain access to business resources that they may not have working from home.

If you’re in the Bar Harbor area and want to learn more about Anchorspace, check out the website here: www.anchorspace.com

And finally, some helpful resources about coworking: http://wiki.coworking.org/w/page/16583831/FrontPage https://www.sharedesk.net/home

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.
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