This Week In Business

Beyond The Printer: Why You Probably Need An Online Form

I think a lot of us (myself included) think of ways to do things that are easier for ourselves versus easier for our customers.

Here’s a great (not me) example. Derrick blows glass and he was invited to enter one of his pieces in a contest. He was sent to a website link for this contest so he clicked from his email. On the webpage was information about the contest and then a link to click on to sign up. So Derrick clicked again.

Two clicks in, Derrick thinks he is going to get to an online form… but it’s a pdf. He’s on his phone, which is how 50% of Americans now access the internet. All he can do is look at the tiny writing and think ‘I guess I need to get on a computer to do this.’

Yeah this is a form I can't fill out, let alone read, on my phone. *sigh

Yeah this is a form I can’t fill out, let alone read, on my phone. *sigh

In addition to being on his non-pdf friendly phone, Derrick, like many of my non-business owning friends, however, doesn’t even own a printer anymore… and feels guilty printing personal stuff at work.

‘Why didn’t they just make it an online form?’ he asked me.

No doubt he will turn this in and someone will have to type his application into some kind of spreadsheet or database that will track all the artists entering the contest.

This what I think happened. The person in charge of the contest made the pdf of the application and sent it to the web department, saying “Can you put this online?” Because most website people feel like they should do exactly what someone asks or seem like they are being difficult (and because they are usually busy people), they took this statement to mean link the pdf on the website, not take 20 extra minutes and build a custom form that gets emailed to the right person or people.

Derrick's simple glass order form. You can fill it in on your phone and he'll make you glass. Bam.

Derrick’s simple glass order form. You can fill it in on your phone and he’ll make you glass. Bam.

Why I love forms:

  • They work on mobile devices and regular computers.
  • The answer goes to the right person in electronic format- less typing for you if you get a form submitted.
  • The person filling out the form feels the immediate sense of accomplishment of having ‘done’ it.
  • Forms can apply to all kinds of businesses and non-profits, service-based and product-based sectors.

Will Derrick eventually have an online cart? Of course. But for now he can take requests… and was able to process a $100 order from a woman two weeks ago he had never met via this form.

Can you create an interactive pdf form? Of course. But in terms of mobile friendliness/readability (not to mention impressive technology), consider converting that pdf on your website you want people to fill out into an online form!

 

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.

On Competition: Why There Is More Then Enough Work For All Of Us

Running a business means taking a fair bit of rejection. This company is no exception.

Rejection is part of life... does it mean we should be afraid of competition? Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/telemax/7035075623/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Rejection is part of life… does it mean we should be afraid of competition? Of course not. Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/telemax/7035075623/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Just a few weeks ago, we lost a bid on a large project to another company. It was a project was local, run by people we know, and matched our skill set. It would have also kept both Alice and I paid for three months. The loss felt not just expensive but very personal.

Fast forward to this past weekend being at a conference with other web developers. A lot of them are way more established, experienced, or otherwise ‘more than’ Breaking Even.

What do these two unrelated events have in common?

Every so often, in a moment of insecurity, I sometimes worry about ‘the competition’.

Ninety eight percent of the time, I relate to ‘the competition’ as I do at a conference. We can learn from each other and be valuable colleagues to one another. But sometimes, I feel a pang of insecurity. It’s not very attractive, helpful, or really very realistic.

Here’s why so-called ‘competition’ isn’t going to get me down, and shouldn’t get you down either.

The internet is huge… and getting bigger.

That’s to say there is a lot of work to do: millions of websites to create, marketing campaigns to implement, blogs to grow. There is more then enough for everyone in my industry and everyone wanting to enter it to work now into retirement.

Not online? In your business, you have a bigger market then you think you do and new people entering it all the time. (You may just need a new way to reach them.) Think about it and I’m sure you realize this is true no matter your industry.

We all need colleagues to do better work.

What’s the best way to understand something better? Listen to several people explain the same thing. Read multiple books by different authors on the same topic.

The more people in your industry, the more quickly it can improve and the better you can become. As the keynote speaker Paul Orwig said at the conference (a proverb): “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Companies are run by people.

People are unpredictable. Most of the time, this can be super annoying.

But sometimes that’s a good thing. For example, a web developer leaves the field… and offers you all their clients. Your businesses merges with another. Your business and another look for ways to collaborate on a common project.

We are all moving around all the time, leaving the work force, coming back into the work force, changing companies, creating companies, retiring.

The larger your network of people in your field (your ‘competition’), the more likely you can take advantage of opportunities like the ones above.

So as you see, ‘competition’ is the wrong way to think about it. It’s why I never use that word except when I think it in a moment of insecurity… about myself.

When a potential client invokes it (usually to get me to come down on a price), I tend to want to run far away from that client, not think badly about Company A.

Colleagues. That’s what I have. And that’s what you have to. And in those moments where you feel ‘less than’ remember that that’s how you’re feeling about yourself… and get back to work.

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.

Some Of My Favorite Motivational Videos

I spend a lot of time watching online video. More than I should probably admit.

Sometimes, these videos distract me. These are usually animal videos.

But other videos kind of give me some inspiration to work hard and do more. Here are three of my favorites:

Productivity from Randy Pausch

This video is about productivity and achieving dreams from a very smart charismatic professor who happens to be dying. If you want some general productivity ideas or just a kick in the pants, this will do it. Everyone from high school students to someone about to retire will get something out of this lecture.

Negotiation from Ramit Sethi

This is the only business ‘class’ I ever paid for. While aimed at freelancers, Ramit Sethi will teach you the scripts you need to negotiate. (If I’ve used any of these on you, sorry.) These series of videos are part of that course and can give you some useful tips on raising your rates, negotiating with providers, and other useful stuff.

Goal Setting With Marie Forleo

If you have a big dream you want to tackle, Marie will break down the process of brainstorming into steps you can implement. This half hour video, if you do the exercises, will give you a goal and ways to work towards it. Since I can’t embed it from her site, here’s the link: http://www.marieforleo.com/htgayw/

Do you have any productivity/educational/business-y videos you like to watch? Share the links in the comments!

 

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.

Some Thoughts On Being A Female Run Business In A Male Dominated Industry

The last conference I went to had a record number of women… 23%.  This was a statistic that people were impressed with (as in ‘Wow, there’s a lot of women here!’) but, as even the author has acknowledged, we have a long way to go.

female-symbolIt’s true that 78% of web developers are men and I know that women in male dominated fields like science and engineering can also identify with me: It can be a little hard not seeing a lot of people ‘like you’ out there.

I’m annoyed that, in 2013 as an established professional, I am still dealing with sexism. I can think of the prospective client who said after I asked if he’d sign a work agreement ‘Do you have brothers? Because you seem really aggressive.’ (I ‘lost’ his email.) Men (yes plural) have commented on my looks during a video conference. My weight and whether it has gone up or down has been discussed… in front of me.

Sometimes the sexism is a little more hidden. As the only woman on a conference call, I am asked to take notes. A man will find wonder out loud if I am able to ‘handle’ a certain kind of technical project.

What I really want to say to all this is, “Would this be happening to me if I was a dude?” but I don’t.  Because I am supposed to be sweet after all.

I will say that most of this is thankfully by older men. Over time, there will be less of them to contend with. (OK, maybe that last comment wasn’t so sweet.)

I will also mention that there are plenty of people (both men and women) who are completely respectful of my skills and expertise. But here are a few rules I play by:

I can’t be arrogant. 
I can’t say I’m ‘the best’ at something without people thinking I am cocky. This trait is rewarded in men but humble is my only way to play the game. One of my clients wanted to say he was ‘the best’ at something. I told him it was gutsy but really what I meant was, ‘I can’t get away with saying anything like that.’

I can’t nag.
When men do it, it’s called ‘following up’ or being aggressive. I have to get what I need from someone very carefully if I need to ask for it repeatedly or else I will remind them of their wives, girlfriends, or any other female who has asked them for something over and over.

I can’t show any lack of knowledge.
If I admit I don’t know something, I see people’s confidence falter. I feel like if a man admits the same thing, he is being ‘honest’. Because of this, I overprepare for every meeting and overresearch every decision.

I’ve wanted to bid on a few web projects as ‘Nick’ just to see what would happen… but I think instead I will chose to work with people who don’t mind working with a girl. 🙂

Women in male dominated industries, are you playing by unspoken rules too? Men, have you accidentally been sexist without realizing it? Everyone, am I overly sensitive to this divide? I’d love your thoughts about all this!

The post that inspired this: http://choycedesign.com/2013/02/04/women-wordpress-the-web/

 

 

 

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.

Project Management Software

asanalogoIt seems like it would be pretty easy to run a two person business with a few subcontractors, right?

Well increasingly, it wasn’t easy. Emails get lost or misfiled… that and I can’t easily look at my email and know a project status if Alice is working on a design or Matt’s working on fixing a functionality issue for it.

Matt found Asana in his travels and we’ve been using it really successfully over the last three months. Every client is a ‘project’ and we can assign tasks to each other with due dates, easily attaching notes, comments, and actual files if we wanted to. Then if a client calls or emails, any of us can check on the project status and let them know what is going on. It’s integration with Google Apps made it an easy choice for us… oh, and it’s free.

In addition to the business side of Asana, there is also a ‘Personal Projects’ section which no one else on the team can see but you. You can put reminders to ‘bring back library books’ or ‘make bedroom curtains’ which can have subtasks associated (ex: buy fabric, measure windows, etc.). There is also the same ability to set due dates.

What the Asana interface looks like. From http://allthingsd.com

What the Asana interface looks like. From http://allthingsd.com

What are Asana’s weaknesses?

  • There is no way to locally download (ie download onto a computer) the file. In other words, not being able to back up ourselves means we are a little vulnerable (But with Dropbox and Foursquare also using it, we feel in good company).
  • Asana emails you when others in your team make changes with no way to control the amount of email you get.
  • There is no Android app. Since we are an entirely an iPhone company at the moment, this isn’t a problem yet but as we grow it might become one.

Now, no project management software will ever be perfect. You’ll probably need to try out a few to find one you like. I would suggest doing this by yourself or in a small group before making your company use it. Nothing like making people learn a software they will never use to lower company morale and make people not tolerate other changes in the future. In your shopping around here are some questions you may want to ask:

On your network or web based?

The first big decision is whether you are ok with your system being ‘in the cloud’ or you want it on your local computer network. Clearly, I am pro-cloud (hence using Asana, which lives online and can be accessed in any web browser or on my iPhone) but if you aren’t there are systems out there you can install on your computer network for internal use only if you feel like you want the system to be more insular.

Do you need full CRM capabilities?

Basecamp and other software like it is pretty full featured… and at $50+/month, you’d expect it to be. But we don’t need a full CRM where clients can log in and other bells and whistles related to that so we are forgoing it. What you don’t need is as important as what you need in terms of making any software decision. It could save you money… or simply a steep learning curve.

How can tasks be organized?

Sometimes you may feel limited by how a project management system categorizes. Maybe you can make subtasks but can’t assign deadlines to those like you want. Maybe you want the search box to search for content words within project notes and it won’t. You’ll only know if you like how your project management software organizes things if you organize a few separate projects in it.

Do you need other features (time tracking, live chat, etc.) or can these be accomplished elsewhere?

We use spreadsheets for hours/billing and Google chat for chatting so we weren’t looking to have these functions… but you might be. Make a list of ‘dream’  integrations (Time tracking to Quickbooks, client login with their Gmail, etc. dream big!) and prioritize each one and you’ll be more likely to end up with something that’ll work within your company.

But if you are looking for some relatively simple software to make you more efficient, we love Asana and think you might too. Let us know what you end up finding/trying so we can get to know other options out there!

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.

Why You Give (Some) Information For Free

“It seems like a lot of social media people give information for free.” one of my friends mentioned today. The implied question being, why is that?

Giving some free stuff away doesn't mean your company won't make money. Mozilla in the tech world is an excellent example of sharing information to build value.

Giving some free stuff away doesn’t mean your company won’t make money. Mozilla in the tech world is an excellent example of sharing information to build value.

As people in the information business, we know it’s important to give some of our product for free in the way of blog entries, white papers, etc. Here’s why people give away something for free that they didn’t necessarily get for free:

Information builds credibility.

Does this person know what they are talking about? Do they seem like the kind of person I want to do business with? This is information people will want to figure out before contacting you.

Having free information out there for them to peruse allows them to see for themselves 1) This person is legit and 2) I may even like them as a person. These are both infinitely important in the service industry since the people you hire to provide services tend to be the people you spend time with. Information let’s people get to know you… and giving it away some for free means you are not some money hungry jerkface who’s only in it for the paycheck.

Information builds value.

You know who the best customers are in some of my experience? People who have tried to do it themselves. In trying to build a website or run a social media campaign, people will contact us saying that doing the job well is harder than they expected. They realize there is a lot to know and do, and that they need our help.

It may feel weird to think about giving away something you figured out but guess what happens when someone tries to do it? Some either succeed and love what they get out of it, becoming loyal potential customers. Others attempt and fail… but guess who the first person they think of to call is when they do?

It may seem counter intuitive but put information out there about your services or products. Having an understanding of what goes into either will show your potential customers what’s so valuable… and why they can get that value from you.

Information gives part of the story… and leaves people wanting more. 

Let’s say you read my article about Twitter hashtags (the most popular blog post I’ve ever written for no apparent reason). While it is helpful, it’s really like I’m reading you page 59 out of a book of things I know. Sure there is a topic but does reading it make you understand how to use Twitter entirely? Of course not. What someone with a deep knowledge on a topic can give you are tips and tricks but knowing that information in a context is infinitely more valuable.

What you know about what you do is more than you could write in 855 blog posts (you’re reading post 856 of this blog right now, and there are plenty more topics to cover, trust me!). And the more people know, the more they’ll want to know… if they are interested of course. But guess who buys stuff? Interested people.

Social media people are not silly people with gobs of free time on their hands. They know if they put out information, free information even, it’ll be good for their business. At least I think they are. 🙂

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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