This Week In Business

Alternative Workplaces for the Freelancer/Entrepreneur

Working from home is tougher than one might realize. For one thing, there’s a bevy of distractions and temptations (I’m looking at you, Netflix) that makes it difficult to be productive. For those of us who need a work environment geared toward discipline and efficiency, working out of the home lacks structure that is critical to productivity.

I learned this the hard way when I worked for two years without an office, when I was writing for hyperlocal websites. I had to get creative about where I worked, especially in light of having a toddler in the house (try explaining the concept of “telecommuting” to a 3-year-old — can’t be done).

With that in mind, here’s a list of alternative to working from home for freelancers/entrepreneurs:

Coworking space

The coworking concept is a shared space where one can rent a desk, usually by the day, the week or the month. Coworking, it turns out, is more than a trend. It’s a movement that is actually growing.

The drawback is that it’s not free — there’s the cost of rent. The pluses, however, to having an actual, professional workspace without the cost of leasing a full-blown office are innumerable.

If you’re in Mount Desert Island area, I actually recommend checking out BEC’s sister company, Anchorspace. Make a reservation, rent a desk for a day or longer. If you need to meet with clients, there’s a conference room. Arguably most important: There are a number of good places to eat nearby in downtown Bar Harbor (Hello, Jalapenos).

Public libraries

Libraries are a wonderful community resource. Most offer free internet and a quiet environment.

The disadvantages are limited hours and a lack of privacy. Unless your library has a cafe, it’s difficult to hold conversations with clients or interview subjects, and even then, the environment may not be ideal. Libraries often have limited bandwidth or place a limit on the amount of time you are allowed online.

I’m actually writing the first draft of this post at a public library now, where, I just overheard someone explaining how they got fired from KFC for hiding dirty cookware under the kitchen sink. That’s a little distracting.

Cafes/Restaurants

McDonald’s, Starbucks Panera and other quick-serve joints usually have free wifi and will do in a pinch, that is if you can avoid spilling ketchup on your laptop. I’ve worked at coffee shops, but those get noisy real quick, especially when the blender is activated to whip up someone’s frozen soy macchiato latte whatever.

Seating is often at a premium, especially during lunch. Your wifi access will often be limited, especially during peak hours. And, because you’re not a jerk, you’ll have to buy something to justify using their wifi.

Your car

Probably the least comfortable office I ever worked at was in the passenger seat of my old Mustang. (Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful car that I miss dearly, but I promised myself that once I hit 40 I wouldn’t be one of “those guys” with a gut tooling around in a young man’s car.) I invested in a hotspot for my phone and wrote wherever I had signal. The advantage is that there’s privacy for making phone calls and you are completely mobile. The disadvantages are numerous. Cars, when they’re not running, get cold or hot pretty quick. Besides, explaining to a client that you live out of your car for 8 cramped hours a day makes you sound like Gil Gunderson.

Recommendation: Coworking Space

Having experienced all the above, I say make the investment and rent a desk. The payback is in more productivity. Do more, make more.

Coworking spaces are also more secure than the alternatives. You can go to the bathroom without having to pack up your laptop and mouse and charger, and your seat will still be there when you get back. You have a dedicated spot where you can work for eight hours. In other words, you’ll look like a professional.

How To Help People Buy From Your Business Online

You have a great product/service. You even have a website setup to sell said product/service.

Yet, you get the feeling that business could be better. Maybe your customer needs a hand to buy from you? Here are some ideas:

1. Make Yourself Easy To Find.

Follow SEO best practices. 

Search engines like three things (to overly simplify): words people are looking for, links coming into your website and frequently updated content. For more information on SEO best practices, check out some of our blog posts on the topic:

Playing well with search engines means that the people looking for you (or more accurately, your product or service) can find you.

Consider listing yourself on other websites or marketplaces. For example, if you sell Wordpress themes, maybe a marketplace like Themeforest or if you make handcrafted cribbage boards,  make a listing on Etsy.

Like anything, listing your goods on a different website has pros and cons. One pro is that you’ll be able to see a wider selection of the market. You’ll be in a position to increase awareness about your product, as well (out of the population of people who use Etsy, only a handful may already be aware of your business).

The con is that you don’t always have full control over order information. For instance, on your own website you may have an email newsletter signup as people check out. But at least consider making yourself easier to find by having a presence on websites where customers are looking for your product.

2. Make It Easy To Buy.

Accept multiple forms of payment (ex: credit cards and PayPal). What happens when people go to your online cart? What are you offering in terms of payment processing? Having more than one option, such as PayPal and a credit card processor (i.e. Stripe), could improve your checkout rate. 

If big product, consider payment plans. If you’re selling a big ticket item, consider breaking it down into payment plans (based on the actual price). This makes your product more attainable at no

Make sure payment/cart works on mobile. It’s expected that 50% of purchases online will be from a smartphone in 2017. If your website isn’t mobile friendly, or cannot handle purchases online, it’s worth taking the time to add this ability.

Watch ten potential customers navigate your website (and be quiet while they do it and take made notes). You’ve probably spent time working on the setup of your website, so the ins and outs of navigation probably make complete and total sense to you already. Watching someone else try to navigate your website from start to finish will give you a more accurate perception of a user’s experience on your website and where any shortcomings may exist.

3. Make It Advantageous To Buy.

While you don’t necessarily need to offer this for every product on your site, adding some form of incentive once in awhile can give sales a little boost.

A few ideas for making your product advantageous for customers include:

  • Coupon codes
  • Affiliate programs
  • Early Registration Discount (or other time sensitive promotions)

Someone will always think they can buy it later. By incentivizing action, you can turn ‘later’ into ‘now’.

4. Make It Easy To Share.

We’ve talked about making products easy to share, perhaps by adding social share options for coupons or on the product itself. Zulily combines these tactics in the following product post:

A few things you may notice at the bottom of the image:

  • Incentive to share the product for a discount
  • Three options for sharing- Email, Facebook, and Pinterest (Email is a great sharing option for customers without social media, or those who want to share with a person who doesn’t have social media).

Sharing is only a click away, and if you’re saving $15, why wouldn’t you want to “share”?

5. Make It Easy To Stay In Touch.

In some cases, creating an easy way for customers to stay in touch or communicate with you/among themselves will encourage them to follow through with a purchase. Some examples where this would be helpful include online fitness programs (i.e. month long challenge groups where people can interact with one another), any sort of online class, or any event where it’s helpful to have a ‘community.’

Another fairly simple way to stay in touch with people is to add an email signup somewhere in the checkout process. This gives them a way to stay in touch with you after a purchase, perhaps so you can ask for feedback or send information about future offerings. The idea is to check in at a regular increment, maybe weekly-monthly, not to be the email equivalent of a “Hey what’s up” text that you didn’t sign up for but for some reason keep getting every 12 hours anyway. Communication should be helpful, not annoying or unnecessary.

By making it easy for your customers and potential customers to buy from you online, they’ll be able to show more love to your business. Let them love you, but be easy to love too.

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.

Considering The Affiliate

This month’s theme is showing love to businesses and, much like we’ve formalized love with marriage, the formalization of business love online can be an affiliate agreement.

An affiliate is someone who reps/represents your company a mutually agreed upon way. They aren’t an employee but they’ve typically signed up to let you know they are interested in doing this. You may have terms for them, like they can’t use the product you are trying to sell in a certain way or can’t do certain things with product links. Once signed up, your affiliate can recommend your company and typically they get a financial kickback for doing so (ex: when someone becomes a paid member or upgrades their account.) In other words, they can recommend all they want but until your company gets a conversion, you don’t owe them anything.

By Googling “Warby Parker affiliate” I see what the terms are for me to recommend cool frames and where I can sign up. This brings down Warby Parker’s overall marketing costs while giving me incentive to share my love of them.

How do you know if an affiliate has made a sale for you or not?

Option 1: Give them a custom link.

For example, let’s say your name is Bob and you LOVE our blog and wanted to get people to subscribe. We talk about it and I say I’ll give you $1/person who signs up for email list. I could make a custom email newsletter subscription link like breakingeveninc.com/newsletter%bob that you can share. The people you share that link with are directed to a normal looking page; I’m just tracking it in a special, distinct way. In my website software, I could set up for it to track when someone who got to that link signed up for our email newsletter (filled out and submitted a form successfully). Every month, I sendBob a check for the amount of subscribers he sends.

The link makes things easy because the ‘customer’ doesn’t have to do anything. As the affiliate, you have to remember to use your special link and as the company, I have to set up tracking but the person clicking through is mostly unawares. Note: Bob could do something cool with his website like make bobswebsite.com/becrocks redirect to my fancy affiliate link. That gives Bob’s friends/customers something easy to remember and lets him use the affiliate link we agreed upon together.

Option 2: Give them a coupon code. 

The other way to do this, especially if this relationship involves purchasing, is to offer a code. Let’s say as someone entered their email into my website, I have a ‘coupon code’ portion where the person signing up is supposed to write ‘Bob’ for him to get credit for sending me a subscriber.

The good thing with this is it’s very deliberate coming from the customer… but most people aren’t going to take the extra step unless they get something for doing it. That’s why most coupon codes involve a discount code or free download or something for the customer for taking the trouble. Maybe by entering ‘Bob’ in the signup form, the people get a free ebook from me.

Whether option 1 or 2 is used, both Bob and I understand what is supposed to happen and what Bob will get when that agreed upon thing happens. 

Anchorspace is an affiliate for StandDesk which means when someone buys from our link, they save $50 and we get $50. So we’ve earned $150 just by recommending a product we already use and love and given people too far afield to come into Anchorspace a way to support us through their purchase. You can click on this photo and get taken to our affiliate link to see! http://go.standdesk.co/fHSGR

How do you set up an affiliate program?

You may think this seems complicated. Why set up something just for Bob?

If you think about the power of even having ten people like Bob as sort of un-salaried salespeople for your company, you’ll see that this can be a good idea for you. First of all, you’re only paying when you get what you want and second, by rewarding Bob and people like him, you’re incentivizing him to refer you more often, even if it’s a discount on your own products versus cold hard cash.

So you have two options with affiliate programs.

Option 1: Use an existing (third party) affiliate program. 

Websites like shareasale.com or Commission Junction offer a ‘plug and play’ option where you can set up agreements, have it automatically generate/track links, etc., which is perfect if the idea of DIY totally overwhelms you. If what is preventing you from doing this is the tech, please take that away as a concern. That said, Moz has an excellent point as these websites are creating links that aren’t as direct as you making the links yourself, which can detract from search engine benefits. Also these probably cost money since they are attempting to make your life easier.

Option 2: DIY on your own website. 

Tools like Google Goals and plugins like AffiliateWP Wordpress plugin allow you to set this up on your own website directly. So long as you are clear about how you want it to work, it’s totally doable to set up and even have it create cute reports and stuff. If you ask someone like us, we can get you an estimate at the very least and you can make your decision from there.

(Aside: Whenever people ask me about the difference between using something like Squarespace and Wordpress, I always say your website can ‘do more stuff’ with Wordpress and this is the kind of thing I mean. Here’s what Squarespace forums say about setting up affiliate programs.)

The best thing you can do to understand affiliates better is to try them out yourself as a referrer.

To become your own version of Bob, think of companies you already like. Visit their websites (the best first stop is the navigational menu that is  typically on the bottom of the page) and look for an ‘Affiliates’ link. If you don’t see one there, ask Google if the company has one, or write to the company via their website and ask.

Once you have a few affiliate links/codes, try them out with people you think would genuinely appreciate those goods/services. Are people receptive? Does certain language/certain websites seem to work better for you? Do certain things seem to make people take action? Use these experiences as the referrer when you make your own affiliate program.

Like any tool, when used sparingly and in the context of an overall marketing strategy affiliates can be an effective way for people to love your business and get rewarded for it. (Yes we are considering an affiliate program ourselves; contact us if you are interested.) In the meantime, let us know if you are an affiliate yourself or if your company uses affiliates to drive sales!

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.

Sharing is Caring

Leaving a review is one way to show your favorite businesses some online love. Another way is hitting that “Share” button (on Facebook, which translates to retweeting or reposting on other platforms, or just passing along information). As a business, there are ways to make it easy for people to share your stuff, which ultimately spreads your marketing to a greater audience than it otherwise would have.

There are plenty of ways to share on behalf of a business or organization you care about online. Some of the more common methods include:

  • Share as a status update, on a friend’s timeline, or in a private message.
  • Invite friends to an event on social media or share link to event registration.
  • Retweet (Twitter) or Repost (Instagram).
  • Forward a newsletter to a friend and/or tell them how to subscribe if it’s something they’re interested in.

Sharing as an individual is fairly straightforward. But as a business, what can you be doing to make your content more shareable? Besides being generally useful and interesting, here are some things to keep in mind:

On Social Media.

Whether you’re promoting a sale, sharing an event, or just doing general updates, there are a few things to keep in mind when considering “share-ability” of your post. Most shared content on Facebook includes a photo or video. If you have one or the other, consider quality (is it blurry or off-center? Is there unnecessary footage?) as you’re posting- fans want to help you promote your business but might not want to share a ‘meh’ visual. This goes for Instagram, too, since it’s an all visual platform.

If you’re making a flyer for an event, check out our post on How Not to Design a Flyer for tips on this particular type of visual.

Keep in mind that well over half of Facebook users are on their mobile devices, so double check your links (especially those that you share from your own website, if you have one) can be read on mobile. Test it on your own device or ask a friend to help!

On Your Website.

A lot of websites have plugins or extensions for sharing through email, social media, or even text messaging on mobile. Hubspot has an easy to follow guide for adding social buttons for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram. This is an easy way to let people share your material on a channel of their choice, not necessarily one that you’re active on. If you aren’t automatically publishing blog posts on your social media accounts, social sharing buttons on your website makes it easy for others to share them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

We’ve talked about this before, but if your website is where all the “big” things happen (sales, registration, donations, etc), having a responsive/mobile-friendly site is something you really want to consider. If someone is getting to your website through Facebook on their phone on the train, they might not remember “Oh when I get home I have to sit down at my computer to follow through with this.”

In Your Newsletter. 

In addition to social sharing buttons at the bottom of your newsletter (example pictured below), you can also add options for “Forward to a Friend.” True, a person can easily hit “Forward” on their own, but the idea is to make sharing easier for people.

In addition to making it easier to share, you can also give followers an incentive to share. Some businesses offer a “Share this post for a chance to win” contest on social media, which is a fairly simple contest to set up. Encourage people to share your content, be interesting, and have fun with it!

 

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.

Online Reviews: An Introduction

Last year, I packed up my family and moved us to a new apartment, a process I liken to having a root canal, only with less sitting, fewer painkillers and far more cursing. I hired movers for the job, and was pretty impressed with their humor, chill attitude, and the fact that one of the guys kept right on working despite needing to bandage a wound on his palm with paper towel and duct tape.

Yes, I tipped, but then they told me that if I was really happy to give them a review on Facebook. This was a first for me, but it made sense. This was a Maine micro business at its core, just starting out. Online reviews were pretty critical in generating good word-of-mouth.

Making your own business available to online reviews is a double-edged sword. The folks at Yelp acknowledge this on their guidelines for responding to reviews: “Negative reviews can feel like a punch in the gut. We care deeply about our business too, and it hurts when someone says bad things about our business. For you founders and sole proprietors out there, a negative review can even feel like a personal attack.”

Sometimes a business can do everything right, but there may be no pleasing a customer who has had a terrible day, perhaps because he’s just spent the entire week DRIVING AROUND A MOVING VAN THAT GETS 5 MILES TO THE GALLON AND WOULD IT HAVE KILLED YOU TO INCLUDE THE EXTRA SAUCE IN HIS TAKE OUT ORDER LIKE HE ASKED?!?! ONE STAR!!!!!!!!

Sorry about that flashback.

The point being, is it worth buying into online ads? Yes, but it takes courage.

Unlike traditional print reviews written by critics, online reviews keep coming, and coming and coming, so long as internet-savvy folks keep using your products or services. The advantage of this is that each day is another day to get it right, to improve your weaknesses and build upon your strengths. Here are a few more popular choices to get you started in this brave new world:

Yelp is enormously popular, having garnered more than 115 million reviews last year. Making money off ad revenue, Yelp is free for both the business itself and for consumers. Seemingly everything — from local restaurants to doctors, from prisons  to showgirl supply stores — gets reviewed through their website or mobile app.

The company uses an algorithm to  weed out fake reviews or reviews written by owners about their own businesses. Yelp’s relations with small businesses hasn’t always been rosy, as owners have complained that the algorithm weeds out positive review and leaves negative ones. Yelp admits its algorithm isn’t perfect, but the company has become so ubiquitous, so popular since its 2004 founding that utilizing Yelp makes still makes sense.

Facebook reviews are a pretty organic extension of your existing business’s page. And it makes all the sense in the world to utilize this free service. As we’ve noted before, 79 percent of American adults who use the Internet use Facebook.

Like Yelp, you can respond to reviews positive and negative. Search Engine Journal also notes that Facebook reviews will be giving Yelp a run for its money, in part, because Facebook is already integral to our everyday lives: “Facebook is a platform that nearly everyone uses on a daily basis. We use it to document our lives, connect with friends through Messenger and check into businesses. It’s the one-stop shop for us to get everything we need to get done, from collecting information about our friends, finding news and stories to read and to watch cat videos.”

Google, like Facebook, is seemingly everywhere. Similarly, it only makes sense to integrate product and service reviews with the search engine giant, especially considering how powerful and important Google Maps has become for finding, well, anything.

Our theme for February is “Loving Your Favorite Businesses Online.” Leaving a review, whether on Yelp, Facebook, Google, or elsewhere, is one way to give a business a boost. Stay tuned for other ways you can share the love this month!

Rocky and the Power of Failure

(Spoilers ahead)

The best movies in the “Rocky” franchise are not concerned with winning or losing, but about drive, ability and performance. Rocky may be synonymous with Eye-of-The-Tiger-themed training montages and “Yo! Adrian!” catchphrases, but at their core, the best Rocky films are deeply personal stories of perseverance.

In the original “Rocky,” the titular hero isn’t interested in whether he can actually beat heavyweight champion Apollo Creed — winning is a secondary consideration. Rather, as he confesses one night to Adrian, Rocky needs to know whether he has it within him to “go the distance.” That is, to go 15 rounds with Apollo without getting knocked out or otherwise having the fight stopped. That’s where Rocky’s self-worth lies, and how he’ll prove to everyone that’s he’s more than just a “bum,” to use the film’s parlance.

Rocky II’s a good movie, too, but it doesn’t have the emotional resonance as the first film. Rocky III-V continued with diminished returns. It’s worth noting that, especially in the case of III and IV, the franchise becomes more invested with whether Rocky can beat the Big Bad at the end — whether that’s Mr. T or Dolph Lungren. Those films are preoccupied more with man vs man than man vs self. To me, that’s what makes the sequels a whole lot less interesting, (even despite the appearance of a young Hulk Hogan in III or a musical spot by James Brown in IV).

The franchise finds its footing again with “Rocky Balboa” (2006) and the most excellent “Creed” (2015). Like the original, the latest entries in the series are less about a hero fighting a villain and but rather a hero fighting for himself.

Spoiler ahead: The best Rocky films (“Rocky,” “Rocky Balboa” and “Creed”) are the ones where Rocky loses.

So why am I writing about Rocky? Because there’s a good chance your business is going to fail. The small business survival rate, after six years, falls to just 40 percent

There’s numerous reasons why businesses fail, and they’re not all in our control. Economics both macro and micro, disasters natural and man-made and emerging technologies all contribute to uncertainty. We all lose sometimes.

When we first meet Rocky, he’s a part-time “ham and egger” fighting in boxing clubs. He’s alone except for his pet turtles, making money working for a loan shark. His best days are far enough behind him that when challenged to fight champion Apollo Creed as a lark, he initially declines. Rocky fails to beat Apollo Creed, but by at least giving it a shot, he ends the film in a much better place. He found his self-worth in his quest to go the distance. He becomes a legitimate athlete.

He has Adrian.

Whether in business or in life, we mustn’t shirk a challenge.

That “Rocky” got made at all is somewhat of a minor miracle, and is a testament to the tenacity of writer and star Sylvester Stallone. Stallone recalled how, after he finally sold the script, the studio was reluctant to let him star. A relative unknown, Stallone pushed until he got the movie made his way — even turning down a $350,000 offer for the script without him starring. “Rocky” went on to win Best Picture, launched a franchise and created an iconic character.

Rocky teaches us that success doesn’t always mean we win, or that we are considered the best in our field. Sometimes success means going the distance and defying expectations of others or of ourselves.

It’s one of life’s paradoxes that in losing, sometimes we win.

For Further Reading

From Startup Dope: 5 Life Lessons Rocky Balboa taught us

From People.com: 10 Life Lessons We Can Learn from Rocky Balboa

From Brightscope.com: Eye of the Tiger – What Rocky Taught Me About Life and Business

You’re the Boss (New York Times): What “Rocky” Teaches Entrepreneurs