This Week In Business

Are You Busy?

I can't go anywhere without it looking beautiful, so I take 2 out of every 7 days to enjoy what's around me.

I can’t go anywhere without it looking beautiful, so I take 2 out of every 7 days to enjoy what’s around me.

Ah summer. It’s a good time of year filled with iced coffees, strolls in scenic places, and charring meat.

For the past year, I’ve forced myself to take weekends off, despite the fact that my workload almost doubles in the summer.

I just want to eat waffles on a stick in my free time... like anyone else. (My friend Jen has them sometimes in her cafe.)

I just want to eat waffles on a stick in my free time… like anyone else. (My friend Jen has them sometimes in her cafe.)

Baring an all caps email from a client saying something to the equivalent of ‘ Turkish hackers got my website’ or ‘People are doing the internet equivalent of throwing rotten tomatoes at me on social media’, I won’t do any work on the weekend.

Part of this is a need of rest. My arms need the rest, my mind needs the rest, and honestly, I think my quality of work has also improved since I enacted this policy.

Part of it was a need for a perception change. I am certainly happier and it’s been awhile since the word ‘workaholic’ was used to describe me. Good signs, progress in the ‘become a more well rounded person’ department.

But my project management system reminds me that I have 25 overdue tasks just about every day. I creep above 100 un-dealt-with emails in my inbox weekly. One client texts me 25 photos, one at a time, because she can’t get Dropbox to work on her phone. How do I stay the serene, strolling, mocha sipping, steak eating, weekend version of myself with all that happening?

Self employment commandment #1: There is always more to do.
Always is, always will be. I embrace the unfinished because I have to.

A short memory that can focus on the task at hand (even if the task is relaxing), takes little personally, and doesn’t dwell in regret is a quality you can cultivate to an extent. I used to be more high strung and overwhelmed, ask anyone who knew me well in high school.

Self employment commandment #2: No one will probably die if I don’t do it.
There are few things that *have* to get done. ‘Have to’ in your work world is not ‘have to’ in the real world. Few professions control whether someone will live or die and, even in those professions, large portions of the work day are not focused on this. So let it go. People won’t die if it doesn’t get done. And most important to you, you won’t die either.

Self employment commandment #3: Sometimes the problem goes away if you ignore it. 
Perfect example: I wanted to hit myself over the head after following a ‘simple’  27 step setup of a program on a website (I know, only a programmer would think a 27 step process was simple). Just couldn’t get the thing to work despite following all 27 steps to the letter. Paid someone smarter than me to see if they could get it to work. Nope. The company emails me a few days later that they updated their software and now it’ll work. It does.

Had I just put the darn thing down and let it go for a week, the problem would have fixed itself and I could have those 4 hours of my life back.

Listen, I’m not saying ignore a bleeding wound, I’m just saying if there is something slightly uncomfortable going on, ignore it and look at it later. The solution will present itself, or you won’t care, or it’ll just go away. Really, try it. I am shocked at how often this strategy actually works.

This week, I’m taking a day off… in the middle of the week. More accurately, I am taking a day off to volunteer for my local Rotary club. (Please come to our pancake breakfast or our seafood lunch if you are in Bar Harbor on the 4th of July- all the proceeds go to scholarships and local non-profits! I’ll be there from 6 am until 10 am if you want to say hi!)

The only picture of me in a bathtub you will ever see on the internet.

The only picture of me in a bathtub you will ever see on the internet.

I know, I’m crazy.

So relax, people. It’s going to get done. And in the meantime, take at least a day a week and go lie in a 7 foot clawfoot bathtub in your friend’s store just because you can. Because there’s always more to do… you’ll just do it on Monday.

 

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.

How To Handle Control Freaks

This is what happens when Alice is gone and Nicole does graphics. I know, scary.

This is what happens when Alice is gone and Nicole does graphics. I know, scary.

Someone has hired you to do a job for them. Based on their goals and other factors, you’ve decided a way to do it and they’ve signed off on your plan.

Or so you thought.

Suddenly, they want to be involved in every little detail of the process. (Why are you using 14 and not 16 point font? Or my favorite: How long does it really take you to do that?)

It’s one thing to have clear (ideally scheduled) communication and answer an occasional question… but it’s another to have someone asking you ‘why’ at every step or needing to call you multiple times a day.

People who take it to that endearing next level are control freaks… or as they would call themselves, detail-oriented project managers. But when you are on that other end, these people can be exhausting to deal with.

I’ve come up with a few ways to stay sane, in business and life in general.

Head them off before it even starts.

Are there times I could really use some money? Yes. Is there ever a moment where I will consider working with someone who will be unreasonable? No. Because the second you say yes to that crazy person, something legitimate you actually want to do presents itself. And you can’t do it… because you agreed to work with Mr. or Ms. CrazyFace.

As with anything, the easiest thing to do is avoid working with control freaks to begin with.

What are some telltale signs someone is going to be a control freak?

  • Very focused on hours, right up front. Listen, I get that you want to get how much something costs but it’s the equivalent of asking me to go steady on a first date. Can we exchange some information first? 
  • Seems very particular but won’t offer specifics. They say they know what they want but when you ask them one or two basic questions (Have you looked into what software you want to use? When customers get to your website, what is the three things you want them to do?), they have no answers. Bonus points if this person thinks you are pumping them for information so as to ‘steal’ their multimillion dollar idea.
  • They can’t find anyone to work with them. “My graphics person took another job then my web designer moved away. And what’s weird is my freelance writer won’t return my phone calls.” One flaky person in someone’s life, I totally understand. Multiple people flaking and you should probably wonder why everyone is running away.

How do you subtly tell these people ‘no’ without saying no:

  • Force them to focus on what they specifically want before you speak with them again. ‘I’d love to see a list of criteria you see needing to be fulfilled during this project.’ Control freaks are often secretly insecure people who might not know how to answer this… and might not contact you back. 
  • Tell them you have a full plate and aren’t starting new projects for 2-3 months. If they want to wait, at least you know they are committed to working with you. Chances are if they want someone to boss around now, they will go find that other person.
  • Help them do it themselves. I’ve noticed people are less likely to boss themselves around then other people so letting them do it can be a good workaround.

So let’s say you head off the majority of control freaks (like we do). What happens if you find yourself working with one anyway? Here are a few tactics I’ve learned:

Force them to list everything and give it to you at once.

This does two things besides give you a bit of breathing room.

The first is it forces people to see how often they change their minds or how accidentally contradictory they are being. I want a modern website but I really want you to use this old timey font. I want my hairstyle to be edgy but I want it to look natural. By putting all ideas together and having a conversation, we can get to the heart of what the person really wants, an old timey looking website with bright colors, or a hairstyle of natural blonde highlights with chunky layers. Had they not listed out everything, we wouldn’t have gotten to that place where they could be happy.

The second is it’s usually easier to do batch changes, especially when they might need to be done in a certain order. If you have a list of things you want done to your website, it is much easier for us to log in and do them at once. This is partially a ‘while we’re at it’ issue and partially because one thing might effect other things you want done and therefore the order we should do them in. Ex: You want new kitchen cabinets and counters, you need to decide what you want for both before your whole kitchen gets ripped out so that as the bottom cabinets get built, they can accommodate your countertop.

Divert their energy to something useful.

If someone has a lot of energy they need to direct at a project but I need time to, say, work on the project, I need to give the client something constructive to do to help. For example, pick out the 50 best pictures for a slideshow of images. Or have them research x, y, and z to see which solution will work best for them so you can implement it.

This actually helps the project move forward and gives the person some decisions to make that have a direct impact. I like these kind of control freaks since they make my life easier by making some decisions I’d otherwise be making!

Know where it’s coming from. 

Sometimes, people are used to treating people badly to get what they want. These people are called rude, and it is important to not let rude people treat you in a rude way.

Ruling out the fact the person is an irredeemable jerkface (few people are), know where the control freak is coming from. Are they under the gun with a deadline? Did they have a bad experience with a different service provider and are now skiddish with you? Knowing where someone is coming from lets you put up with a certain amount of crazy (at least it does with me). Realizing it’s not personal is a huge burden lifted so get to the root of the controlling nature if you can. The best way to do this is to have conversations and get the person to trust you over time.

In short, control freaks are a lot like you and me: they want something great and they want to control the outcome of their lives. Give them things to do to help the project, make them outline all concerns up front and be patient with them. Control freaks help us think of new ways to work and can uncover unknown issues, so be thankful on a certain level this person is in your life… and will be back out of it when the project is finished.

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.

One Day Website Workshop: The When, The Why, and The How

Last Friday, we gave our twice a year ‘One Day Website’ workshop. Our reasoning is that there are people who have the time/interest in learning website software but not the funds to pay us to do it for them.

The reason we do it only twice a year? Honestly, it’s a ton of work ahead of time (helping people buy domain names, getting the software installed, preparing the slides since the software likes to change periodically). We barely break even on it looking at this from a purely business point of view… but the whole point of this business was to at least ‘Break Even’ so I guess we’re good there. (I know, haha!)

But earning beaucoup bucks is not why we do this. For me, I consider this a bit of community service… and if we happen to get business from it someday, great. But at least we’re doing our part, teaching small pockets of people how to do something they want to learn. It’s a bit like being a teacher again.

I’m always impressed by the variety of people who come to this workshop: different ages (everyone from college students to retirees), different businesses (artists to non-profit directors), different levels of seriousness (from ‘I want to get this done today’ to ‘I just came to check it out’). As someone who runs one very specific kind of business, it’s nice to get a window into what other people are working on, and what they care about in terms of a website.

Since Matt Baya and I started doing this workshop in 2009, we’ve helped take about 200 people through this process in the twice yearly ‘One Day Website’. And that’s kind of cool.

Many people don’t end up finishing their websites, which makes me a little sad. But then I think about the success rate of the adult ed French class I used to teach… or how long it’s taken me to lose 15 of the 30 pounds I want to lose… and I see it’s similar. It’s hard to make yourself do something that is a little (or a lot) against your nature.

I’m always sad when I haven’t taken photos of these things, especially since we had such a nice group on Friday. But it was fun and we do look forward to doing it again!

Had no idea we did this kind of event? For the official internet record, we do it twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall (summer is crazy and winter weather can make travel difficult where we are). The best way to find out about when it’s happening is to subscribe to our monthly email newsletter. We announce the workshop there first, wait 3-4 days then post it on Facebook, the website, etc.

Sometimes, we can do this workshop for a private group, like we did for the Maine Indian Basketweavers and the Maine Crafts Guild. If you can fill a room for us, we’ll show up and do our thing. If everyone chips in, it’s a pretty affordable (and almost painless) professional development opportunity. If you’re a Chamber of Commerce, business group, networking group, adult education facility, university group… it’s a pretty good offer since just about everyone these days needs/wants a website.

So thanks to everyone who came last week, and especially those who came to those first few workshops when we were still learning the ropes. There will be many more of these (and hopefully some other regular workshops) coming to Downeast Maine and beyond.

Those who can do teach. Those who can’t, we can just teach you in a class. 🙂

 

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.

Managing Expectations For Your DIY Project

My hairdresser Shaina is a great person who not only does amazing hair but also has one of those witty personalities. She posted this awhile back:

fixthatmess

I will say right off that I don’t do anything hair altering (especially related to hair color) by myself. The whole looking in the mirror and having it be backwards thing is enough to keep me from even attempting updos.

I used to do my own box hair color but I knew it wasn’t as good as what Shaina would do. So I finally gave up and left it to the pros. Now I have people emailing me asking who is doing my hair.

This cartoon struck me a certain, specific way because it can relate to a bunch of different kinds of businesses.

What is ombre hair you may ask? Well it’s all the rage on Pinterest. Here are some pictures to show you:

ombrehaironpinterest

 

So you get the idea, it’s one hair color grading into another hair color gradually and on purpose. Now you know!

Here’s the kit Shaina’s cartoon joke probably refers to:

cos-LOreal-Paris-Feria-Wild-Ombre-in-O60-For-Medium-to-Dark-Brown-Hair-mdn

 

Now if you are expecting to look like you’ve just stepped off the runway after spending a couple hours with plastic gloves in your bathroom, you are going to be disappointed.

And this is what we call in the business ‘managing expectations’. This is what I used to do when I did my own hair color and what you need to do when you attempt something yourself that you ought really to hire a professional to do.

Managing Expectations: It will be cheaper but it will take you longer.

It is cheaper to dye your own hair but by the time you set up, do it, and clean up you are talking double the time you would have spent at the salon. But it will be cheaper.

It’s ok if cheaper is important. Just realize you are prioritizing cheaper above quicker.

Managing Expectations: You are not going to get professional results.

If you think you can learn anyone’s job well in 2-3 hours (or even 10 hours) of internet searching, you are delusional.

If you think you can do a better job than someone with years of experience, you are delusional.

Embrace that you are not a professional. You might not be able to execute certain things. It might not look exactly like you expected. It’s ok.

Managing Expectations: You will get functional (and possibly even ok to good) results.

At the end of two hours, will your hair be different colors with this kit? Yes.

‘Results’ are a relative term. Whether you pay my gal Shaina or get your own ombre highlighting kit, you will technically have ombre hair at the end of both processes. But if you put the pictures of each result side by side, they will look different. When that matters to you is when you should pay for a pro. When it doesn’t, keep doing it yourself.

It’s best to know a pro you can call, should you decide to try something yourself in case you decide you can’t live with the results. But heading into a DIY process with some managed expectations is a good way to go into a project, whether it’s coloring your own hair or making your own website.

In the meantime, I’m going to let Shaina keep making me fabulous. Because I clearly can’t handle it.

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.

Hiring Someone To Write Your Blog: The If, The Why, and The How

Many people are surprised when I tell them we ghost write for other blogs. Despite the fact that this blog is fun and kicky, we can be serious when we need to be. Some of our clients have been tech companies (since we have that knowledge anyway), some are just regular businesses.

Many people know that a blog is great for SEO and building authority. So the natural decision to make at this point is: are you going to do it or pay someone else to?

There are a whole group of people who think blogging can and should be handled within your company.

Why Your Blog Could Be Handled Within Your Company

should-someone-write-my-blog1) Someone in your company knows what’s going on. A content writer is not in your business so they can’t know close to everything that is going on like someone who is there 40 hours a week.

2) Someone in your company can write. Yes, most people graduate high school being able to string sentences together… and some people have a real talent for it.

3) The same person who can write has free time. You can probably think of idle times in your schedule (or an employee’s schedule) and have the thought ‘Hey, maybe I/they can crank out a blog!’

There are a few reasons though why you may hire people like us to coordinate your blog, write part of it for you, or write the entire thing for you.

Why Your Blog Could Be Handled By A Content Writer/Marketer/SEO Person

1) Content writers are lay people. Chances are your customer won’t care and, most importantly, won’t understand fancy jargon. Someone who can explain things about your business in a way your customers understand and enjoy can be worth some money.

2) Content writers are good writers. Someone who understands how to write for the web and how to write concise blog posts that are both interesting to read and written in the voice of your company will leave website visitors with a good impression.

3) Content writers get the SEO stuff. There is a bit more to blogs than the writing part. It’s part specialized data entry, part understanding how blogs work in the bigger picture of website traffic. You need to  know about the following to do it well:

  • using tags
  • interlinking to previous blog posts
  • how to find, use, and cite legal images in a blog post
  • how to write a grabbing headline that has keywords in it
  • proper formatting for easy reading and search engines
  • and more!

4) Content writers are fast. These people look at websites all day so we should be fast. They’ll work at least twice as quickly as your employee doing the same thing. (I’d be slow trying to ring up a customers purchases at your cash register since I have no idea what I’m doing in that situation!)

In other words, you have options. You don’t have to write the blog yourself! You can have a blog for your business and have someone else write it!

Even if you do hand this off, as the person driving this train (re: your business), you will need to set the person helping you (and your blog) up for success.

How You Can Set Up A Blogger For Success Who Isn’t You

  • A blog site

You’ll need to understand a bit on how your website works to understand if you’ll be able to blog on your current site or if you need to set up something on another domain that links to your site. Talking to a web person is worth it at this stage, mainly because you don’t want to build this blog up (and links coming into it) only to have to move it later. (I have moved my blog three times, trust me, don’t do this to yourself!)

If you are on the fence on the blogging thing, set up a free account on Wordpress.com and try it for a month. If you like it, you can move it to a Wordpress self hosted site by the Import/Export functions under ‘Tools’ without much trouble. All this to say, to blog you’ll need a place to blog. It may be worth it to have the employee you plan to blog with sit down with your web designer for some training on the software.

  • A regular publication schedule 

Whether you are going to publish every Monday or every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, establish this with the person you plan to work with. They are going to be limited by time constraints (like everyone!) and they need to know what is expected. For an employee that’s new to this, allow 3-4 hours per blog post (start off with 4 hours and as the person gets the hang of it, the time will be less). Remember a blog post isn’t sitting and writing: they may need time to contact information sources and do research in addition to the actual writing part.

If you are hiring a content writer, have them create a proposal of what you can expect from them in terms of content and publication schedule. (Note: content writers work much faster than your employee who is not a full time writer. It’s not fair to your employee to think otherwise!)

  • Sources for images

Whether you have a company Flickr gallery, an account with iStockphoto, or just a Dropbox folder where everyone puts in images, make sure whoever is writing the blog has access to this resource. They will need them for blog posts (blog posts with images are much more widely read, and having images has other benefits).

If you are creating the images, make sure to name the files something useful (like the name of the person in the photo). This way, the writer will be able to use the images appropriately and generate captions.

  • Topic structure and leads

Usually at a blog client kick off meeting, we figure out a general topic posting schedule. For example, Mondays are going to be interviews with our suppliers. Here are the questions we’d like to ask them and here is the contact information of some people to start with in terms of the first four interviews. Thursdays are going to be a product review. Donna will email you a list of new products for this season. Here’s a sample review I wrote to kind of give you an idea of what we are looking for on Thursdays…

A ridiculous level of detail? Maybe. But you don’t want your blog writer to stare at the blinking cursor and think ‘What should I write today?’ Having a structure will force ideas for days there are none and give a structure for the writer to work within and make sure the blog stays on topics you want it to be on.

Sometimes people do is hire a content writer to set up a structure for the staff blogger to follow. Give it a month and if it’s not working, you can always change it… but at least it’s a place for the blog to go day to day and week to week, especially those first few months.

  • Access to social media

The best thing to do after you blog? Be able to promote it! If your company has a Facebook page or Twitter account, give this person access so they can promote their posts. Sure you can have it set up so posts automatically go out but letting your writer go onto the social network and respond to comments, share it on their profile, and more means you’ll get way more bang for your buck.

  • Autonomy

By all means, check the first few blog posts before they go online… But nothing will slow down your company’s blogging quite like the bottleneck you will become if this keeps happening. Trust your people to do a good job (and by all means read the blog when it’s online!) but after an initial period of training, let your content writer run with it.

How Do I Find Content Writers?

So you’ve gathered above that while paying an hourly or salary employee to blog is cheaper for you per hour than having a writer do it… but it will also take them at least twice as long as someone just figuring it out. How can you find someone to help your employee get started or to do this for you?

Read blogs.

By reading blogs, you will find bloggers whose style you like. If you want to find someone local, do a Google blog search for local blogs in your area and see who’s writing. If you want someone who specializes in an industry, read blogs in those industries and certain names will emerge. These are good starting points.

Try LinkedIn.

Now that you have some names, look these people up on LinkedIn. Are they legit? Do other people recommend their blogging skills?

With LinkedIn's new skills endorsements, at a glance you can see that while you might not want me to fix your leaking faucet, you probably can trust me to blog for you.

With LinkedIn’s new skills endorsements, at a glance you can see that while you might not want me to fix your leaking faucet, you probably can trust me to blog for you.

You can ever search by skill on LinkedIn (blogging) so think of this site as a way to check someone’s references.

Problogger.net Job Board

If you want to be a bit more general about it all (‘I just want someone who wants the job’), try posting it on the Problogger job board. This is a highly regarded place in the online community to find legitimate paid blogging opportunities. (Well it’s as legitimate as Craigslist for finding an apartment… there are always scammy people but plenty of reputable people use it too.)

No matter the route you go, all bloggers should be able to provide writing samples to you and other pieces of information that can help you make your decision.

Like the rest of the world, you are more likely to find someone you already know for the job. That said, there is no reason you can’t go out and seek a content writer yourself if you don’t know any!
Does this seem like a bit of work? It always is to implement something new at first.
Will your employee need a bit more help then someone who does this all day? Of course.
But is it worth having a blog? This being my 897th entry, I might be a little biased when I say absolutely.

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.

The Shortest Business Book Ever

I'm all about you opening for business. Photo via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway

I’m all about you opening for business. Photo via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway

I have several friends who have very recently started their own businesses.

I am pretty encouraging about this sort of thing, so long as they aren’t remortgaging their house or selling their children to pay for it (or something similarly crazy).

Honestly, six years ago when I started doing this part time, all but about ten people thought I was weird. Then when I quit my job almost three years ago, me being weird got updated to me being crazy.

Someone who I had considered a bit of a mentor up until that point said: “Well that’s gutsy. Good luck, I guess.” Whenever I see this person, I still think of her unsupportive comment.

I will never be that wet blanket for someone else’s dream. (So long as they are not jumping off a financial cliff with no safety net that is.)

Because of my lack of business background and my relatively short climb to moderate success, people ask me for advice. A few people really wanting to charm me say I should write a book.

But my business book would be the shortest book in history:

1) Don’t spend more money then you make. It’s really tempting to go out and buy a new computer, spend $100 at a stationary store, and otherwise buy things for your business that are more pretty than functional.

Here’s an exercise to show you most stuff you want to spend money on is kind of pointless. Try to remember the paint color of the last restaurant bathroom you were in. Or how big the sign in front of the last storefront you went into was. Exactly. Your customers care far less than you think they do.

2) Do good work. Competing only on price, you will never be able to compete with the larger firms or big box stores. So you clearly need something that is good. It doesn’t have to be unique (though that does help). Just good or ideally great.

If you have a good reputation, that’s going to be  your hardest working advertisement. You can’t buy it or fake it (at least indefinitely). Because people are going to talk about you and your business when you aren’t there. You want them to… and you want them to say good things.

3) Be nice to people. This isn’t just to your clients. This is to waiters, interns, people you meet who don’t seem important.

People are mobile. I met a good friend of mine when we were both copy and pasting at newspapers. Now she’s the editor of a statewide publication. Don’t get me wrong, I saw greatness in her when I met her (and her in me). But this just goes to show you that people you are dealing with in one situation you may meet in another… so you might as well be nice.

If you do those three things, you can run a business. I swear it isn’t rocket science. Sure, success takes some luck but if you follow the above three rules, you’ll be ahead of the business starting game!

 

 

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.
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